Poaching: it’s an industry state of mind

By Carmen Comment

The Bookseller’s flagship feature this week talks about the different ways someone can be poached: an agent steals away a client, an author decides to move to a new publisher, or something in between. In truth, I always thought poaching was strictly reserved to the agent/author realm in the vein of Andrew Wylie’s notorious habits, but either I’m wrong, or the Bookseller had to stretch the definition a whoooooooole lot to fill the space.

But anyway, “self-confessed former poacher” Patrick Janson-Smith, who headed up Transworld before becoming an agent, explains it thusly: “stealing writers from other publishers is ‘all about author care’, claiming that his motivation for making poaching approaches was to rescue writers languishing in under-published limbo. “I care very deeply about my authors, and if I love an author and see them being undersold, then I feel it is my duty to ruffle a few feathers.”

He tried to lure Ian Rankin away from Orion, did get Carl Hiaasen away from Macmillan and tried awfully hard to secure Bill Bryson for Transworld’s very own. Then there’s Lionel Shriver, who recently switched to HarperCollins (for way more money) to publish her next books after Serpent’s Tail did so well by WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

But how much is the seeming lack of loyalty due to poaching than to numbers, or authors simply getting dropped? Most agents and publishers are fairly circumspect. While literary agent David Godwin describes losing authors as “a blow to the stomach”, he “absolutely” defends their right to move. Serpent’s Tail boss Pete Ayrton is similarly sanguine about Shriver’s recent departure: he says that HarperCollins’ generous golden hello was “just reward for 20 years of labour”.

But what do you think of poaching, in all its myriad forms? Send us your tales of authors you wanted to hang onto, moved to different publishers for compelling reasons, and the like.