Pub Rants

A Hold On Acquisitions

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STATUS: Harbinger of bad news I’m afraid.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? O HOLY NIGHT by Paul Potts
(I haven’t transferred the holiday music to the iPod yet but this one was still on there from last December.)

Ack! Computers. I can deal with it. Ack! Publishers. I don’t want to deal with this. This just off the news wires folks. This is the first time I’ve seen this. Now, granted, I’ve only been in publishing for the last 7 years so really, just a baby amount of time, but I’m talking with some agent friends who have been around for a lot longer and it’s the first time they’ve seen this as well.

This might be an interesting ride over the next 6 months…

From Publishers Weekly
Article by Rachel Deahl

[excerpt]It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts.” The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go in front of the editorial review board. He maintained that the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.

Here’s the link to the full article.

34 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Ugh. I just read this too at PW. Too bad for the ms I have out with Harcourt right now. As if I needed any more obstacles to get published.

    Pardon me while I vomit…

  2. Jordan said:

    Any guesses how long this might last? Obviously they can’t put an embargo on accepting manuscripts forever—as tough as these economic times are, it’s a lot harder to make money when you’re not producing anything.

  3. Amanda said:

    My husband works at Harcourt Assessment, or what used to be Harcourt Assessment. The Harcourt parent company sold off all the different divisions just under a year ago. The scattering and acquisition by other companies might have something to do with this.

  4. Anthony said:

    I wonder if a temporary freeze has to do with a editorial policy re-alignment.

    Like: We bought books that way, now we are going to buy books this way.

    Or: You’re all fired. My new editors will buy books.

    Or: We’re selling the company.


  5. Lorra said:

    Sadly, I had a feeling this was coming. I decided months ago the best thing to do was lay low and concentrate on writing. The publishing business will rebound, but for now, it’s time to hunker down, go to the mattresses as our friend Tony might say.

  6. nomadshan said:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find out other executives have gotten the same directive and not made it public.

    I’m glad I can wait till everyone loosens their belts again.

  7. Amy C said:

    Fabulous. I just finished the revisions HMH requested on my middle-grade and was getting ready to send it in. I wonder if I should even bother now???

  8. Anonymous said:

    I am published with HMH children’s division and one of the things I’ve heard is that this has more to do with the credit crunch and the company’s highly leveraged position from recently purchasing Harcourt and less to do with being a sign of grim economic times.

  9. DOT said:

    As short a term, knee-jerk reaction I have ever seen that, with luck and justice, should rebound off their over-inflated stomach and leave them winded long after everyone else has recovered.

  10. Just_Me said:

    I’m with Lora, I’ll go hunker, polish my novel until you can see your reflection. Write a few more and polish those. And keep my toes crossed while I type that this will blow over soon.

  11. dorpr said:

    What what what? Awww man. This is the difference between knowing you’ll probably never qualify for the Olympics, and that the Olympics have been canceled.

  12. Anonymous said:

    I’m an AQ Editor for a company that HMH kind of sold (‘licensed in perpetuity’ – weird deal) a few months ago. This AQ freeze can only mean bad things. My take: HMH Riverdeep is $6 billion in debt and creditors are demanding quarterly payments. With book sales declining, HMH is desperate for cash. I’ve never heard of suspending acquisitions – it’s your future revenue. I can only conclude they don’t want to pay new advances and are hoarding cash on hand, which means they have serious cash flow problems.

  13. Ryan Field said:

    I’ve never seen anything like announced out loud before. But I have seen publishers do things like this very quietly during a change of hands, when the company has been sold and everything is being restructured.

  14. Crimogenic said:

    I’m with the group of writers that’s going to hunker down, and polish manuscripts. So that way, when the publishers loosen the belts, I will have several polished books ready for submissions.

