The World of Books

If you love books, I can’t recommend highly enough that you become an international bestseller. Really. There’s no better way to get a tour of how manuscripts become novels. For nearly two years now, I’ve felt like one of the kids who found Wonka’s golden ticket. I’ve been inside the major publishing houses in New York (I’m sure the people who work there can’t imagine the thrill this brings an outsider). I’ve worked with some of the top agents in the industry. I’ve met with Hollywood people and been given a peek at how novels are adapted to film. But nothing beats a tour of foreign publishers and bookstores.

So many things are done differently overseas. The Frankfurt Book Fair sizzled my little brain. It was eight times the size of BEA, the American equivalent. I’ve spent the last three days with my French publisher, Actes Sud, and seeing how they operate has been a blast (they have tiny spiral staircases in their offices that lead up to where I interview. How apt!)

One of the things I discovered today is that authors here rarely have agents. Writers submit their manuscripts directly to publishers! My acquiring editor receives dozens a week out of the 400 or so that arrive to the publisher. That’s 400 a WEEK. Normally, agents perform this job, but not in France. I find it fascinating. It makes the role of publisher as curator of talent even more arduous and important.

Another big surprise today is that French bookshops have the same hesitation about signed books as German bookshops. You would never drop into a bookstore here and sign whatever books of yours they have in stock. (My German editor said that bookstore workers would assume you were crazy. My reply was that these are authors we’re talking about; so, of course!)

Naturally, after learning this, I went to a bookshop to find out more. I spoke with a bookseller in the SF area and one of their most loyal customers (who was wearing a Celtics jacket and lived in Boston when he was young). They confirmed what I’d been told and seemed confused about why an author would sign books in a bookstore unless the customer was there to buy them. It’s just not done here. Makes me wonder how much trouble my mother and I are going to cause in Italy in a few weeks! :)

14 responses to “The World of Books”

  1. I believe authors are not regarded as celebraties in Europe, at least not in the American sense, …here today gone tomorrow.

    Being British I can remember saying to my parents, “They give a lot of credit to writers here.” This being noticed in regard to TV, the writer’s name is front and promenant. In Dr. Who, I believe you get the title of the episode followed by the writer’s name at the begining of the show not in the end credits. Regarding book signing, Britain geographically may be part of Europe but being an island they have their own way of thinking, it maybe half and half.

  2. “If you love books, I can’t recommend highly enough that you become an international bestseller”, LOL. That is the dream isn’t it? I guess I’m on my way since more than half of my readers are over in the U.K. Maybe one day I’ll get to do a tour like you and we can compare notes! =p::

    1. Oh, it was totally tongue-in-cheek. :)

  3. I guess I can explain the “book signing thing” Hugh,
    for us French people, a signing has no interest except as a marker/reminder of some interaction we had with the author. So signing a book to an anonymous/unknown yet customer bears no real value.

    It would be like signing Klingon money Checks, and letting people pick them up.

    1. On he other hand, since it’s “more difficult” to get a signed book, it bears a greater value… Thanks again :)

    2. It’s the same with me, although I’m from Hungary. The first time, I tried to get an autograph from a local author, I was told at the bookstore, that I missed the day, the signing had been yesterday, but they can give me a signed copy, if I want. I thanked them, but I had to refuse, because it’s not the same. Especially that the book was going to be a Christmas gift. Yes, I wanted to wait for my turn in the (long) line, I wanted to ask for it myself, and I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I found out the actual place, and I did it.

      Although I have to admit, I would be thrilled to wander to a bookstore, trying to buy one of your books, and finding out, that you happened to be there before, and signed. But that’s because of the background story, that you happened to be there, and it makes it special too, just like meeting in person.

  4. […] Hugh Howey has noted in The World of Books—a fond post from Paris about seeing non-U.S. publishing interests and people at work—Frankfurt […]

  5. “If you love books, I can’t recommend highly enough that you become an international bestseller”
    hmmm….I’m not convinced yet. All that travel is too long to be away from wife and dog. Although, it would be funny to watch people kiss my bushy, bearded cheeks!

    1. Don’t knock it until you try it, Travis! :D

  6. Sounds interesting, fun, and rewarding. I still have 3 small boys at home, so I think my husband would be like what? Plus, my now 13 year old is my writing partner in crime. I can’t really uproot him either. He’s also at the stage where friends are more important than family. I think he’d die or worse just kill of our MC Mason Davis in protest. ( Just kidding!) For now, our MG UF, Mason Davis and the Rise of the Storm Makers, will quietly have to wait on the internet bookshelves and hope that readers will find it. Who knows – maybe something can be worked out for the summer though and we can take our MC on a great European vacation.

  7. You have become such an inspiration to me, being that I’m a new author trying very hard to garnish the same sort of success. Thank You.

  8. I’ve been inside the major publishing houses in New York (I’m sure the people who work there can’t imagine the thrill this brings an outsider).
    I’ve lived in NYC my whole life. My first real job was in one of those book publishing houses in NYC. Yes, I know how feel. Most days when an author came to visit I had no idea who they were, let alone had I read any of their work. Then there were the days when someone whose work I LOVED came up. I was like a kid on Christmas morning. I would probably scream like a groupie if I worked at your publisher when you came to visit.

  9. Mr. Howey – I just finished reading Wool, and was blown away! I heard about the book because my friend and I were considering doing NaNoWriMo, and I looked up your book and was instantly intrigued by the premise. At first, I was expecting another exciting dystopia – and it was – but so much more! Your characters are so breathtakingly heartwrenchingly *real* and complex, and I was drawn into each of their lives and thoughts and flaws and strengths. Even as the characters who I thought were the protagonists continued to die (reminds me of George RR Martin in that way), I was heartbroken but never once considered stopping reading, as I wanted just as badly to continue with the stories of the other characters – every one was just as real to me as the first I encountered. Your deeply sensory descriptions kept me visualizing the story in an almost hallucinatory way, experiencing every page, and the allusions from Shakespeare to the Robbers Cave project only drew me deeper in. And Jules! I could compare her to other vibrant, strong female characters like Ripley or Alanna or Danaerys but I feel like even that would be failing to do her justice. This is a character I could look up to, one I want to be like! All this sounds probably just like the ramblings of an overexcited fan, but I hope it comes clear that your book is inspiring to me in untold ways. Thank you for writing this! You’re my authorial inspiration as I begin to fumble my way into NaNoWriMo…

    1. Thanks, Amber! And best of luck with NaNoWriMo. Be sure to friend me on the site.

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