Friday, February 13, 2009

Authors Fight the Power

Because SoTB cannot be held back by arbitrary national boundaries, I will now leap across the proverbial pond to look at one British author's attempt to assert some control over his book, after his publisher let him down.

My good friend Damian Barr, a fantastic journalist, author, playwright, etc himself alerted me to this story.

It seems English author Will Ashon was not satisfied with his treatment from publisher Faber & Faber when they published his latest novel, The Heritage. Earlier this week, Ashon posted this on his blog offering readers a free download of the novel, explaining crassly and concisely:
So, the good burghers of Faber & Faber have decided against publishing a mass-market paperback edition of "The Heritage". I would've been pissed off, anyway, I guess, but I think would have understood this hard-headed business decision. After all, if you wanna kiss the ring of the Leather Pope then corporate capitalism's where it's at and fuck any of the considerations (art, literature, quality) you may pay lip service to. But I think my sense of fair play was piqued by being told less than two weeks before said paperback edition was supposed to be out. I mean, really, how shit is that? Sorry? Pardon? What was that I heard about putting authors first? Anyway, as the only way left to me to build any sort of a readership for what I think is a pretty good book (not a great book by any means, but not as bad as a lot of the shit out there), I'm posting it here for you to download.

How's that for an author asserting himself?

This is a fine example of how the internet may offer a good way for authors themselves to take back control of their work. I naturally thought of bestselling author Stephanie Meyers posting her partial manuscript for Midnight Sun after drafts were leaked last summer. I appreciate the impetus for these postings, but I'm also acutely aware of how clearly they expose the limitations, as of now, that authors face in trying to take control of their own work.

In the comment section of Ashon's post, an anonymous commenter notes that the formatting of this electronic version he's posted is a mess. Ashon responds:
It's a print-ready pdf, with identical formatting to the book itself but laid out on A4 sheets. It should be fine on a computer monitor (or printed out) but if you're trying to look at it on a reader of some sort, or any device with a small screen, it may be tricky. I don't know anything about those sort of things, but maybe there's some way you can tweak the settings..? I don't have it in any other format, I'm afraid...

Exactly. This is a service a publisher provides, and it's a useful service even in an increasingly accessible digital age. I know more and more programs are out there for formatting texts and creating designs, for even lay people, but let us not forget the power of good design and consistent formatting. Let us not forget the so-called middleman!

If nothing else, I like that Ashon's throwing this virtual molotov cocktail out there, exposing the inside workings of a press that is not treating its authors fairly. And due to the limitations placed on him by the contract he signed with the publisher, he could not have gone to another press to get the book out there in a different format - and in fact, may get in trouble with Faber & Faber for putting this up online if he signed away electronic rights, which are in standard publishing contracts. These contracts need to be revisited in our new age and authors need to think through what they're signing - this is where another middleman comes in, a good agent. Authors need to think about how to protect themselves in an age of online leaks and unresponsive publishers.

Have there been similar cases to Ashon's here in the States? Canada?

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