Rugged Land Books was cofounded by Shawn Coyne and Webster Stone in 2001, but despite publishing several bestsellers by high-profile names such as Chris Wallace and Brett Favre, the company closed six years later. As part of shutting down the company, rights to unpublished titles were reverted back to authors, but Stone kept the rights to the Rugged Land name, and he has decided to revive the company under a slightly different banner, Rugged Land Media. The change from books to media signals that the company’s new iteration will deal in e-books, audiobooks, film, television, and more. Stone said the phrase Rugged Land feels old-world, and media nods to the future.
Stone said that though a difference of opinion over the direction of the company contributed to the closing of Rugged Land, another factor was over-publishing. “I wish we could have stuck to our guns and done far fewer books and put more publicity behind them,” Stone explained. “We couldn’t stick to our business model because we were often at the mercy of the distributor, who wanted more product.”
In between shutting down and reviving Rugged Land, Stone, who has a background in film as well as books, produced, among other projects, The Conspirator, a film starring Robin Wright, James McAvoy, and Kevin Kline, and directed by Robert Redford.
Based in New York, Rugged Land Media plans to publish two to four titles per year. The emphasis will be on commercial, adult trade, narrative fiction, and nonfiction, preferably with foreign rights and film potential. Stone will also consider republishing self-published works. The press’s first title is Smoke, a crime-fiction tale set against the backdrop of the cannabis industry in Humboldt County, California, written by Hank Shaeffer and set to be released on July 12. Following Smoke will be a business nonfiction title, The Caterpillar’s Edge by Sid Mohasseb, and a YA thriller, The Diplomat’s Daughter by Tiffany Rosenhan.
Stone is focused on supporting each title fully. “This was the problem for the old Rugged Land model. If you’re not putting out so many books, will you get the hits? I’m hoping to get a hit once every six or eight times. The statistics aren’t great. A lot of books don’t earn out.” His focus is on having a small team, developing projects from the ground up, controlling the rights, and doing a lot of publicity. In addition to Stone, the staff includes Jack Pickering as editor, Tim Hsu as creative director, and Zoe Feigenbaum as publicity director.
Having fewer titles means more support for each book. “An unsupported title is an unpublished title to my mind,” Stone said. “And a lot of titles coming from the big houses are entirely unsupported. I’m starting with a fresh slate. I want to keep the courage of our convictions in terms of publishing a smaller list and really supporting it.” Distribution will be handled by Simon & Schuster through an agreement Stone reached with Post Hill Press, which is an S&S client.
Stone likes developing projects from the earliest stage. “I’m interested in working on something and then taking advantage of the different revenue streams.” Stone feels that his ties to Hollywood, as a movie producer and book packager, will help Rugged Land titles vie as potential film and TV projects. For instance, Stone is trying to get several backlist titles turned into a straight-to-TV series. Rugged Land has also produced a serialized audio podcast of Smoke, and Stone noted that audio books are important to the press.
“A lot of the books I’m doing are more mid-list, but they should still be published,” Stone said, noting that books expected to perform modestly can turn into big hits.