Academic publishing is lazy and unethical

Last week witnessed the first tremors of what could be a welcome revolution: the resignation en masse of the 40-strong editorial board of NeuroImage magazine – regarded as the leading publication for brain-imaging research in the world. The board, whose members include very senior figures in the world of brain science, is protesting what it sees as the publisher Elsevier’s greedy and unethical behaviour.   Objecting to this grotesque situation shouldn’t be an ideological issue. There’s something here to hate for everybody They were reacting to the company’s refusal to reduce the journal’s ‘publication fees’ – that is, the fees scientists must pay to publish their findings on an open-access, free-to-read basis. At issue isn’t, quite, the existence of such fees – if

How to snare your reader: the secret of a good blurb

It sounds disingenuous, not to say dis-respectful, but as a writer of 40 books, give or take, I never read blurbs. I can’t bear to. I love stories and am terrified of them being spoiled. There is no obvious twist or murderer so clearly signposted that I will ever try to guess them as I read. I never look at the end first. One of the great joys of books (and of life, more or less the same thing) is being happily surprised. I did accidentally read the blurb of Karen Jay Fowler’s superb We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which gave away the (gorgeous) twist in the first line.

Homage to Joseph Johnson, the radical 18th-century publisher

There’s no excuse for dullness, especially when writing about a life as eventful as Joseph Johnson’s, the publisher and bookseller who worked with Mary Wollstonecraft, Joseph Priestley, William Cowper, Erasmus Darwin and Wordsworth and Coleridge, among others. I opened this book expecting it to lift the veil on dinner with Joseph Johnson, but the title’s a misnomer. (Other than a brief introductory passage, Johnson’s weekly dinners are mentioned only in passing.) Descriptions of his relationships with Wollstonecraft and Cowper are perhaps the most successful parts of Daisy Hay’s book, but elsewhere it is under-researched and under-written. This becomes evident early on when she writes about the Gordon Riots. Among the

A book trade romp: Sour Grapes, by Dan Rhodes, reviewed

Dan Rhodes’s career might be regarded as an object lesson in How Not to Get Ahead in Publishing. Our man was chosen as one of the Best of Young British Novelists in 2003, but his recent exploits include a spectacular falling out with his one-time sponsors, Messrs Canongate, and the writing of a lampoon about Richard Dawkins which so alarmed the lawyers that it had to be issued privately. Significantly, Sour Grapes — his first novel for seven years — comes courtesy of a small, independent press of which I confess that I had not previously heard. In most hands, these serial misfortunes could be guaranteed to produce a full-frontal

Kate Clanchy and the new censorship in publishing

‘There’s more than one way to burn a book’, wrote Ray Bradbury, in a coda to the 1979 edition of his anti-censorship classic, Fahrenheit 451. The case of Kate Clanchy, the Orwell Prize-winning author, currently rewriting her book after a particularly strange fit of identitarian pique, shows us just how true that is. The story of Clanchy’s sudden fall from grace in the publishing world is utterly mad, even by today’s standards. She is an author, poet and teacher. In 2019, she published Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, a memoir reflecting on her time teaching in an Oxford comprehensive, to critical acclaim. But in the two years

Josh Hawley and the new world of book cancellations

Book burning has not historically been considered an anti-fascist gesture. But in the wake of the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington DC by crazed Trump supporters, perhaps that’s set to change. This is the news that Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who indulged Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election being ‘stolen’, has had his book deal with Simon & Schuster terminated. It might not be a book-burning per se, but it’s certainly the 21st-century, polite-society equivalent of it. Simon & Schuster said it decided to pull Hawley’s forthcoming book, titled The Tyranny of Big Tech, in response to the ‘disturbing, deadly insurrection’ at the Capitol on Wednesday, and what

The best way to cope with rejection is to write about it

With more than a dozen acclaimed novels to her name, not to mention short stories, poetry, a memoir and a Booker nomination, you might think that Michèle Roberts could have counted on being published for life. But as so many ‘established’ authors know painfully well, in that ever-hungry-for-the-new world there’s no such thing as tenure. So when her latest novel elicits a lack-lustre response from her agent before being ‘sweetly’ but flatly turned down by her publisher, a stunned Roberts finds herself processing the humiliation in the only way she knows how — by writing about it. ‘My past successes counted for nothing,’ she mournfully observes: ‘There was only this

Why Hachette were wrong to drop Woody Allen’s memoir

Even amid plague, economic apocalypse, and the cancellation of 2020, dumb stuff keeps happening. Besides, loads of us will now beeline for any column not about coronavirus. Key words: Hachette, Woody Allen. See also: Douglas Murray. This isn’t the first time we’ve agreed on something. American publishing has hardly covered itself in glory regarding Woody Allen’s Apropos of Nothing, which my New York editor read on the memoir’s submission last year. ‘It was really good,’ she emailed me. ‘We took an easier way out, that is for sure. Not to be repeated!’ The easy way out, which nearly the entire industry took, was not to bid on the book. Hachette

The inside story of working for Carmen Callil

Forty-seven years ago, Virago paperbacks, with their stylish green spines and hint-of-the-transgressive colophons of a red apple with a bite out of it, revolutionised British publishing in a way that had not been seen since Allen Lane’s Penguins in the 1930s. It’s no exaggeration to say that the firm permanently altered a nation’s reading habits. Founded in 1973, three years after the Equal Pay Act and with the Sex Discrimination Act just two years away, Virago had a clear feminist objective. It wanted to produce books that gave a voice to the 52 per cent of the population under-represented in a world of mainstream publishing still largely run through the