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Wikileaks reveals conversations over Assange memoir
29.09.11 | Philip Jones
Julian Assange's literary agent and PFD m.d. Caroline Michel accused publisher Canongate of going "to war" with her client and "feeding the media myth" over how the Independent reported the publication of Assange's controversial memoir. The email, sent to Canongate founder Jamie Byng, has been revealed on the Wikileaks website after it published transcribed phone conversations and emails leading up to the publication of Julian Assange, The Unauthorised Autobiography last week.
The transcripts reveal Assange would have received an advance of at least £650,000 had he proceeded with publication of his authorised biography. A lawyer's letter dated 12th September 2011 said he sought £225,000 on delivery of the completed manuscript and £175,000 on publication, in addition to the signature advance, thought to be at least £250,000, already paid by Canongate and his US publisher Knopf.
Michel fired off the email to Byng and Canongate publishing director Nick Davies on the eve of publication of the controversial memoir after reading an Independent news story. She wrote: "Your actions today releasing the manuscript to the Independent with a story which is factually untrue are designed to create the maximum confrontation. It surely has to be counter productive to go to war with Julian in this way." In a return email, Davies conceded there "were a number of factual inaccuracies in the piece", but said that it did not have "copy-approval on the Independent’s news story".
The release of the transcripts on the Wikileaks website show the attempts made by Byng to have Assange's input into a book, even if it turned out not to be his autobiography. According to the transcript, Byng told Assange by telephone on 16th June: "My absolute number one desire is to publish a great book that you are happy with. It is going to be different to the one we contracted for the reasons we discussed." Stressing that it needed to be a book that would be of interest to overseas publishers, Byng added: "That’s the book I think we can get most publishers around the world to also publish and keep this coalition together."
In the same conversation Byng told Assange he did not expect to get the advance back, and that Canongate would have to cancel its rights sales: "I am going to have to accept we’re not going to see any money back. But I am still going to have to cancel the contract with the publishers abroad as I am misleading them and I won’t do that."
During that phone call Assange appeared to agree to work on a new book, and stressed he did not want an unauthorised version published. He said: "I’m extremely sympathetic to all that and will do whatever is in my power in the coming year to make good on our deal but I can’t have subterfuge or publishing unauthorised manuscripts under any circumstances at all."
In a later email exchange between Assange and Michel, dated 24th August, Michel reminded Assange that he was to "look at a timetable to deliver the book" with the aim of Spring 2012 publication. She added: "I cannot see a downside in delivering a book with your message and your story." However, she warned him the publishers would "need considerable assurances that the book will be delivered to them to publish". In a paragraph marked "other books" Michel also suggests future projects, including "Wikileaks cook books".
In a separate statement released by Canongate today (29th September), the publisher reiterated its view that it had given Assange ample opportunity to work on a book. The publisher said: "We last talked to Julian on 16th June. During that conversation, we restated that we wished to work with Julian on the book and would be flexible about its format and publication date. Over two months later, on 24th August, Julian’s agent asked for another meeting. Our response was to ask for something in writing. We were absolutely explicit about the need to see a proposal in writing from Julian if we were going to believe that he was really ready to reengage with the book. We had already waited almost five months for any written response to the first draft delivered at the end of March. We received nothing.
"We wrote to Julian again on 7th September, via his agent, informing him that we intended to publish his autobiography, based on the first draft delivered to us on 31 March 2011. In that letter, we told Julian we planned to send the book to press on 19 September. His response, twelve days after we sent the letter, was to say that he intended to injunct. He didn’t."
In the first three days of publication, Nielsen BookScan figures showed that the book had sold 644 copies. But Davies told Reuters that Canongate hoped sales would pick up steam, and said some of his firm's erstwhile foreign-language partners had expressed interest in the new book. But he added: "The only person who has made any money out of this is Julian. He's got our advance money."