Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge

By my count, half of the top 10 bestselling science fiction authors on Amazon right now are self-published or published with Amazon. Leading the pack is A.G. Riddle, who has been killing it the past few months with two novels that hang around in the top 50 overall on the paid Kindle store. B.V. Larson has been among the top sellers for two years. What’s important to note about these rankings is that it reflects overall sales across all titles in that particular genre. Since Amazon is the #1 bookstore in the land, it’s a great way to do some guestimating. Without transparent data, it’s all we can really do.

SF Top 10

What really strikes me about the top 10 is the absence of any new traditionally published science fiction author. I’ve read some great books this past year by Ted Kosmatka, Max Barry, and the like. I also adore some recent debut authors (past few years) like Ernest Cline, who wrote Ready Player One. But what I’m seeing above is extremely established authors with massive backlists (Card, Atwood, Weber) and indies.

This means something, I’m just not sure what. I think it means that a sustained and profitable career as a science fiction author is more likely, these days, to have its origin in self-publishing. I don’t think traditional publishers can foster the sort of release schedule an author needs to really break out in a big way in the popular genres. It should be noted that an author can rank on this list with a single bestselling title, as with Rysa Walker, who has a title in the top 25. So a massive new release could crack this list. Right now, we aren’t seeing that from the big houses.

Part of the problem is that the major publishers ignore the genres that sell the best. This is a head-scratcher, and it nearly caused a bald spot when I was working in a bookstore. I knew where the demand was, and I wasn’t seeing it in the catalogs. Readers wanted romance, science fiction, mystery/thrillers, and young adult. We had catalogs full of literary fiction. Just the sort of thing acquiring editors are looking for and hoping people will read more of, but not what customers were asking me for.

I don’t think it should come as a shock that indies are killing it in these underserved genres. The supply simply can’t keep up with reader demand. And this list hints at something else: It might be that publishers need to re-think how best to launch a new writing career. One book a year probably won’t cut it, maybe never will again. Look at what Random House did with E.L. James last year: All three books came out and buttressed each other. If they would have spread those out, the novelty may have worn off before readers got to books 2 and 3.

It also helped THE HUNGER GAMES that book 3 was right around the corner when the first two hit critical mass. And in the UK last year, Random House launched all three of my Silo Saga books in a 12-month period, and they did gangbusters, selling more print copies there than Simon & Schuster was able to sell here in the States, party because of marketing efforts but also because of the amplification of new and speedy releases.

I recently posted an audacious claim that major publishers are bound to emulate indies, which would be quite the reversal. I want to now explore how publishers could actually do this, how they could learn from self-published authors. Because I want publishers to do well. I want them to help new authors break out. I want them to keep bookstores open and readers happy. So what I’m going to do, in a very rambling fashion, is pretend that someone just put me in charge of a major publishing house. Let’s say HarperCollins (just to pick one at random). Here’s how I would blow the doors off my competitors and become the #1 publisher in the land (overtaking indies, which I estimate now rank #1 in total sales).

Each of the following would be fairly simple to implement. Each one highlights an advantage self-published authors currently own. This is me giving up state’s secrets. I’m able to do this, because nobody really listens to me (thank goodness!)

1. The first thing I would do would be the most important, and that would be to form a community among my stable of HarperCollins authors. I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere else (makes me wonder if it’s a daft idea), but I think the #1 advantage self-published authors have right now is a sense of community. We hang out in the same forums (usually KBoard’s Writers’ Cafe); we chat with each other on FB and in private groups and through email lists; we congregate at conventions and conferences; and we share with one another. We share sales data. We share promotional tools and ideas. We let one another know what works and what doesn’t. If there’s a glitch with a distributor, we point it out. If there’s a way to increase visibility, we tell everyone. If we stumble upon a secret, we broadcast it.

The amplification of all of our efforts cannot be fully appreciated, I don’t think. And no publicity team at any major publisher can hope to compete. They can’t. I was sending emails to one of my publishers to explain what was basic knowledge to me (because of KBoards) but esoteric to them, as it turned out. This was one of the largest publishers in the world. It took six emails, and I still don’t think the publicity team understands what I was getting at. They don’t understand today. Every one of their authors would benefit greatly from this knowledge, which I assumed any publisher would know about. So my highest priority would be to create the same sort of sharing and caring among my authors that self-published authors enjoy. A private forum for HarperCollins authors. Email blasts that went out weekly, detailing the things they can do to drive sales. Book exchanges within genres. Meet-ups in major cities. I would help these authors form an identity as a HarperCollins author. I would encourage the bestselling authors to serve as mentors. I would leverage the drive and enthusiasm of debut authors to keep the community humming. No one would feel ignored, because they would have each other to converse with. All the emails we at HarperCollins currently get with basic questions? Now, they are being answered across the group.

2. Related to the above, I would henceforth require that my publicity department spend at least an hour a day on the popular self-published forums, interacting with authors, reading posts, and learning from the people who in just a few short years have overtaken us (Harper Collins) on the bestseller charts. Both of these points (and several to come) rely on a loosening of ego. They require that publishers see authors as valued assets and publishing experts in their own right. Crowdsourcing is the key. Treating each member of that crowd as a replaceable widget or a dunce incapable of understanding what it takes to forge a bestselling book is not the answer. It’s the opposite of the answer. Glance up again at the top selling authors in science fiction if you need reminders.

3. Every format, as soon as it’s available. Here’s another reason that WOOL was one of the only fiction debuts to hit the Sunday Times list in the UK last year: The e-book was out first. That’s the new rule at HarperCollins. As soon as that puppy is ready, it goes live. Readers are the ones who build buzz, on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. On their review blogs and on Goodreads. Forget Publishers Weekly. Forget Kirkus. That’s trying to fashion bestsellers through bookstores. Bestsellers happen through readers. Through social media. So we are going to get them the ebook immediately, and price it low enough ($6.99 or less) that they’ll pick up a print copy if they love the work.

When the print version is ready, we’re going to release the hardback and the paperback at the same time. Heresy, I know, but that’s what my HarperCollins is now doing. Libraries and collectors will order the hardbacks. Everyone else will get the paperback. It never ceased to amaze me, working in a bookstore, to see all the promotional money spent while the least-desired format (the hardback) was released. And then a whimper when the paperback came out. It’s a lost opportunity as publishers clamor for the higher margins on the hardback and get lower sales as a result. GIVE READERS WHAT THEY WANT. That’s what my HarperCollins is doing.

4. Related to this, we are bringing back the mass market paperback. Readers love them. I have also discovered that readers love the paper-on-board hardbacks like Random House UK did with the Silo Saga. No dustjackets to get destroyed or misplaced. Just a beautiful hardback that is CHEAPER TO PRODUCE. A better product that readers prefer and costs less? That’s a no-brainer. Except that the people who work in publishing houses have a nostalgic and aesthetic affinity for the dustjacket. Not anymore. This is the New HarperCollins, and we’re gonna give readers what they want. Hardbacks for $15.00. Mass market paperbacks for $8. Special collector editions (really gorgeous books. Faux leather and stitched bindings. Ribbons. Embossing.) for $40. Print needs to appeal to the high end and the disposable end. Right now, they’re aiming for a target that nobody wants. The trade paperback becomes our lowest initiative.

5. Hardbacks come with free ebooks. The method we use to make this happen is simple: Readers download the new HarperCollins Kicks Ass app on their phone. They take a picture of the UPC code on the back of the book. They take a picture of their receipt. They enjoy the ebook downloaded to their phone or any device of their choosing.

How do we work this magic? At New HarperCollins, we have a super-secret computer dohicky algorithm . . . Nah, what we have is a mix of common sense and trust. If ten people wanted to sit around and take pics of the same UPC code and the same receipt, all ten of those people would get an ebook. We don’t worry about that (just like we no longer worry about ebooks being available at libraries). You see, at New HarperCollins, we understand that your time is more valuable than your money. Reading one of our books to completion is the best gift you can give us. Which is why none of our books employ DRM. It’s why we don’t combat piracy; we celebrate it. At the end of all of our ebooks, you’ll find a brief bio about the hardworking author who wrote the novel, written by the author herself. The bio will also thank the reader for their time, recommend a similar HarperCollins novel, list that author’s other works, and ask that the reader help spread the word or write a review.

