Publish or Perish or Both



From: Ivor Catt
Sent: 02 March 2014 10:25
To: Judy Bruce
Subject: Re: Long time ago.


Your book.



This tirade from you, a successful first author (very well reviewed), tends to confirm my worst experiences, and that this nonsense continues. Remember, my first book was 42 years ago., It’s strange if the pathology is the same now. Your suggestion, that someone who gets through this nonsense, I think by chance, and makes a million sales and a million in money, will probably not attack the “system”.

I went inside the offices of my first publisher, Putnams, in New York, to find out what on earth was happening, which turned out to be weird. I had an interview with Minton, the President. It was weird. I don’t know how much detail I should burden you with.

My experience is very out of date. However, it is interesting to hear that the rule among publishers that you mention still runs. 30 or 40 years ago the rule was that you mustn’t publish an author’s second book. Weird.

I never got involved in having an “agent”, and would not know how to do so.

In view of what you say below about the situation today, I think I should at least put my story onto my website. Then you might be willing to add an update on the situation today, on my website. Of course, I don’t know whether you would risk attacking the system, since you have an interest in the progress of your second book.


My first book was formulaic, to make money. I followed the successful books, and aped them. My second book was what a book should be, not with an eye on the money. My third book was co-authored, and I did not deal with the publishers Macmillan. I never heard from my co-author Malcolm about how they behaved. . That was in 1979, again a long time ago.


You mention hardback and paperback. That situation was entirely mad in 1972 with my first book. I wrote a paperback book. As author, I knew that it had to be paperback. However, you were not allowed to write a paperback book. First it had to succeed in the inappropriate mode (as I, the author, believed) at the higher hardback price, and then they would undercut their proven profit by bringing it out in hardback. Also, it had to have pictures. In England, at Hart-David pubs., when I said this to the chief editor, he replied; “I think we can get away with no pictures”. Wondering what the problem was, I commissioned your brother John to do the pictures, which he did very well, and I sent it to the UK publishers. They ignored John’s pictures, and instead paid for pictures by a very famous illustrator who obviously did not read the book.


By the way, this hardback nonsense did not apply in France, and they brought my book out paperback, although I had no communication with them. Out of the six language versions of my book, the French, the only paperback case, did the best by far. I have only just realised in writing this that I obviously knew better than the publishers in the other five pub houses around the world, including UK and USA.


I begin to realise, as a result of your tirade below, that I have a good story here for my website. Do you want to be involved?




From  Judy Bruce

Sent: Saturday, March 01, 2014 10:31 PM

To: 'Ivor Catt'

Subject: RE: Long time ago.


Tell me about it, Ivor.  The Publishing industry is rubbish.  That it is in crisis is because it has no idea how it should proceed in the 21st Century.  Not that I can advise them.  I do know that most professional writers I speak to (not, of course, the ones who have struck lucky) are disenchanted and pissed off with the whole industry.  I was expected to publicise my own book, using Twitter, Facebook and Blogging – which, at the age of 77 was something I had no expertise in, knowledge of or willingness to do.  They paid me £17,500 for my book and engaged in a bidding war with another publisher for it, and then abandoned me;  an unknown writing about unknowns.  The editor who championed my book lost her long-term partner in a freak and tragic accident a few months after my publication and totally lost her mojo and her focus (understandably) – but that was bad luck for me.  The paperback edition had been promised supermarket sponsorship, but Simon & Schuster couldn’t even achieve that and instead told me that they had “got it into WH Smith Travel” – which meant it should have been on all bookstalls in stations, airports, bus-stations and so on.  I mounted extensive forays all over E.Sussex and the Home Counties looking for it and NEVER EVER spotted it in any station from Victoria to Hastings – similarly in bus-stations and at Gatwick and Heathrow.  They have turned down my second book “because sales of your first were disappointing....” And whose fault was that, I ask?  Don’t get me started.


The best way is to upload your stuff, in serialised form, onto the internet, and get a following.  That has worked for many people and it is the way I shall work in future.  My agent agrees, though he is hoping to place the re-write of Book No.2. with someone.  But I may have to change my name because I am told that the magnificent publishing industry will not touch you again if you have been published once and not made money for them.  Gilbertian, isn’t it?







My book came out in 1971.

