Tag s | Contracts

What to Do About Morals?

I will often get questions about the “moral turpitude” clause found in many of the contracts we receive. It’s not a description often heard in daily conversation. “Have you turpituded today?”

Many faith-based publishers have had a “moral turpitude” clause in their contracts for a long time. Moral turpitude is well defined in this post on Wikipedia. It is understood in the legal community as actions or activities that can get you fired from your job, deported if you are only in this country on a visa, or have your contract cancelled if you are an author.

Here is a typical version of the clause found in many of the contracts our agency negotiates:

MORAL TURPITUDE. In the event Author is publicly accused of an act of moral turpitude (substantiated by the preponderance of evidence, a court decision, or Author’s own admission), a violation of any Federal law or any other conduct which subjects or could be reasonably anticipated to subject Author or Publisher to public ridicule, contempt, scorn, hatred or censure, or could materially diminish the potential sales of the Work, Publisher will have the right to terminate this Agreement upon written notice to Author of the public disclosure of such conduct or alleged conduct. In the event of such termination of this Agreement, Publisher will have the right to demand from Author and receive payment within thirty (30) days of the demand, a sum equal to all advances paid to Author under terms of this Agreement that have not been recouped by Publisher prior to said termination. Upon such payment all rights granted to Publisher in the Work will terminate and vest exclusively in Author, provided that Publisher will have the right to sell or otherwise dispose of all remaining copies of the Work in any manner Publisher deems appropriate.

I do not begrudge a publisher for including this clause in a contract. It makes perfect sense. There any many cases, and a few currently pending, where a very public Christian figure has had to step down for immoral behavior. When that happens, the publisher is left holding a bag full of books and no place to sell them. (Conversely, a few agents have jokingly asked why there isn’t a moral turpitude clause that applies the same standards for the publisher!)

Recently, we did a contract with two co-authors. This moral turpitude clause had to be carefully written so that if one of the authors went off the rails the co-author would not be held liable for those actions.

The bottom line is “Don’t do bad things!” and then you won’t ever have to worry about a clause like this being misinterpreted or misapplied.

Does having such a clause create extra caution on the part of an author? I don’t think you can keep someone from doing bad things just because there is a penalty clause in a contract. It is like the issue of trying to legislate morality. I edited a book by that title many years ago: Legislating Morality: Is it Wise? Is it Legal? Is it Possible? by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek.

A professional basketball (NBA) player will still shout at a referee despite the fact they will get fined if they receive a technical foul. It doesn’t stop them. However, the threat of being ejected for their second technical does noticeably keep their tempers at bay.

The simple answer is that no I don’t think it will change an author’s behavior. But it will save publishers a penny or two some day.

Some people think a clause like this is terrible. An invasion of privacy and intrusive into the life of the author. Back in 2011 Ursula LeGuin, author of some legendary science fiction and fantasy, posted a riff satirizing the morality clause that had recently begun appearing in the HarperCollins contract. Read her satirical article called “12. A Riff on the Harper Contract” for a example of that thinking.

In the last ten years since I first wrote on this topic here, we’ve seen very public moral failures by any number of well-known people. (Athletes like Lance Armstrong, for example. Plus a number of well-known faith leaders.) The #MeToo movement brought more significant stories to light. While some may not have had books withdrawn, many have had corporate sponsorships removed.

I’m going to risk saying it again. If you dislike the morality clause in your contract, don’t do bad things and it won’t be an issue. If you don’t like the warranty or indemnifcation clauses in your contract, don’t make it an issue by writing bad things!

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Ten Commandments for Working with Your Agent

By request, here are my Ten Commandments for working with your agent. Break them at your own peril.

Thou shalt vent only to thine agent and never directly to thy publisher or editor. Thou shalt not get whipped into a frenzy by the rumor mill fomented by internet loops, groups, Facebook, or blogs. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s success. Be content with thine own contract. Thou shalt not get whipped into a frenzy by the rumor mill fomented by internet loops, groups, Facebook, or blogs.
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What if You Get a Book Deal on Your Own and Then Want an Agent?

One of our readers asked this via the green “Ask us a question” button.

What happens if you get a book contract before you have an agent? What if, by some miracle, an editor sees your work and wants to publish it? (1) would having a publisher interested in my work make an agent much more likely to represent me, and (2) would it be appropriate to try to find an agent at that point (when a publisher says it wants to publish you)? My fear is that querying an agent and receiving a response could take several months, but I’d need to accept a potential contract with a book publisher right away (I would think). Is it appropriate to ask the editor to speak with an agent on your behalf to speed the process?

This is a great topic but there are a few questions within the question. Let me try to break it down.

Many times have had authors approach us with contracts in hand and seeking representation (happened just last week). Of course this will get an agent’s attention immediately. But there are caveats:

a)      Who is the publisher? There is a big difference between a major company and your local independent publisher. Not all publishers are created equal (see the Preditors & Editors warnings).

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How Long Does It Take to Get Published?

How much time does it take to get published?

I came to the publishing business from the retail side of the equation. The biggest adjustment was understanding how long the process takes. In retail there is instantaneous gratification. But book publishing is a process business.

There is no question the timeline varies from person to person and project to project. In the world of major publishers the diversity can be quite extreme.

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Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

With all the talk about Independent publishing vs. Traditional publishing and the talk about how writers can get rich if they follow a certain plan…I got to thinking. Maybe we should do a quick look at the Economics of Publishing to see if anyone is making off like a bandit. Sorry for you non-numbers people, but it is critical to understand the infrastructure (i.e. the lifeblood) that keeps your ideas in print.

The detective in the movie says “Follow the money,” so we shall. But first a disclaimer. These models are estimates based on years of reading contracts, profit and loss sheets, spreadsheets, and royalty statements. Your mileage may vary.

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Why I’m Not Mysterious

I don’t believe in being mysterious, especially as an agent. Since I used to write books for publication, I know what it’s like to put your career in the hands of others. As a writer, I wouldn’t want to send off my precious work and then hear no updates or …

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Many Happy (?) Returns!

by Steve Laube

Every first-time author is confronted by the reality of “Reserves Against Returns” as part of publishing economics. It is usually a shock and elicits a phone call to their agent crying “What happened to my money?”

Did you realize that book publishing is the only “hard goods” industry where the product sold by the supplier to a vendor can be returned? This does not happen with electronics, clothing, shoes, handbags, cars, tires…you name it. If it is a durable good the vendor who buys it, owns it (which is why there are Outlet Malls – to sell the remaining inventory). Except for books. Somewhere along the line the publishers agreed to allow stores to return unsold inventory for credit. In one sense, publishers are selling their books on consignment. Bargain books are actually resold by the publisher (after getting returns or to reduce overprinted inventory) to a new specialty bargain bookseller or division of a chain (which buys the bargain books non-returnable).

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Writers Beware! Protect Yourself

The writing profession starts off as a private venture. Creating ideas and stories in the privacy of your own home. But those of you who become serious about the work and slowly become more visible the issue of personal protection needs to be addressed.

I cannot emphasize this enough.

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A Request for a Full Manuscript! Now What?

Katie sent the following question: What should an author do if they receive a full manuscript request from an editor as a result of a contest, but the editor works for a small publisher and the author wants to explore other options first (e.g. getting an agent, finding a bigger house, …

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