Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I am the Bearer Not the Creator

Keep in mind, I’m the bearer of bad news, not the one creating the news. But I do want to keep you up on what’s happening in the publishing world.

Here’s the latest: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has stopped acquiring manuscripts.

Now, HMH says this is temporary, not permanent. According to Publishers Weekly:
“In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature,” [Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH] said. “We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.”
Upon hearing the news, one agent called it “very scary.” Another said:
“I’ve been in the business a long time and at a couple of houses I worked at, when things were bad, we were asked to cut back. But I’ve never heard of anything so public.”
Comments on the article were mixed, from feeling like publishers need to work smart and work frugal to it’s time for publishers to look more critically at books they buy to feeling like times are changing, perhaps even evolving into a whole new era of publishing.

It’s hard economic times for all of us. There’s no reason to think it’s any different for publishers. They’re going to cut back just like consumers. It’s just unusual to hear a major publisher say they’re not just slowing down acquisitions, they’re stopping all together, albeit (hopefully only) temporarily.

What do you think about this move?


  1. It seems to reflect a combination of bad business practices that seem to be common today across various businesses creating our current crisis.

    I would imagine there are many overpaid execs (even in the small outfit which I left the exec was overpaid --- almost three times that of the staff -- leaving little to the underlings, especially given the exec's lack of experience), but in publishing, especially in the big houses, there seems to be a big problem passing out monstrous advances to "sure thing" writers, who may or may not deliver. From what I've read, in the past --- 30 years ago, say, --- publishers relied on mid list writers to make money. The mid list is almost gone.

    Also, given that most big houses are just branches of huge conglomerates, I think publishers have lost sight of their goal of publishing quality books; instead, they're looking for huge moneymakers, perhaps to justify their existence. (Of course, I understand this may just be the romantic in me, but all the takeovers of publishing houses in the 80s and 90s by huge conglomerates really seemed foreboding.)

    There is also the adjustment to technology, and like everyone else, I'm not sure publishers have quite made up their minds about what works and is useful (POD, e-books, Kindles, how do we present our material?). There's almost too much out there to pick from.

  2. Don't worry, I'll never kill or berate "the Messenger" - lol. always appreciate you keeping us up to speed on the what's goins ons, Helen.

  3. With all there is available via the Internet, publishers would need to hire young people who do nothing but work on a niche area. To make that move into the virtual world, they're going to have to go all in since they're already behind. That means putting money into this area, which means taking it away from somewhere else.

    Friday, I plan to blog about another area where publishers are cutting, although in the scheme of things, Friday's example is only a drop in the extravagance.

    But I agree, giving millions to big names and lowering the advances to mid-list is not a smart move.

  4. It's a sign of the economic times and publishers, like other businesses, are cutting corners in order to stay solvent. Unemployment is much worse than reported. We've had a help wanted ad in the newspaper this week and have received well over a hundred calls for one job. A real eye opener.

  5. I know what you mean, Jean. I saw a news piece about a farmer who had harvested all he planned to sell of his crops so instead of plowing in what was left, like he would ordinarily do, he put the word out that anyone who wanted what he had could come get it. He apparently thousands show up. He's supplying a wagon for the people to use to get what they want and bags to put it in the take home

  6. Until the publishing business is run in a way that makes sense, in these times more bad news will probably happen.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. We really shouldn't be shocked since the publishing industry is like all other industries. Dismayed, yes. Shocked, no.

  8. I don't believe that one publisher's actions speak for the whole industry. Yes, sales are falling for all publishers and all segments, but that's in keeping with the rest of the economy. Writers have less to worry about than auto factory workers.

  9. At least writers have a myriad of options. But writers and publishers are taking a hit just like everyone else.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...