September 27, 2012
Penguin sues its own authors for non-delivery … and wants interest too
by Kelly Burdick
The Smoking Gun, PublishersLunch, and The New York Observer are on the case of Penguin’s legal actions against some of its own authors. According to the Smoking Gun, Penguin “filed lawsuits against several prominent writers who failed to deliver books for which they received hefty contractual advances.”
The site highlights:
“Prozac Nation” author Elizabeth Wurtzel, who signed a $100,000 deal in 2003 to write “a book for teenagers to help them cope with depression.” Penguin wants Wurtzel to return her $33,000 advance (and at least $7500 in interest).
Blogger Ana Marie Cox, who signed in 2006 to author a “humorous examination of the next generation of political activists,” is being dunned for her $81,250 advance (and at least $50,000 in interest). Her Penguin contract totaled $325,000.
Rebecca Mead, a staff writer at The New Yorker, owes $20,000 (and at least $2000 in interest), according to Penguin, which struck a $50,000 deal in 2003 for “a collection of the author’s journalism.”
The actions come in spite of the fact that some of the authors being sued have actually delivered books to Penguin. In Rebecca Mead’s case, Penguin Press published One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, also contracted in 2003, just five years ago.
The situation is so unusual—publishers suing authors to recover advances—that one big agent, Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media Group, is quoted on PublishersLunch saying that “If Penguin did this to one of Trident’s authors we could cut them out of all our submissions.”
To the Observer, the lawsuits are evidence that the “publishing industry is starting to act more like an industry.”
One of the authors on the list, Elizabeth Wurtzel, is likely to fight if she has a case: she graduated from Yale Law School in 2008.
The full list of the authors targeted by Penguin is posted here, courtesy of Edward Champion.
Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.