Gimme Back My Money: Penguin Suing Authors Who Didn't Deliver Books

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Via The Smoking Gun:

This week, the New York publisher Penguin filed lawsuits against several prominent writers who failed to deliver books for which they received big-time advances. At press time, Penguin has named twelve authors in their suit; for example, Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel owes $40,000, Rebecca Mead, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is getting sued for at least $20,000, and Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat is in the hole for around $40,000.

Is it fair? Trident Media Group chairman Robert Gottlieb wrote a angry opinion on the story:

“Penguin this is wrong headed. Authors beware. Books are rejected for reasons other than editorially and publishers then want their money back. Publishers want to reject manuscripts for any reason after an author has put time and effort into writing them all the while paying their bills. Another reason to have strong representation. If Penguin did this to one of Trident’s authors we could cut them out of all our submissions.”

But this is the same Penguin that bought iUniverse, a vanity press that rips off authors. Which side are you on?

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ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books September 26, 2012 - 1:08pm

Did they reject manuscripts or did the authors not finish them? I think that matters.

DmNerd's picture
DmNerd from Orlando Florida is reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress September 26, 2012 - 1:17pm

I agree. Also I would be interested to know if there are contractual clauses for when an author is paid an advance and then the work is rejected. Do they usually owe money back? I figure the publisher would eat the loss because they made a bad business decision investing in the author(in turn the author probably gains a negative image which could hurt future options). Unless the publish could prove the author never intended to write anything at all, at which time they could probably call fraud.

Any input?

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies September 26, 2012 - 1:41pm

maybe i'm missing something but if i was paid $40k for a novel i never delivered i'd assume they would come after me.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs September 26, 2012 - 9:02pm

Getting an advance for an unfinished book makes no sense to me unless it's non-fiction and the advance helps finance the research. If it's a case of a publisher buying a book before it's written because they know it will sell like crazy and they don't want another publisher to gets its hands on it, they should hire a ghostwriter to work with the author if they can't deliver.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like September 27, 2012 - 8:47am

Some of those deals go back as far as 2003.