Ixnay on the Awsuit-lay

In my opinion, no one really comes out looking good with Penguin suing to recover advances from authors who haven’t produced books.  Obviously, the authors look a bit lazy.  Elizabeth Wurtzel has said that she could have finished the book, but no one from Penguin was following up, so it is sort of their fault, and she also sort of played the “jeez, I’m just an author, I don’t understand this stuff” card.  But really, should any adult just sort of shrug and figure that maybe the folks who gave her $33,000 didn’t really expect anything for it?

Penguin doesn’t come off looking all that great either, though, in my opinion.  For one thing, one of the people they’re suing is a holocaust survivor.  It’s hard to look good suing a holocaust survivor, as a general rule.  This may not seem fair to someone getting the short end of the stick from a holocaust survivor, but they should have known what they were getting into.  At the very least, they could pass on trying to collect interest.

Also, one of the big advantages Penguin always had going for it was their innocuous name.  Tor, for example, sounds like a villain from a 1980’s swords and sorcery movie, so anyone dealing with them is naturally going to be on their guard.  It is well-known, however, that it is impossible to be angry while looking at a penguin, and I assume the very name is enough to make most people relax.  If they get a reputation for litigiousness they might  lose that advantage.

Finally, as Robert Gottlieb has pointed out, making a big deal out of this kind of points out that publishers are paying most authors a few thousand dollars for a year or two of work.  So yeah, there’s that too.

~ by smwilliams on October 11, 2012.

4 Responses to “Ixnay on the Awsuit-lay”

  1. Well…the authors should uphold their end of the bargain if they got paid. I mean, those lawsuits are not talking about the $4,000-or-so most mid-list authors get now-a-days, but I don’t know all the details of each of those cases. We can only hope that some sort of justice emerges from the process.

    Didn’t you see March of the Penguins? Those critters are mean and tough.

    • I assume they go after mid-list authors in small claims court, or maybe on Judge Judy. The only author I’ve actually heard try to defend herself in this whole thing didn’t come off looking all that great, I agree. Still, if I were working for a PR firm and someone asked me how they could look good while suing a holocaust survivor for 20 grand I’d be tempted to quit and find an easier job.

  2. Elizabeth Wurtzel graduated from Harvard, and then went to Yale law school. Trying to play the “I’m an author I don’t know nutting ‘bout no contracts,” like she’s Prissy ring hollow. While surviving the holocaust does give someone a bit of automatic deference, if you promise to do something and fail, you’ve broken your word; if you took money and failed to deliver, you’ve committed fraud, survivor or not.
    The real reason IMHO for the lawsuits? Publishers, economically, are dying. There are fewer readers, costs continue to rise, e-books and e-publishing are eating market share, they over consolidated in the 90s piling up debt, and they gave out a lot in advances that didn’t work out well. Publishing has always been a crap shoot for every Dan Brown, or 50 Shades of Grey, there are hundreds of books that don’t even cover costs.
    The authors are idiots for agreeing to do something they could not. The publishers are idiots for crappy business practices, and giving away money without ensuring they received the book in the end.
    “Meh” sandwich to me.

    • I’m not all that sympathetic to Wurtzel, although she does seem to be saying she would have been happy to either finish the book or let them get the advance back from her royalties on other stuff. As for the holocaust survivor, there seems to be a sort of implicit bargain that if you, as a publisher, are going to trade on that you accept a certain amount of risk.

      I don’t know that there are really that many books that don’t cover costs. Publishers may make more money from a few blockbusters, but they are pretty smart about not losing money any any given book (which is not to say they all earn out their advance, but of course those are two very different things).

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