This Is A Very Bad Sign

Publisher's Weekly reports the scary news that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a major NY publisher, has ordered editors to stop acquiring new manuscripts.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” 

Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board. He also maintained that the the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.

“In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature,” he said. “We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.” 

The action by the highly leveraged HMH may also be as much about the company's need to cut costs in a tight credit about the current economic slowdown.

While Blumenfeld dismissed the severity of the policy, a number of agents said they have never heard of a publisher going so far as to instruct its editors to stop acquiring.

8 thoughts on “This Is A Very Bad Sign”

  1. Damn… It may not be the end of literature, but it does not bode well. This could be the end of several mid-line author’s careers… Damn…

  2. Good business probably also means putting out fewer books and printing fewer copies of the books that are put out. Until the current economic crisis lifts, it’s going to be a very difficult market for hardcovers, and for midlist authors.

  3. I was gloomy over this news too. Then a wise friend pointed out this sentence to me:
    “Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board.”
    So, they’re not acquiring. Except when they are.

  4. If it’s highly leveraged it could simply be a response to restricted cash-flow, as Lee suggests.
    I also wonder if a lot of publishing houses are using this crisis to sort out problems that have developed over the boom years. That is, not because they need to do it, but because this gives them a good opportunity.
    And in response to Jim’s comment, I think you’re half right. I think they’ll publish far fewer books but a lot more of them.

  5. Well, although in the short-term it’s probably bad news, keep thinking cyclical, which all industries are, especially publishing. They can’t continue not-publishing books or they’ll cease to exist, so at some point they’ll decide to publish books. Will their lists get smaller? Maybe. Until they get bigger again. Or they go out of business.

  6. Contracting their lists is a move that every publishing house should take (and in all likelihood soon will). Publishing fewer titles is definitely in the best interests of the industry, even if it means some of the mid-list will fall off the ladder. Taking this step will make the industry as a whole stronger and will be beneficial to those authors who continue to publish.

  7. The writing has been on the wall for a while in my humble opinion. In recent books that I have read the editing is horrible in many cases…redundancy, too much repetitive exposition bogging the stories down, etc.


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