David J Howe

From February 2004 Telos Publishing will cease to publish its range of
Doctor Who novellas.
Publisher David J Howe talks to Darren Rea about how the range was originally born and what the future holds for Telos Publishing...

Darren Rea: How did you originally get involved in publishing and what were the origins of Telos?

David J Howe: I've always been interested in books and publishing and being creative. When I was about seven I wrote a book which had a title something along the lines of The Adventure of Mystery Grange. When I got a bit older I did my own fanzines and eventually I got involved with writing Doctor Who books for Virgin, and then the BBC. At the same time as doing the majority of those I was involved with the British Fantasy Society (BFS) - which has been going since about 1971 and is interested in literary horror and fantasy - editing their newsletter. After I stopped doing that I moved into doing special publications - chap-books and collections. I sort of learnt as I went along.

Then, thanks to a number of happy accidents, Telos was born. First of all I bought my own domain name in the mid-90s, like a lot of people did back then. I bought howeswho.co.uk and while I was there I thought I'd look and see what other domain names were still available. So, I started to go through all the obvious ones like "Doctor Who" and "TARDIS" and they had all gone, but I discovered that Telos.co.uk was still available - Telos.com was owned by a Greek guy called Telos who was using it as his home page [although the site is now owned by the Telos Corporation, a US IT company]. So I bought that as it was a good, short name that was easy to remember and while it does have Doctor Who connections, it is not obviously Doctor Who related - it means "the end" in Greek.

When I bought the domain name I had no plans for it. I just thought it might come in handy one day. Around the same sort of time I was contacted by a guy in America called Arnold T Blumberg who was working for Gemstone who publish collectable guides. He was interested in doing a Doctor Who collectable guide and wanted to know if I was interested in being involved. I'd been trying to publish a collectable guide in the UK for around 20 years and had had no interest from any publisher that I approached. For two years I corresponded with Arnold via e-mail. In the end Gemstone decided that they didn't want to publish this guide and we tried other publishers, but we couldn't find anybody that wanted to publish a collectable guide to Doctor Who. After about two years of trying to get publishers interested we thought: "Why don't we just publish it ourselves?"

So we started to put together the first edition of Howe's Transcendental Toybox [which, ironically, has itself become a collector's item]. When we finished it I thought it would make sense to put the book out under the Telos name. That way we could use the domain name to publicise the book. The book did very well. It sold out three times and we were really pleased because this was the book that everyone told us wouldn't sell. [See our review of the second edition by clicking here.]

The Second Telos book was the Urban Gothic collection [see our review by clicking here]. Around about the same time we came up with the idea for the Doctor Who novellas. A good friend of mine called Pete Crowther started publishing original novellas. He'd set up a company called PS Publishing. These were really good stories. At the time I wasn't overly impressed with BBC Books' output. They were all right, but I thought there must be a better way of telling Doctor Who stories - there had to be a way that you could have a short, sharp story without worrying too much about the baggage. And I sort of woke up sweating one night and shouted: "My God! That's it! We'll do novellas!" [laughs] Well... maybe not quite like that, but it's a format that works.

So I went to BBC licensing and asked them if they'd license me to do Doctor novellas. And they said: "So, how is that different from a novel then?" So I had to explain why they were different and what I wanted to do with the format. And to my amazement they gave me a licence, but only if I was a limited company. They wouldn't deal with me as an individual, so that was really when Telos Publishing Limited sprang into existence and I asked Steve Walker if he would join the new company to handle the business side of things.

DR: What about the other Telos releases? You're not just a Doctor Who publisher, so how did you go about setting up the rest of your business?

DJH: We never wanted Telos to be just a Doctor Who publisher. We always wanted to have other strings to our bow. You can't run a company and be wholly behoven to someone else for your very existence. If Telos had published nothing but Doctor Who novellas, it would cease to exist next March when our license to publish the Doctor Who books expires. As it is we have a fuller schedule of books for next year as we had for this year, despite the fact we have only two Doctor Who novellas next year.

We found out last August that the BBC would not be renewing our licence. They also hit us with a number of other bombshells at that time. It was a bit of a shock to us. From our point of view the books had been very successful, they'd been selling really well and we'd been getting incredible press coverage and everyone loved them. We couldn't understand why the BBC would not want to continue with us doing them.

DR: Telos is also well known for its range of "unofficial" and "unauthorised" guides. Do you get any problems with these from official channels?

DJH: Steve and I are big fans of telefantasy and from our point of view Keith Topping, Paul Cornell and Martin Day kind of redefined that sort of book when they published their X-Files guide for Virgin. I think people are a lot more interested in reading what you have to say about a show than they are with the actual factual interview with the lead star kind of approach.

I think people find them accessible. They read them and say: "Oh, yeah! That's what I thought!" The thing is, anyone can publish them. We put "Unauthorised, unlicensed" on the book, but the irony is that we don't need permission to publish a factual book on any subject. You need permission to use elements that may be owned by someone else - like the dramatic rights in a copyrighted character or a logo.

DR: What's the future for this range? Can you tell us whether there will be another Stargate guide?

DJH: The Stargate [click here for our review] book is our best seller and it's still selling really well. Originally I thought we might do an update book, so that people wouldn't have to buy the same book again, however as the guide is selling so well, and we're likely to sell out again soon (it's already been reprinted once), we may in this case release an updated edition rather than just reprint the original one and then have a separate book for the update. For the Toybox book, we are intending to release just an annual update edition. We've got the big, complete, edition coming out this year, but next year we'll be releasing a 2003 volume that will just cover the items released this year, as well as picking up any errors or omissions to the main book. The idea is that we will continue to publish one of these each year until it seems right to reissue the entire book again.

DR: And what of the future? What other output will you be involved with?

DJH: The launch of the Time Hunter range is quite important to us. This range allows us to take a fiction series off into the sort of areas that the Doctor Who novellas were exploring, although this time, as Telos owns the rights rather than the BBC, we are far less constrained by what we can and cannot do. It also allows us to use some of the Doctor Who outlines that were in development as Doctor Who novellas but which we had to cancel when we knew the license was not going to be renewed.

There is also the Hank Janson, the crime reprint, side which is receiving a lot of interest at the moment. Our whole philosophy has been if you give people a well written, good looking product then they'll come back for more. And people know that when they buy a Telos book they will get something of a certain quality. You know it is going to be well written and that a lot of care will have gone into the editing and the cover design.

We've got some great books coming out next year including an illustrated children's book and a science fiction novella and the Time Hunter range is coming along nicely too.

DR: What sort of feedback have you been getting from fans about the end of the Doctor Who novellas?

DJH: It seems to be gutted disbelief really. Just as we couldn't understand why, I don't think the fans can understand why. If you look at the product and look at what we are achieving it doesn't make any sense at all that the BBC would want to stop that, but what can you do? We've had an awful lot of e-mails and letters from people saying how sorry they are. People are starting to realise that some of the things that were in place to happen in the future with the range, now won't happen. Neil Gaiman was potentially going to write a book for us and there are lots of other things we had in the pipeline that won't see the light of day.

DR: Thank you for your time.

The fifteenth and final Doctor Who novella (The Dalek Factor) will be published by Telos Publishing in February 2004

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