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Publishing industry downs and ups

November 24, 2008 |  4:58 pm


Publisher Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt has put the word out to its some of its editors to stop acquiring new manuscripts, Publishers Weekly reports. Agent Jonathon Lazear tells the industry rag, "I've been in the business a long time and at a couple of houses I worked at, when things were bad, we were asked to cut back. But I've never heard of anything so public."

What exactly this will mean for the general public remains to be seen. According to Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt's vice president of communications, Josef Blumenfeld, "it's a symbol of doing things smarter; it's not an indicator of the end of literature." That makes sense.

Except that he continued, "We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline."

Metaphor alert! The spigot is the thing that delivers a liquid, like water, to the consumer. The consumer relies on a spigot to dispense water when needed. A pipeline conveys a liquid (like water or oil) from its source to -- well, to a series of intermediaries, with the end goal of delivering to the consumer. Through the spigot.

Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt may have a robust pipeline of books in progress -- that's great! But to be clear, what they've done is ceased to buy raw materials (temporarily, they say, in some areas, and this ban can be superseded). They haven't turned off the spigot, which would mean they've stopped selling books. That would be bad for business.

If you're an agent or author who was hoping Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt might buy your book, this is not good news. Maybe it's the worst news of your life. Maybe you should write a memoir cursing the fates -- and keep it to 500 words.

Why 500 words? Because that way (with a submission fee of $10) you can enter it into Opium Magazine's 500 Word Memoir Contest. The prize is no lucrative book deal, but at $1,000, it's some decent scratch. This year's judge is the novelist Tom Perrotta ("The Abstinence Teacher"). The magazine has posted a finalist from last year (a mere 436 words) and has a discount if you want to enter two. That's a break you deserve in the up-and-down publishing world.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo by Stephen Witherden via Flickr