It was less than a month ago that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt held an “open house” at their New York offices to celebrate the first combined list of the once separate trade lines, but now that welcome is firmly closed as the trade and reference division has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts,” according to vp of communications Josef Blumenfeld.
As first reported by PW and followed by the WSJ and NYT, Blumenfeld struggled for metaphors to explain the policy: “We have a temporary freeze on. We are working on what we already have.” Or rather, “there is a freeze-lite” he said. “There is a way in so it is not a hard freeze but for right now, there is a temporary — call it a freeze if you want.” Or maybe they are keeping the pipes empty before they can freeze?: “We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.”
Blumenfeld explains further: “The climate is difficult. It’s about cash outlays, and every outlay of cash in every industry is being scrutinized.” But is it about expenditures, or symbols? “In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature.”
They also suggest that the lite freeze on that spigot might leave room for a trickle, since, while saying they are not acquiring new projects, “there are still things being considered by the acquisition committee.” But now that it’s been made clear to agents they aren’t acquiring, there won’t be a lot of submissions coming in the door to consider. Which is the really scary part about saying out loud you aren’t acquiring.