A hard-nosed publisher writes...

February 19, 1999

Many thanks for your hilarious piece by Valentine Cunningham describing author/publisher relationships ("Mammon's imprint", THES, February 12). I am delighted to see The THES is filling the gap - so recently vacated by Oxford University Press - of supporting the best contemporary creative writing in the United Kingdom today.

As a commissioning editor for a leading academic publisher myself, most of my relationships with authors are not characterised by "mutual resentment" but hopefully by mutual respect, trust and, often, friendship. This tiresome publisher bashing is beginning to irritate somewhat. I for one am certainly sensitive enough to rarely wear my tiara and gold sovereign rings in book-proposal meetings and have finally decided to desist from slapping my authors - except when absolutely necessary.

The world of publishing has changed. Publishers now want to produce books that are relevant, useful and important. They want to support titles that will be read worldwide and consequently will sell. Their attitude is, increasingly, one of "Biznis-is-Biznis". I am afraid that I no longer want to print 2,000 copies of The Shoe in Late Byzantine Archaeology - Some Evidence from The Excavations At Colchester Asda Redevelopment and give a Pounds 1,000 advance plus 15 per cent royalty. The days when a buoyant library market would support any book produced by publishers is long past.

It certainly galls me to say something in support of OUP, but this view of publishers as exploitative Machiavellians just does not hold water. Furthermore Henry Reece, the new head of OUP, is not some grey, faceless executive with no knowledge of publishing but was, in a former incarnation, the managing director of Pitman Publishing. Well might he eat babies and junior lecturers for his tea, but he is a publisher through and through who helped turn a minor company into one of the leading UK academic publishers.

It is to be hoped that Professor Cunningham will change his publisher soon and begin to work with an individual he likes and trusts.

Stuart Hay. London SW15.

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