There’s been quite a few pie charts tossed around the past week. With their colored wedges and little labels, it’s easy to see these pies as something to fight over. I see something else. I see all that white space outside the pie charts where the non-readers lie. I see people beyond the crust playing video games and watching TV. I see them on Facebook and on crappy-looking author blogs. I see them bored, antsy, and wishing they could be whisked off on some exciting adventure or to some exotic locale. I see places where we need more pie.
I am not in competition with any other author. My competition is with all the things non-readers are doing. I want more readers. I’m selfish like that. I justify it by telling myself that so many people would be happier if they had a book with them at all times. They can read while waiting in lines. While at the airport. While at the beach. Over meals. In bed. Less time staring at our phones and jabbing candy, more time reading.
It’s too late for many people. They’ve already learned that they hate to read. Breaking that mentality is difficult; I know from years of wearing down friends and family. Getting a first mate on one yacht to read a book about blackjack was a huge life accomplishment for me. A young man who said he hated books devoured one in a single sitting. We just need to get the right books to the right people. And we need to do it earlier.
Three months into my job as CEO of New HarperCollins, my next big push is to grow this pie. Instead of worrying about self-publishing taking a large slice, or dwindling bookstores, or a shift to digital . . . I’m going to start planning for the book world that looms ten years from now, twenty years from now. It starts with our kids. With our parents. With our schools.
We are going to launch an initiative called π. It looks like a little penguin house, doesn’t it? Or a book standing on its jacket edges. We are going to spend millions of dollars to support youth NaNoWriMo to invest in future writers and current readers. We are going to pump money into programs like Battle of the Books. We are going to urge schools to stop teaching kids to hate books and allow them to read whatever they want. Harry Potter, Maze Runner, Sports Illustrated, Hunger Games, you name it.
This will also mean phasing out dry history books. And math books. Anything shaped like a book must be fun. Must be delicious. That’s the goal of π.
Students will learn math from Kahn Academy and similar online, scalable, teaching platforms. They will learn history with movies and with the plethora of fun novels that take place in ancient times (Rick Riordan teaches mythology, for instance). When this next generation of kids grows up, book-shaped things will tickle their souls. They’ll want to read. Some of them will even pick up the classics that we wish they’d read sooner. But we’ll give them time.
They payoff won’t be immediate for us in the publishing world. But it will be immediate for the kids. I’ve seen classrooms where this approach is used. I’ve spoken with these kids, had pizza with these kids, have given talks at their schools. When good teachers allow their students to discover books on their own, with autonomy and no pressure, they attack reading with zeal. Many of them become lifelong readers. The pie grows for everyone.
There’s no war here. There’s nothing to fight over. There’s just empty space, people who are bored and don’t know why, a deficit of great books for every taste, and hidden potential in millions of undiscovered writers.
When we in the publishing business come at each other with trust, love, and respect, I believe we will find there’s plenty of pie to go around. Our goal should not be to point fingers or humiliate, but to lower barriers, to work for contracts that treat people like people, and to allow the great folks in publishing to do what’s right instead of what’s handed down from on high. I think we all have the same goals. We want to make readers happy. Let’s add to that goal this one: To win non-readers over every day. And let’s start with our youth. Let’s not wait until they hate books to try and convince them to give reading a chance.
38 replies to “More Pie, Please!”
Yes! Thank you!!! I tried to sneak Youth NaNo into my kids school this year but I got started too late. Where have the Young Authors Conferences gone and how do we bring them back? This is the seriously important stuff we need to all be working on!! Thank you for posting!
I haven’t touched a book since around 2008 but devour books on my kindle app (you know as I almost caught up w Sand). I found you and a few others trolling the amazon recommendations and have rarely found a book I had to stop reading but what doesn’t exist and I think would be perfect for the indie publishing group is a place to share recommendations and have an algorithm that doesn’t take into account “sales” but considers readership. What books in your kindle app are “read” (finished) and compare that to others to see what they’ve read but you haven’t.
Reviews could be placed here as well bit I don’t read best sellers. I read what I think may be good. It took me awhile to pick up WOOL. Read MollyF and read about the hurricane and the plagiarist before I sprinted down the wool path!
I think your right about reading and I think the medium you use is personal. For me it’s phone to iPad (subway to home) but for others it needs to have a binding. I just think we need to take the socialization of fb and twitter and make it do good – point you to a place to engage your brain!
Mr. McHugh, this is a tremendous idea. I think that it could be done pretty easily and would have tremendous interest. It would not only help readers, but it would help authors like me who are struggling to be discovered through all the noise.
I think if it was designed correctly readers could find people to recommend books and then talk about the books, while recommending another book to another poster. It could be like an online book swap, but directed mostly at readers. You could run surveys off of this group and determine likely readership and also which demographics and Geo to target.
I 2nd it…
If anyone starts a group lik ethis please let me know.
