Posts Tagged ‘bad news’
Someone once said “Everyone has a book in them. In most cases that’s where it should stay.” But like a lot of people, I dream of publishing a book. I’ve got a novel underway, and had a very cool creative coaching session this week with Alison Gresik to try to keep momentum there. I also would like to write a business book.
But enough about me. This is about a horrible error in the publishing business.
Ottawa writer Mark Bourrie had successfully placed his book on censorship in the Second World War The Fog of War with Key Porter Books, a major Canadian publisher with 30 years of publishing books by many prominent Canadian writers. And then in September 2010, the company announced a major round of layoffs, leaving only one person on the editorial team and six employees total.
Bourrie blogged at that point that he wasn’t sure about his book’s future. Then in mid-October, he received a letter saying the book was a go, and the final tasks of layout, cover, indexing and the like were being completed. By December, the book was, according to an e-mail Bourrie sent me, at the printer, and he thought he’d made it through.
It was communicated to me today that you had called our publicity department to query the status of your title, THE FOG of WAR, and to learn the anticipated release date of same.
It would seem that a significant breakdown in communication has occurred in that you were not notified of the hold status placed on this publication. It would seem that several members of our team were all thinking that the other had spoken with you, while in reality none of us had. This is regrettable. This is embarrassing and I suspect this is incredibly upsetting, frustrating, angering and disappointing for you.
I am available to speak with you today, or this week, at your convenience, to discuss this situation. Key Porter Books has recognized the necessity to restructure our business in light of the current market conditions and the challenges and considerable impact that this has had on our operations. The publishing industry is going through difficult times and we as a result have made drastic changes to our house in order to adjust and strengthen our position.
Again Mark, it is with sincere regret that we find ourselves in this position and even greater regret that this was not properly communicated to you.
I will look forward to speaking with you at your convenience.
I can’t imagine how shocked I would be to receive this e-mail. The sad part to me is that the publisher chose to communicate this shattering news to his author, who not only dedicated a number of years to the project but had gone through all of the hoops of the publishing process with an e-mail. It strikes me that having cut your workforce to only six, the “we all thought someone else did it” explanation seems a bit odd. It’s also a bit of salt in the wound to still see Bourrie’s book listed in their catalogue.
It appears that the book is in limbo for a number of months. There are contractual rights that publishers have in the books. What can be done for Bourrie? I don’t know. But there’s a lesson here. Don’t deliver bad news impersonally. Take the hit and call. And if you can’t bring yourself to do that, at least write like a human being. “It was communicated to me today… a significant breakdown in communication has occurred… This is regrettable… this is embarrassing.”
I’ve asked some questions of Key Porter by e-mail, and will report back if I get any response.
UPDATE, 5:00 pm January 6: Canadian publishing trade magazine Quill & Quire says that this is part of what is effectively a suspension of the company’s publishing program, and that the only editorial employee has been laid off. Jordan Fenn’s assistant responded earlier this afternoon to tell me he would be responding on January 7.
UPDATE, 7:20 am January 7: The Toronto Star and other media are reporting, based on quotes from Mark Bourrie, that Key Porter is shutting down.
UPDATE, 4:20 January 7: The Quill & Quire blog is running a statement it received from Key Porter, which reads:
As reported in several media outlets today, Key Porter Books has temporarily suspended publishing operations while it pursues a restructuring of its business. Key Porter Books is considering a number of restructuring options, including the sale of certain titles in its valuable catalogue of Canadian works, all with a view to continuing as a leader in the Canadian publishing industry. In the meantime, Key Porter Books is supporting its authors through the continued marketing and sale of previously published works and distribution through H.B. Fenn and Company Ltd.
“Key Porter Books has played a leading role in giving a voice to the Canadian story,” said Jordan Fenn, Publisher of Key Porter Books, “and we will do everything possible to ensure that voice continues to be heard.”
UDPATE: 2:40 January 14: I heard an interview on CBC Radio this morning, reinforced by an updated blog post from Bourrie, that made me very happy. It appears that his book has found a new home at Douglas & McIntyre, another Canadian publisher (the highly rare return Flacklife reader may remember that D&M are now distributing the Giller-winning Johanna Skibsrud novel The Sentimentalists.) This is great news for Mark. Of course, the dire situation of Canadian publishing doesn’t get fixed because one guy’s book gets saved.