No judging. No treating paying customers like criminals. No making demands that anybody pays for anything. A thank you and a call to action. Links for more great books. Here at New HarperCollins, we don’t worry about how people get our books, only that they read them. We’ve seen what indies have done with perma-free and giveaways. We see that the authors who shun DRM, who trust their readers, who embrace pirates, sit up there on the top 10 lists. Now we’re doing the same.

6. We are tearing up the favored nation clauses. This is one of the darkest secrets in the publishing industry. The reason major publishers can’t offer more than 25% of net on digital sales is because of  clauses in contracts with bestselling authors. These clauses state that the moment another author gets more than 25%, they also get this higher percentage effective immediately. These asinine and selfish clauses — agreed to by shortsighted agents and authors — have hurt debut writers while helping absolutely no one. Publishers are hamstrung. They can’t compete with the 70% that Amazon and others pay. Which is why one of my highest priorities as the CEO of New HarperCollins will be to have some hotshot lawyer strike down every one of these clauses. I would sue myself, as CEO of HarperCollins, for gross incompetence. I’d take myself all the way to the Supreme Court if I had to. Or . . . I might simply go to these authors and their agents and explain how dumb we were (and how selfish!) to think this was a good idea. “No one is ever getting a higher royalty because of this,” I would say. “Agree to strike it, and then we’ll be able to negotiate freely with your next book. And we’ll be able to entice new authors over to HarperCollins.”

Agents and authors will readily agree. Not just because this is logical and humane, but because of the community I’ve created up with #1 on this list. Suddenly, every author and agent worth a damn wants to work with HarperCollins. Suddenly, we are acting as if we are competing with the other publishers rather than playing along with their wishes. We are the new T-Mobile, scaring the pants off AT&T. This is New HarperCollins.

7. Hey, non-compete clauses. You’re history. This one is simple. Like DRM, we wave goodbye the moment I take the job. We’ve learned from indies that more releases boost the sales of all books. So publish as much as you want, when you want, however you want. Got a short story in the same universe as a book we own? Please publish it. Thank you.

Publishers should be encouraging their authors to do this, not forcing them to sign clauses preventing it. Hell, they should be PAYING them to write more and publish more. At New HarperCollins, we are turning this trend right around. Yo, indies, wait up!

8. Same with release schedules. If we like a book, and we know it’s going to be a trilogy, we’re going to hold back until we have the second book in the can and the third book scheduled. This is serving readers, not working against them. Readers don’t want to wait so long that they forget what happened in the last book. Now, the trilogy is going to release with a month between books. Yeah, bookstores are going to hate this. It means a lot of ordering. It also means when readers show up and browse the shelves, all three books are there! No more seeing the third book come out and not being able to find the first book. Besides, at New HarperCollins we understand that the #1 source for your books is online. Release schedules won’t be dictated by bookstores and sales reps but by reader demands and buying habits. Speaking of sales reps…

9. They’re gone. Sorry. I know a lot of these people, and I love them. I also love the many other people who are losing their jobs at publishing houses. Like the editors. We’re going to save the editors (and hire more) and get rid of the sales reps. Yes, our books will have lower orders at bookstores. They’ll also have lower returns. I’ve been there, at the bookstore, going through a catalog with a sales rep. You want to know why sales reps sell more books? Because we like them. Which means buying more books that we know we won’t sell, books we know we’ll return for a full refund (minus shipping). We’re going to let our authors and our books stand on their own, fair and square. We’re going to concentrate on our readers, who are the best sales reps. And we’re going to concentrate on our online distributors. If bookstores want to blacklist us for being pro-reader and pro-online, we’ll use that PR boost to our advantage. And they’ll lose our sales.

10. Finite terms of license. This is a biggie. A MONSTER. We will no longer buy your book forever. We will instead license the rights to your work for a set period of time. Probably five years. That means, no matter how well your book is doing, you get the rights back in 5 years. All the rights. Even the cover art we created and the edits we performed. And we hope you’ll sign with us again (knowing you’ll get the rights back again). Granted, this will mean a lower advance (which more and more authors are begging for, believe it or not). You are a publishing partner. We want you to believe in this work and invest in the long-term health of this work. So see it as something you still own. See it as something you’ll have the rights to again. The extra push and energy this will create will offset the loss in sales we currently enjoy on backlist titles. It’ll also mean our choice of debut authors. Every other publisher gets our scraps. This is why New HarperCollins is now the #1 publisher in the land (if we manage to overtake the indies. It’ll be tough). Finite terms of license also means that we negotiate fair contracts based on sales history. If the book is no longer doing all that great, we offer a little. If it surprised us, you get the contract you deserve. No more treating everyone like crap in the hope of hitting the jackpot with one author, and treating them like even more crap. That way of doing business is over.

11. No more advertising. Our money is going into editors and into acquiring new authors, not into merchandising dollars at bookstores and not into ads that don’t sell books. No more mailing out scads of ARCs to reviewers. Readers are the only reviewers we care about. And instead of fighting Amazon, we sign up for every promotional idea they come up with. Matchbook? Absolutely. Lending Library? Yes, please. Kindle Daily Deals? Take our books, now. Related to this:

12. Goodbye, New York City. We’ll miss the expensive lunches on the business accounts, but we won’t miss the rent. We’re looking for a low-slung building in an industrial center near a nice airport. Houston would be a good choice. More of our employees will be working from home. Business will be conducted much as it already is: by email. We’ll see our friends at all the major conventions. The money we save will go into higher royalties, which means our authors want to stick with us. When we get up to 50% of net, which is doable, that self-publishing royalty is no longer causing the leak it once was. Once again, we have our pick of every single manuscript out there. The other publishers are feasting on our crumbs.

13. Monthly payments and speedy sales data. Authors enjoy money and they enjoy metrics, and right now they have to wait too long for both. At New HarperCollins, we pay royalties every 30 days. And whatever sales data we have, you have. Simple as that. If self-published authors can have this, then our authors should have this. No more waiting six months to pay people. That’s history. No more wondering how your book is doing; you have access to all the data we can cull. Share your results in the HarperCollins Author forums.

That would be my first month at the job. My second month, we would really get busy.


183 responses to “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge”

  1. 5. Hardbacks come with free ebooks.

    YES! My first job as a teenager was working at my local library as a Page. Prior to that I always had paperback books like RL Stine’s Goosebumps, Hardy Boys, etc. They would become creased quickly, corners would bend, they would get lost. But once I started working at the local library, I began to appreciate Hardcover books. They generally looked nicer on the shelf and naturally the quality was better.

    BUT…they were expensive. And they still are. Heck, even at 30-40% off at Barnes & Noble and I still cannot be persuaded. Not solely because of price, but because I know I’ll want the ebook for convenience. So yes, I would LOVE to see Hardcovers come with a code (on the receipt?) for the ebook version, even if it was Nook, though I would prefer Kindle.

    7. Hey, non-compete clauses. You’re history.

    This is another excellent suggestion. I hate waiting for more material, especially if an author teases that they are working on new material for a universe I enjoy. Releasing as many and as often as possible, digitally, is ideal.

    12. Goodbye, New York City.

    NYC is sooooo overrated. Might I suggest Toronto, Ontario Canada? :)

    1. I’m coming to Toronto this year!

      1. And when are you stopping by Vancouver?

        1. June 19th for Book Summit. But I hope to stick around and see the city, maybe do a signing or a Meet-Up.

          1. And I’ve just blocked off a few dates in June for potential Hugh stalking. Excellent.

          2. June 19th = date saved. I would LOVE to get my copy of WOOL signed, and possibly a picture, but I won’t be picky.

      2. Keep us updated when that will be. I have many of your books on my Kindle, but I would gladly buy a paper copy if you were in town.

        It doesn’t surprise me to see independent authors so high on that list. I discovered you and Edward W. Robinson solely because of cheap (or free) copies of books on Amazon.

