From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
Two traditional publishing news stories caught my eye, primarily because I blog about contracts all the time, trying to convince writers to stay away from traditional publishing contracts for their books—or at least to negotiate the hell out of those contracts.
. . . .
The first story to catch my eye was about Ronan Farrow, who rose to fame through his nonfiction about Harvey Weinstein. All of this was at the beginning of the #MeToo Movement, which still continues. The book Farrow wrote, Catch and Kill, was one of the fall’s big books. It’s also a hell of a read.
It was published by Little, Brown, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, which did all the right things to promote the book. Hachette set up the proper media coverage, got Farrow on many talk shows, sent him on the right kind of book tour, and started the buzz early. Farrow’s editors and his media team Got It. They took the moment, and used it, in a way traditional publishers almost never do.
This week, Farrow announced he was leaving Hachette because he couldn’t work with them in good conscience given a book they planned to publish in April. An imprint of Hachette, Grand Central, acquired a book by Farrow’s father, Woody Allen, titled Apropos of Nothing. Farrow’s sister, Dylan, has credibly accused Allen of sexually molesting her when she was a child, and Farrow has backed her up. He even documented the allegations in Catch and Kill, a book that was heavily vetted by lawyers.
Allen’s book was not vetted. And it had been rejected by a number of other publishers because, in most of the entertainment world, Allen is considered as toxic as Weinstein. So when Farrow found out through media reports that Hachette was going to publish Allen’s book, Farrow tried to convince them not to.
Of course, that didn’t work. As the U.S. CEO of Hachette, Michael Pietsch, told the BBC, Hachette does “not allow anyone’s publishing programme to interfere with anyone else’s.”
In other words, Hachette, like the other Big 5 publishers, did not sign a non-compete clause demanded of the publisher by authors. If one author’s book competes with another, so what? Hachette can publish both of them. But in most cases, the author must sign a non-compete clause that states that the author can’t publish a book with another company that will compete with their own book from Hachette.
Patently unfair, and something I’ve urged writers to fight against for years.
Put it this way: If one of Hachette’s authors writes a bestselling thriller featuring augmented cats, and augmented cats become a trend, then the author can’t take another augmented cat book to a different publisher even if Hachette passed on the book, provided the author signed a standard non-compete.
However, Hachette could publish two dozen augmented cat books by different authors, even though those books would compete with and possibly hurt the sales of the book by the original author.
Farrow had no leg to stand on to get Hachette to reject Allen’s book. And in publishing terms, by the time Farrow discovered the betrayal, it was much too late. Hachette was a little over a month out from publishing the book. That means Hachette invested money in Allen’s book, in a promotion campaign, in copy editing, design, and printing costs. If the book’s run was a standard run for a minor bestseller, Hachette had invested about half a million dollars in that title by the time Farrow found out about it.
No company would pull the plug on a book that late in the game because one of its authors complained.
Unless the author had standing, a sterling reputation, and 968,000 followers on Twitter.
Farrow’s comments reverberated through the industry and made headlines worldwide. On Thursday, employees of Hachette staged a walkout, protesting the publication of Allen’s book. They hadn’t known about it either (many of these imprints don’t talk to each other about purchases).
The news story wasn’t going to go away. It was large and it would get larger by the time the book dropped on April 7. In fact, when the book dropped, the protests and Farrow’s opposition would have been all that the media would talked about. Hachette Book Group’s reputation would have continued to take a hit. So, the question the bean counters had to answer was…was that hit worth the half million that the company had already spent on Woody Allen’s memoir, or would Hachette lose twice that amount (or more) in bad publicity?
The answer came swiftly. On Friday, Hachette canceled Allen’s book. Not because of contract terms, not because Farrow had any right to ask the company to live up to some mythical co-equal non-compete clause, but because publicity forced the company to pay attention to their own idiocy.
The Farrow story shows traditional publishing at its most hypocritical. Pietsch’s comment about not allowing one author’s publishing program to interfere with another’s is patently untrue. And his comments later, that Hachette “protects” their authors, is also false.
This entire event shows the kind of cold calculation that the people at the top of big publishers make about publishing. They demand that authors sign contracts that will actively harm the authors’ careers while refusing to sign the same kind of agreement themselves.
Contracts are supposed to be equitable agreements between two equal parties. Contracts are not that in traditional publishing, as I have written about many, many, many times.
So I had to stop here and actually gloat when a publisher finally suffered the fate that it has forced hundreds of its authors into—making a business decision that will cost it both in reputation and earnings because of a pre-existing agreement.
How many writers have been told to stand down from a contract they signed with a competing book publisher? How much money have writers lost because publishers want everything? The number is unknowable, bcause most authors don’t or can’t discuss their contract terms (yet another bad contract term authors sign).
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.