Saturday, June 25, 2005


The Imperial Hub

Hilary McPhee, writing in today's issue of The Age of Melbourne, has decided not to join in with reviewers piling onto Tom Maschler's memoir Publisher -- she simply calls it "a dog," and leaves it at that. But among McPhee's own editorial memories of the publisher at Jonathan Cape, whose feats included the UK edition of Heller's Catch-22, here's an interesting bit of Australian publishing history:

His book reminded me painfully how much harder we had to run to publish literature in this country. First the struggles for editorial autonomy: until the late 1960s Australian book contracts in most publishing houses had to be signed in Britain. How those antipodean publishers - Capes in the making as it were - were refused the right to publish the world's best books here because they were distributed out of London. (Maschler once furiously showed me the door when I suggested we might acquire Australian rights in Bruce Chatwin's Songlines. Yet he and his colleague, Graham C. Greene, made shameless overtures to Australian authors not only for UK rights, which we were proud to sell, but for their Australian rights as well.) The assumption was that Australian authors would be much better off exported back into Australia from the imperial hub.

It is still common for Canadian sales, for instance, to get bundled together with a US or (more frequently) UK contract. So perhaps some things haven't changed so much...

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