Hachette Book Group USA and the Swedish writer Jonas Jonasson have engaged lawyers to pursue royalty payments owed to the author by Hesperus Press.
Jonasson's book The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared was published in the UK by Hesperus Press in 2012, and became a runaway bestseller. But the author has received only a "small amount" in payments. Earlier this week, The Bookseller reported that all four of Hesperus Press' UK staff had resigned, with the last employee leaving this Friday. The directors of Hesperus Press have declined to explain the departures.
Hachette Book Group in the US, whose imprint Hyperion owns world English rights to Jonasson's book, has confirmed that it will begin legal proceedings against Hesperus Press this Friday 24th April in the High Court of Justice in London. But it would not comment further.
The 100-Year-Old Man . . . has recorded UK print sales of 548,435 via Nielsen BookScan and over 700,000 e-books have been sold since publication in July 2012. Jonasson has confirmed to The Bookseller that he has concerns over the level of royalties paid to him, and the quality of the royalty statements he has received, and that his Barcelona-based lawyers are now working on the issue in conjunction with those of Hachette Book Group USA.
Jonasson's agent Carina Brandt said the author had seen only "a small amount" of royalty money in the autumn of 2012, but nothing further. He had also seen no approved royalty statements, she said. Jonasson commented: "It has been difficult over the years to get any information at all from Hesperus Press."
He told The Bookseller: "My former agency, my current agent, my Spanish lawyers and Hachette US lawyers are involved in this mess. Personally, I feel helpless. I do not understand what happens except that it’s a lot of money that I have not received."
Hesperus company directors Gabi Sharbain and Shadi Sharbain and chief financial officer Ayman Al Asmar have yet to respond to a request for comment on the royalty claims.
Jonasson said he would prefer to stay away from the conflict because if he thinks about how much money is at stake, it affects his ability to write. The author is currently working on his third book. His second novel, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, was published by Fourth Estate in 2014.
"If I am to focus on my artistic ability, I need to stay away from it all," the author said. "But I've always felt proud when I think of how popular the book has become in the world. And I remember when the book filled the whole shop window in Waterstone’s flagship store in Piccadilly in London. It felt great that a Swede could become so popular in English. But it’s a mental collision between that experience and the feeling of how I have been handled by Hesperus Press."
There has been a recent exodus of staff from Hesperus, with all four workforce members resigning their posts, and company director Lana Hakouz also departing the company. No explanation has been given for the departures. Ayman Al Asmar said in an email to The Bookseller when first approached that a formal release about next steps and future plans would be issued “soon”. But despite further requests by The Bookseller for an explanation no additional comments have been made.
Lasse Winkler is a former editor of Swedish book trade publication Svensk Bokhandel