Every day I lament the fact that my two daughters (23 and 18) don’t/won’t read for pleasure. I read books to both of them as kids before bed, made suggestions to them as they got older of fun and entertaining things to read, and anything else I could think of to encourage reading. Video games won.
I enjoy video games, too. But I also read a lot. Even with the amazing special effects in movies these days, books can still take you to places that movies can’t. They can allow you to see inside the minds of the characters, live another life like no movie can.
It may be too late for my kids, but not for others. There are so many great stories out there. We just have to get them to open their eyes and see. :-)
Do not despair too much Alan. I did not start reading until college, when the curiosity of why everyone was talking about The Da Vinci Code became too great. While many longtime readers may roll their eyes at the mention of Dan Brown, I owe him a great debt of gratitude because he was the first step in expanding my horizons to other mainstream authors and eventually into indies and even classics. While my interest in dime-a-dozen thrillers is what got me into reading (and to this day remains a welcome distraction from the burdens of the work week), it was the first step and the control of choosing my own stories (as Hugh suggests) that really allowed me to develop my personal taste and experiment with new books/authors. While I still consider myself far from an accomplished reader, I am proud to say I’ve burned through most of Stephen King’s catalog while also enjoying noir-classics, exciting new entries into sci-fi, high fantasy, horror staples like Dracula, and many more. Given time, your daughters may do the same. I’d recommend leaving a few books lying around on their bedroom nightstand when they come to visit!
Steve, thanks so much for the encouragement! And I’m glad to hear you found the reading bug, even later in life. :-)
My favorite review on one of my books is one in which the reviewer said it got the kids away from the Wii.
Once I get a little better known as an author, I’ll definitely pay a visit to a local school. (It helps that my daughter teaches at one of them.) Get the kids interested not only in reading, but in writing.
Great post! You’re right, it is about getting people to love reading books. How they read them isn’t important. Forcing kids to read “classics” and then hyper-analyse them puts kids off reading for years, if not life.
We started our kids reading with comics like the Beano and the Dandy. They have both now become avid readers in their 20s, and both work in specialised publishing.
Yes! Let’s get the pitchforks and burn some iPhones!
Hugh I can see from your blog post that you’ve been to my website and have seen my blog…
I’m so honored! I’m gonna go around and tell everyone that Hugh Howey has been to my blog!
Not the phones that have a reading App!
Thank you, Hugh. My son who is very high math (3rd grade), devours books. We have them on kindle and we get them from the school library and the local library. However, when it comes to writing, he struggles. The teachers give them the most awful assignments and he hates to physically write. He has great stories, just not the writing technique. So, a bunch of us mothers got together and let them create their own world and characters in that world. They did a great job and the drawings and stories were amazing. We didn’t worry about spelling and format, just let them go with it. I hope to publish some of these stories for them through Amazon this year, or at least my own son’s words. We need change to keep those little guys excited! Dru
Yesterday I went to the Courthouse and had to wait in line for an hour and a half. As always, I had my kindle with me, but as far as I could see, only one other person was reading a book (it was an actual book). Mostly, people just sat there staring at the women behind the counter who were going as fast as they could while doing their jobs. That’s an hour and a half, that passed by quickly for me, while others moaned and complained around me about having to wait forever just to get tags, plates, etc. for their car. At the time, I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone here busied themselves by reading instead of growing impatient and irritable.
Upon further reflection, I think it would be cool to have a business card with a coupon code for Amazon (since they have free apps for reading on any device) for free books they could download to their phones – they wouldn’t have to be my books (could be) but it would be more fun to have several authors’ books under one coupon code, so that they’d have options (personally, I love options). If there were such a coupon code, it would be great publicity for the authors involved and it would get a book into the hands of people who might not be hip to the reading experience.
Anyway, if such a thing existed, it might entice people to at least give reading a shot again. I’m not sure if such a code could be made available (Amazon, I’m looking at you), but I think if more non-reading people just gave reading a chance, they’d get hooked – and who can say no to Free?! :)
My youngest daughter started a conversation with me earlier this afternoon. She was fired up by a discussion that happened at school. Good. I’m glad she’s thinking. I’m glad she’s questioning authority. I’m glad she’s respectful of her teachers even when she thinks they’re wrong. And I’m over the moon that she accepted from me a copy of, Peter McWilliams wonderful book, “Ain’t Nobodies Business if you Do.” She’s exploring the limits of societal constraints through books, not through personal experimentation with things that might be beyond her ability to manage safely.
Because she’s 15 years old many would suggest I was contributing to the delinquency of a minor. I disagree. One of the great discoveries of my young life was Abbie Hoffman’s, “Steal This Book.” I read it repeatedly, the anger and vengeance pouring from those pages was so foreign to me. It was alluring, educational, insightful, and contained a cautionary tale that was tied directly to Abbie’s hard, brutal, lonely, hidden real life. It lit a fire in me that has never gone out. I hope my daughter finds the same intellectual challenges and comfort in the pages she chooses to read.
