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January 25, 2011


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A short post, as I'm on vacation at the moment. (Why am I posting to the blog while I'm on vacation? Because I'm obsessive. There, I said it.)

Interview with Ann Crispin

Check out this interview with Ann Crispin, Pitfalls in the Writing Road. It highlights her work with Writer Beware--and also her upcoming book, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom (pub date: May 2011). It's the first Pirates book for an adult audience, and tells the story of how Jack Sparrow became Captain Jack Sparrow. It's a fabulous book (I've read it) so do stop by Ann's website and check out the exciting excerpts.

How Moral Are You?

Agent Richard Curtis reports that HarperCollins has added a morals clause to the termination provisions of its contract.
New language in the termination provision of the Harper’s boilerplate gives them the right to cancel a contract if “Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or if Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales.” The consequences? Harper can terminate your book deal. Not only that, you’ll have to repay your advance. Harper may also avail itself of “other legal remedies” against you.
What was that about there being no such thing as bad publicity?

Curtis says he isn't aware of any other publisher with a morals clause, but a couple of years ago, Random House UK added similar language to its children's book contracts.

Ursula Le Guin has posted a seriously tongue-in-cheek response.

New Publishing Service Collaboration: Abbott Press

I said it would happen again, and it has. Another major group has partnered with Author Solutions to create a pay-to-play division.

Writer's Digest is rolling out Abbott Press, which will provide publishing services starting at $999 and ranging all the way up to $8,299. A typical ASI-style roster of "marketing" services is available a la carte.

Books in two highest-priced packages will be eligible to receive an editorial review, which may lead to the granting of the Writer's Digest Mark of Quality, described as "a prestigious mark to convey the book’s excellence."

I haven't examined the website in detail yet, but it looks very similar to those of the other ASI collaborations--Cross Books (LifeWay), West Bow Press (Thomas Nelson), DellArte Press (Harlequin), and Balboa Press (Hay House)--complete, unfortunately, with the standard ASI propaganda about "indie" publishing.

In light of the new frenzy for electronic self-publishing, I wonder if costly print-centric publishing services like ASI aren't starting to feel faintly antiquated, and whether they can really, long term, be the cash engines that ASI's collaborators are obviously hoping for.


Anonymous said...

I would refuse a morals clause as firmly as a loyalty oath. That said, it's a buyer's market and I expect that most writers, if they had to choose, would take publication over principle.

Sure, it sounds harmless enough, but...

stephen matlock said...

What's the benefit to the writer to agree to this clause? What if it's abused?

Lehcarjt said...

I always wonder what happened that made them suddenly want morals clauses. Have authors been behaving badly all the sudden? (Are their Lindsey Lohans in the writing world?)

I also can't help but wonder if they'd ever actually enforce a morals clause against a writer making big money for them. Do financially driven institutions have the cajones to cut off their own income lines over moral issues? I doubt it unless the moral issues were affecting that same income.

Anonymous said...

A number of Christian publishers have "morality clauses" in their contracts. I agreed to do a very timely book with a tight deadline - got the advance and then signed the contract only to realize that clause was there. I was far enough into the book and broke enough that I couldn't afford to return the advance. I told my agent never ever again (and he agreed). So I make sure upfront if the company has such a clause and if so, I don't sign it. In a nutshell, their major concern was that authors don't tarnish the imprint by behaving badly in public meaning they didn't want to sign someone only to have a Ted Haggard like scandal break.

Christine Tripp said...

I suppose this means HC (or their imprints) won't be signing up anymore authors like OJ "if I DID IT" in the future:) That mess must have been an embarrassment for them.

>Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals<

This is worrisome. I have heard of a number of authors taking a stand in their works and to a lesser degree in their personal lives, that would go against certain segments of society's so called "morals".
I doubt HC or any publisher would act on this clause so long as the book was a good seller and the "moral" objections were limited to a small sector of society. It could still leave an author wondering how far they can go in speaking about their book, depending on how controversial the topic and in what area of the Country they are in.

