The Smoking Gun has uncovered details of the lawsuits. Apparently the publisher is suing to recover the advances paid to at least 5 authors, at least one of whom finished and submitted the book. But what's worse, Penguin is also suing to recover interest on the advances. I guess they see these advances as unrepaid loans, or something like that.
Penguin is suing:
- Ana Marie Cox, a blogger who signed a contract in 2006 to write a "humorous examination of the next generation of political activists,". Penguin wants the $81,250 advance as well as $50,000 in interest.
- Rebecca Mead, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is on the hook for $20,000 and another $2000 in interest stemming from a 2003 contract for "a collection of the author’s journalism."
- Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation. She signed a deal in 2003 to write "a book for teenagers to help them cope with depression." Penguin wants her to return the $40,000 advance and interest accrued.
- "Hip-Hop Minister" Conrad Tillard, who signed a contract in 2005 for a memoir about his "epic journey from the Ivy League to the Nation of Islam," and his subsequent falling out with Louis Farrakhan. Penguin wants around $38 thousand back from Tillard.
- And last but not least is Herman Rosenblat, a Holocaust survivor who faked up a tale of wartime romance and made it into the national spotlight on Oprah before the story collapsed. Penguin wants over $40,000 from him in advance and interest.
In that last case penguin already has the finished book; the story fell apart during fact checking. They just don't want to publish it.
The story has been out long enough that there is already a response from Penguin:
“Penguin regrets that it had to initiate litigation in these cases, and it did so reluctantly, only after its repeated attempts at amicable resolutions were ignored,” Penguin said when reached this afternoon.
They had to sue? I don't see how. I would bet that the earlier advances have already been written off Penguin's corporate taxes as bad investment and deducted accordingly. Does anyone know how that accounting would work?
Aside form the accounting issue, I won't criticize Penguin. If the contract does allow Penguin to recoup the advances then it's the fault of the writer for signing the contract. If the terms suck, negotiate a better one. If you cannot, more fool you for signing a contract where you give someone else all the power.
And yes, I do know that the terms of these contracts were likely near the industry standard. So what? No one held a gun to their heads.
via The Smoking Gun
image by greeblie