Thank you for spearheading this initiative, Hugh. Our current educational institutions aren’t going to make it happen. Perhaps it’s time for writers, publishers, distributors, and readers to stand up and be counted. Whatever they want to read, we can make it available to them. We can create new content for them to ponder, to be entertained by, to learn from.
What an epic drama. I’m glad to play even a peripheral role in the battle of converting non-readers to readers, and maybe to writers, too.
Thank you for mentioning the brilliant Peter McWilliams. I’ve not met, let alone heard of many other people who’ve read that book. It gives me no end of pleasure to see this comment and hopefully some more people will be inspired to read his books because of it.
Hanna, the idea of equipping fans with free books is genius. If Hugh sent some fans from his mailing list a couple codes each for wool1 or sand1it would little negative effect on his sales as we’ve already bought them. But it would let us gift them to who ever we think might enjoy them and possibly hook them into the series. Brilliant. Hugh,is this doable now somehow? Would you have to personally cover Amazon’s lost 30%?
And this . . .”We are going to urge schools to stop teaching kids to hate books and allow them to read whatever they want.” . . . is extremely important.
As my two girls where growing up and we made our bi-monthly trip to the bookstores, my oldest never had a problem finding a handful of books that pleased her. She is actually the only person I know that can watch a movie, tell you exactly what happened – all while reading a book at the same time.
But my youngest always seemed to struggle. I often helped her find books that made noise, had pop-ups, puzzles in them, stuff she could write on – whatever it took – even buying comic books. Today she is an avid reader, not as much as her sister, my wife or I – but I’d say more than the average adult.
One of her newest routines is reading daily to her 4 month old daughter. Yep, we start them young around this house.
This is why, as soon as I could transition to being a full-time writer, I also took on a volunteer job as editor of the school newspaper at my daughters’ elementary school.
There’s nothing more awesome than seeing a room full of 25 bright-eyed fourth and fifth graders writing articles, stories, poems, and *book reviews* for 500 schoolmates and their families to enjoy. Nothing except for hearing some of those kids tell me they want to grow up and be writers. That’s even more awesome.
Neil Gaiman has some eye-opening things to say about the importance of getting kids to read, too:
Still, every time I see a kid with a Rowling or Riordan or Kinney book under their arm, I think, “The future’s going to turn out pretty much okay.”
Volunteering and working with kids is so important! I think we all can remember a teacher, or coach, who went the extra mile for us at some point in our youth. I coached soccer for about 20 years and I still have kids and parents who recognize me and thank me for the experience they had — even years later.
So, bravo to you, Paul for stepping in with your school’s newspaper! Awesome stuff!
I simply want to express the joy your words brought to my heart. Hugh, you’re a beautiful human being…I am so pleased to be on this earth with you. What a blessing indeed!
It’s true that it starts in schools. There are two things that cemented my love of reading. The first was book club and the associated reading assembly. One reading a week, and one chance to buy tokens that you saved up for a book. The second was Speech Day. Don’t know what you call that in the USA, but it was a day when the school got together and celebrated nerds and high test results with speeches and prizes. I got a prize when I was in form 8. They were always book tokens, and when I chose the hardback edition of the Thomas Harris Anthology with Sir Anthony Hopkins on the cover strapped in with a you-are-not-allowed-to-eat-humans mask, the look on my Head teacher’s face was priceless. From that point on, books were officially cool.
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On many points, I’m gung ho. This one, no:
Historical fiction is not required to hew to history and while it can certainly supplement history books, good history books aren’t dry. I used to read them for the stories in school. Creative nonfiction should hew to the same rules of fiction: be interesting, be compelling, but also be historically accurate and more comprehensive.
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat and we don’t need to dumb down our kids any further by not teaching them history.
The history textbooks used in public schools are dry, boring, and much more focused on bland facts than actually teaching history, or why history is relevant and important. And that’s a problem. There are good history books, but they’re not being used in schools.
This post literally gave me chills. Everything you’ve said is so dead on and accurate. I’ve had this same conversation with multiple people that I work with who have kids that talk about letting them read whatever they want just for the fact that they are reading! Learning to enjoy reading at a young age, whatever the type of book, allows for that to continue as you get older and inevitably look for more and more information to devour through different genres and mediums available now days. I happily loan any and all of my books to people just because I support reading in general so much!
