Battle for Delilah
Reports from the ongoing campaign to rescue the unpublished book DELILAH OF SUNHATS AND SWANS after its publisher cancelled it for alleged post-9/11 problems in the publishing industry.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001  

Regarding Highbridge Press threatening legal action over hyperlinks to their site, see the recent court decision dismissing an attempt by Ford Motor Company to restrict such linking.

Posted by The One True b!X | 4:57 AM

Sunday, December 09, 2001  

For what it's worth, should Highbridge Press persist in making a "link stink," there is always the convenient use of a Google search link instead. Amusingly enough, this search includes a hit for a site in the U.K. which lets users rate Highbridge Press on a scale of 1 to 10.

Posted by The One True b!X | 5:32 PM

The latest round of cluelessness is evident in the email reprinted below. Interested parties would do well to read Michael S. Overing's article "Licensed to Link" -- especially the bit about the "implied license" concept.

From: [Small Press Publisher]
Sent: Saturday, December 08, 2001 11:41 AM
To: Volker, Melissa
Subject: Highbridge Press

Dear Ms. Volker,

Since Highbridge Press has cancelled your publishing contract and no longer has a business relationship with you, remove the link to our site from your webpage. You don't have our permission, therefore, the link is unauthorized.

If it is not removed immediately, I will take legal action against you, your webmaster and ISP.

[Small Press Publisher]
Publisher, Highbridge Press

Notice the clue-deprived choice to run immediately to the threat of legal action rather than, say, make a polite request. But then, given the strange rationale provided by Highbridge Press for the book's cancellation to begin with, I suppose that reasonable action might not be something to be expected.

Posted by The One True b!X | 3:19 PM

Friday, December 07, 2001  

What follows is Highbridge Press's explanation for why some of their future books are marketable in the post-9/11 world and why others are not. A legitimate debate could be had, one presumes, over what the current and near-term trends will be in terms of what people want to be reading. Perhaps some of that debate will happen in and around this site. What continues to seem nonsensical to me, however, is this repeated falling back upon things such as fears of anthrax contamination. If you can't send out manuscripts of Delilah due to anthrax fears (which in and of itself is absurd to the point of being painful), then you can't send out any manuscripts. Anthrax isn't going to stick to Delilah more than to some other book. Keep in mind here that Volker kept her book off the market for 8 months because Highbridge wanted it. It was slated for publication, not simply making its way through arcane processes or negotiations. Yes, contracts can be cancelled. But when they are cancelled after such a span of time, the reasons should be on a level greater than "The book industry fears anthrax."

From: [Small Press Publisher]
Sent: Friday, December 07, 2001 1:20 PM
To: M. Volker
Subject: Re: Delilah

Your assumtion is incorrect.

The remaining authors posted on the website whose work is due to be published in 2002 have written non-fiction books and genres which have a certain target market that your title doesn't fit into. The interests of the reading public have changed because of September 11th and book sales have dropped for titles that don't relate to current events or that won't provide the spiritual and mental comfort that people are searching for. Books about September 11th, Islam, the Middle East, and survival manuals are selling off the shelves. This trend will continue as long as Americans don't feel safe and we are engaged in a war against terrorism which could last for decades.

Even authors like Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark are experiencing a drop in sales of their books.

As for our remaining titles, Eleanor Manning (VOICES) and Orlando Tibbetts (My Spiritual Journal and Spiritual Fresh Air) are non-fiction inspirational/Christian titles.

Chaplain Albert Downing fits into three categories that you cannot compare yourself with: African-American, Military and Christian. That is a market you don't have access to. Books of this genre sell very well in both African-American markets as well as general Christian and military markets.

Overall, non-fiction always sells better than fiction because fiction reading is a leisurely activity, while non-fiction reading is for information. In addition, these are the types of books that are in high demand because people are looking for a spiritual outlet to help them cope with the volatile times we live in and are re-thinking their spirituality.

Bernie Schellan (The Traveling Charbonneaus-fiction) is a published author with an established relationship with the media and already has a film agent.

Basil Warner (Killing Time Between Buses) is also fiction but his target market is Caribbean & African American, another niche market that we couldn't approach with your book.

Even before the events of Sept. 11th we would have had difficulty getting national media coverage for you because you are an unknown author. Local coverage in your area is fine but it will not sell enough books for us to get a return on our investment in you and your book.