R.S. Bohn said...

And here I thought that one of the benefits of being a writer was being able to engage in all sorts of immoral behavior and say, "Well, I'm a writer." What else should you say when you're standing in that fountain, drunk, in the lobby of that Parisian hotel at 4 am with two pretty men you found that night? Besides, it's all research.

Jenny said...
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S.M. Carrière said...

I'm a bit concerned by that morality clause. Not that I do anything particularly illegal, but I am fairly left wing. What if the social norm becomes overly right wing?

If I get a contract in such a world, will I be dropped for publicly supporting gay rights?

Whose morals, exactly?

I'm not fond of that clause at all.

Victoria Strauss said...

That's interesting about morality clauses in Christian publishing contracts--I guess if they'd be anywhere, they'd be there.

I think--and this is just an opinion--that the clause is a "just in case" kind of thing--something they could invoke if they needed to, but don't plan on routinely enforcing. I also imagine that a good agent would be able to negotiate it out.

Leslie said...

Regarding Writers Digest: the more I learn about them, the more irritated I get. I've always been put off by the adverts for stuff in the journal and so haven't read it for years -- but partnering with a self-publisher takes the cake.

Lucy -- L.C. Blackwell said...

The morals clause language is so vague that it could in fact be used to punish an author for unpopular political opinions. Sorry, but that's a big problem, and "just in case" is not a scenario I'd want to take a chance on.

If I couldn't get it struck, I'd ask my agent to negotiate for clarification--and make sure that public speech is protected.

D.G. Hudson said...

Ursula Le Guin's response to the Morals clause is perfect.

Where do the stuffed shirts gets these ideas(a bloody morals clause)? There seems to be the taint of something else here - can't we ever rise above that "shame on you" morality that certain bleeding hearts like to pose under?

Writers are such a wild bunch, BTW, and now we may all be judged by the past escapades of interesting writers. Don't they have better things to do that would serve a greater purpose? Like look for Palin news perhaps - that's always good for a laugh.

Renee Miller said...

Well, I suppose I'll never be published by Harper Collins. Might better cross them right off the list of 'someday' goals. I smoke, I curse (loudly and often), I have a big mouth when I believe in something and well, I've lived my life. That means I've made mistakes, shoved a few skeletons way back in the closet and moved on.

Honestly, a morality clause? That leaves it rather wide open, doesn't it? I mean, what if society suddenly deems divorced mothers living common-law with a man of questionable heritagge having bastard children outside of wedlock as, never publishing with Harper Collins.

Scott said...

I can understand PART of the justification of the "morals clause."

In the 1980's, a popular writer named Gayle Rivers wrote military fiction. He claimed to be a member of Britain's Special Air Service (their version of Army Rangers). Then it came out that he never served in the Special Air Service and his writing career came to a screeching halt. I can understand that being a reason to cancel the contract. Nobody wants to be associated with a poser.

If that's at the top of the list of reasons to get a contract cancelled, what is at the bottom? Speaking up/out for a personal cause? Going to a nudist resort? Too many loud parties? Too many ex-wives?

I wouldn't sign a morality clause, because I doubt they could pass their own "morality test."

Angela said...

I would of loved to be a fly on the wall when they agreed to go ahead with the morality clause. Honestly, how many authors do they sign where their morals are in question?

"Yeah that Mr. Smith, he looks a little sketchy, better add a clause."

Obviously they did not write down a pro's and con's list.

Pro- In the event of bad publicity, we get our money back and wash our hands of the whole night mare.

Con- Potential clients find out about our clause and we loose 90% of our possible clients.

I personally think they added it not knowing that someone would shed a positive floodlight on the subject.

Christine Tripp said...

