Sad news from the LA Times that the author and publishers of The Shack are now in court fighting over the royalty earnings.
Read the entire article here.
Then pray that cooler heads prevail and that it can somehow be kept out of the court system.
The key element to the story, from my agent’s perspective, is that there was not a solid contract in place from the beginning. It started with a hand shake. Then when a big publisher (FaithWords, a division of Hachette) wanted to get involved in distribution a contract was put in place. But the agreement between the publisher, Windblown Media, and the author has terminology that remains unclear. Signing a contract that pays based on net profits can be trouble unless “profit” is defined very clearly. Most book contracts are based either on retail price or on net receipts. Big difference between receipts and profits. Young claims that Windblown has under-reported the profits.
Windblown Media counter-sued and claims that their owners Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings should be named as co-authors of the book because of the work they did back in the beginning of the project.
So Hachette, in a defensive move, had to file their own lawsuit against Windblown Media and William P. Young. Why? Because they have one million dollars they owe to these fellows, but if they send a check, and it is later determined by the other lawsuits that the money was paid incorrectly, then Hachette could be sued. So they very wisely put the money in a judicial escrow account where it will remain until Windblown and Young settle their dispute. In other words, from now on…no one gets paid…until the things are settled by the courts.
What a mess.
Clearly some huge misunderstandings have occurred. Dig even deeper into the article and note that “reserves against returns” is misunderstood. In addition there is dispute over reduced royalties paid on books sold at a very high discount. Both are well documented industry practices and are usually in a contract with clear definitions.
This illustrates why writers need literary agents to help with their intellectual property concerns. This week I have helped three clients unravel their royalty statements. Each case had different concerns and because of what I do I could understand and explain the situation. In one case we are writing a note to the publisher asking for clarification. In another case I think the royalty rate for e-books does not match the contractual rate and thus a note has been sent asking for clarification.
I have seen situations among writing friends disintegrate over editorial and publishing issues. That is why I encourage anyone who is wanting to collaborate on a project that they get a solid collaboration agreement in place as early as possible.
Don’t just shake hands and hope for honorable behavior. We would like to hope for honor and honesty but we are all fallen creatures in desperate need of redemption.
At least consider using a conciliation organization like Peacemakers (click here for the first steps in dispute resolution) before taking anyone to court.
Update: August 2, 2010
If you would like to read the actual court documents you can follow these links — the federal court complaint of Jacobsen and Cummings (the founders of Windblown Media) vs. Young, Young’s court motion to dismiss, and Windblown’s legal response.
Then enjoy the actual court document where Hachette is asking for court relief — this is where they state that there is nearly a million dollars in royalties waiting to be paid.
Update: May 13, 2011
Apparently the lawsuit of Jacobsen et al. against William Paul Young et al. has been dismissed (according to court documents dated January 10, 2011). The issue has been settled, or is in the process of being settled. This can mean any number of things. 1) The parties reached an out-of-court settlement 2) The parties decided to drop the suit 3) Any number of other things. The bottom line is that the suit will not go before a judge or a jury to be settled. That is good news.
Click here for a PDF of the actual dismissal ruling.
Update: August 18, 2011
According to Publisher’s Lunch (a newsletter to which everyone interested in the publishing industry should subscribe):
On August 12, a little more than a month before the case was set to go to trial, Young reached a confidential settlement agreement with Jacobsen and Cummings and the Ventura court case was dismissed without prejudice. Young’s lawyer Michael Anderson declined to comment beyond affirming a settlement deal had been reached; Martin Singer, representing Jacobsen and Cummings, did not answer requests for comment.
It appears that this is merely the final conclusion to a settlement agreed to earlier in the year. So, essentially, this is only confirmation of the update I wrote in May. Bottom line is that the dispute seems to be over.
Check back in a few months and see if there is more news.
I love your suggestion that they all go to Peacemakers, but the part about, “Wouldn’t you rather be wronged than take a brother to court where unbelievers will judge the case?” only matters if you believe the Bible in the first place. If you don’t believe what the Bible says because it’s a book with guilt-edged pages, why bother to do what it says?
This lawsuit is very sad…but I don’t think it’s very surprising.
I can’t say that I’m particularly surprised that this happened. Sometimes the worst curses look like the greatest blessings. I’m sure most of us would love to have made more than $10.5 million from a book, but if that means fighting with my good friends over whether I should have an additional $4 million or not, who needs it?
I’m still laughing over Sally’s guilt-edged pages.
Thanks for your analysis and words of wisdom, Steve.
I read the article a few days ago, and I too, felt very sad. If I wrote a book that was intended solely for my family and friends and it went as big as The Shack, I pray that I would not sue my friends for any reason. I am most saddened about the message being marred by court room drama the culture will be drawn to.
Michael K. Reynolds
The worst part of all of this is the poor testimony it provides. Not even getting into some of the controversy surrounding the book, it certainly appears to the outside world as if it’s a bunch of Christians being hypocrites.
I’ve personally benefitted by Peacemakers ministry when my former business partner and I (both Christians) separated many years back. The Peacemakers resolution not only provided for a strong testimony to the business community about how we can resolve issues in a Bibilical manner, but I found it spiritually and personally transforming.
Let’s pray for a similar outcome.