        I am increasingly making use of my library when I want to read a traditionally published book because I just can’t bring myself to pay $13-$18 for a Kindle version of a book, even if it is a new release. On the flip side, I grabbed Breakers books 1-3 for $1 on a whim, having never heard of Edward W. Robinson before. I grabbed Wool 1 for free and then bought the rest of the series in the omnibus. Traditionally published books are just never that cheap, so I don’t buy them as an impulse, which means they lose out on sales of books that I already want to read.

        1. Agreed.

          The one problem with e-Books is their price….most are way too expensive. If its over $5, I wait and check out a physical copy from the library.

          Publishers….if you want to charge $10-15 for a digital file that costs you nothing to print, you are going to need to do a lot better job of explaining why that is a reasonable price.

  2. margaret rainforth Avatar
    margaret rainforth

    Brilliant. Wouldn’t it be fun if one of the biggies took this and ran with it?

    1. And give up those free lunches all over Manhattan? They’d be crazy to.

    2. I’d sign up. This list manages to hit pretty much every gripe I have with traditional publishing. Way to go, Hugh.

    3. Mmmmm. Sounds a lot like us. Except that we’re only an eBook publisher and so small that we’re almost invisible. 6 month exclusive. Just the electronic rights. 50% net royalties. Understaffed (embarrassed look), so we’re a bit behind our publishing schedule (took on too much a while back). Picky about quality.

      There are still some things in here that don’t match us, but we created this business model 6 years ago.

  3. I call this place … Utopia.

    1. My thought, too. Especially the 50% of net in royalties.

      This isn’t to mean there are not great ideas there. I enjoyed this post. But why big publishers are screwing authors? Because big publishers are, first and foremost, commercials. In their views, books are infinite, interchangeable products. They are not assets, except for the bestsellers.

      The only valuable asset for a publisher is an author with a very large readership. They don’t see the potential, because editors have no longer the last word. Sales reps have.

      Why is there a such a sense of community between self-publishers? Because we know, for the most part, chances are against us.

  4. Great post, Hugh!

    If you ever become CEO of a big publishing house, let me know!


  5. Terrific piece, Hugh. An absolute bullseye. I’m talkin’ dead center. Thanks for writing it. You get my vote for CEO.

  6. I’d submit straight away to you Hugh. i have a cool stand-alone Horror ready to go if you’re interested ;)

  7. The free ebook download idea is a no brainer. They seem to do this with a lot of movies these days (e.g. blu-ray with digital download code).

    A lot of this post can be summed up like this: The writers are your friends, the writers are your assets – start treating them well, instead of coming up with increasingly unscrupulous ways to hold them back (e.g. non-complete clauses, dodgy contract clauses, licensing terms, etc). Let them write. Heck, it might even help save your business.

    1. Katherine Hajer Avatar

      Except the digital download is so DRMed it only plays on a limited number of devices/OSs, plus you need their proprietary softwares to run it, and (surprise, surprise) they don’t support Linux.

      I love this list, especially the part about hardbacks. The part about the app was the only thing that gave me pause — from a technical standpoint, the new Harper Collins would need a Web app to go with it. That way it could be truly universal in a reasonable way.

      I’d be happy to help build it :-D

  8. Revolution, indeed!
    On the alternative history bestsellers list, apart from George Orwell, I think most are self-published, including you and me!
    So when do you start this new job? ;-)

  9. Hi Hugh,
    Speaking as a consumer, all sound good ideas to me. My current thing is to buy the hardback and also the audiobook (via Amazon credits). I listen to the book which keeps my hardback pristine. I definitely believe that I should get the e-book thrown in with the hardback, which would achieve a similar end, though I personally would probably still also go for the audiobook of an author I really like.
    If the HB is signed, so much the better! Happy to say I’m proud owner of signed 1st eds. of the Wool Trilogy (met you at pub in London). A shelf-full of books is a beautiful thing, but only if they been read (or heard!).
    Waiting for Sand…..

  10. Hugh, as soon as you start you own indie press, I’ll come with my job offer:

    Successful indie author seeks small indie press that is:

    – not focussed on making as much money as humanly possible, and hence…
    – …too poor to pay an advance,
    – excellently connected to indie book stores throughout the US and/or Canada,
    – employee-friendly, and
    – people-friendly in general, and very much
    – environmentally friendly, too;
    – printing on recycled paper, or paper from sustainable forest management,
    – providing green cloud space, and
    – unwilling to waste money on large marketing campaigns.

    The job is low-risk and high-fun, as far as I can tell. Applications will be received until (A) the end of all days, or (B) a match could be found.

    (now everyone laughs out loud, but I’m dead serious)

  11. Also— start a workshop. There are authors out there who have a best seller ready to go but haven’t got the basic computer skills needed to turn it into a digital book and thus….are scared of this brave new world and have no choice but to continue submitting to the old envelope stuffing/wait three months for an answer method. Your workshop team could assist them ( and they should be open 24/7 also with excellent customer service techs WITH GOOD PEOPLE SKILLS )
    With a workshop in place- you can add hundreds of new authors and their books into the growing catalog for the readers to buy.

    1. I agree! And a workshop for newly published indie authors on tips for sharing your work with the world. I’m not looking to be a top ten author, but I really want to share my work with others, publish more than one book a year, and engage in conversations. A workshop for building that channel would be great from a master like you!

  12. This is completely genius. Would love to share it on my site or at least link to it.

    Publishing is like a lot of old industries that is very reluctant to change.

    And I always found it bizarre how huge the return rate in publishing is. It’s okay to order less and have to even order for a customer. Doing those pre-orders and making a relationship is something independent bookstores were always better at.

    The next thing would be a post about how Barnes and Noble can survive. Their current model of being a place where books are full price with no service isn’t it.

  13. Really great ideas, I would suggest you take the idea and start your own publishing company, but I’m selfish and want you to write more books lol. I’m surprised they aren’t already doing some of this though, like the free e-book with the purchase of a hardback. That sound slike a great deal and wouldn’t take too much effort on their part. Keep up the great ideas!

  14. Holy cow. This has got to be the best thing I’ve read in a while. And I agree with all your proposals. Well done.

  15. Hi Howey,

    Thank you for this article. I’ve been telling staunch believers in the current publishing industry that publishers are killing themselves and that they should change their business practices to suit the digital publishing age. Most of the time, I get sour responses and ‘oh, you know better? Show us how!’. Now I can send them a link to this article.

    I can’t wait for your second month at ‘New Harper Collins’…

    Martyn V. Halm, author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

  16. Hugh, great article (as always), but I would pose one question. I love Amazon and their programs for the most part – but Kindle Countdown requires Amazon exclusivity, and it’s a no brainer for me not to go there any longer. Why kill our other retail venues? How about suggesting that Amazon relieve the exclusivity clause? Obviously Amazon won’t do it, and we all know that, but I’m not sure giving Amazon a monopoly hands-down from Day 1 is the best tactic for all authors.

    Just my two cents, and please note that I don’t think avoiding the exclusivity is right for all authors either. Like all things publishing related, we have to be flexible in our thoughts and efforts and use the marketing tools available to us. I often recommend the KC to my marketing clients because it’s right for their situation/marketing plan/platform, but I’d hesitate nixing all retailers for all authors.

    Thanks for a great read this morning!

    1. Agreed. Amazon needs to re-think KDP Select. I’m sure they’re doing that right now.

      What I would do is offer a year of KDP Select benefits in exchange for 30 days of release exclusivity. If readers want a Day 1 release from the great Melissa Foster, they know they need a Kindle (or any one of the thousands of devices that run the Kindle Reader software). I understand some give and take, but lifetime exclusivity needs to come with major benefits. I don’t think they have anything like that right now.

      But I applaud them for trying new stuff all the time. Nothing they do is permanent. They experiment, see what works, and then adjust accordingly.

      1. Agreed, they change things up all the time and they’re heading toward pre-order pages for all authors now, which is a start (they’re behind on that avenue, since KOBO, B&N, and APPLE all offer them).

        The downside to the release day idea is that most releases make their most sales in that first 30 days (if it’s gonna be a blockbuster — although I’m a firm believer that you can breathe life into an old title at any time), and the author could miss out on making the bigger lists.