  15. James Buchanan said:

    I have not seen this particular bit of scary news, but I have been speaking with friends that own or have knowledge of where book sales are going and things do not bode well, especially for the independent book store folks. The interesting thing about it, though, is that the numbers for the bookstore that I consider to be sort of a leading edge indicator (it is also an independent) were great for the year up until about mid September. That’s when the bottom fell out and he is now down about 20 percent for the past few months. While this is not a good omen, the rapidity by which it came may suggest that a rebound for book sellers (books are economical entertainment and gifts) could be equally as quick.

    I have blogged about this at:

    Or at my website:

  16. Anonymous said:

    Anon 7:13 is probably right on. Often when a company is getting ready to a. put themselves up for sale. b. close their doors, they halt spending where they can. No matter what the true reason is, it isn’t a positive for the company. Publishing houses are in deep do and this may be the shot across the bow to a spate of downsizing, rightsizing, etc. It is disturbing.

  17. JSB said:

    I think we all need to calm down. The news lately has been bad, but the more people buy into it the worse it gets. There will always be a need for fantastic books. Storytelling is a part of the human experience that goes back as far as human kind. So the best thing to do is to keep creating the best writing we can and be patient while the industry does some sorting out. 🙂


  18. Anonymous said:

    I think this may be part of the slow, steady evolution of how the industry does business. Like newspapers, the printed medium is going to become seriously downsized, to a marginal market, while the book industry as a whole will eventually become digitized. Storytelling and fantastic books will never go away, but the format in which they are sold will most certainly change with the times. The concept of a bounded volume of paper equaling a book will make way for things like Amazon’s Kindle, just like how stone tablets and stacks of papyrus gave way to the printing press. The cost of doing publishing the current way is starting to catch up with the industry, imho. Just my 2 cents…

  19. Amy C. said:

    For what it’s worth, an author friend of mine talked to a Houghton editor at a conference yesterday. The editor said the boycott on acquisitions does not apply to the children’s arm (thanks to ‘anonymous’ who told me the same thing above) and that the boycott will likely be lifted after the first of the year.

  20. Haste yee back ;-) said:

    I agree with Anon 11:24.

    And I see a day, if piracy and payment issues can be solved, when readers will buy/upload directly from the Author’s very own computer. Digitized words/ pictures/animation/movies/games will be the norm and as a “creator of content,” the authors and illustrators will have to *Brand* themselves and be very clever at marketing. This will lead to many creative folk getting their 15 minutes and then passing into oblivion. Sustaining attention will be increasingly difficult as the pace of new tech grows and offers even more options. (But some will do so… there’s always the ole’ 80-20 rule)!

    There will be a few *Clearing Houses* that will gather up the breakout creative enterprises and will Shepard them creatively and legally, much as lit agencies, managers and entertainment lawyers do now. But, for the most part, entertainment Congloms will be few as the entertainment market/s fracture into niches.

    I think!

    Haste yee back 😉

  21. Barbara Martin said:

    With the economic downturn, companies will be looking at ways to cut costs. If what Anon. 9:45 says is correct, then HMH is going through a reorganization and once their dust settles they will open back up for business in seeking new manuscripts.

    Writers will have to ensure that the manuscripts they are presenting to agents and publishers is in top form with a hook to catch a deal.

  22. Anonymous said:

    A good book is a good book. It will sell even in tough economics times. I love how writers are always so quick to find a reason to explain why they will never publish.

  23. Anonymous said:

    Anon 4:57 —

    Can we have a moritorium on the masses of unpublished writers procaliming, “If a book is good it will sell.”

    It simply isn’t true.

    Kristen and other agents take on “good books” all the time that don’t sell for a variety of reasons. Writing a “good book” is only about a fourth of the equation.

  24. Ken Summers said:

    Why doesn’t this surprise me? We all know the economy has been taking a nose dive worse than the Hindenburg. Everyone is running scared. ‘Risk’ has become the ultimate in naughty words.

    Yet things will rebound. We’ll just weather this storm and go back to normal… or so I hope. It might be a rough time for any of us to pitch books, but there is always that desire for entertainment among the masses…