Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tripping Over That Raised Bar

Last week’s blog was about defining the value of a book. I guess you could say that today’s is about defining the value of a writer. Every profession has its stars and deadbeats, people who set a standard of excellent in their work and behavior, and those drag the profession though the muck. The world of publishing has taken a lot of hits over recent years about its lack of professionalism over everything from fake reviews and literary agents, to amateurish indie books, stingy publishers, and trash talk on all sorts of networking sites.

Sometimes it’s hard to rise above it, to ignore nasty reviews, accounting errors in royalties, and all the other things that are part of the profession, and just get on with writing the best book possible. But lots of writers do, and I admire those who’ve worked hard and landed traditional contracts that pay great advances.

As you all know, when a publisher and author sign a contract it’s a binding legal document that should be honored on both sides if reputations want to be saved and lawsuits avoided. An advance-paying, contract offer from a large publishing house is pretty much the holy grail for writers seeking the traditional route. So, I was surprised to read about the number of authors who’ve reneged on their contracts with the Penguin group, and are now being sued for a return of advanced money, with interest.

Heaven knows Penguin has made mistakes in its past. What company hasn’t? But this time, they have a legitimate gripe. What I find so amazing is that an author would take someone else’s money and not deliver the goods as promised. An article in the lists several authors who are now being sued, however, it doesn’t report on the authors’ side of things, so maybe there are reasonable excuses in some cases, I don’t know. But as the article indicates, saying that you’ve spent the money is no defense.

Aside from squandering an amazing opportunity, the other troubling aspect of this is that the authors’ lack of professionalism doesn’t help the rest of us gain respect from the public. Of course, Penguin’s lawsuits are only one small part of the publishing scene, but when stuff like this happens (let alone the points raised at the top of this blog post), should book buyers seriously be expected to run out and fill their shopping carts with books? The bar which has been raised by wonderful authors over the years seems shaky to me. Given the lies some writers have passed off as nonfiction in recent years, and other highly publicized gaffs (see an earlier post on writers behaving badly), I wonder if readers have started to think a writer’s word isn’t worth much, never mind the quality of his books. And that diminishes us all.

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