        Always give or take. Amazon is great at changing – fingers crossed for an amazing 2014.

        1. How do you know they’re going to offer pre-orders for all authors? When? Details, please …

  17. Every single word of this is perfect.

    Hugh Howey for President!

  18. I think that the big difference is in how independent and self-published books get to readers. With indie books it’s simple: The writer writes a book that he thinks will appeal to readers, picks out a cover, then uploads it. Does some marketing, whatever.

    But in the world of self publishing, after the book is picked up, it must be sold through an out-of-house distribution network, and there aren’t that many of them. Just a few, and a handful of people working for each that make that call. These six or seven people are the bottleneck, the gatekeepers who decide what gets offered to booksellers.

    It’s their jobs to pick what to push to bookstores based on what the publishers offer them. Booksellers decide what to order based on what they think will sell.

    That’s the choice the buying public has. The books the buyer at their chosen bookstore thinks they want, chosen from the books the salespeople for the distributors think they want. That’s what editors choose to publish and choose to push, the books they think that the distributors will try to sell to bookstores.

    There are multiple levels of distance and assumption between author and consumer.

  19. Some great ideas there. I particularly like the idea of getting the ebook with a hardcover – this drives me nuts about the industry.

    I would disagree about giving out ARCs, but I think instead of going to major newspapers and media to distribute ARCs I think going to blogs and websites that are influential in a particular niche would be a better method.

    1. Agreed. Send ARCs to your top readers. Every author has them, and they should be cherished like the dear friends they are.

  20. Whoa. A lot in this post. First, what you say about indies being at the top of the Sci Fi writers list and not much new from the big publishers. I’ve noticed a trend in the YA Science Fiction list. The same trilogies from traditional publishers have been on this list for a while now. The only thing completely new is coming from Indies, unless you count the short stories and novellas publishers are having authors like Veronica Roth, Veronica Rossi, and Kierra Cass write. These stories pop in and out of the rankings along with their single books and bundles of complete trilogies, but no new traditionally published authors. Indies continue to make waves in the YA lists, but where are the new authors from the big publishers?

    And, yes, bye-bye New York. Tiffany’s is now doing a major part of their business in Lexington, KY (a huge score for Central KY) all because of lower rent and lower cost of living. I’d welcome a large publisher to my town. :)

    Great article! A big publisher should hire you. You’ve got the time, right? ;)

    1. Not only do I not have the time, I’m not sure I could take the pay cut right now. CEOs at the Big 5 don’t make all that much.

  21. Fantastic post, Hugh.
    When I started, I dearly wanted a publisher. Then I ghostwrote for others and soon had a shelf-full of published volumes of my words. I became even more desperate to be accepted for my own fiction, but had to selfpublish because it was too unusual. At first I thought this was settling for second best, until I realised the control I had – creatively, financially and in terms of the publishing machine. To take just one example, a publisher can hold onto your book in perpetuity and effectively kill it – which seems intolerable when you consider the amount an author invests in it. I now wouldn’t be interested in the kind of deal that most publishers are offering at the moment because I don’t think it would be good for my work or my career. But if it was your Brave New HC… in fact, can I work for you?!

  22. Great points all around. I’d add one thing to your no advertising rule. I think you are correct that they should stop blowing money here. If they wanted to act more like Indies and Amazon here, they need to start cross selling books in the back of other books. I know thou isn’t a new idea for publishers because they used to do it, but I rarely see ads in the back of books anymore unless they are for the same author. Maybe authors didn’t like their books being used to sell other author’s work but it works in everyone’s favor. It seems the whole world realizes that the reason Amazon became the biggest bookseller is because of their Customers Also Bought section. This would be so easy and cheap for publishers to duplicate in print. Just a few pages at the end of the book that show other similar books and a short synopsis. Hell stick a scannable coupon in the back that gives buyers say 25% off if they buy one of the advertised books and they could even track how successful the ads are.

    Another way to emulate Indies with this same cross selling idea in mind would be to offer discounted book bundles of a few popular authors. So a customer goes to buy a book from their favorite author and they see that one of their books is in a bundle with 2 similar authors they’ve yet to read. So for double the cover price of the book they were going to buy anyway, they get to test drive two new authors. Sort of a buy 2 get 1 free pricing structure.

  23. I really enjoyed reading this post (though I think it really is safe to bruit your ideas about because you’re right about no one deciding to take your advice. Unfortunately). But what really struck me was the line about traditional publishing not being able to commit to the release schedules that make success likely.

    Wow. Yes. All the writers I used to talk to who couldn’t make a living because they could write more than one book a year, but not place them or sell them or have them released…

    *shakes head, pained*

    Ah well. From one indie to another, shine on, you crazy dreamer diamond. :D

    1. Yeah, the lie about how long it takes to write a great book causes a lot of trouble. Authors like Nora Roberts and James Patterson have had to fight with publishers to allow several releases a year.

      (And before anyone mentions ghost writers, Patterson is probably the hardest-working writer in the world. The guy works his butt off).

      1. That and the misapprehension that publishing too often cannibalizes your own sales… as if having book 2 available will somehow make readers not want book 1. Or book 2, if they loved book 1! And that’s not counting the “wait until it’s done” folks. I’ve had my own readers tell me they prefer not to buy a numbered series–something they know has an ending–until all of the books in the series are out.

      2. This is a great point. Some writers can do amazing things in a short time frame, and others take years with one novel. Neither is necessarily better, but I know I have read amazing stuff at both extremes.

  24. This is great stuff. Not that any publisher will listen to you, but I love the ideas.

  25. Love it!
    And another point they could ponder: Giving the new guys a chance! HOW hard is it to break into traditional publishing? Years of books and piles of rejections… and yet, how easy is it to self-publish? So perhaps there’s some room in there for publishers to finally give us a break? I’m not saying open the flood gates to any old crap – they still have to curate their stable of authors to maintain their reputation – but I’m sure they could take a few more chances, what with the approaching-zero cost of launching an ebook-only title?
    Because as far as I’m aware, that’s one of the other main reasons the top players on the sci-fi list are all either old hands, or indies: how often does a major publishing house anywhere in the world, take on a debut sic-fi novel? Even if it’s a stinker?
    Recruitment of talent from the top indies has been the best thing to come out of the digital revolution for publishers – so why not extend that pioneering activity to promising individuals before they tread the indie path, or before they hit the big time? Plenty of us are still submitting our work!

  26. “Hardbacks come with free ebooks.”

    This needs to happen, yesterday. When even the woefully out-of-touch recording industry started allowing Amazon to do just that with CDs-MP3s, publishers have a lot of catching up to do.

    On a related note: If (nay, when) I buy a signed copy of SAND from your website, will it include a free Kindle/digital copy? :)

  27. There is so much common sense in there it’s scary. Even scarier? That the major publishers They tell readers what they want instead of listening. Why are less people buying “real” books? Because they made it impossible. It makes no sense to pay $15-$30 for a book you very well may hate. To add insult to injury, they refused to publish the books people wanted. Why on earth would I make a special trip to a book store to pay a chunk of my hard earned money to read about an over the top hero and his paper-thin, useless female sidekick? No thank you. The big publishers disenfranchised an entire generation of female readers, then asked why we were weren’t reading. Everything in your article makes perfect sense and I agree completely. It’s a no-brainer and yet, no one will do it (more than likely), which makes me sad. There is so much wasted opportunity right now!

    Also, I teared up a little bit at the $8 mass/$15 hard/ $40 special addition. LOVE this! And for myself, I’d buy all three in a heartbeat (whether the ebook was included free or not) for any book/author I loved. This is an important opportunity being missed.

  28. Hugh, thanks for that incredible dose of enthusiasm and reality! Fabulous ideas (but sshhh… don’t give away all our indie secrets!) some of which are truly easy to put into practice.

    I KNOW we all love books — writers, readers, and publishers alike. I know the trad pub community believes they are sustaining literary culture by sticking with the tried and true. But they are losing the battle. In fact, there isn’t even a battle!

    I vote for Hugh Howey as Emperor of Books.

