Update on The Sentimentalists

My posts on Johanna Sibsrud and the controversies around the Giller garnered more hits than anything I’ve posted (by a factor of ten). Clearly, people are interested.

Gaspereau Press announced today that there will be two versions of the book, one in trade paper, published by two other independents, and Gaspereau’s own, artisanal, copies.

From what I can see, the only difference between the independents doing this, and Random House, which had offered to , is that — well, they’re independent.

A commentator on my blog with inside info indicates there will be higher royalties for the Canadians. All of which sounds good for readers interested in buying what one Globe and Mail letter writer referred to as the ‘literary version of the Cabbage Patch dolls.’

What I don’t understand is why Gaspereau Press couldn’t have simply said it was negotiating to produce trade copies with other independent publishers instead of slagging Random House. Not to mention yammering on about how the quality of its production would be affected  if a publisher other than Gaspereau published the book.

“It would no longer be a Gaspereau Press book,” Steeves had said. “If you are going to buy a copy of that book in Canada, it’s damn well coming out of my shop.”

I guess he meant “it’s damn well going to be ‘licensed’ by my shop” because the two independents who are lending a hand aren’t anywhere near Kentville, Nova Scotia. The trade copies that are printed won’t have the attributes that Steeves claimed were so important, either: no letter-pressed covers, no hand-made paper. And contrary to earlier reports, no mention of Gaspereau Press on the spine.

[I also wonder if the higher payback to the publisher will be offset by the sales that were diverted to Kobo, which grabbed the ball (or the book, so as to speak) and ran with e-sales.]

The same commentator thinks it was generous of Gaspereau Press to pass on the foreign rights to the book without charging the author a cent and that the publisher should get credit for that. Maybe so. But Steeves said himself that:“I have only a limited ability to shop rights around … So I have an author who has an agent who’s interested from a major agency, for whatever reason. Why would I want to stand in the way of that?”

I don’t think it’s necessarily generous to give something away that you don’t know how to use, but I agree it was the right thing to do.

Except for that small, niggling issue of handing those rights over to an agent who stated up front that she’d been referred to the book by Ali Smith.  Even though Ali Smith had been named as a judge on the Giller panel months earlier,  very publicly. 

Boy, it’s hard to know how to unravel this one. I don’t like the fact that Steeves’ various comments to the media made Skibsrud’s victory all about his principles, instead of her book.

But I think what bothers me more is the non-disclosure to other entrants and judges of what was going on. Not by Smith, by Bohan, by the highly-principled Steeves or  by Skibsrud herself. No-one said a word in public.

If they had, would Ali Smith have been allowed to continue to sit on the panel judging the long-list?  I somehow doubt it. Michael Enright says he didn’t know anything about all of this, and that it didn’t influence his decision. But what if he had known about the backroom dealings? Would The Sentamentalists still have won? Or given the controversy that would likely have erupted then instead of now, would it have even been a contender?

It’s not the fact that Enright wasn’t influenced by what he wasn’t aware of, or at least, not to his knowledge.

It’s that he might well have had some opinions about it if he’d known. Smith, for example, might have been asked to recuse herself. Or maybe not. But at least we could have had this debate about ethics before the winner was selected, instead of now.

Which is why conflicts of interest — real or apparent —  require appropriate disclosure. So that people can make informed decisions about them, and deal with them properly.

This entry was posted in Getting Published, The Author-Agent Relationship, The Giller Prize and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Update on The Sentimentalists

  1. Mark Bourrie says:

    I doubt Steeves had the right to shop the foreign rights around. Those belong to the author unless Steeves paid for them.
    Quite frankly, Steeves does not come out of this looking good.


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