4.2.3: 1830 - 1910 - Relationship between publisher and author

During the nineteenth century, Dutch publishers usually had no contact with foreign authors whose work was translated because, after all, these did not have to be paid a fee. Contact with domestic authors was more intensive, although money was a sensitive subject of discussion. At the beginning of the nineteenth century it was not 'bon ton' to be a professional writer. The fact that a writer had been paid for his work, and even lived off his pen, was for many a blemish on the ideal picture of the independent creative genius. This is one of the reasons why, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, many authors wrote anonymously or under a pseudonym. The importance of this habit decreases after the middle of the century. Publishers occasionally paid authors in kind, with author's copies or with other books from the publisher's list, but payment for a manuscript in the form of a lump sum of, for example, the 400 guilders (about € 200,-) that A.L.G. Bosboom Toussaint received for her Gedenkschrift van de inhuldiging des Konings Willem III (1849), also occurred more and more frequently.

Unlike nowadays, such an amount was not calculated per word or on the print run figures, but per printing sheet. It appears from the contracts that it was laid down at the very start that the author himself had to carry out the correction of his work, also in the event of a later reprint. The contracts often specify that the authors were to be paid something again in the event of a reprint. But a remark such as 'if few copies are sold, 8 guilders (€ 3.63) per sheet will suffice' in the expense account of Bohn shows that the publisher also let the author take part in the risk without scruples.

The fees varied rather widely. P.J. Veth received 50 guilders (about € 23,-) per sheet (16 pages) from De Erven F. Bohn for his study on Java, for which he also waived his copyright. For a textbook on French literature H. Heijnen received 30 guilders (about € 14.-) per sheet of 16 pages from the same publisher. Non-fiction usually paid better than fiction, but the differences are much greater in the latter category. The poet A. Bogaers had entrusted his poems to publisher A.C. Kruseman 'under the most generous and forthcoming conditions', which, as appears from Kruseman's publisher's list records, amounted to: for nothing. In 1850s, W. van Zeggelen and J.J.L. ten Kate received round lump sums from Kruseman which, converted, amounted to approximately 10 guilders (about € 4.50) per sheet, but I. da Costa received a lump sum of 300 guilders (about € 140.-) for a small work of less than 3 sheets, and the Gedenkschrift by Bosboom Toussaint of 5 3/4 sheets was also well paid with those 400 guilders. The female authors who published belles-lettres in Bohn's ' Bibliotheek van Nederlandsche Schrijfsters' (Library of Dutch female writers) received 25 guilders (about € 11.-) per sheet.

The differences thus appear to be substantial, but an examination of the list accounts of Kruseman and Bohn shows that on average one may assume a fee of 22 guilders (€ 10.-) per sheet, which converts to 1.37 guilders per page. Authors of scholarly manuals such as grammars and encyclopaedias were always well paid. Female writers were paid fees that do not seem to differ from those of men, but this aspect needs to be studied in greater depth. Renowned novelists such as J.J. Cremer and J.J.A. Goeverneur were among the best-paid authors, also thanks to additional earnings from readings and lectures. In other words, national celebrity is beginning to become a source of income in the course of the nineteenth century. Many writers did translation work on the side. A translation yielded 8 to 10 guilders (about € 4.-) per sheet of 16 pages.

In the nineteenth century, authors published with different publishers more easily than they do nowadays. If there was a regular relationship at all between the writer and the publisher, it was usually based more on a personal level rather than a contractual one. The writer and the publisher (apart from the odd exception) both belonged to the local dignitaries. Based on what the publishers' archives show, in the course of the century, it becomes more customary to draw up contracts. If a publisher or his heirs sold the list, including the copyrights, to another publisher, it was considered normal that the authors on the list had nothing to say about that and were often not even notified of the transfer.

author: L. Kuitert

Relationship between publisher and author