A woman in New York picked on an article of mine which had been paraphrased by the Sylvia Porter column and seconded to many newspapers in the USA. Sylvia coined the phrase “The Catt Concept”, to follow things like “Parkinson’s Law” “The Peter Principle”, “Up the Organisation”. Another woman Eleanor Rawson in a publishing house asked me if I have in mind a book. Checking the amount of money earned by those authors, and comparing with my financial situation, I said yes. She then got cold feet, but I had warmed to the idea. Whereas each of those books had one idea, I thought each chapter should have a new idea. I had written many articles, and decided to find out how short a book could be. It came to 20,000 words. I wrote half of it, but had not read “The Writers and Artist’s Year Book”, which said you should only approach one publisher at a time. At once I went to all publishers in the UK and the USA with the half book, not just a synopsis. All UK publishers rejected, but spent two months deciding to do so.  Had I read the Writers and Artists Year Book, that would have been the end of me as an author. [[Some time later Fields sold the UK rights to the London publisher Hart-Davis for £7,500. Jim Reynolds, chief editor for Hart-Davis had been told by Fields that it would have major advertising and promotion in the US. At the time, he had knife half way into his back. I did not check on whether he actually did get fired later.]]


Arthur Fields, chief editor for Putnam’s in New York, started to cable me. I met him in his wheel chair in the Savoy, London. He thought the book was completed, and I signed up to deliver in four weeks, the time needed for me to type it up properly. The advance was £1,500, half of it right now and the other half on receipt of the copy. That works out similar to your advance; four months’ salary then. I asked for six weeks unpaid leave from work, and settled down to having a new idea once per day. (I only needed a new idea each two days, but I knew that under the stress I would get the flu or something soon, so I must complete in only two weeks.) I could not concentrate in the house, so I rigged up our caravan with electric heating etc. and sat out there (mid winter) waiting for the ideas. The postal strike meant I had to get a commuting man to take it with him to his work in Belgium and post it from there. The final day came, and I had all the chapters, but not their order. I had no experience of putting the chapters in order. In the end I shovelled them together and sent them off. I then more or less collapsed. Freda thought I would never recover.


The book was about how companies that keep doing hire and fire collapse. Arthur Fields wanted it because Minton, the President of Putnam’s, was doing just that. That is, Arthur wanted my book as an internal message in Putnan’s, not for the market. The Putnam’s Foreign Rights agent told me Fields was very keen on the book, and only brought her a manuscript twice during 15 years or so, and mine was one. By when I got to interview Minton, he had fired Fields. Minton told me; “The trouble is there is a fundamental problem with your book, which Fields should have dealt with.” I said; “What?” He replied; “You don’t say who is to blame.” He then said; “But let’s not talk about the dead.” (Fields had been fired.)


The key point about the book was that nobody was to blame.


My friend in the US bought my book. When there, in New Jersey, we went to the book shop where he had bought it. The shopkeeper said such a book did not exist. He proved it by showing us Bower’s, the list of books in print.


The head of marketing in Putnam’s told me Fields was very keen, and my book had “Major Advertising and Promotion.” He gave me a copy of the ad which had gone into the New York Times. . (I went to the records in the main library in NY and could not find it in the New York Times.) He told me my book would not sell by the other two means (which he specified), but by mention on the cocktail circuit. (I kept quiet that I knew this could not succeed because it was not in the list of books in print.) He said it was sent out on “Sale or Return”, and they all came back. That was the end. (I did not say that I had ordered 20, but received two lots of 20. Imagine what a bookshop does if that happens! I told a Putnam’s VP about this; what should I do?, and he told me to keep the second 20.) Obviously a dissatisfield employee doubled all “sale or return” deliveries, so they “all came back”.


I suspected my book had been suppressed because it said that pension funds were not for the benefit of the investor, but for the pension company. (A pension company owned a lot of my company, and my company would not let us see the contract between my company and the pension fund.) I thought that if my book had been suppressed, I was onto a winner. I went to all the TV places in NY with my story, but said in advance I needed a signed admission that they had seen me. (The idea was that the journalist would have my countervailing pressure against pressure from the pension funds. This was before the pension funds scandals emerged in the media.) All but one refused to see me on those terms.


I think my book had to fail because since Fields had been fired, his books had to fail. However, he had got it out to abroad before being fired, and it took off abroad. Against this, I have to admit that when I told the President, Minton, that it was not in the list of books in print, he rushed out of his office to check.


The morale in Putnam’s NY headquarters was so low because of hire and fire that I had the freedom of the place. I got in with the woman who was head of some section of Putnam’s, promotion or something, and took her out to dinner. At dinner she told me her writing was very good because she had “very strong verbals”. I didn’t ask her what that meant. She got wild when she found out that my interest was in whether my book had been suppressed. She said all authors thought that.


I think it is a good thing that thinking about you and your book has caused me to write down this stuff, because it is good.

Also, nowadays, it is easy for me to put it onto my website. However, first you may like to add your bit.


By now, I don’t think the publishing business is too much more incompetent than other businesses. I am continually struck by the inability of companies in many fields to go for the main chance, which is to increase growth, turnover and profit. An example is to rename a company, which is bad enough, but worse if the new name is a bad name.


I wonder that factors came into play when you wrote your first book.