But one question--is a publisher LIKELY to pull something like that if it jeopardizes their relationship with an author? Or does it all depend on just who that author is?
Yes. No. Maybe.
This summer at the publishing institute I got to hear from a lot of editors. Most of my contact, aside from at the BEA, has been with agents. Sometimes they're on the same side of the field, sometimes they're not. Sometimes it seems like one's on your side and the other isn't, but you may be wrong. Or it may not matter. I'm being very helpful, am I?
Everyone involved in the publishing process obviously has a vested interest in having the author succeed. They also have a vested interest in making sure that they are compensated for their time and avoid any legal issues while doing so. So everyone is sort of working together but sort of not. I got a first-hand taste of this this summer, when I was offered a book contract by an editor and ran off to find an agent. It was a long and complex process that I don't want to get into because it involves specific people, but the point is, suddenly after many years of rejection, the spotlight was on me and my commercially viable manuscript. I didn't mention it at the time on the blog because I was having the argument with Jill about her book contract, and I was sure it would just confuse the issue, which was unrelated. But anyway, yes, G-d willing, I am going to be published sometime in late 2008.
Despite having worked for an agent and taken an publishing course, picking an agent was a maddening process. The editor didn't want me to get an agent. Some editors simply don't like working with agents; they feel they drive up the price. They don't like the middleman. (These editors accept unsolicited manuscripts) On the other hand the advance was very low even for genre fiction, and the agent wanted to threaten to walk away and take a chance with other publishers, while I wanted to take the offer on the table (with some re-negotiations and revisions that I needed an agent to do) because damnit, I wanted to be published, and I knew a lot about the publishing company and I knew they would do a good job and probably eventually pick up the whole series. I called around to former bosses and co-workers and they all gave me different advice, and really wondered what the hell I was doing, and then wondered, "Wait, I work in publishing. How do I not know what I'm doing?" A lot of guessing and going with gut feelings was involved.
Currently we're in contract revisions similar to the one in my previous post. A lot of people who knew me asked me why in the world was I looking for an agent who would just take a cut of my pay when I knew all about the job and already had a book deal. Couldn't I do it myself? I decided to let someone else do the nitty-gritty of the contract, which turned out to be a big deal, which is why I'm relieved and heavy on the "you need an agent" recommendation for most authors.
That doesn't mean that the publisher was trying to "screw me." The publisher presented a contract that would give me an advance and future royalties if I earn out my advance, and they would get a lot of rights. It wasn't bad; I just knew I could do better.
Take the example of the previous post to this one. The publisher has a valid reason for not wanting to have to contact the author prior to revisions. Revisions are expensive, so chances are they would be minor anyway, and what the publisher is trying to avoid is a situation in which the author disappears (dies, moves to another country, etc) and the publisher is unable to contact them to inform them of revisions, so they're not able to republish. The publisher could very well have had every intention of informing the author prior to publication with the old wording, but wanted to safeguard themselves against extreme cases that could become a legal mess. Or, maybe they just really didn't want to be hassled and were being sort of sneaky.
No one's really evil, but no one really wants to be hassled when they're trying to do their work. Agents don't want to be hassled by their clients when they're in a waiting period and can't do anything for them anyway, publishers don't want to be hassled by agents demanding every last word be changed in some way, and nobody wants to hassle the author too much if they're an earner because they might jump ship with the next book and/or fire their agent.
So, it's one of these. (waves hands up and down like a measuring scale)