Galley Cat has featured frequent updates and additional information on the virtual collapse of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt during the week. Today, the Cat provides insight from a senior staffer who was among the 200 people laid off this week.
“The adult trade division has been crippled to the extent that books in production cannot be attended to and are now ‘frozen,’ something that I’ve never heard of before (and this is my third layoff in a twenty-year publishing career),” writes the insider. “Many here are surmising that the adult trade division is rapidly being dismantled and discarded. Among those laid off were a 79-year-old acquisitions editor who had signed [four] Nobel Prize-winning authors in her career [Drenka Willen] and a senior designer with over thirty years of stellar service. We who worked at HMH are heartsick at the gutting of these two prestigious and respected companies, Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt.”
Galley Cat goes to to relate that those employees still collecting a paycheck are basically hand-cuffed from actually being able to do any good work. One respected editor, Galley Cat points out, is still at HMH, but “through no fault of her own been forced into a position where her ability to build upon the strong portfolio of books and authors she’s cultivated over the years has been severely crippled.”
Besides my general sadness at the state of this once great company and all the people affected, I have one question: were things at HMH really hanging by that slender of a thread? Or, is this some ploy by corporate overlords to cast off the divisions and simply write off a loss?
Admittedly, my business acumen is fairly lacking. I’ve been so immersed in getting my Beanie Baby empire set up on this great new website called eBay that I’m a little out of the loop. So I’m not going to try and pretend to be all Wall Street Journal about this.
But although the majority of the publishing industry is shaken right now, and other companies have certainly laid off staff recently, why do none of them have the feel of total collapse that permeates the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt situation? And why were the braniac brass at HMH the only ones idiotic enough to actually announce they were freezing acquisitions? Surely other publishers are being more judicious in their selections, but they’re not actually going out in public proclaiming that the mail slot is closed.
All in all, it’s just a sad situation. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can get through today without more bad news.