Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why you shouldn't panic about the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt buying freeze.

The announcement yesterday that newly-merged publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt would temporarily stop acquiring new manuscripts seems to have set the book industry in a panic.

I'm not in a panic, and you shouldn't be, either. Here's why: publishers do this kind of thing all the time, for all kinds of reasons and especially at the end of the fiscal year. And they've been doing it for years.

What they don't do is make a public statement about it.

::: face palm :::

Look, when two large publishers like Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin merge, it only makes sense that they'd put a temporary hold on further acquisitions until they've had a chance to assess all of the properties they already own. After all, they've just doubled their editorial inventory. One thing a newly-merged publisher is going to try very hard not to do is to cancel contracts; canceling contracts leads to a lack of confidence in the publishing company and that's never a good thing.

So if canceling a lot of contracts isn't an option, then what?

A smart solution might be to just slow down or stop buying for a while. Take a fiscal breather, as it were. Because the truth is that - right now - there's probably no room for new manuscripts in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's inventory.

Really, the sky isn't falling, people. Just chill out, will ya?


micheleleesbooklove said...

Thank you so much! I get tired of the doom and gloom and I don't often have the experience to back up my "Chill outs" with examples. So thanks for explaining.

Gina Black said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this voice of reason.

When it suddenly became "some houses have stopped buying" on a pub professional's blog I almost gave up the internets. At least for a little while.

Kerri said...

Thanks for calming the masses. The hysteria was becoming unbearable.

Authoress said...

Exactly what we all needed to hear. Thank you!

Elizabeth Encarnacion said...

Totally agree with you—I was thinking the same thing. As a editor formerly at one of the biggies, I remember how they held up check requisitions after Thanksgiving (sometimes even earlier) until the new year. Apparently, the extra interest earned those last two months helped us make budget for the fiscal year. I have a feeling this is similar.

AC said...

Whew! So good to hear a calm voice amid the panic ;)

Kasey Mackenzie said...

Thank you so much for this post! I have been trying to calm people down, but it's always nice when someone directly experienced in the publishing industry voices an opinion backed with specifics. I will definitely be pointing some people to this post!

nicola said...

But what makes this different is that they *did* announce it. And that gives me shivers. All of us who have been in this game a while know about the unspoken holding back of cheques, e.g. the unwritten rules of when manuscripts are officially accepted--wait until it's in copyediting or whatever--but when the unspoken becomes spoken, I dunno, I find it worrisome.

Please feel free to reassure me :)

clindsay said...

Hey there, Nicola!

I honestly believe that this is just a major PR fiasco, brought on by a new corporate structure afraid of rumors flying when agents started having lots of books rejected. They may have figured that they'd be ahead of the game by addressing the rumors directly. Bad move.

The fact is, if they'd just dodged the rumors instead, like every other publisher on earth, eventually people would have turned their attention to some other hapless corporate publisher.

I truly believe this is just a case of Corporate Foot-In-Mouth Disease.



nicola said...

Okay. Good to know. Thanks.

Sex Mahoney for President said...

A chicken I know told me otherwise.

Sex Mahoney for President