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Archives: March 2006

Poaching: it’s an industry state of mind

The Bookseller’s flagship feature this week talks about the different ways someone can be poached: an agent steals away a client, an author decides to move to a new publisher, or something in between. In truth, I always thought poaching was strictly reserved to the agent/author realm in the vein of Andrew Wylie’s notorious habits, but either I’m wrong, or the Bookseller had to stretch the definition a whoooooooole lot to fill the space.

But anyway, “self-confessed former poacher” Patrick Janson-Smith, who headed up Transworld before becoming an agent, explains it thusly: “stealing writers from other publishers is ‘all about author care’, claiming that his motivation for making poaching approaches was to rescue writers languishing in under-published limbo. “I care very deeply about my authors, and if I love an author and see them being undersold, then I feel it is my duty to ruffle a few feathers.”

He tried to lure Ian Rankin away from Orion, did get Carl Hiaasen away from Macmillan and tried awfully hard to secure Bill Bryson for Transworld’s very own. Then there’s Lionel Shriver, who recently switched to HarperCollins (for way more money) to publish her next books after Serpent’s Tail did so well by WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

But how much is the seeming lack of loyalty due to poaching than to numbers, or authors simply getting dropped? Most agents and publishers are fairly circumspect. While literary agent David Godwin describes losing authors as “a blow to the stomach”, he “absolutely” defends their right to move. Serpent’s Tail boss Pete Ayrton is similarly sanguine about Shriver’s recent departure: he says that HarperCollins’ generous golden hello was “just reward for 20 years of labour”.

But what do you think of poaching, in all its myriad forms? Send us your tales of authors you wanted to hang onto, moved to different publishers for compelling reasons, and the like.

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The Fashion Industry’s James Frey

When Emily Davies, a former fashion correspondent with the Times of London, inked a very, very significant deal (rumored to be up to $900,000 for US rights alone) for her memoir HOW TO WEAR BLACK last December, naturally it made people sit up and take notice, me included. But as it turns out, all was not what it seemed, and the deal has been struck down, with Scribner cancelling the contract, according to the yesterday’s edition of the NY Daily News.

So what on earth happened? Thank Women’s Wear Daily’s Jeff Bercovici, whose March 17 piece carefully outlined Davies’ purported fabrications and plagiarism, with many New York fashion-types quoted by name in the 79-page proposal stating that they’d never heard of Davies, and certainly had never met her. And one quote that Davies used in her proposal was allegedly lifted from a 1998 New York Times’ article by Monique Yazigi, who was even more miffed because she’s shopping a book proposal of her own — based on that very article.

The further one digs, the more things look shady for Ms. Davies. She was fired from the Times for irregularities in expense claims, and according to the Independent, “in 2004 the Financial Times complained she had used excerpts from a shopping column by Susie Boyt so as to make it appear she had interviewed the writer.” Of course, her boyfriend — Times journalist and author Jonathan Gornall — leaped to Davies’ defense, but it didn’t seem to help in this case.

And though Simon Trewin, head of PFD agency (which represents Davies) was unavailable for comment to the Daily News, he did post to the backblog of romance writer HelenKay Dimon’s site saying the following: “HOW TO WEAR BLACK takes the lid off the fashion world in a way I have never seen done before. It isn’t surface, it isn’t glam-lit and you will have never read anything like it before.” Evidently, Trewin was wrong…

“Mount Everest: Forbidding, Aloof, Terrifying…”

How do you get American media outlets to run an AP dispatch about British education reform? Toss some government money Michael Palin’s way—indirectly, I mean, because what’s really happening is that as part of the £2 million mandate to drill geography into Britain’s young minds, every secondary school in the country is getting a copy of Palin’s travelogue Himalaya. The Guardian describes Palin as saying “he couldn’t imagine a subject more relevant in schools,” without noting the tone with which said statement was made. Well, actually, when you see the full quote in the AP piece, his sentiment comes through much more clearly:

“You can travel the seas, poles and deserts and see nothing… To really understand the world, you need to get under the skin of the people and places. In other words, learn about geography. I can’t imagine a subject more relevant in schools.”

I just want to know if the book has Graham Chapman’s description of Mount Everest from the Python sketch: “the mountain with the biggest tits in the world.”

The Little Poetry Publisher That Could?

On the eve of National Poetry Month, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer profile of Copper Canyon Press recognizes the Pacific Northwest publisher’s emerging dominant role in contemporary American verse, beginning with the fact that CopCan authors won both the Pulitzer (poet laureate Ted Kooser) and the National Book Award (W. S. Merwin). And though it’s very cool that they were able to woo Merwin away from Knopf, I gotta admit I think the article overhypes the triumph to some extent.

scrooge.jpgJohn Marshall describes the signing of Merwin as “a giant leap into the publishing major league, where big bucks and big egos rule.” But we’re talking about poetry here, and it turns out that when CopCan decided that they could match whatever offer Knopf made for Merwin’s second volume of collected poems, “the press mounted a separate fund-raising campaign that attracted 26 donors, including several newcomers, and ultimately produced the largest advance ever paid by the press, a five-figure sum.” Emphasis mine—if that’s Marshall’s idea of “big bucks,” he must think Dan Brown has three cubic acres of royalties (…and never mind my feeling that in a just world, Merwin and Brown’s levels of renown and readership would be reversed).

GalleyCats Making the Rounds

Sarah told you a little bit about the publishing roundtable she took part in the other night, but Levi Asher of Literary Kicks was sitting in the audience, and files an eyewitness account that makes Sarah sound much more cold-hearted than I know her to be.

