Bookbuyer, his nose twitching like the Quorn's Boxing Day hounds, is happy at last to detect a little Christmas charity in the air. What is of more moment yet, it emanates from a publisher.
A few weeks ago, most of Britain's better known cookery writers received a letter from a firm called Dale Publications. As they were no doubt aware, it said, " only a small percentage of the 5,000 cookery books now in print are really good books." To rectify this sorry situation, Dale proposed The Cook's Cookbook, an illustrated anthology of recipes from the " great cookbooks" the select band of whose authors included, not surprisingly, the adressees. He, or in most cases, she, learned that the book would ideally include one of her own previously published recipes which would be given a page to itself, printed extravagantly in two colours, and have for digestif a specimen of the writer's own signature underneath. But if, for a moment, the authors were hoping for an unexpected Christmas titbit, they soon encountered a peculiarly unappetising crunch: "Instead of royalties being paid to each of the numerous contributors, Dale Publications warrant that 10% of their sales will be donated to a ' large recognised charity."
It does, you must admit, put the writers in a bit of a spot. Ought they to refuse permission for reproduction, and allow their recipe to lie fallow on a dusty library shelf while others starve in Africa? Or should they do the gallant thing for the time of year, thus breaking into a smart mark-time in the long, hard march towards fair pay for authors? Bookbuyer has some sympathy for the fifteen or so who have agreed so far and who, according to Dale, include Bee Nilson, and that well-known cookery writer, Oswell Blakeston. But it is equally difficult to condemn those defaulters who see this as just one more asault on an author's goodwill, which is already overstrained by requests for free talks and derisory radio fees.
Their publishers, who in many cases retain copyright on the recipes, might also be forgiven for churlishness. If the authOr agrees in principle and asks her publisher to agree in practice, it would take a hard
head to refuse. Yet at the same time, Dale — who in hoping to sell "as many copies as possible" of The Cook's Cookbook will undoubtedly seek distribution through bookshops — must be regarded as a legitimate business rival.
Such subtle shades of blackmail would be slightly more palatable if Dale were embarking on the venture in a spirit of like generosity. But on the admission of the company's director Irving Laidlaw — who has experience with some quite decent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic — "it is our intention to make a profit out of it." Authors, who, from a survey published this week, have discovered . without surprise that they are earning less than £500 a year from books may wonder why it is they who are being asked to dispense charity. A happy Christmas to them.
Meanwhile — and newspaper "bestseller lists" nothwithstanding — the new book which is outselling all others across the country is The Goon Show Scripts, published by Woburn Press with a staff of three. A cheering note on which to wish the conglomerates a happy Christmas.
A line omitted from last week's Bookend gave the erroneous impression that Quentin Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf will be out of print over Christmas.