I was one of those kids forced to read all the boring stuff. I was in honors English and had to read things that made my brain hurt. Sure now at 40 I can say that I secretly loved Shakespeare but it was really tough to read at that time of my life. I never read a book for leisure. I am an engineer and read all kinds of technical books and data. I read lots of stuff on economics but nothing for leisure. That all changed when my wife started self publishing and I started helping her and devouring all the info out there on self publishing. Then I ran across someone that was working hard to change the publishing world, Hugh. His book looked intriguing so I decided to try and pick up a book and read it. It started more of a work task as I needed to learn more about modern writing techniques and voices to help my wife. A strange thing happened, I couldn’t put down this book. What was this world that I was trapped in? Wool. What kind of name is that? It consumed me. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. I was loving reading for leisure!
There is a book out there for everyone as Hugh says. Forcing these kids to read something they have no interest in endangers them to hate reading. Let’s give them choices and encourage it. I hate to think on all that I have missed out on in the last 30 years since school turned me off to reading.
Thanks Hugh for all that you do!
If you’re an engineer, then you should check out The Martian by Andy Weir. I imagine it’s what an engineer’s wet dream looks like.
I also recommend The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter. Unfortunately it is, as insane as this sounds, not available in ebook form. How much money are they losing each day on that decision?
The former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, made a programme with the BBC in which he worked with one school to get the children reading for pleasure. It was not all plain sailing getting parents, teachers and kids onboard, but by the end of it, the children really loved their books, and there were tears when Mr Rosen had to leave. Here’s a bit about the programme: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/feb/05/michael-rosen-english
Michael Rosen also produced his suggestions on how to produce a book-loving school:
My parents read to me when I was small and I turned into both a writer and a reader. By the time my sister came along, that was all a bit too much effort and my sister has never read books.
I do have to say, I thought I hated reading.
Things going digital changed that. I’m kinda lazy. Don’t like hauling books around. But the fact that I had a library on my phone changed things quite dramatically.
It was a fundamental change for me that younger peeps probably won’t understand or will take for granted. Like how the social adoption of the cell phone vastly expanded my circle of friends.
Reading was more a problem of access and ease of use than it was about me hating to read.
P.S. — Maybe it’s school that teaches us to hate reading.
Bear with me. I remember being forced to read things I didn’t like in school, presumably under the assumption that these were “good books.”) It wasn’t until my senior year, and we read Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea (in a textbook even!) that despite myself, I was enjoying reading and showed up to class wanting to read more. (And yes, we read it outloud as a class. I’m a dummy okay! :p)
P.P.S. — Not sure where this supposed hatred of reading comes from. That it’s “not cool.” Maybe it’s just childish rebellion of authority. While, it was my senior year that opened my eyes, looking back, I read Jurassic Park before the movie came out (The Firm too and Disclosure) — which meant I read these things when I was 12 (which is surprisingly young, even to me looking back on it). I cite these because I have a good mind for dates and am a movie nut. And I remember comparing the movie to the book (Jurassic Park really sticks out because of 1) the age/role reversal of the kids and 2) I loved the pterodactyl scene (which kinda ends up in JP 3)).
So, here I am avid hater of reading, having read “adult” books at age 12. Yet, it wasn’t until 18 that I figured, maybe I liked reading (A very tentative maybe). And it wasn’t until 32 that I realized, “Hey, I can read in waiting rooms on my phone! This is awesome!”
Why are we humans so crazy? Or maybe it’s just me. :p
My kids’ K-5 school required them to read 20+ min. a day, after school, for pleasure. At first, it was us reading to them (which we already did). It took one of my kids until 4th grade to find a book that was immersive, compelling, that she couldn’t put down. Up until then, it was just homework. Now, we have a lifelong reader who enjoys books.
No one can say when the delight will kick in, and the world of words will open for them. We can only create the time–and support the idea that this is something fun, and amazing and worth doing.
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my whole body clenched up when I read what you said about dry, boring history books being eliminated to make room for exciting books kids will enjoy…..I want children, as well as adults, to have a good, solid grasp of historical events. I don’t think memorizing specific dates is relevant but I don’t think throwing out history would be a good idea under any circumstances.
Maybe what should be done is having authors, like yourself, take the time to work on how to present these dry topics in a way that would be exciting or entertaining for kids to read — do you know the mother of Charlemagne was called Big Foot Bertha? Kids laugh at that and remember it and thus tend to remember if nothing else who Charlemagne was.. I would hope of all the great writers of fiction out there some could address the “dry” but needed topics and work on a program that would convey information while being entertaining…..after all Jon Stewart seems to do it 5X a week
I would *love* to see more history books written in an entertaining way. Public school turned me off to history, with all those memorize-the-dates textbooks, but I’ve found a taste for it in adulthood by reading authors such as Laurence Bergreen, Frances Sherwood, and Robert K. Massie. There are too few such books and authors.
School curriculum does seem to turn the majority of students off to books. I’m a mega-reader, and I couldn’t stand most of the books force-fed to me in public school. Years ago, I blogged about this problem:
However, I doubt the CEO of NewHarperCollins or any other publisher can overhaul the U.S. public school system! Good luck with that.
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