“Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down”

September 15, 2011

No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.  ~Russell Lynes

By: Stacey Purcell

I’m sure a lot of you have read about author Kiana Davenport’s trouble with a large traditional publishing house. In case you haven’t, I’ll do a short re-cap. This author signed a deal for a book that she wrote which was due to come out in 2012.

So far, so good.

Ms. Davenport has won numerous awards, been previously published and by all rights is a wonderful writer. She is also a fashion model who lived the high life and spent most all of her money. She submitted and was accepted by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin books. The terms for her new contract were less than what she used to command, but she needed the money that the advance would pay.

Just prior to this arrangement, she came across Joe Konrath’s blog about self-publishing and turned to him for help. With a bit of guidance, she sold a collection of short stories and was successful! She then published a second collection and  the proverbial poop hit the fan!

 “The editor shouted at me repeatedly on the phone.  I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of ‘blatantly betraying them with Amazon,’ their biggest and most intimidating competitor.  I was not trustworthy.  I was sleeping with the enemy.”

Kiana Davenport immediately hired a lawyer. (Good for her!) He pointed out that the first collection was published before she signed the contract, so they turned their attention to the second collection and demanded that she take it off line, erase all mention on the internet about her short stories and that she submit in writing that she would not publish any of her back log items while her current book was with them. (That would represent a good two or more years of her life.)

Can you say straight jacket?

She refused. (Yay!) They terminated their contract and demanded her advance back. They are also holding her novel hostage until she sends them the money. That’s the whole sordid affair in a nutshell.

My first response to reading about her plight was disbelief. I simply couldn’t believe that an established business under the banner of an even bigger company would resort to classic bully tactics fronted by their legal department. After spending several hours researching articles posted by several amazing bloggers (lawyers included), I can say I was wrong. Do they not realize writers have blogs? Stories like this WILL get out and spread like wild fire.

Authors are urged to remember they are “professionals” in most every writing group out there. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it ad nauseum to always be on my best behavior, remember this is a profession, dress appropriately etc. etc. etc. So I ask the question, “How professional was it that the editor screamed at her over the phone? How professional was it that they called her agent offering treats so she would move forward in the right spirit?” I would also answer the questions by saying that they seem to be on shaky legal ground.

I haven’t seen the contract, I can only interpret the actions by both parties. If the publisher thought they had an iron clad legal stand, there wouldn’t be such an emotional outburst on the editor’s part, and they wouldn’t have tried to offer incentives for her to agree to their terms.

“The vice president and publisher of that house called my agent, offering extra little sweetmeats if I would just capitulate and ‘adopt the right spirit going forward.’  This somewhat sinister and semi-benevolent attempt at mind-control fascinated me.”

I think someone at Riverhead omitted the clause about what they would allow her to publish or not publish during the tenure of their agreement. I also think that if all of the above is true, then they are in breach of contract. By terminating the contract and demanding the advance back, on baseless grounds, they are now in the wrong. I believe they are bluffing by demanding the advance back and I’ll bet that her lawyer is telling her much the same thing. **Remember, I’m not a lawyer and am only expressing my thoughts.**

This whole story makes me sad. Not every publisher is a bad guy, some actually support the idea that the author is out there drumming up business and making their presence known on line. It seems to me that it’s a win-win situation and a model that would help traditional publishers stay afloat in this tumultuous time. Scenarios, like this, hurt everyone and I hope that the coming days as the landscape dramatically changes in our business, we will see calmer, more rational behavior from all.