March 22, 2018

Is bad publicity bad publicity? We’ll find out.


In the brave new nimble world of social media, the production schedule for a print book seems unconscionably long. Even at Melville House, where we’ve gotten quite good at publishing books on a dime (or “crashing” them), we like to have a manuscript into copyediting a solid six months ahead of the publication date. “Into copyediting” just means the author and the editor have finished all of their back-and-forth about plot development, character development, line-by-line development, and are ready to have someone else make sure we’ve got all the facts and grammar straight. Once that’s done, we make typeset advance readers’ copies that go out to sales reps (those noble champions who help get copies of the finished books into bookstores) and reviewers (who, hopefully, when the stars align, say nice things about the book and make sure good Moby readers like yourselves know about the book and are inclined to put down hard-earned cash to buy it from your local bookstore).

This is all to say that there are a lot of eyes on (and a lot of up-front investment in) a manuscript before a publisher hits “print,” so to speak, on a finished book, and that makes it quite unusual that Keira Drake’s debut novel The Continent, forthcoming from Harlequin Teen, underwent serious revisions just eight weeks before its on-sale date, when finished copies would already have been printed.

For the Washington Post, Everdeen Mason reports that advance readers of Drake’s book (advance readers are basically limited to reviewers, industry “big-mouths,” and retailers) found its portrayal of Native Americans so racist that both the author and the publisher decided to stall publication to accommodate substantial changes.

“I was simply not thinking about racial stereotypes,” the author said. “It’s almost mortifying to say that because it was so blatantly obvious when it was pointed out.”

While it’s alarming that such “mortifying” stereotypes should have survived as deep into publication as they did, it’s also no small thing that the publisher has pulped an entire first print run and pushed back a pub date around which review attention, events, and co-op had probably been planned.

At the same time, this is now a news story, and would you have heard of Keira Drake’s The Continent, had it not been for this controversy? I probably would not have.



Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.