I'd like to discuss a Data Visualization Book Proposal with you. We are planning to come up with the 2nd edition of the book, Data Visualization: A Successful Design Process published in 2012. You were associated with this project as a technical reviewer. The content for the new book will be built upon the previous edition. Before I can get into the content plan for this new edition, I'd like to know if your current schedule could accommodate authoring the new edition for Packt.
Keen observers will notice that the book in question is the book I wrote. That's right, they are offering opportunities to other authors the chance to build on my first edition.
Let me be clear I WAS offered the opportunity to work on the second edition back in December. I immediately declined. I was under no contractual obligation to take this writing task on.
Aside from working on my second book with Sage Publishing, I would not have wanted to go through the publishing experience again with Packt. I found their overall practices and policies to be very unsatisfactory. I won't air my frustrations here but let's just say that I would not have wished to work on a second edition and continue to face the enduringly bizarre prospect of a book on visualisation being printed in black and white (a decision that wasn't confirmed to me until late in the process of writing the first book, by the way).
In declining the opportunity I expected that would be the end of it. But no. Alberto felt very strongly about the approach Packt were taking in offering this task out to second authors and had a brief dialogue with the acquisition editor. One of the replies he received included this line:
There is nothing unethical about improving the content of an already published book, though this has been taken through the original author. It was Andy's decision to have the new edition to be authored by someone else.
I fully agree that commissioning further editions of a book is commonplace in publishing. It makes sense for subjects that are growing and developing to look to refresh and evolve titles to preserve their value.
I do, though, entirely reject the claim this decision to open up the opportunity to other authors has been taken ’through’ me. I have never had a discussion about, made a request for or given approval to a new edition being authored by someone else.
Why would I want that? Why would I wish to have put all the effort in to write the first edition, for someone else to come along, tweak the content and pass it off as their new book?
Sure, I would still have co-author status and, according to the editor, apparently a percentage split of the royalties depending of how much was still original content but you don't write books for money (half a peanut is even less than a whole peanut). The more important issue is what about the content?
The content of the book is very personal to my thinking about the field, a new author will have his or her own ideas. What if this new author compromises my original work with content that is contradictory to what I believe in? My name is still attached to the title but I won't approve of the additions and revisions: I don't want to have to remove my name as co-author because I've done the heavy shift writing the thing in the first place but I don't want to nor do I have time to editorially review any new content. What then?
It may be that they were only ever going to offer the second edition writing to my technical reviewers: Alberto, Jerome Cukier, Santiago Ortiz and Ben Jones. I don't know yet if that's the case as 48 hours have passed and they have yet to reply to be initial response.
However, history would suggest that they will be launching a 'hit and hope' campaign to find an author, sending out invitations to a list of people they found on Google in the hope that one will land. I know this because I have been invited to author several books by Packt, since I published the first title. The invitations expressed no knowledge of my past publishing experience with them nor did the subject matters often make any sense: why would anyone invite me to write a book about Python?
I am appreciative of the opportunity Packt gave me to write the book in the first place but I have unequivocally requested that they end their pursuit of a second edition of this title. I imagine they will have various bits of legal defences to ignore this request but it will certainly be done so against my wishes: I do not give my consent to a second edition being published. As Alberto suggests in his post, this is about publishing ethics:
No matter what their contract says, Packt Publishing's approach — which is the approach of other publishers, unfortunately — is unethical. It may be common practice, but that doesn't make it any better. It's a practice that must die. If you're going to update somebody's book, work with that person or, at least, get all changes approved by her or him. And if you can't work with an author, you should give the rights back and create an entirely new book.
Where this leaves me with regards to continuing to support and promote my first book I've not yet determined. I don't feel particularly happy about any ongoing association with the publishers after this but I don't see much sense in biting my nose to spite my face, it is a book I worked very hard on and was the best I could make of it within the circumstances of that publisher.
The best I can do is continue to invest my energy and knowledge into working on this next title, which is proving to be an entirely refreshing and supportive experience working with Sage. I cannot wait for it to be completed and published because that will be MY book, it will be in colour, it will have quality in production and editorial rigour. And any second editions will be done by me.
(Thanks to Alberto for his support on this issue)
*** Update, 14th March: Packt have apologised about the 'misunderstanding and confusion' and explained that I should have been informed about the intention to pursue other 'suitable authors' to update the original book, should I decline the opportunity offered to me in the first place. They have invited me to reconsider declining the opportunity to write the second edition, which I have once again rejected. They have 'suspended discussions with any new authors on this book project until we can properly conclude our discussion'. It remains to be seen whether they will continue to pursue alternative authors. ***
*** Update, 18th March: Packt have provided an update to explain they have decided to scrap the idea of a second edition of this book. This is of course good news. It shouldn't have been explored in the first place but credit to them at least for listening and responding in accordance with the opposition that has been raised. Incidentally, they have also initiated discussions with their printers to explore the future feasibility of colour printing ***