We May Not Be Good Enough for "Important" Books, but Whatever, We're in Harper's!
I really, really want to air my massive grievances with Actes Sud and the French Publishers Agency over how poorly—and, in my opinion, unprofessionally—they handled the sales of U.S. rights to Mathias Ènard’s latest novel.
In fact, I just deleted a huge long post describing how I know it’s equally unprofessional to tweet mean things at my “colleagues,” even if those “colleagues” deceived me (and others) and treated me disrespectfully and told me that they wouldn’t sell Open Letter the rights to the new Mathias Ènard book because they needed a different press, the “right publishing house” for a work “that’s this important.” Which implies: Ènard’s earlier books aren’t that important?
It went on and on about how I was instrumental in finding Ènard a UK publisher following years of failure on the part of Actes Sud and the French Publishers Agency, but fuck little Open Letter! (Also, how is the UK press [Fitzcarraldo] still the “right publisher” for the new book, and we’re not? Can someone explain this?)1
This deleted post also went into excruciating detail about the emotional aspects of publishing—how much you put into every book, how the only reason anyone smart stays in this business is for the joy of loving the product you put out and helping connect readers to great literature. About how many times all of the players in this shitty little drama have come to me asking for favors, asking for advice, asking for data, for help, for me to take time out of my day to benefit them. And then . . . They won’t even give me a proper explanation as to why they fucked Open Letter right out of one of our foundational authors.
The post ended with me puking violent curses all over the place, lamenting over ever getting involved with French authors at all, threatening to quit publishing altogether because books don’t matter and it isn’t worth being treated like this by your “friends.” It ended with proclamations about how my new policy was to only helping people if they hire me as a consultant, and that from now on the Translation Database would be behind a paywall, data available for a commission.
It was an ugly, dumb pity party of the most therapeutic degree. (Which is probably why I started this blog way back when—cheap therapy for dealing with this industry and its egos and awfulness.)
I know we got royally fucked and unfortunately, it will take ages before I forgive the people involved. Anyone remember this?: Why Publishing Is a Thankless, Frustrating Business I haven’t forgiven that agent and laughed manically at his latest newsletter detailing all the recent sales for Grunberg books, none of which are to English publishers.
But now this is all done and I can finally move on. Tomorrow is another day. We still have a better list than at least half of the publishers out there. I’ll stand by the fact that we do more for international authors and translators than any other press there is. And even if it’s scoffed at, or underappreciated, or ignored, or ridiculed, I’m still think it’s important and will continue helping as many people in the field as I can, even when they don’t return the favor.
Besides, we still (for the time being at least) have the rights to Zone, Ènard’s masterpiece.
On the upside, even though Actes Sud doesn’t think we’re good enough for “important” books, we publish a few of these Mercè Rodoreda, who is every bit as good as Ènard. And whose latest book, War, So Much War is excerpted in the latest Harper’s!
A large sack suspended from a tree was swinging back and forth, and from it emerged the head of a man with a straight, taut rope behind it. His face was white, his tongue black, his lips purple. By the tree, just beneath the hanged man’s feet, was a rock; I climbed on it and cut the rope. The hanged man crashed to the ground and hit his head, frightening me so much that I was sure I had killed him instead of saving him. He was young, with black hair and bushy eyebrows. Just as I was thinking that he had surrendered his soul to God, he opened one eye and immediately closed it again. He hadn’t the strength to hold my gaze. After a while he sat up halfway, and I helped him as he struggled to climb out of the sack. He snapped at me angrily, in a husky voice that seemed to come from beyond the grave: Why did you cut the rope?
For a long time, who’s to say how long, he struggled to breathe. Give me some water. . . . I’m suffocating.
To celebrate the fact that we still publish some of the best authors on the planet (no matter what some silly little French press in Arles has to say about it), until the end of the month, we’ll be selling this Rodoreda book for $10 through our website. Just use the code HARPERS at checkout.
1 There are real facts to this story that make it more than just a “Chad lost the rights to a book he wanted and he’s pissed” sort of post. Untrue implications made to various presses. A friend poaching one of our most beloved writers—the writer that, in many ways, put us on the map. Actes Sud’s insincere and lame email to me from this morning. The possibility that they just used us—and all the money and time we’ve invested in Ènard—just to get a starting offer to bring to other presses. That they were never going to sell this to us and offered it to us under false pretenses. I understand losing authors to truly big presses offering really huge advances, but everyone involved in this story has made it clear as possible that this wasn’t that—it was a personal choice that we were “second rate.” Which is exactly why I’m pissed. That and the fact that people don’t talk honestly anymore. There’s no place for passion, Chad, publishing is a business. Get over it! But is it really “just” a business? Should it be? Don’t I deserve respect for all the work I’ve done for international literature?