April 24, 2015
Seriously, what’s happened at Hesperus Press?
by Zeljka Marosevic
On Wednesday, I wrote about the strange goings-on at the independent publisher Hesperus Press, where all four members of staff have resigned without explanation. Since then, no public statement has been issued by the publisher. But there has been a new development, and I’m afraid the news isn’t good. Yesterday the Bookseller reported that Hachette Group USA and the Swedish author Jonas Jonasson had “engaged lawyers to pursue royalty payments owed to the author by Hesperus Press”.
Hesperus published Jonasson’s novel The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared back in 2012, and it became a massive hit, selling half a million print copies and 700,000 ebooks. According to the publisher’s website, the success of the book allowed the company to expand and it set up two new imprints, Hesperus Nova and Minor, which published contemporary fiction and nonfiction, and classic children’s books respectively.
It’s clear that Jonasson’s novel gave the publisher a new lease of life, and the book sales gave it major new funds. It now seems less certain whether Jonasson was ever given his share of these funds.
According to The Bookseller:
Hachette Book Group in the US, whose imprint Hyperion owns world English rights to Jonasson’s book, has confirmed that it will begin legal proceedings against Hesperus Press this Friday 24th April in the High Court of Justice in London. But it would not comment further.
Jonasson’s agent Carina Brandt confirmed that Jonasson had only received a small royalty payment in the autumn of 2012, and nothing since. The author himself is confused and upset by the whole affair, telling the Bookseller:
My former agency, my current agent, my Spanish lawyers and Hachette US lawyers are involved in this mess. Personally, I feel helpless. I do not understand what happens except that it’s a lot of money that I have not received.
Understanding royalty statements is hard enough for authors, and is based on a certain amount of trust (as well as a legally-binding contract) between author, agent and publisher. But when book sales are as good as they were for Jonasson’s novel (after what we can assume was a small advance) it’s baffling that he didn’t see bigger payments quicker, and surprising that it’s taken this long for legal intervention. What was going on in the Hesperus accounts department?
Jonasson’s described his initial joy over the book’s success and his subsequent experience with Hesperus:
If I am to focus on my artistic ability, I need to stay away from it all…But I’ve always felt proud when I think of how popular the book has become in the world. And I remember when the book filled the whole shop window in Waterstone’s flagship store in Piccadilly in London. It felt great that a Swede could become so popular in English. But it’s a mental collision between that experience and the feeling of how I have been handled by Hesperus Press.
We’ll report on the situation as it develops.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.