Today’s news comes from a different source: The Smoking Gun‘s Buster column. Penguin is going after authors they paid advances to but didn’t receive drafts or completed manuscripts when the deadline came. To me this sounds straightforward: an author signed a contract, received partial payment, and didn’t provide the product the publisher purchased. Penguin has every right to recoup their advances. However, two comment strings have me scratching my head.
The first came from Robert Gottlieb who questioned whether the books had been delivered, but were rejected. He says that publishers want to reject books for any number of reasons. He also said that if Penguin did this to one of Trident’s authors they would have cut them out of all submissions. Bob Diforio pointed out that the story says the authors didn’t deliver the manuscript at all, not that the manuscript was rejected. What strikes me as out-of-place is the bluster behind the comment that they’d cut Penguin out of all of their submissions. Does that mean no one at Trident would submit to Penguin? How would an agency survive by cutting a publisher as large as Penguin out of their submission list? Moreover, how would that affect other agency authors?
The second came from more than one (bitter) comment that Penguin got what it deserved. How so? What good could come from paying authors to write a book that they don’t deliver? A few comments were complaining that the advances weren’t that high (according to what data?) and that the publisher should absorb the cost. From the six authors mentioned in the article the base amount (not including interest that Penguin has tacked on) they’ve paid out $202,250 collectively. That’s not a small amount to have possibly lost.
I’m curious to see how this shakes out. It’s never pleasant business to sue someone for breach of contract, but book publishing can be especially vitriolic. Unless these authors can sell new books to other publishers and use those advances to settle their debt with Penguin, it doesn’t seem like they’ll be able to get out from under this.