By a fun coincidence, Asher and his fellow Kick-er Caryn Thurman were also in Charlottesville last weekend, sitting in on a “Buzz That Book” workshop I co-anchored with Lynn Isenberg and Michele Martinez. (The three of us were last-minute fill-ins for an ailing M.J. Rose; the fact that it took three of us to replace her should give you an idea of her book marketing savvy…) Caryn mentions the panel in her account of the weekend. As she puts it, “audience members (mostly comprised of authors looking to promote, publish and sell their books) were randomly selected to ‘pitch’ their books for the panel…and then receive critique and advice.”

It was one of the most energetic hours of the conference, as far as I could tell, and we worked our way through about a dozen pitches, even though everybody kept going over the 30 seconds the moderator gave them for the “elevator pitch” presentation, and Lynn got justifiably ruthless in getting people to come up with the one-sentence hooks. The projects ranged from rough proposals to self-published kids’ books to an Earl Hamner biography I was actually interested in (too bad the author took his copy with him when he sat back down). Afterwards, one of the authors we hadn’t invited to speak, former Liberty University golf coach Frank Landrey, caught up with me to discuss why we kept picking up and putting down True Tales of College Golf; together we figured out the title really wasn’t an accurate reflection of the book’s religious message, so I told him to bump the subtitle up and gave him some advice on finding agents who would understand what he’s saying. And then, it being that sort of weekend, an agent came over to say hi to me, and Coach Landrey was able to leave with the name of somebody else at that fellow’s agency who might be willing to look the book over. Cool!

Wottakar’s: the news sinks in

Now that the Competition Commission has essentially given the go-ahead for HMV to buy Ottakar’s — merging Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s in unholy matrimony – reactions from the publishing world are very mixed, to say the least.

In Scotland, the mood is grim, as the Herald reports on widespread dismay and disappointment. “When Ottakar’s and Waterstone’s were independent you would get two different books of the month, giving small publishers a chance. With merging we may only see one book of the month,” said Ian Rankin. And the paper’s literary editor, Rosemary Goring, worries that the 3-for-2 streamlining seen in England will now fully cross over into Scottish territory.

The Independent takes stock of reactions in England, and there’s plenty of shock and outrage as expressed by the Society of Authors (” Life for mid-list authors will get tougher”) and individual writers. Says literary agent Ed Victor, ” “I don’t think it’s a good thing at all. I’ve been in this business for a long time, and the biggest change has been power shifting towards the bookseller. As the discounts get higher, the authors’ royalties get lower.” But author Tracy Chevalier is more circumspect. “…what goes around comes around. Waterstone’s could be taken over by someone else, but there’s always room for someone else to turn up. Waterstone’s was owned by WH Smith. It’s always a different permutation, and so I don’t feel so bad about it.”

And since the final report won’t be out till the end of May, Publishing News reports that “interested parties can make comments on the provisional findings by contacting Alan Shearman, Inquiry Secretary by April 19.” No doubt there will be a flood of them…

For Whom the Bell Tolls

At first, with obituaries for Chinese historian Denis Twitchett and Californian cuisine chronicler Doris Muscatine appearing on the NYT website yesterday, and with both being 80, I was going to say it was a bad day to be an octogenarian. But then I realized that Twitchett had died well over a month ago—back on Feb. 24—and the word had only just spread to 43rd St.

Shortly after which, I further realized that Irish novelist John McGahern died (and he just 71), which resolves the questions many American fans had about the cancellation earlier this month of a tour to promote his new memoir, All Will Be Well. (David Mehegan of the Boston Globe called him on the phone earlier and was able to write a profile).

And then we heard this morning of yet another literary life expiring at 80 on the dot, as news of Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay‘s Monday death worked it way across the Atlantic to the Times

She may not read, but now she’ll write

Remember the brouhaha when Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham announced she’d never read a book (or at least hadn’t finished one in years?) Well that deficiency isn’t stopping her from her newest project — a fashion and beauty book co-penned with Hadley Freeman, as the Mirror reports.

Victoria, 31, told the Mirror: “I’ve been working on this for six months. It’s been a really hard secret to keep as I’ve been so excited about the whole project. I’m so glad people will know now, so I can finally talk about it.”

The book, “intended to be an indispensable guide for style-savvy women on a budget, with hints on how to get designer looks from the high street,” is set for release this autumn.

My Friend Leonard Officially a Novel?

So a little bird in the book biz told us about a meeting with a Penguin sales rep in which, so the claim goes, it was revealed that the paperback edition of James Frey’s My Friend Leonard, coming out at the end of May, has been reclassified from memoir to fiction. And I go over to the book’s Amazon page and down at the bottom, where you’re invited to search for similar books by subject:

  • Biography / Autobiography

  • Entertainment & Performing Arts – General
  • Fiction
  • Personal Memoirs
  • Popular American Fiction…

But, honestly, it’s even more entertaining to wonder just when Frey filled out the standardized Amazon questionnaire that included this exchange:

Q: What is the worst lie you’ve ever told?
A: No way I can answer that.

He also says that the one superpower he’d have if he could only have one is “immortality,” which I bet isn’t looking like so hot a prospect anymore.

Galleycat Social Diary

atmichaels.jpgThat’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion…OK, maybe not, but I did have lunch @ Michael’s yesterday (along with MB Editorial Director Dorian Benkoil) where, aside from failing to recognize most of the media types in attendance (and evidently supplying the quote of the afternoon) I had a little dress rehearsal for the evening discussion of the publishing industry at Makor with Johnny Temple, Jonathan Karp and Bryan Keefer. Noted in the crowd was photographer Mary Reagan and independent publicist Lauren Cerand, who listened attentively to what we had to say on a variety of topics. I’m happy to have made the point that in this business, it’s actually a luxury to be unpublished because you really only get one shot at debut glory. And interestingly enough, for someone who has never worked in publishing, my outlook is awfully commercial. But then, a little pragmatism and a lot of realism goes a long way…