Million-selling author Cornelia Funke is the latest high-profile author to break ties with mainstream publishing.
The Golden Yarn, Funke’s latest installment in her bestselling Mirrorworld series, included a first chapter that did not sit well with American publishers. While the scene - featuring the Dark Fairy observing her lover’s mistress giving birth - was accepted by Germany, her U.S. publisher requested that she move the first chapter to somewhere else in the book, as well as turn the ending into an epilogue.
“I said, ‘what are you talking about? It’s a published book, it can’t be edited,''” Funke stated. “I work through a gruelling edit with my German editors. I edit my books myself, about six or seven times … I go through an edit of the translation, but not the plot. So I was shocked, I said ''I'm sorry, but I won’t change a word.’ My readers in the US and UK get the same book they do in Germany.”
Funke went on to explain that the first chapter could not be compromised due to both the motifs and her intent for it to be featured as the opening scene. Though the publisher never clarified why including the chapter in the beginning was something they were against, Funke believes it may have come down to a fear of upsetting librarians and booksellers but they nevertheless asked her to put the opening “somewhere else in the book”. 'I don’t understand,' she added, 'because it’s not a sex scene, it’s a birth scene.'
After the author opted out of the requested changes, she was given back the rights to the entire Mirrorworld series. “So here I was and I needed to publish a book because my readers were waiting,” she said. “The only way to publish it was ‘Cornelia, you have to do it yourself.’”
A spokesperson for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers said: "Cornelia is a magnificent writer and we are proud to have launched the Mirrorworld series to critical and commercial success. These decisions for Cornelia to pursue independent publication at this stage were entirely mutual between her long-time UK publisher Chicken House, Little, Brown and the author, and we wish her the best in her new endeavour.”
With the return of the rights in the Mirrorworld series as a whole, she will also relaunch the series herself with a redesign, including her illustrations for English-language. “The first book sold a million in the US and I know many children are watching for the sequel. I will do it in Germany with a traditional publisher but it is a big decision: will I say I will do it with Breathing Books and it could fund the company with profits from a bestseller? Possibly,” she said. “We decided to not yet make that decision. First of all, let’s get The Golden Yarn out and see how that works to suddenly be a publisher. I really believe in doing that slowly and learning on the way.”
For now, she says, it’s about staying small. “I believe in that more and more. I want to see where I’m going, to meet my readers, not to say ‘OK Cornelia you need to earn this much money because the huge machine needs that’.”
This situation has arisen out of an author's feeling compromised, but it will be interesting to see if other established authors hear stories like it and decide to make the jump without feeling they have been pushed.