Robert Campbell, in his London Tradesman of 1747 had some pungent things to say about the relationship between authors and publishers, or booksellers.
The Bookseller is another Branch depending on the Printer. Their Business is, to purchase original Copies from Authors, to employ Printers to print them, and publish and sell them in their Shops; or to purchase Books from such as print them on their own Account, or at auctions, and sell them at an advanced Price: But their chief Riches and Profit is in the Property of valuable Copies. The Author, generally speaking, has but a very trifling Sum for his Trouble in compiling the Copy; and finds himself treated with an abundance of Slights by many of the ignorant Part of the Trade, who are sure to depreciate his Performance, though never so well executed; with no other intention but to beat own his Price. It is not One in Ten that is Judge of any more than a Title-Page; and though they take Time to peruse the work offered to then, yet they seldom dip farther than the Title: If that and the Subject is popular, they trouble their Heads no more about the Manner of the Performance. Yet, when the Author comes for an answer, after many affected Delays, the wise Bookseller tells him, with a Sneer, It will not do; the Subject is not interesting enough; and it is but indifferently performed: But, adds he, I do not care if I run the Risk of Printing it, if you will take so much —Perhaps, not the Tenth of what was asked, nor so much as a Hackney-Clerk would get from so many Sheets of Writing. Authors are generally poor, and perhaps know not where to get a Dinner without disposing of their Work, and therefore are necessitated to comply with hard Terms, and put up with the ungentleman-like Treatment of the purse-proud Title-page Monger. (128—129)
For more of Campbell’s fulminations, see:
Campbell on Education;
Campbell on Painting, and
Campbell on Mathematical Instrument Makers.
For a modern analysis of the eighteenth-century book trade and the power dynamics involved, see
Raven, J (2007). The Business of Books. Booksellers and the English Book Trade. New Haven: Yale University Press.