In the eight years since Orbit, Hachette’s science fiction and fantasy publishing division, launched Redhook, a lot has changed for the imprint, but one thing remains a constant: Redhook’s mission to publish books with bestseller potential. “We were looking for an opportunity to build on the already-present success of the Orbit division,” said Tim Holman, senior v-p and publisher of Orbit, about Redhook’s origin. The idea in starting Redhook, he continued, was to broaden’s Orbit reach by expanding into more general commercial fiction.
The switch to Redhook’s current focus on speculative fiction was a gradual one, though its seeds were planted in some of its earliest titles, including its first book, Robert Lyndon’s Hawk Quest, a 672-page epic historical novel set in Norman England, released in 2013. It was the 2014 publication of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, about a man reborn repeatedly across time, by Claire North, a pseudonym of British author Catherine Webb, that acted as an initial pivot point in Redhook’s strategy.
“It had speculative elements that connected with a general audience,” Holman said in explaining the title’s success. The novel, which has sold more than 200,000 copies across all formats, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. The book helped Redhook “evolve into an imprint focused on publishing speculative fiction,” Holman added.
But it wasn’t an overnight shift. Like with anything new, Redhook needed to establish trust with both authors and agents. Even though the imprint found itself at the forefront of speculative fiction’s popularity, Holman acknowledged that “it was helpful but not something we planned.”
Redhook also met marketing and publicity challenges with its general fiction approach. “We would often have a situation where every new book was a different book in a widely different genre every month,” said Alex Lencicki, v-p and associate publisher of Orbit. “One month it might be a science fiction thriller, and the next month it would be a romantically tinged thriller. This meant we were always trying to find new ways to market every book.”
When it settled on a more speculative fiction focus, Redhook was better able to use Orbit’s marketing and publicity infrastructure to reach genre readers—particularly those in science fiction and fantasy. “It frees us up to focus on promoting the uniqueness of each book, without having to always reinvent the wheel,” Lencicki said.
“Speculative fiction” wasn’t a term used widely in the 2013/2014 publishing landscape to describe books existing between genres. “Anybody publishing speculative fiction would have been publishing them under the umbrella of science fiction or fantasy, with publishers like Tor or Orbit or Del Ray,” Holman said. In just under a decade, much of that has changed. Today, the term speculative fiction is used to cover anything that is slightly out of the ordinary.
“Redhook has followed a similar path,” Holman said. “We now publish into a world where SF, fantasy, or genre fiction are much more appealing to a wider range of readers.”
Another title that moved Redhook down the speculative fiction path was Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, a fantastical mystery about a sprawling mansion and a book that carries secrets of other worlds. “Harrow created this whole ecosystem of books that demonstrates how speculative fiction can combine magic and feminism and witchcraft and still work with a general audience and it helped expand our speculative area of the market,” said Nivia Evans, senior editor at Redhook.
If North’s time-jetting novel helped steer the imprint’s mission into the world of speculative fiction, and Harrow’s fantastical world of mysterious books doubled down on that path, it was Louisa Morgan’s A Secret History of Witches that cemented and redefined Redhook’s strategy. Morgan had already published numerous fantasy novels, and Redhook saw a book with crossover potential. “We thought this book could reach an audience outside of fantasy,” Holman said. The choice to promote the book as a work of speculative fiction “showed us that Redhook could be a place where books spanning multiple categories can thrive,” he added.
Having positioned Redhook at the center of an emerging category, Holman believes “the future has never looked better. We’re emerging into a world where there is a much broader and more exciting engagement with speculative fiction.”
The imprint’s current strategy is to maintain its speculative focus while also increasing the number of books published per month. As part of its initial model, Redhook published no more than one to two titles per month, giving it an active backlist of about 60 titles. However, with the increase in popularity in speculative fiction, Redhook’s editors have received more and more submissions. “We’re confident that we can publish more,” Holman said.
The upcoming slate of titles is an example of Redhook’s wide range. In September, it will publish Andy Marino’s debut, The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess, about a woman suffering through trauma following a home invasion. Lucy Holland’s Sistersong, a reimagining of an old British folklore ballad, will follow in October. “The breadth of what Redhook can do is just, well, fun,” Evans said.
In early 2022, Redhook plans on publishing Francesca May’s Wild and Wicked Things, a post-WWI adventure about a woman swept into an underworld of witchcraft, and Alex Jennings’s The Ballad of Perilous Graves, a debut novel set in the dark underbelly of New Orleans. Both titles were acquired by Evans (who was named Superstar in PW’s 2020 Star Watch program).
Redhook is committed to finding books that are out of the ordinary. But with its new approach, the imprint can publish books in science fiction, fantasy, or horror without having to exclude a promising title just because it doesn’t fit a preexisting category. “There are going to be more opportunities in the future for speculative fiction to be published in new and interesting ways,” Holman said.