The Penguin is sick of being swindled! The New York publisher lodged a complaint with the New York State Supreme Court this week, citing several prominent writers failure to deliver books for which they received hefty contractual advances.
Book deal advances are contracts between a publisher and an author. Because there usually is a lengthy gap between the time an author begins writing a book, and the time it generates any royalties, publishers have customarily paid an “advance” on the royalties. They are supposed to work be retainers, but often they’re more like a gamble. Consider that Sarah Palin was paid a skin-crawling $1.25 million advance for “Going Rogue”. That’s a lot of meth for a grifter who can’t read or write!
The majority of writers deliver their books to their publishers, but a few don’t. They get writer’s block; suffer crippling self-doubt; become paralyzed with deadline pressure or fear of post-publication humiliation; OD on Entenmann’s and coffee; destroy their relationships; or simply opt out of the whole book writing part, pocketing the advance money.
The Penguin Group is seeking repayments from:
* Blogger Ana Marie Cox, who signed to author a “humorous examination of the next generation of political activists,” back in 2006. She is being dunned for $81,250 plus at least $50,000 in interest. Her Penguin contract totaled $325,000.
* Author Elizabeth Wurtzel apparently signed a $100,000 deal back in 2003 to write a book for a proposed teenage depression self-help book (which I want to read, please write this, Lizzy!). Penguin wants her to return her $33,000 advance plus $7500 in interest.
* New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead, owes $20,000 plus $2000 in interest for her $50,000, 2003 deal to write a collection of her journalism.
* Conrad Tillard signed an $85,000 Penguin contract in 2005 for a memoir about his “epic journey from the Ivy League to the Nation of Islam,” and his subsequent falling out with Louis Farrakhan. The publishing house’s lawsuit is seeking the repayment of about $38,000 from the Hip-Hop Minister.
Penguin is even going after a Holocaust survivor. Herman Rosenblat was signed for $40,000 in 2008 to write his improbable account of how the same girl who snuck food to him through a barbed wire fence in Buchenwald, showed up on a blind date decades later. In facts-that-are-too-good-to-check/James Frey fashion, Rosenblat’s story was heralded by Oprah Winfrey as the “the single greatest love story, in 22 years of doing this show, we’ve ever told on the air”, only to have it outed as fabrication. Penguin wants the octogenarian hustler to repay a $30,000 advance plus $10,000 in interest.
Tip to Writers: Forget the books. Go into TV writing, every week is an “Advance”.