Some controversy, resulting from the story content or the author themselves can SELL more books.
I'm certain HC (or any other publisher that follows the lead) does not ever intend on using a Morals clause to drop that Author. I would assume it's there for the few times that they sign a murderer (such as the previously mentioned OJ fiasco) and the whole world screams foul or say a celeb, rock star type goes too far with booze/drugs/sex, etc, so as to hurt sales. With this clause in place, the publisher may be able to drop the author and the book without facing a lawsuit by the author or perhaps having to pay off the author to get out of the contract.
I doubt they are thinking of the perhaps less then stellar lifestyle of the average author. Only the ones who's "activities" end up on the front page of the National Enquirer. No publisher would love it if their celebrity Children's Book Author ended up in jail for rape, wouldn't do a lot for sales:)

Anonymous said...

I had a subscription to Writer's Digest once and got tons of junk mail. They sell their mailing list.

They've run pay-to-play writing contests for years, so it's not surprising they'd move on to pay-to-play publishing.

I'm suprised by all the concern about the morality clause. My assumption was that it was there in case the author suddenly went in for child-molesting. Like a lot of (most?) writers, I'm also very left wing, and the American norm is right wing. This has not hurt my writing career nor, AFAICT, anyone else's.

Honestly, there are so many real battles to fight. This isn't one.

Anonymous said...

P.S.-- Er, I'm suRprised, that is. So much so I can't find the "r" key.

Lili said...

Hell no. My morals are absolutely none of my publishers' business. And demanding that everyone conform to 'public convention' is so incredibly, terrifyingly dodgy that I don't even know where to start.

They can drop me and take my advance back if I breastfeed my kid in public in the wrong town, or if - as S.M. said - I support gay rights in a place where that's an unpopular position. It doesn't matter that they almost definitely wouldn't do it - I never ever sign anything on the basis that 'Well, they won't actually enforce it, right?' I'm horrified that I could be expected to sign something saying they have a right to do it. (Fortunately I'm not with HC, but still.)

Somehow this feels like it springs from the same mentality as the magazines who keep asking to do photo shoots in my home, or asking me to talk about my personal life, and who get all incredulous and outraged when I say no, thanks, I don't do that stuff. There's this belief that any artist's private life is automatically public property. It's insidious, rude and stupid, and it leads to 1984-type stuff like this, where all of a sudden my conscience is also public property.

Again, hell no.

A. C. Crispin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A. C. Crispin said...

Thanks for the tip of the hat about my upcoming book, Victoria!

I'll be writing a blog post soon about my foray into "internet promotion" (something I've never tried before) with this book. My experiences might be helpful to other writers who are trying to do virtual promotion in advance of a book's publication.

Oh...and there will be more announcements of good news in the near future, she said, mysteriously. (smile) Keep watching this space!

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware

P.N. "Pat" Elrod said...

Dang, I wish I could have this grandfathered, as I'd like the rights back on some of my backlist.

Then I could run out and do something horrible and disgusting and the publisher would shed me pretty quick.

Of course I'd somehow have to outdo the horrible and disgusting things committed by a number of politicians, famous for being famous celebrities, and anyone else who might have had a book published.

That *would* be pushing the envelope!

Anonymous said...

I think that a "morals clause" can be broadly enforced to include any public statements or behavior that brings the author into disrepute.

For instance, supporting gay rights -- or making homophobic remarks -- can both be grounds for termination, if there's sufficient public outrage and loss of sales.

Not only offending Christians, but making racist or anti-Semitic remarks would also be grounds for the contract's termination.

It's really all dependent on the degree of public outrage.

I speak as someone who gradated law school and passed the bar, but never practiced, FWIW.

Anonymous said...

Harper Collins having a moral clause is hypocrisy if they are still publishing Crispin, Strauss, and Gaiman. And Writers Digest is a big fraud with that Miss SNark scam. So I am not in the least surprised if they do something hypocritical and fraudulent as they have done it over and over in the past.

Anonymous said...

they sure as hell won't want to publish me- I'm in a consensual 'open'- borderline poly marriage. If that's not 'immoral' by a lot of standards then I'll eat my very sexy hat.

I am of the theroy that unless I break a law or outright lie my morals have nothing to do with any publisher.

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