One-Minute Book Reviews

July 17, 2009

Should Writers Be Loyal to Their Publishers? Is ‘Loyalty’ a Virtue? (Quote of the Day / Diana Athill)

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:30 pm
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Scott Turow recently jilted Farrar, Straus & Giroux, his longtime publisher, for Grand Central Publishing, for the sequel to Presumed Innocent due out in 2010. Turow is one of many authors who have cut editorial ties in a grim economy, and some people say writers are becoming “less loyal” to their publishers. Is that a bad thing? Is loyalty a virtue?

Diana Athill, the English writer and former editor for the firm of André Deutsch, says in her elegant new memoir, Somewhere Towards the End:

“Loyalty is not a favorite virtue of mine, perhaps because André Deutsch used so often to abuse the word, angrily accusing any writer who wanted to leave our list of ‘disloyalty.’ There is, of course, no reason why a writer should be loyal to a firm which has supposed that it will be able to make money by publishing his work. Gratitude and affection can certainly develop when a firm makes a good job of it, but no bond of loyalty is established. In cases where such a bond exists – loyalty to family, for example, or to a political party – it can be foolishness if betrayed by its objects. If your brother turns out to be a murderer or your party changes its policies, standing by him or it through thick or thin seems to me mindless. Loyalty unearned is simply the husk of a notion developed to benefit the bosses in a feudal system.”


  1. Loyalty ‘must’ be earned. It is not given because of who you are or the position you hold.

    Comment by pobept — July 17, 2009 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

  2. I agree with “pobept” about “loyalty ‘must’ be earned” but it seems that almost all employers, businesses, and organizations today demand loyalty, as if that is something they have copyrighted. However; when a situation of disagreement with the original person/contract/business situation happens; suddenly the original person is “disloyal” when they do not share the feelings/actions/behaviors of the larger group. Since the writer/publisher transaction is based on financial dealings; it hardly qualifies as a “loyalty” issue. So I must say I have to side with a writer, in that “loyalty” has absolutely no valid point to be considered in the contract between writer and pulisher. Perhaps a better word(s) to use would be those of “mutual cooperation and respect” in those financial & management dealings of the writer’s work. Diana Athill sounds as if she has her finger on the real pulse of publishing/writing today! Great Post!

    Comment by Talula — July 25, 2009 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

    • I’ve seen the situation you describe often: Someone who doesn’t share the feelings of a group is seen as “disloyal” when the person may just be an original thinker or believe it’s dishonest to pretend to agree when you don’t.

      You see this a lot in publishing right now, because the industry is going through such a difficult time that some authors think they can’t say anything negative about their publishers. The authors think that if they complain, they’ll upset their publishers and may not be able to find others. I understand this view and have avoided talking about a few strong concerns of my own. The problem is that if authors don’t talk about their experiences in publishing, other writes can’t learn from those experiences. So it’s a complex issue. Maybe your comment will inspire a few of them …

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 25, 2009 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

  3. Jan, One more point about this subject. Many (if not most) writers today write in several different genres (ie; picture book, Middle grades, YA, Adult, fiction, non-fiction, novels, articles, etc) in order to survive and support themselves. Many of the different styles are being produced at the same time, working on sections of each as time, muse and deadlines arise. Not one single publisher is willing to publish all the various formats; projects that one writer has written; nor would all those different projects meet the needs/requirements of one publishing house. So how in the world did ‘loyalty’ become an issue between a writers and publishers in the first place? Again, if “Is ‘Loyalty’ a Virtue?” is the question; I’d have to answer “Absolutely not in this transaction!” When a writer has a project that is not what the publisher likes or requires; the publisher has no such reservations about rejecting the work of the writer point-blank. Then, if the writer has no other polished manuscript to offer at that time ~ the writer is out of a job instantly! Not so the publisher; he just hunts for another writer/project to publish what they (the publishing house) prefer.

    Comment by Talula — July 26, 2009 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

    • I agree with almost all of what you said. So I’d just like to add that the loyalty issue comes up with agents, too; some of them want all of your work, too, even if they have little experience in a genre. And sometimes this can hold writers back much more than publishers who want to have all their work.

      I have an author friend, reasonably well known, who works on a lot of projects at once and who has insisted on the right to have different agents for these, sometimes as many as five agents at once. He’s the only writer I know who has been able to pull that off. And I admire him for it.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 26, 2009 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

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