Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Anti-Faber

Get over it, I tell myself. I worked for them in-house for 14 years, and then freelanced for them for a few years, before they dumped me without any notice or reason why, and I’ve published books with them. So, to get it over with:

1. After querying to Matthew Hollis why copies of one of my own books were being sold in remainder shops for far less than I as author would have to pay Faber to buy them, which was pissing off not just me but a number of independent bookshops who want to keep Faber poetry in stock, he opened by asking me why was I being so oppositional. For starters, because Faber was breaking contract. (There are many other Faber authors who are being treated in this way.)

2. Basic incompetence in sending out work to freelance editors. A book missing half its contents. A book sent in two versions without any indication of which was the correct one. A book sent in early draft form (so the work had to be redone). A book whose publication was postponed by a year without either the author or the copy-editor/typesetter (me) being told this. A book that was to be co-published with a US publisher: I wasn’t told this when sent the book, nor was I given any contact details for the editor (I had to find him online). A book (Beckett, Collected Poems) with two co-editors (Sean Lawlor and John Pilling) who were both, I was told, very helpful and ‘hands-on’: one of them, I then found, had had cancer for several months and his involvement was nil. Proofs sent to me for checking and indexing that included superseded material that should have been ditched at an earlier stage, and would have been if anyone in the office had bothered to read what they were sending to be typeset. (Previous to this, by the way, in-house, an Alan Bennett book that the sales had decided was to sell for £25. It was edited and designed and typeset. The page extent had to be bigger, we were told, for the £25 cover price. So redesigned at proof stage, pushed out, resulting in bad page design and cost of re-indexing. And then they decide to sell at £20 after all.)

3. Miserliness. Freelance, I text-designed from scratch at least a dozen books without any payment. Offered £75 for text design for design of one book, I queried the previous non-offers and was told too late for that, my fault for not asking, which I guess it was. Querying rates for typesetting, I was told that the current standard rate was way above what I’d agreed to several years previously, and was still invoicing at, but no chance of retrospective payment. That they hadn’t advised me of the revised rate when it started operating was my fault, not theirs. I asked a manager person about this and she invited me in to lunch and we went to a falafel bar and paid separately.

4. A few instances. Ezra Pound, Selected Poems and Translations, ed. Richard Sieburth: I was given this to copy-edit and design and typeset. Reading the introduction, I became aware that this was a major book, a bringing together of the US and UK publishing strands of Pound’s work, to be published in cooperation with New Directions in the US. Faber hadn’t told me this, nor had they given me any contact details for the editor. I found an email address for Sieburth on the net, and he spelt out the project. He sent new files (though I’d been told by Faber that the files they’d given me were final). New Directions were already working on the book: their designer was going through the previous Pound editions, coming up with informed suggestions for the design of this edition. I suggested to Faber that rather than typesetting separately, which would result in the editor having to correct two completely different sets of proofs, with different line numbers, they let New Directions do the job and buy in the setting. Eventually, they agreed. They did pay me for several needless hours of work, bless. Samuel Beckett, Collected Poems, again: the editors of the book had been assured by Faber that the inclusion of a series of short poems, of previously disputed authorship, had been agreed by all parties. At proof stage, these poems were relegated to an appendix at the insistence of one of those parties. At the next proof stage, these poems were deleted entirely, at the insistence of another of those parties. The surviving editor was not a happy man. Basil Bunting, Collected Poems, ed. Don Share. They have had the book a decade, more.

5. Dependence on the nous of others, despite their staff of salaried editors. Deborah Levy, Swimming Home – first published by And Other Stories, then by Faber, coming a little late to the party. Eimear MacBride, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, prize prize prize prize, now with Faber but don’t tell me that they didn’t reject it before all that.

6. Basic arrogance. I’ve written before about the poem from a CBe book that they printed in a Faber anthology without any credit, with mis-spelling of the translator’s name, and crediting to her of another translation she had nothing to do with; and late payment; and no copy of the book, as per the agreement. Hollis’s response was that the book was on a tight schedule. Bless. No small press that I know would be so irresponsible.

By the way: D. H. Lawrence in the Faber poet-to-poet series: he did not die in Venice, as the back cover still says, still says, several reprints after I first pointed out, very gently, the error, at proof stage before the first edition.

6. Getting through. I’ve emailed editors, sales people, Faber Factory about ebooks, over the years, repeatedly, always by name, and had no reply. About interest in backlist authors, about contact details for authors or agents, etc. Illustration: for months I tried to get Faber interested in having a table at the Free Verse: Poetry Book Fair, and they were going to have meetings to discuss this, and eventually, a week before the event, someone phones me and says yes, they’re interested, and I say good, it’s on this particular Saturday, and he says Oh, that would be be a problem, they can’t do Saturdays. Bless.

7. Faber’s grant of £40K a year from the Arts Council for the Faber pamphlets series, announced at the same time as cuts to Arc and Enitharmon and others, was outrageous. I queried this with Antonia Byatt at ACE; she suggested that this was enabling new talent to benefit from Faber’s sales and marketing expertise, which is a reasonable argument, but when she gave me sales figures it rather fell apart.

8. The Faber Finds list, which brings out-of-print golden oldies back into print, is a scam: the first design was simply bad, the new is hardly better, and to charge what they do for these books (almost all of which can be bought cheaper and in their original editions from abebooks.co.uk), and reissue them without any passion or apparent interest (in the form, say, of an introductory essay by someone championing the book, as NYRB do), smacks of simple money-making. As does the Faber Academy.

9. The above para is about branding: the Faber name on your shelf, on your cv. A brand earned by its wonderful backlist, and by some of its frontlist. Not by the last book I was paid to work on: ‘Do snakes have arseholes? Does the Queen spit or swallow?’













3 comments:

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Charles

I am greatly relieved that it is not just me who is thoroughly pissed off with Faber & Faber. Whenever I've sent them manuscripts they have neither returned them nor informed me of their decision so I suppose I could be a Faber poet without even realising it! I have actually boycotted several contemporary poetry publishers but not Faber & Faber because, more by luck than judgment and thanks to their fantastic back list, they still house most of the best poets.

Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

Nellissima said...

Sigh . . .

Anonymous said...

Re your 5), I see they've also just picked up the final two books in Paul Kingsnorth's trilogy. I would bet actual money they turned down The Wake. This really upsets me - a publisher like Faber should be taking more risks and supporting writers like Kingsnorth from the off.