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Re: Bookseller article on new Hobbit books

Subject: Re: Bookseller article on new Hobbit books
by Trotter on 2011/10/21 23:18:16

I saw this article from the Bookseller on another Tolkien Forum.

Although HarperCollins has only been J R R Tolkien's publisher for two decades, it has much longer ties to the author. In 1990 HC bought Unwin Hyman, a merged company comprised of Bell & Hyman and Allen & Unwin, Tolkien's original publisher. The Tolkien estates' lawyer Cathleen Blackburn says that it is a co-operative relationship and that, as with all co-operative relationships, "we have our ups and downs. We have to work together. The publisher has to keep the estate commercial and the estate has to keep the publisher sensible when it comes to the profile and ethos of their plans, because a lot of people over the years want to do some fairly crazy things. One party is reigning in the other and one party is encouraging the estate to be open to ideas and what other people are doing to sell books." She adds: "People that are close to the publishing can always see we're on the same side, but sometimes you get new marketing people coming along and asking why you aren't you doing this or that. We have to explain to them that over the years we've learnt that some things really aren't a good idea."

J R R Tolkien sold the film rights to The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969 and Cathleen Blackburn, lawyer for the Tolkien Estate, explains that it "came as a surprise when it looked as though someone [director Peter Jackson in the late 90s] was taking an interest. The rights had been out there for 30 years and so with the films it was a very slow burn. When rights were sold—especially in the 1960s—they were sold with no editorial control, so we were bystanders with the films and let them get on with it, knowing that they could do whatever they liked; it was in their name and it wasn't in ours." She adds: "Primarily the Tolkien estate aim is to keep Tolkien's books at the forefront of what people understand of Tolkien. The challenge since the films were released has been to make sure the books themselves are as prominent, if not more, than the films. That's tough, because with publishing versus Hollywood, well it is difficult, as they're not of equal strength." Big screen adaptations can be a double-edged sword for estates and publishers—get it right and sales can increase, but get it wrong and a whole generation of new potential readers can be dissuaded. David Brawn, at Tolkein's publisher HarperCollins, explains that he felt "nervous" when Jackson first approached the publisher about the films. "He wanted to contact Alan Lee and John Howe, who were our cover artists, as he liked their work and thought they could be involved with the films. We looked him up and discovered he had directed some really shaky looking horror films previously, and when it became clear the Lord of the Rings films were going to happen we were nervous. We could remember a cartoon version from the late 1970s, which really hadn't done the books any favours, and with that in mind—plus some of the pretty awful film adaptations that there had been—we thought: 'this could be really bad'." He adds: "The truth is if something as big as a Hollywood-sponsored film turns out to be really awful, it will put people off the book—like with Louis de Bernières' Captain Corelli's Mandolin. That book was a bestseller week after week but the film was disappointing, and afterwards that book was no longer the perennial bestseller it once was. So as a sponsor of someone's work, you do worry that if a wrong thing is done, you can do untold damage." Brawn explains that his job is as much about protection as it is about exploitation, so while he keeps chipping away at estates with new ideas he understands their hesitation when it comes to projects like big-screen adaptations, but that ultimately, "you never take no for an answer. With a lot of estates, such as the C S Lewis estate, people had wanted [a film] for a long time, and in that instance I think the family had seen what benefit had been derived from the Lord of the Rings films. Not everybody liked them, but it certainly led to the selling of a huge number of books [according to Nielsen BookScan's TCM all the various print editions of the Lord of the Rings series sold close to 2.6 million copies in the period between the first film and last film coming out]. They were good enough to get people to read the books and I think the C S Lewis family then thought: 'we could have a slice of this'. So things do change."


and another earlier article.

As well as Christie, Brawn mainly deals with the estate of J R R Tolkien (his other authors include Alistair MacLean, Ngaio Marsh and C S Lewis). He says dealing with the estates requires patience and tenacity: it took seven years of discussions with the Tolkien estate before it agreed for HC to release e-books. His first meeting with the Tolkien estate in 1995 involved him having seven publishing ideas in a row shot down. It was, he says, "the most humiliating morning". "You sometimes sit and think ‘have I gone native? Am I asking sufficiently challenging questions?'" he says. "You need to make sure you are not assuming too much. I'm fairly confident I've got the right perspective. You keeping chipping away."

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