Canongate has said it had "a financial imperative" to publish Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's memoir without his approval but also said the "fantastic" book was exactly what the publisher asked for when the contract was signed late last year.
The publisher released Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography today (22nd September) despite the author trying to get the contract cancelled. He attacked Canongate overnight, accusing it of "old-fashioned opportunism and duplicity".
Speaking to The Bookseller, Canongate publishing director Nick Davies described the circumstances of an author trying to halt publication of his own autobiography as a "publishing first". He said: "These are exceptional circumstances and we certainly won't be making a habit of this with other authors. Given Julian was unwilling to finish the autobiography and we couldn't find any way forward for him to complete it, we were left with no other option. Usually with authors we can find a way forward by republishing in a different way or walking away."
Davies said Assange's overnight statement was riddled with inaccuracies. He said: "It's hard to start or even to bother with what is wrong with it. One of his character traits is that he is so unpredictable. His first reaction to the Independent story [announcing the book's publication] was to tweet "Life is stranger than fiction" and have a link to the Amazon page for the book. So presumably he is encouraging people to buy it. But then in the wee small hours overnight he issued his statement. He is so mercurial and unpredictable."
Canongate paid Assange a reported £500,000 as an advance for the book with the money going to his former lawyers. Davies said none of the figures quoted were correct but the publisher needed to release the book for business reasons. He said: "In terms of why we are doing this, there's a financial imperative of course. I would be lying if I said otherwise.
"But it's not the full story. The first draft submitted at the end of March is really fantastic. It was exactly as described in the contract and was the book we wanted."
Davies said suggestions the launch was a well-crafted publicity stunt were far from the mark. He said: "I've lived and breathed it this book for so long. It's kind of ruined my year! But it's definitely not that. When you read how mixed and chaotic Julian's reaction was you can see it was no stunt."