  29. Great post, Hugh!

    My favorites are #5, 7, and 10, and in fact, some of these have caused me to decline offers even though I’m (currently) unpublished. I’d rather do it right than submit to some of those horrible contract clauses. Thanks for fighting the good fight. :)

  30. King Howey of the Land of Books! Seriously excellent ideas. It would be wonderful for publishers to adopt these ideas but in the meantime indies will rule! You’re a great example to follow, Hugh.

  31. And it goes without saying, but here’s a necessary number 14:


    I cannot tell you how many times I purchase a book from a big-name publisher–I’m talking HUGE contemporary releases, big-name classics, you name it–and it’s a frustrating, poorly-compiled mess. Spelling errors, persistent formatting errors, for some reason all the capital T’s come out as an apostrophe and a string of numbers; it’s like, are you kidding me?

    If *I* can format an e-book–me, one guy, by myself, with spare time snagged around work and school–why the hell can’t a major publisher?

    1. So true, Brandon. I rarely buy trad-pubbed ebooks anymore (so expensive, particularly when there are superlative books that cost less) but when I have, I’ve been dismayed at the poor formatting I sometimes see.

      And that should be the easy part!

    2. There’s an entire imprint I avoid because their ebook formatting sucks so bad.

  32. Love this! Especially now that readers control the market. I’m so thankful that I’m writing in this time of publishing.

  33. An excellent article. Me and my fellow 47north authors already do number 1. We have a little group to chat and share ideas about writing, marketing and the like. It’s a great group and a lot of fun. I can highly recommend doing something similar. In fact I’m surprised it’s not already available.

    1. Annie Bellet pointed this out, and I think she’s right. Publishers are probably worried authors will talk and compare notes, causing some blow-back. I think this is a poor reason not to do it. Be up front about differences in contracts. Let your authors get fired up. The loss in sales potential and learning environment are too great to allow fear and paranoia to get in the way.

      1. We don’t really discuss things like contracts and stuff like that, but we do blog swaps and help each other get exposure when we have book launches. It’s an incredible resource to have a few dozen authors all willing to help one another. And then there’s just the fun of being able to talk to other authors and have a joke and a laugh. I think that’s incredibly important, to be able to enjoy the experience.

        47north seem more than happy to let it continue, I think that’s why I think they’re one of the best publishers out there at the moment. I freely admit to being slightly biased in that regard.

        1. I’m not with them, and I’m more than slightly biased in their favor. They do great and innovating things.

          1. They’ve been great to work with. They do so many things that most publishers don’t, like monthly payments and say in cover art, and I don’t think I could give up some of them without a fight.

  34. […] Howey, Verfasser der Silo Saga, hat sich in seinem Blog Gedanken über Erfolgsstrategien von Autoren und Verlagen gemacht. Buchreport berichtet. Im Kern […]

  35. I think the publishing world would be a better place if someone put you in charge! Thanks for this thought-provoking, inspiring, kick-ass post!

    Nutschell Windsor

  36. Another observation about that top ten. Two of those (#1 and #3) are benefiting from a huge signal boost thanks to a big movie and a big TV series.

    I’ve noticed that about a lot of the really successful traditional authors, they often have a successful film/TV show behind them. Another thing most new authors won’t get.

  37. This is great. I have to admit, before I knew who Hugh Howey was, or what Wool was, I downloaded the ebook of Wool through nefarious means, in order to check it out. The little “Look Inside!” feature on Amazon isn’t enough for me to up and buy a book. After about the first section, I ordered the physical book straightaway from Amazon. Then when I was done with that I bought Shift, then Dust. In that time I turned three of my friends onto the Silo saga, each of which have bought physical copies. I’m not a serial pirate, just one of convenience. These books were not available at my local library, and I wasn’t ready to fork out $15 for an unkown author or book at the time. I’ve never fully completed an ebook that I’ve downloaded via illicit means. Either it grabs my attention in which case I buy the book, or it doesn’t hold my interest and promptly gets dropped.

    And that’s usually only done with the first book I read from an author. I’m buying Sand straight up, no sneak peek. :-) Although I think you might have brought Paypal to it’s knees lol. It doesn’t want to load.

  38. Dina Silver (@DinaSilver) Avatar
    Dina Silver (@DinaSilver)

    Really great read. Someone, somewhere will take something away from this! I know I did.

    I’ve always thought of myself as an asset to any publisher, and never understood why they wouldn’t want the author/publisher relationship to be a true partnership. Everyone would benefit that way.

  39. This is why I keep telling people how smart you are. Team Hugh!

  40. Not surprising, but we Amazon Published (imprint) authors already have some of this in place. I specifically agree with number one. We have a members-only (invitation only) Facebook Group of Amazon published authors, and we can exchange information as well as help promote each other. I’m not sure if it was set up by an author, or by Amazon, but it’s great.

    I’m also satisfied with the release schedule for my Amazon imprint series, The Scavenger’s Daughters. August, December, and April. Not bad!

    1. Yeah, that’s why I lumped them in with the indies. :)

  41. All Hail Howey! I love hardbacks but can’t justify the cost compared to other versions/formats. If they came with the ebook I could suddenly justify it. :)

  42. This is an astute, motivating post, Hugh. Thank you!

  43. How would the process of holding books for release until a trilogy was ready affect notoriously slow-release authors like G.R.R.M. or Patrick Rothfuss? I’m in agony waiting for the next books in their series to come out, but when it gets unbearable I can go back and reread the earlier volumes. I’d rather have them take their time to get the book right than to rush out something that they (and probably I) won’t be entirely happy with. People just have different writing styles and if you push all authors into trying to please the desire for speed you could compromise the art and ultimately do a disservice to both the reader and the writer.

    While I agree that leaving New York is a good thing, be prepared to hire a whole new staff. When Discover magazine recently relocated to Wisconsin, they couldn’t get any of the former to staff to move with them. If the old staff are entrenched literati snobs, then maybe a total housecleaning would be a good thing, but you might miss some really great editors if you insist they leave a city they love. Your provision that people can work remotely should allow prize employees to stay in New York if they so choose, while corporate offices move to a more bottom-line-friendly locale. (Disclosure: I do not, have not and have no desire to live in New York myself.)

    I love the idea of hardbacks coming with free e-books. How about giving a discount on hardbacks to people who already own the e-book? That gives people like me who are willing to give new authors a shot with a reasonably priced e-book a chance to own physical copies without feeling like I’m overpaying. I think you could sell quite a few more hardbacks that way.

    1. With those sprawling epics, I’d rather (as a reader) see them broken up into three or more books and come 3 times as often. Waiting 5 years for 2,000 pages is frustrating. Starvation, and then a glut.

    2. Indeed. Physical books to me are those I cherish and enjoy the most. I don’t want to deal with physical books for every book I ever read. I read everything on my kindle, and then if I like it, I look into a physical copy. But ONLY if I like the look of the book itself.

  44. You are my new guru! Sure you don’t want to create a new publishing company, just to show them how it’s done :) It’s about time someone prioritized the readers.

  45. Hugh:

    I agree with everything, especially #10 and have already decided I won’t ever take a trade publishing contract without that.

    Concerning #5, I’m one of millions of people without a smart phone. And, as it happens I’m between digital cameras right now. How about a code that comes on the receipt that you enter at a website and download the e-book that way?

    1. That system would work if you could get all retailers involved. Not sure how to coordinate that. There has to be a way.

  46. Great article and amazing ideas. I especially love the idea of getting rid of ARCs and to stop spending so much money on this kind of marketing. Let the readers review the books — yes! Very smart. I hope the publishers listen and let Hugh take over for real.

  47. Hugh, just start assembling your team now, please! I might even consider putting my application in for a job. Why try to change an existing publishing house when you can start your own?

    1. ^^^ This.

      The point-by-point is brilliant on every level. And yet, it’s also just good, common business sense.

      I don’t see any benefit to starting from an existing publishing house, though.

      To the *real* customer (the reader), the existing publishing “brands” (Penguin, Harper, S&S, etc.) mean exactly zero. The vast majority of readers have no idea who is the publisher of their favorite authors’ books. Nor do they care.

