Monday, April 12, 2010

The blown “publishing coup of the century”

by Jane

The majority of authors are concerned with having some control over the way their books are published. They (rightfully) want to have a say in the title, the quality of the paper, the look of the interior, and the cover art and design. And, often, publishers fight authors on these things–sometimes tooth and nail.

So when I read this piece in last week’s New York magazine, it was nice to see, for a change, what might happen when an author doesn’t maintain the control he wants over his book’s publication.

I would be interested to hear what you think.


  1. UGH. What a beautifully tragic story. I feel for them both.

  2. This is a great reads like a thriller!

    Some years ago I sold a collection of short fiction to a well known UK publisher. They wanted an 'Irish style' cover and asked me to recommend a designer/artist which I did. They looked at samples of the artist's work and picked out the one piece of his that I really did not like. I thought it had no relevance to the stories and protested. Too late...mock-up arrived the following week. I should say that I didn't have an agent, if I had, maybe things would have been different.

  3. Great story! As much as I am huge fan of Salinger's work I find his fussiness so narcissistic. He sounds like too much hard work!

  4. The saddest part is that it seems Lathbury tried his hardest to abide by Salinger's wishes. He let Salinger have say over the spine, the paper used, etc., and extenuating circumstances and miscommunication (or misattribution of motives) got in the way. Applying for CIP data should be fairly standard, but given Salinger's fame, it tipped off a bunch of unwanted media. The fact that some bookstores jacked the price up didn't help either, and undermined any trust Salinger had invested in Lathbury. How heartbreaking for the publisher.

  5. Man, I was on the edge of my seat with that one.

    The thing is, only someone big like Salinger could have the luxury of being so picky, and obviously he wasn't as anxious to publish as some of us novice authors are. It's such a competitive business, how can debut authors go about fighting for what we want without being unrealistic or having the publisher cut the threads? They've got enough people knocking, yet I do think authors should have a heavy say, cover-art included.

    I remember a best-selling, award-winning author say as he signed the cover of a certain book, "I hate this cover art." Seriously if that guy doesn't get a say then nobody gets a say. And as a side note, I agreed with him. The cover-art was heinous.

    I know it's what's inside that counts but it's like an ugly face on your baby. You may love it still, but everyone else is judging your baby by the cover.

  6. That is such an amazing and tragic story! And so beautifully written. Thank you for that link, Jane!

  7. Jane, thank you for this link. What a lovely, sad story. Beyond the outcome, I so enjoyed the crumbs of insight into a writer I have long admired so greatly.

    Then there was the irony that, in this case, the publisher was in such awe of the writer and so nervous of losing such a coup that he dared not argue any points or differences of opinion with the writer. As Liesl and eddiestack pointed out, that is much more frequently the experience of the writer, afraid to speak up for fear of losing their publishing deal or imposing their personal taste over marketing know-how. Certainly that's how I feel.

    I guess there’s a small moral to this story – beware the press – but, for the most part, I will just take away the tenderness and honesty in this recollection.

  8. Beautiful and interesting story. I think the author was way too demanding, but he kind of earned the right to be. After all, it wasn't he who submitted his work to the publisher, but rather the publisher who approached him.

    Still, everyone involved must have learned some great lessons from the experience.

    Thanks for sharing this. I really enjoyed it.

  9. I love it that Lathbury won't sell or publish the letters. Salinger must have been hellish to work with, but there is something refreshing about an author who bends over backward not to promote himself.

  10. What a sad story.

    It's a shame that Salinger interpreted the media attention as a betrayal by the publisher instead of the inevitable reaction of the press to something that the publisher could not have avoided. Especially since the publisher tried so hard to appease and mollify Salinger, catering to his whims.

    I particularly like the fact that the publisher won't sell or publish the letters. That in itself tells me that the man has integrity.


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