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Publishers cancelling books to cut costs
01.01.70 | Katie Coyne
Authors are being told their books are not good enough to publish as houses seek to save costs by cancelling titles, according to a specialist publishing lawyer.
Nicola Solomon of London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent said there had been a “definite” increase over recent months in queries from authors whose books had been dropped.
She said both big and small publishers were involved and the authors affected included “bigger names than you would expect”.
Solomon said reasons being given for cancellation included the “excuse” that the book was not up to scratch. She said: “People are also being much tighter about deadlines, and refusing to extend them.”
Solomon added: “If people want not to publish your book, the first thing they will do is go through the contract and look for the weak points.”
One crime writer, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she and others had had books cancelled on the grounds that the delivered manuscript was not up to standard, even though in some cases foreign publishers were happy to accept them. “The easiest way [to cancel a title] is to say: ‘This book isn’t what we expected of you.’ Four authors I know have all been given the same reason, and it is almost as though the publisher is reading from a script,” she said.
She added that having a title rejected in this way had serious emotional and financial effects on authors, even though the advance might be retained. “I can’t think of any other industry where you can commission someone to do one to two years’ work and then walk away,” she said.
Jonathan Lloyd of Curtis Brown said: “I’m sure it is true [that publishers are looking for excuses not to publish]. A lot of books have been commissioned in better times, and how much easier is it to reappraise a book after it has been delivered rather than after commissioning?”
Lloyd called the issue of a book’s quality a “grey area” in publishers’ contracts. “Who decides if a book is publishable? There are books on the bestseller lists that people say are rubbish. What publishers are meaning [when they say a book is not up to standard] is ‘We’re not going to sell as many copies as thought when we commissioned the book,’” he said.
A second literary agent confirmed: “I’m telling my authors to be very careful [not to give the publisher a reason to back out].”