      It’s a green-field opportunity to build an Internet-age publisher from the ground up. And hire the best folks out of the old industry while leaving the baggage behind.

  48. I would add author newsletter sign-up link at the back of ebooks as mandatory for all Hughs Harper Collins authors

  49. Would one of you 47 North authors be willing to talk shop about how you came to be with the imprint and what they do?

  50. […] Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge | Hugh Howey – Some good stuff here about how publishing could work. I don't agree with all of it, but it's good thinking. […]

  51. 9th January 2015, Florida, and somewhere on the internet

    “Record profits announced after last year’s launch of Howey & Howey Publishing Enterprises, which effectively shut down Harper Collins in a one day indie-led coup.”

    Nice idea. The problem with this utopia is that there are too many people at the top of the system that would miss their expensive business lunches, so they will, sadly, keep the archaic model instead. I still do not believe we have reached the point where the trad world is ready to embrace the indie system or wish to be a part of it. Maybe in another three or four years we will see a ‘shift’, but until then I think they will continue to view us as a rival gang which threatens their existence.

    I currently print 6×9 size paperbacks through Createspace, and was interested to ask if you have tried their 5×8 mass market size and if it was any good. And paper on board? where can I get these printed?

  52. I would submit that a good story will out. Regardless of platform.

    There are plenty of tales of authors self-publishing online, then being picked up by a REAL publisher.

    Which Amazon is not. And from which I would not buy, as I can get the same book a helluva lot cheaper elsewhere. An objective view would not include Amazon except as an aside. Given the amount of real books that get published and bought every year.

  53. […] Zum Artikel, zum Hugh Howey-Blog […]

  54. I was witness to the same bizarre phenomenon when I worked in a bookstore. I worked there over two separate spans of five years each, and I saw the same whittling down of high-demand genres (like Sci-if, Romance, and Thrillers). The only high-demand section that expanded, much to my glee, was Young Adult fiction (we have seven boys, and several of them are Capital-R Readers).
    My fellow employees and I used to joke that our bookstore was the only place where the laws of supply-and-demand didn’t seem to exist. I likened it to working in a capitalism-lacking vortex.
    I sincerely do hope that traditional publishers begin to emulate indie publishing. In the last few years, indie publishing has gifted me with some of my all-time favorite authors. Regardless of what criticism anyone may feel the need to point at Amazon, the company is definitely a reader’s — and writer’s — best friend.

    1. Yup. There’s a strong desire that starts with the editorial slushpile and goes right through to the bookstore buyer to will people to have different reading tastes than they actually do. The difference between what is supplied and what is demanded is the voltage across which self-publishing is being powered.

  55. Oh! For the mass market paperback! Speaking of, when will Createspace let us DO the mass market paperback and still distribute? It’s my favorite size and format.

    1. I don’t know that they will. The paper is so different. I think the printers would have to be retooled.

      1. :le sigh: Well, you can order it printed in that size, but I’d also like it to be available besides online. I’m pretty sure I’m going to start doing several editions: trade paperback, mass market (less availability), large print, clean, and author’s cut where there’s a clean.

  56. Would totally invest my millions (as soon as I get them) in Hugh Howey Books and appoint you President, Chairman and CEO. I’m confident you’ll beat the socks off the old guard. It’s the damn indies I’m concerned about. What can H.H. Books offer authors that will make it a better alternative than going indie? Streamlined editing, cover art, formatting, advances…? Anbd would H.H. Books sign new undiscovered authors, or pick up successful indies and ramp up the editing, cover art, etc.?

  57. Hugh, as always, excellent article.
    Don’t forget to treat authors like creative partners, not minimum wage employees, especially in the areas of editing and cover design.

  58. Awesome post! I loved all the new policies at “Howey managed” H.C. It would be awesome to see one of the cartel members break away and truly innovate and compete. Would probably do them some good. Of course that would mean that said H.C. CEO (you) would lose BFF status with all the other BPH CEO’s. Seems to be a cornerstone principle of the industry.

    And I’m wondering if anyone at H.C. has read this post. If so then I can’t decide which is most likely; their eyeballs spontaneously bursting out of their heads or being intentionally gouged out with dull, rusty utensils and letter openers.

    1. I probably should have made up the name of a publisher. This stuff applies to all the majors. As others have pointed out, many of the smaller presses already do some of these things. But then, those presses don’t offer bookstore penetration on a scale to make up for the difference in royalty between them and self-publishing (in my opinion).

      1. About some of the small presses I would agree. Many of the hybrids on KB are quick to defend their small presses as being great to work with, amicable in agreements and that the royalty discrepancy is worth the sales and distro they’re getting.

        I think most BPH execs would rather to the guillotine before implementing any of your changes but I can’t see any good reason why they’re NOT able to offer royalties better than the 25% of net. Ok, they’ll never go to 70% on tradpub digital but why not 50? That still gives them a fat percentage on something with 0 distro costs while getting closer to Zon and Smash. Simple fact is that they need that excessive margin to offset the losses and overhead from declining print. The high margin on digital has them swimming in cash right now…

        …and I think that will prevent them from seeing any future where they’re not fleecing authors on e-book contract terms as bad (if not worse) than they ever did in print.

        On that note; I think in the next year we’re going to start seeing a lot more “I went tradpub digital…don’t do it!!!” posts, comments and confessions. Creative accounting (see Hollywood) will factor into what a lot of authors “thought” we’re going to be big royalty paydays off that 25% of net. I have a sneaky suspicion that authors outside the top1% sell bracket won’t be satisfied.

  59. Excellent article, Hugh. Too bad, even with this blueprint laid out for them, the big five aren’t going to change, or at least not so radically. I remember turning down a contract for my Montana Sky Series, which paid a “small advance.” The editor offering the advance thought that I’d jump for joy. When I turned down the offer, and she asked why, I told her what that series had made the month before, and she gasped. The next day, she emailed me a lot of questions about self-publishing.

    Amazon Montlake offered me a lot of what you’ve listed here, and that’s why I accepted. And I’m still self-publishing shorter works in same series.

    One of my pet peeves with traditional publishers is the prices they’re charging for some of their huge authors. I’m being stubborn with some of the new releases by my favorite authors. As much as I want (really want) their new books, I’m NOT paying 11.00 for an ebook, even though I can afford it. It’s the principle of the thing. I spent too many years being a poor student and buying books secondhand for .50 or checking them out from the library. There’s a lot of readers who are penalized because they can’t afford to spend that much money on a single ebook when they can pick up dozens for free or several paid ebooks for the price of one.

    1. I was sitting in a boardroom at one of the largest publishers in the world, negotiating the sale of a book, when I opened my laptop and showed them what I made in a month. You could hear a flea fart. They can’t compete on money. They better start competing everywhere else. All they have right now is vanity going for them, which I’ll admit is powerful enough in most cases.

  60. Greaaaat post, Hugh!

    The current generation of publishers will do maybe 10% of this. The big bosses enjoy the NYC lifestyle and a million a year and the fawning of authors and agents.

    That’s power.

    But one day a start up, or an indie, will do all this and more, and then another will, and Amazon will too and eventually (10 years?) the NYC model will be over.

    Your post reads like a documentary. I know. I’ve walked the ground.

    Why don’t you start a publishing company?

  61. Hugh,

    Another awesome leadership post. Thank you.

    I think the truth is that a Big Five traditional publisher will do 80% of what you suggest when they are absolutely forced to and not a minute sooner. The question is: what will force them?

    I don’t think it will be writers. There will, for the foreseeable future, be more than enough writers who will do anything–anything–for the ego boost of being “made credible” by the anointment of a brand name publisher.

    I think it will be one of two things (or the two in combination):

    It will be a new publisher, well-financed, formed to pursue next-publishing in the big leagues but from a low-cost and highly-livable location… who attracts brilliant new writers and upper mid-list writers in droves… and top editorial talent… and lights them all from within… aglow with how much better the writerly business has suddenly become; or

    It will be the often foretold but not thoroughly believed loss of the bookstore as a fully-fledged distribution channel… which can happen in a negative tipping point… a sudden unfeasibility… not unlike a light switch flipped to off. And it won’t be that anyone wanted decisively to kill the bookstores. It will be the incremental impact of 500,000,000 consumer-driven buying decisions walking away from the cash registers of the very bookstores we love to browse (or did when they better represented what was, in fact, available).

