Publishing savagery

Publishing savagery

Next month we (by which I mean The Friday Project, the imprint I run at HarperCollins) publish In Praise of Savagery by Warwick Cairns as an ebook. Bully for you I hear you cry. All very modern but nothing too unusual there, I grant you.

What makes this book special/unusual/notable (delete as applicable) is that we don’t actually publish the print edition until April 2011. The mathematicians among you will have worked out that this is six months later. I think this is a publishing first. Not that I’ve done much checking. I think I’ll just claim it for now and withdraw the statement humbly when I am proved wrong.

But why on earth are we doing such a thing?

Why not? would be my answer.

For years now, hardbacks have been published to help ‘set up’ the paperback. Very few hardbacks, especially those written by new or developing authors, will sell more than a few hundred copies or perhaps in the low thousands at best. But our industry continues to churn them out, and with some reason. They help to garner review coverage which, in turn, can elicit a nice quote for the paperback and can start a buzz on the book that may transfer into strong paperback sales.

1,000 people reading and enjoying a hardback can generate good word-of-mouth. 1,000 sales of a debut hardback is quite respectable and could be seen by a retail buyer as a sign that the paperback is worth a punt. 1,000 readers for any book is bloody good these days.

But what if I can find 10,000 readers for In Praise of Savagery before the paperback comes out? How much more noise, how much more chatter, how much more word-of-mouth could they generate? And does it matter if I find them via iPads, Kindles, Sony Readers and iPhones?

There’s only one way to find out.

But to at least give us a fighting start we will make the ebook free for the first month. It will then go up 99p each month until it reaches our standard ebook price of £2.99. If that doesn’t encourage people to try it out then I will eat my hat. Not that I have a hat, but it’s the thought that counts.

When we publish In Praise of Savagery in April 2011 it is my hope and intention that thousands of people will already have read it and that many of them will be raving about it. It is that sort of book, the tale of the author’s brief friendship with legendary explorer Wilfred Thesiger and how their acquaintance led the former on a quest across Africa to visit the latter. It shoots off on oddly delightful tangents about London’s secret underground rivers and the banking system of the early 80s or urban planning of Harlow New Town. It reminds me of early Bill Bryson crossed with Geoff Dyer. I think a lot of people are really going to like it.

If this plan works then we may well have come across a new publishing model, a new way to get people reading and talking about books in advance of a paperback’s release.

If it doesn’t, then at least we have given it a go. I shall report back.