Disputes between authors and publishers are not uncommon, especially when it comes to marketing and publicity efforts. But rarely does an author make a preemptive move, and pull his book before a publisher has a chance to publish it. Which is why thriller author Steve Hamilton's move to end his relationship with longtime publisher St. Martin's Press has highlighted a growing issue in the business: Are traditional publishers doing enough to support established authors?
On Tuesday it emerged that St. Martin's imprint Minotaur Books was canceling Hamilton's October-slated novel, The Second Life of Nick Mason. The sudden move, for a book with strong word-of-mouth, seemed odd. St. Martin's issued a terse statement saying only that, "after many years" of publishing Hamilton, it "had a parting of ways" with the author.
Hamilton and his agent, Shane Salerno, said the publisher's comment was deeply misleading and, contrary to what SMP implied, it was Hamilton who chose to end the relationship. The reason? A lackluster plan from SMP to promote The Second Life of Nick Mason.
A two time Edgar-winner, Hamilton, who has been at SMP for 17 years, said the publisher's statement "wasn’t right factually, and it wasn’t right in principle, not after such a long relationship." He added: "This was my decision and mine alone. And any suggestion otherwise is ridiculous."
The Second Life of Nick Mason, which follows an ex-con unwillingly plunged back into the underworld of Chicago crime after he's sprung from prison, had received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. (Now that the book has been shelved, that review will not be running.) The book also received blurbs from, among others, Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Don Winslow. Additionally, SMP had said that it was planning a 75,000-copy first announced printing. It also claimed, in galleys, to be committed to a number of major marketing efforts, such as a national author tour for Hamilton, and a national ad campaign for the book.
Hamilton, however, said none of those claims are true. "There was no national campaign," he wrote via email. "None at all." Staying with his publisher, given what they were doing, was unthinkable, he added. "The catastrophe that would have transpired for a book with extraordinary advance reviews would have been unfair to me, to my book, and to every bookseller."
When asked about the statements made about the supposed marketing plans for the book, SMP again declined to comment. However, it is an open secret in the publishing industry that claims made on galleys and other material for the trade--about everything from first printings to marketing budgets and efforts--can be gross exaggerations. This fact has begun to spread beyond the confines of the industry, though, as more authors and industry experts take to the Internet with posts about the realities of what Big Five publishers actually do for most authors on the marketing front.
For Hamilton, the focus now is on getting a new publisher. His exit from SMP was negotiated by attorney Richard B. Heller of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz (who also worked on Janet Evanovich's 2010 departure from the house). Having paid SMP a sum to cover his advances on four books, along with delivery and acceptance fees on the first book, Hamilton and his agent are now fielding offers on print rights for The Second Life of Nick Mason, as well as film rights.
"In the end, I just want to work with a publisher who’s passionate about my work, and who has a real plan for reaching the widest possible audience," Hamitlon said. "That’s all I’ve ever wanted. But I didn't feel like any of that was in place at St. Martin’s Press, or that it ever would be."