    There will, of course, be bookstores, some independent and some chain… remaining… with us for the long-term. But no longer at mass and scale… not enough… to distinguish the Big Five publishers… in a way that uniquely and competitively advantages them.

    They will be in the fix of knowing how to publish (acquire, design, print, digitize) and skim from thousands of titles per year… but have space in the non-book retail stores (big boxes) for maybe one to two hundred “popular” titles. Ah, but what to do with the rest of what one publishes, the other five to twenty-five thousand titles per year?

    The rest can be sold, of course, but through distribution channels which are equally accessible to self-publishers. Equally accessible. And they, the Big Five, have advantages, plenty of them. And we, as self-publishers have advantages, plenty of them. And there’s a market of what, $5 billion a year in revenues at stake?

    Man, you have opened up a great can of worms; and I, for one, think we should all go fishing! Thanks!

    1. “There will, for the foreseeable future, be more than enough writers who will do anything–anything–for the ego boost of being “made credible” by the anointment of a brand name publisher.”

      Agrees. There could be a thousand Howey’s, Andre’s and Ward’s out there but as long as we continue to see breakout print authors who (seemingly overnight) become millionaire celebrities through TradPub, then the big print dream will thrive. And it will never matter that 37 of the 38 Legacy roulette wheel spots land on endless rejection or (if you actually WIN) sub-poverty income plus loss of your work for life. Sure, thousands of SP’ers might never sell more than 10 copies to friends and relatives but retaining control of your life’s work and having the freedom to steer your backlist means a lot more to me than someone else’s validation.

      And enough royalty money for a coffee or value meal will always be worth more than a form rejection letter.

  62. […] in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  63. […] to him in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  64. […] in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon's top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  65. […] in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  66. […] in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  67. […] in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  68. […] to him in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  69. […] him in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  70. […] in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top ten sci-fi charts are […]

  71. As a young editor trying desperately to break into publishing because I’m not so good at freelancing due to not being so hot at self-advocacy and self-management, I’d LOVE to work at a place like the one you describe. I can work amazingly well if I have scaffolding and direction — I did about two years as a teeny tiny indie ebook press and as my boss can attest, I did really dang well there. I only left because as a teeny tiny indie press, they couldn’t quite make enough to pay me full time (and I believed them and I still love them).

    I’ve been saying this for years at various WorldCons and other publishing events and getting looked down on and told that I’m totally crazy, man. But it’s what needs to be done.

  72. […] to him in the past about the weirdnesses associated with the present state of publishing, and Howey recently published a blog post that calls attention to the fact that half the authors in Amazon’s top 10 sci-fi charts are […]

  73. As a comics industry analyst/spectator (and an SF fan before I discovered comics back in 1984)…

    DRM will be dead in a decade.
    Every author should go read Cory Doctorow’s “Content” now.
    It’s free over at this website, in just about every format you could imagine.

    With digital comics, like with prose books, almost everything is rented. A few publishers, like Image, are selling DRM-free editions direct to fans, while still selling the rentals via Comixology, Amazon, B&N.

    ARCs… I get paper copies of DC’s monthly comics magazines.
    Otherwise, it’s all digital. I download review copies of graphic novels via Edelweiss.
    Yeah, I’ll buy the paper books, but I don’t mind reading comics on a screen.

    Mass market paperbacks… is there a market? I see digital copies replacing that market. Why spend $10 on a mass market paperback when I can buy something of equal or greater value via a digital copy? If it’s DRM-free, then I can pass that around like a mass market edition. If I want a nicer edition, I’ll buy the hardcover. Or a trade paperback.

    (And in SF/F, publishers launch new authors in mass market, much like new authors launch themselves with e-books.)

    And that hardcover? The initial printing will reflect pre-orders and perhaps a month’s worth of sales. (Unless it’s an art book with a special binding or format.) Once that goes out of print? POD. Various options would be available. (Dust jacket, laminated cover, generic cover, trade paperback, large print…)

    As for the lumbering of behemoths… publishing history is populated with many individuals who saw a better way of doing things, and went and started their own houses. The Big Six will make changes, but it will be slow.

    When I worked at a giant chain bookstore on the Upper West Side, our store manager gave us quite a bit of leeway in ordering for our departments. So if it was available from Bookazine or Ingram, we usually received it within two days. When I managed the Travel section, I would submit monthly map orders directly to the distributor.

    So I routinely searched our database for new titles, for titles not selected by the subject buyer, or sold out and not modeled. I would attend BEA on my own dime, just to discover cool stuff.

    1. The mass market books in my grocery store are between 5 and 8 dollars, mostly 5.

  74. How about Columbus Ohio 500 miles from half of US population

  75. Hey, great list.

    We always are seeing people posting about what is wrong with publishing, I like to read something where somebody offers answers to the problems.

    I like most of your suggestions, and would definitely consider popping a query into your NHC when you are boss! The no more advertising thing is interesting. We all know that much of the marketing that happens is fruitless, but we also know that a great number of the best books around simply vanish in the mire that is a saturated market. How will you make the best books stand out?

  76. Great article. Nothing is more draining than not knowing the results of your marketing efforts. KDP’s real time sales tracking and CS’s slightly delayed reporting both make it quite simple to figure out what is and isn’t working. Getting quarterly reports or bi-annual reports from a traditional publisher tells me nothing specific about my efforts. If I do a podcast or get a cover story in a newspaper, etc; I am interested in how many sales that leads to. It will help me decide where to focus my efforts and it will motivate me to keep spreading the word and keep pushing.

  77. […] Nominate Wheel Of Time For A Hugo? Scalzi on Adam’s Award Awareness Post More On Award Season Hugh Howey On Publishing’s Future Writer Beware Year In Review Daily Science Fiction Releases 2nd Year Anthology Self-Pubishing: […]

  78. Great piece, Hugh. Yep, trade paperbacks suck. They are over priced and too big. Lunch box Joe and Jane want a paperback that fits in their pocket. Cheaper, smaller, faster – lit with a bullet. Indie on the march?…you bet. Mz Indie Pub wears a shorter dress, goes dancing and uses make up on Sundays. Fewer are going to submit to the big publishers to wait forever for a response and for such a trivial bit of money. A big publisher that can’t get back to someone on a manuscript within a month (known or unknown) gets a failing grade from…well obviously everyone. Hugh, you are write on.

  79. Thanks for such a thought-provoking read. I am curious to know – how do authors feel about book excerpts as a means of promotion? How much do authors and publishers want to be compensated for excerpt rights? This is an area I’d like to know more about, and would appreciate any direction.

  80. […] Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge from Hugh Howey at […]

  81. […] along with some soothsaying about where things are going and how to get there. Part One: Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge | Hugh Howey Part Two: My Second Month on the Hypothetical Job | Hugh […]

  82. My only point of disagreement may be because it’s against my self-interest, but I think you’d still want to keep the reviewer who is really a reader. Not the Michiko Kakutanis of the world, who hate just about everything they read, but sites like the one I write for, where we’re all readers who just happen to review. When there are so many books out there, readers are looking for some guidance, and the reader-reviewer is who they’re turning to more and more. A few electronic ARCs aren’t going to cost you very much. It’s the hand selling of the virtual world.

    1. Oh, I would place reader blogs above the NYT Book Review. Readers will always come first.

  83. […] a crisply written contribution to the ongoing public discussion about the future of publishing. Here’s the link. Be sure to check out the comments. […]

  84. […] Howey, author of the self-published sensation Wool, has some good ideas for publishers. In fact, he has so many good ideas that he’s written a second column with more ideas, and there […]

  85. […] my hypothetical first month as CEO of New HarperCollins went by in a flash! It feels like it’s only been a week. Goes to show how much we’ve done and how far we’ve come. I thought it would be a […]

  86. Wow, yeah, AMEN to #6!

    Oh and #10–yes, yes!!! I want to write for Hugh’s Harper Collins :D

  87. […] Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge | Hugh Howey […]

  88. As someone planning to self-publish later this year—and who has already done tons of research—I found I learned a lot about marketing and pre-pub preparation from just this one post. Thanks, Hugh!

