Well of course President Trump should take legal action against Henry Holt, publisher of that book. Why? For non-payment of his fees as unofficial Sales and Marketing Director. Few would dispute what a magnificent job the President has done, keeping up a run of Press Releases – sorry, tweets – concerning Fire and Fury and its author, Michael Wolff, all of which have served to boost sales. So surely it’s only right that Holt grants him some form of payment…
Yes, an absurd idea, but only slightly more absurd than reality. It has been both a worrying and a glorious fortnight for the book industry. Worrying because a president has attacked free speech and even talked about taking a “strong look” at the USA’s libel laws; glorious because said president’s reaction to Wolff’s book has galvanised the book industry on both sides of the Atlantic (and beyond: the Wylie Agency has racked up more than 20 international deals, including Japan, Israel, Italy and Turkey).
There has been much citing of the First Amendment which states in part that ‘Congress shall make no law ….abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….’. Interestingly, under ‘Practice Areas’, the website of Trump’s lawyers Harder Mirell & Abrams lists ‘First Amendment’. But before anyone shouts ‘hypocrites’, it also lists ‘Reputation and Brand Protection’ and ‘Defamation (Libel and Slander)’
The ongoing saga has placed books, and bookshops (don’t forget, it was a ‘New England bookseller’ – almost certainly an independent – which provided the Guardian with a leaked copy that led to stories that helped bring forward the book’s publication date), at the forefront of the national conversation, and in one of the quietest months for bookstores too. One can almost hear booksellers saying: “We thank you, Mr President. We don’t much like you, but we thank you.”
Away from Trump – and that has been hard in recent days – the International Publishers Association in Geneva announced the shortlist for the Prix Voltaire, the ‘freedom to publish’ prize, worth 10,000 CHF (£7,500). The five-strong shortlist includes three publishers and booksellers appearing for the second time – the Bangladeshi publisher and poet Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, who was attacked after publishing atheist authors; Gui Minhai, one of the Hong Kong booksellers allegedly kidnapped by the Chinese authorities and whose whereabouts is still unknown; and Azadeh Parsapouris, founder of London-based Nogaam, which digitally publishes Farsi writing that has been banned in Iran. The prize will be awarded at the IPA Congress in Delhi next month.
The agent Toby Eady, who died on 24 December, was a prominent international figure, famous for championing Chinese writers, notably Jung Chang whose Wild Swans, published in 1991, went on to sell 20m copies. It has been fascinating to learn of his early years, when he represented Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs (which led to the successful TV series Upstairs Downstairs, which surely paved the way for Downton); and how many people knew he was the agent behind Get Carter, so memorably filmed with Michael Caine from the novel by advertising executive Ted Lewis, originally entitled Jack’s Return Home?
Tough news from Barnes & Noble which reported a sales drop of 6.4% for the nine weeks to 30 December. It is another bookseller that will be thanking Holt for Fire and Fury which must have brought some warmth to its January figures. Tough news from France and Germany too; independents in the former said that sales fell 2.9% by value in 2017, and in the latter, data body Media Control reported sales at bricks and mortar bookshops down by 3.3% by value and 5.3% by volume.
Let’s finish, where we came in. There is another author doing rather well out of the Fire and Fury furore – and that is the author of, um…Fire and Fury. That is, Fire and Fury The Allied Bombing of Germany 1942-1945, by Randall Hansen, published by Anchor Canada. He tweeted: ‘Incredibly, sales of [my book] have increased. Will I owe a larger royalty cheque to Bannon & Trump?’ He told CBC: “What I hope is that at a moment in which we have this demagogue, this unstable demagogue in the White House threatening war, the people who read my book will reflect on the morality of war and above all the horrific consequences of war for civilians.”
The madness continues in what has been a memorable start to the publishing year.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.