But before Sept. 11th, we were willing to take the chance because over time, we might have been able to achieve some success. However, with the threat of anthrax contamination limiting our ability to send out unsolicited press material and the media's distraction with subjects that have to do with terrorism, bio-terrorism and the possibility of further attacks, we can't get their attention. And their is no indication that this situation will get any better in the near future. In fact, based on continuous government warnings, it may get worse.

As stated in our letter, this is strictly a business decision based on the fallout of the events of Sept. 11th and has nothing to do with the quality of your writing. You own the rights to your work and are free to pursue getting published elsewhere. Since you anticipate successful marketing of your book based on the responses you've received from the media thus far, you shouldn't have any difficulty obtaining an agent and getting published by a larger house who may feel differently.

Posted by The One True b!X | 4:45 PM

Mark Bernstein, who as a small software publisher sympathizes both with Volker and with Highbridge Press (we may as well name them here, since it wasn't difficult to find out anyway) has pointed readers of his site this way. He challenges my description of Highbridge's decision as "spineless":

In reality, though, Highbridge may simply be stuck: business is terrible. Small press publishing is challenging even in good times, and it's a very spotty retail Christmas. The big discounters appear to be making their numbers, but people are cutting back and skipping Christmas: bad news for booksellers.

Problem is, Highbridge is not looking at all of their other titles and determining that they will be impossible to market in the post-9/11 environment. Their message in which they delineate their overall current approach will be posted here shortly.

Posted by The One True b!X | 4:33 PM

Thursday, December 06, 2001  

Doc Searls -- a not unwidely read blogger -- has posted about Delilah's predicament. Thanks, Doc.

Posted by The One True b!X | 7:37 PM

What appears below is a copy of the email received today by my sister from the small press which was to publish her book Delilah of Sunhats and Swans next Spring. The small press in question is located in upstate New York and was created to champion new authors. The following has been described as "damn lame" but is in truth (my truth -- I am speaking for no one else here) spineless, uncreative bullshit. The publisher claims that in the post-9/11 world they need to alter their "business practices" but if this is what they are doing in the post-9/11 world, they will have no business to practice. since they will have no authors. For the time being, both the name of the small press and of its publisher have been omitted.

From: [Small Press Publisher]
Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2001 11:31 AM
To: M. Volker
Subject: Re: Delilah

Please don't send the package. The letter below was mailed to you yesterday. It was a difficult decision and but it has nothing to do with the quality of your writing.

December 6, 2001

Dear Melissa:

As a result of the events of September 11, 2001, the ability of publishers to successfully promote books has been severely compromised.

Traditionally, the most effective methods of book marketing have been through newspaper, television, and radio interviews, books signings and author participation at book conferences. Unfortunately, access to these venues is now limited for the following reasons:

. Newspaper and radio interviewers are primarily interested in featuring authors whose books are relevant to current events.

. Overall, the media is reluctant to accept unsolicited materials via regular mail due to the threat of anthrax contamination. Email solicitation is ineffective unless it is coupled with mailing print media.

. Book signings are being cancelled because of low foot traffic in book stores.

. Book conferences are being cancelled due to low attendance based on the public's fears of flying and traveling long distances.

In the best of times, the aforementioned media outlets showed little interest in showcasing the work of unknown authors. And now, with everyone's attention focused on the events related to the terrorist attack on September 11th and the threat of further attacks, the opportunity for a new author's book to receive any type of media coverage is virtually non-existent. Without media coverage, it's impossible to sell books.

Therefore, this letter serves as formal notice of cancellation of our contract to publish DELILAH OF SUNHATS AND SWANS in the Spring of 2002. All rights revert to you immediately.

This gives you the freedom to, once again, query other publishers about your book. Materials submitted to [Small Press] in connection with your book are being returned under separate cover, and all information on the website will be deleted.

Our decision to take this action does not come easily. When we established [Small Press], our goal was to give unknown, talented authors an opportunity to have their work published. But the events of September 11th have changed the world in which we live and we must adjust our business practices accordingly.

It was a pleasure making your acquaintance and we wish you the best of luck with your all your writing endeavors.

[Publisher's Name]

Posted by The One True b!X | 4:24 PM