  89. I published my first book – Bombay Wali and other stories – literary fiction – with a small, Canadian publisher this year. Everything you say abs. rings true. My pub. co. is decent but I pretty much did ALL my publicity and did get the book into its second edition as a result. I did bookstore appearances and their promo was dismal. I am now wondering how so many of them are open vs why so many close! Libraries try harder I find, but can’t draw much of a crowd. I found reading to small groups of friends and friends of friends – i.e. communities – the best venues for both selling and getting the word out.

    My question is tho. how much of all the great stuff you said hold for literary fiction? I have a novel in hand now and am looking for a literary agent but maybe should just go ahead an self-publish! Thanks. Veena Gokhale

    1. I don’t know. I just published my first piece of literary fiction today. We’ll see how it does!

  90. […] anything nefarious like that – he’s gained a lot of publicity for his recent article, “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge”. So much so, in fact, that he has been invited to speak at European publisher Klopotek’s […]

  91. […] the foundations of publishing. If you’d like to see his original post, here is the link to: Don’t Anyone Put Me In Charge. I’ve listed some of the highlights that I think are going to blow the traditional publishing […]

  92. […] the foundations of publishing. If you’d like to see his original post, here is the link to: Don’t Anyone Put Me In Charge. I’ve listed some of the highlights that I think are going to blow the traditional publishing […]

  93. […] just landed an 8-figure advance; I hope it puts St. Martin’s out of business. Semi-related, this guy should totally be running HarperCollins for real. Instead they are doing the same tired, old stuff. (Also, the origin of that YA book […]

  94. […] now we move onto Part Two of Hugh Howey’s “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge” article. Hold onto your […]

  95. Great list! I’m happy to see that my publisher, Booktrope, already practices many of the items on your list, including 1 (especially 1 – all about community), 2, 3, 11, 12 and 13 (love getting my royalties every month) and possibly some of the others :)

  96. […] Hugh Howey’s look into the top selling Sci-Fi authors in which he makes the discovery that half of the top ten are self-published. (shared by Trish) […]

  97. Hi Hugh,

    I’d like you to be my publisher, please, and am willing to sign on the dotted line asap.

    Let’s get to work!!!!!

    Jonathan :)

  98. Brilliant!! In your spare time, you’ll have to take over a real publishing house!

  99. […] what I think the Authors Guild should be saying. Here is what their platform should be. (And I’m too busy running a hypothetical publishing house in Houston, so for goodness sake, don’t think I want another job. I […]

  100. […] In response to a question from NYPL’s Josh Hadro about libraries hosting original community content, Brantley reiterated his point with emphasis, invoking a recent series of posts from author Hugh Howey. […]

  101. […] a better way forward. (I do enjoy opinionated people, they’re so much more interesting!) His recent manifesto of how he would run a hypothetical publishing company was gold. Hugh shares many ideas, stories, […]

  102. […] article is one of several (including Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge; My Second Month on the Hypothetical Job; Lil’ Kris in da House and Turning Chaff Into Wheat) […]

  103. […] his recent controversial essay “Don’t Any One Put Me in Charge,” bestselling author Hugh Howey went so far as to suggest that one strategy for publishers to survive […]

  104. Regarding to number 1: We are Berrett-Koehler Publishers have done this successfully, and it offers us a great competitive advantage. Check out the thriving self-organized BK Authors Cooperative

    Great article!

  105. […] a science fiction author is more likely, these days, to have its origin in self-publishing,” said Howey. “I don’t think it should come as a shock that indies are killing it in these […]

  106. […] science fiction authors on Amazon right now are self-published or published with Amazon” he  recently blogged on what advice he had for traditional […]

  107. […] a science fiction author is more likely, these days, to have its origin in self-publishing,” said Howey. “I don’t think it should come as a shock that indies are killing it in these […]

  108. […] (Wool) launched a well-aimed missile of advice at the industry in his notorious 1/8 blog post, “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge,” in which he explains what he would do if he ran one of the big publishing houses. He followed […]

  109. All your points are so on target, but expressed in such a friendly and amusing way (as opposed to ranting and raving, which also seems appropriate at times). My blog post this week ( links to them and spreads the word a little further! Keep it up, you’ve obvious hit one big fat nerve.

  110. […] the beginning of the year, Howey offered his advice for publishers which reminded me of an old saw of my Dad’s, which was “when I was a kid, everybody […]

  111. I see the Shatzkin Report has beaten me to the punch, but I thought I should reply from the publishers’ point of view.
    These are all exciting ideas, and I really like them. But it’s difficult to see how New HarperCollins could implement them. There’s just so much “inertia” (in the mechanics sense) in a big corporation, that change is difficult. If you were setting up a new company these would all be fine things to try, but some of them depend on its being a large company for success.
    I have written a point-by-point response on my blog Making Book which I hope will be of interest.

  112. […] control. As an established publishing innovator he has imagined himself on his impressive blog as head of a major publishing company. He picked “New HarperCollins” (NHC). His ideas all look pretty good to me (though I […]

  113. […] It’s clear that he’s an outlier. Even so, he has been beating the drum for publishers to change their business models in response to self-publishing. On Wednesday, Howey posted an analysis of Amazon data that, he […]

  114. […] clear that he’s an outlier. Even so, he has been beating the drum for publishers to change their business models in response to self-publishing. On Wednesday, Howey posted an analysis of Amazon data that, he […]

  115. […] has caused book sales to thrive. Meanwhile, self-publishing golden-boy Hugh Howie has been working on a manifesto, detailing, if he was in charge, how he’d be running the major publishing houses and Penelope […]

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  119. […] at bay and away from the business aspects of publishing. It was one of my primary complaints in that old blog post. Publishers need to embrace authors as business partners, and any author who hopes to make a career […]

  120. This website was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped
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  121. […] with the past, to release all editions of a work at once, to get rid of DRM, to mix up genres and do something fresh and new . . . these are all things I’ve wanted as a reader for longer than I’ve been writing. […]

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  123. […] just landed an 8-figure advance; I hope it puts St. Martin’s out of business. Semi-related, this guy should totally be running HarperCollins for real. Instead they are doing the same tired, old stuff. (Also, the origin of that YA book […]

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  125. […] I’ve blogged before about what I would do, and it comes down to slashing the waste in the industry and passing those savings along to customers and artists. Basically Amazon’s strategy. Amazon gets hammered for making its employees (gasp) pay for candy bars in vending machines and for not taking large profits—choosing instead to focus on customer service, low prices, and better margins for authors. Publishers, meanwhile, set up in Midtown Manhattan and along the Thames, collude to raise prices on consumers, offer lockstep and horrid digital royalty rates, and they are the paragons of virtue. It doesn’t have to be this way. Any one of them could make an about-face immediately and change their corporate culture, and we should want them to. […]

  126. […] Hugh Howey’s “DOn’t Anyone Put Me in Charge” a post on what he’d do if he ran a publishing […]

  127. […] In a blog post last year, I posited what I would do if I had to run a major publishing house. One of the suggestions I made, and one I’ve harped on over and over since, is the need for a major publisher to close shop in NYC and move to more affordable real estate. Reading Christensen’s book, I’m convinced that this is the only way one of the Big 5 can thrive in the publishing world ten or fifteen years hence. The hardest part of dealing with disruptive innovations is restructuring to subsist on different margins. Most companies make the mistake of trying to achieve this through layoffs, mergers, and a gradual reduction in size. Layoffs pare payroll. Mergers like that between Penguin and Random House increase efficiency by jettisoning redundancies between the merged entity. Reductions in size are had by closing imprints (or in the case of retail, like Borders and B&N, shuttering store locations). The first and last of these create a spiral toward irrelevancy or bankruptcy. Mergers simply delay the need for one of the other two options (mergers are really a combination of the other two options, as they often lead to an overall loss in positions). […]

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  133. […] Hugh Howey’s… manifesto, declaration, whatever: Don’t Anybody Put Me In Charge […]

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