I want to say that I can see potential benefits in going through an arbitrator, such as Peacemakers, rather than going through court. But I would also like to point out that the courts like all parts of government are ordained by God and Christians should not be faulted for using them as God intended. I don’t know if those involved are members of the same church or not. Based on 1 Cor. 6:1-7, I can see the argument for fellow church members seeking the advice of a trusted church member rather than going to court, but Paul’s criticism of that church was that they were taking their cases before the unjust when they had people better able to make a just judgment in their own church. I realize there are problems in our court system, but for the most part our courts are just. Considering that this is a case that involves quite a bit of confusion about the law, I don’t see anything wrong with it going before the branch of government whose job it is to determine what the law actually says.
Good point Tim. One of the biggest mistakes made by the church today is to pluck “text proofs” from the Bible to try to make a whole new set of laws for Christians under the new convenant. (conveniently referred to as ‘principles’ by most church outfits). The purpose of the New Covenant was to release us from the bondage of law and teach us to live from our hearts. I agree, the appropriate context of these verses is not to say a Christian should NEVER sue someone no matter what.
Timothy, you make a valid point regarding our responsibility as citizens of the world which is under God’s sovereignty. However, I still think believers, whether in the same church or not, should seek reconciliation outside of the court system whenever viable or possible.
This “Shack” dispute is not necessarily about the law per se, it is about the interpretation of contractual language. And that interpretation becomes a judgment in a civil suit.
I’ve been in a court situation where the definition of a word determined whether or not one party was “injured” or not. The judge was not going to go by the Webster’s definition but by the definition used within the judicial system…and those two definitions did not have similar meaning.
Thus my encouragement to seek other means to resolution.
Posted an update on The Shack lawsuit today. I discovered that the suit has been officially dismissed. Either settled out of court or just dropped. The actual dismissal document is linked on the blog post.
Thank you for your testimony about the use of Peacemakers. They are one option among many. My point is that believer consider resolution within the Body…if at all possible.
As an editor, I can tell you that “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” The infamous statement that comes from fuzzy written language: “But that’s not what I MEANT to say!” If it weren’t for this ominous yet potent eight-word sentence, there would be very little need for editors. I’ve negotiated more than 500 book contracts over many years, but still find unclear, poorly worded language in the best of contracts.
Note to authors: If a contract section or statement is unclear or unfamiliar to you, clarify it before signing anything.
My prayers will be with all parties involved here….
I dunno. Seems like we’re only able to see reactive motions at the links posted. Can anyone post a link to the original court action taken by Mr. Young which started the ball rolling? Certainly hard to know what the whole shootin match is *really* about unless that can be viewed.
James De Young
In my book, Burning Down the Shack, in the Introduction, I documented my personal history with the author of the Shack, P Young, and showed how the author wasn’t being totally forthcoming in public interviews when he said he has nothing to hide, esp. with regard to his embracing universal reconciliation in a written doc in 2004. Now in this legal doc the plaintiffs claim (to be decided by a jury at their request) that beginning back in 2008 he was secretly seeking to profit inappropriately from his book and the movie based on it, to the exclusion of the proper revenue due his friends as co-authors. This legal document also supports what I said then about the original form of the novel for his kids. This is all troubling and quite sad.
Jim De Young
You sir are an idiot. I watched these men closely and I know Brads background far beyond the media and he has devastated many people in his personal dealings. The man is a snake. Too bad Mr. Young was bit by his poison.
Sad stuff indeed. I’m acquainted with Wayne J. and know him to be totally upstanding. But when The Shack was headed up the Best Seller Lists and I was reading and researching it, I stumbled over a couple of things related to Young’s past that made me wonder a bit at his own integrity. We all make mistakes. It’s nice to know we’re forgiven. But forgetting takes more time than forgiving. I trust everybody will work this out in the end for the greater good of their relationships.
Quoting the article: Don’t just shake hands and hope for honorable behavior. We would like to hope for honor and honesty but we are all fallen creatures in desperate need of redemption.
This statement refutes the fact that those of us who are Christians ARE redeemed, born again, made new! We are NOT fallen creatures anymore… now it’s a matter of renewing our minds! True, this is a process. But most of the Church teaches some variant on a theme: we’re just ‘sinners saved by grace’ or ‘fallen creatures in need of redemption.’ Really? Still? after what He did to redeem us? This is a deadly blow to the truth of the work Christ did on the cross for us. And it’s a huge stumbling block to Christians everywhere, struggling to grow, in their minds, into their new identity.
The whole lawsuit is a sad testimony to the need we all have for renewal in our minds. It doesn’t mean anyone involved is a heretic. This book is not meant to be a doctrinal thesis, no one said it was… just a story of the heart. Despite the sad demise of the relationship between the authors, it doesn’t negate the value of the work they’ve done.
Karl Bjorn Erickson
You can read my published review of “The Shack” by Googling “Tearing Down the Shack.” In many ways, I would add that the book is a modernist’s regurgitation of a number of old heresies the Church dealt with centuries ago. In addition, as a person who has spent a great deal of time in areas described in the book (northeast Oregon), I would add now that I realized, after talking about the shack with a resident of Joseph, that the author apparently hasn’t visited the areas he attempts to describe. She pointed out that the descriptions and placenames don’t correspond in a number of cases. While not as big an error as his misguided theology, it does betray rather sloppy writing and research style. I thank you for your interest in y articles. As I am trying to reduce spam, I won’t be receiving any more updates on this thread via e-mail, and I probably won’t check back or monitor it either. If you want to read more, you can check out my essays or visit my blog entitled the Singing in the Wood. Later today, I’ll be posting my top ten or fifteen most popular blog posts, and it will likely contain a reference, or two, to this book. Thank you. ….Karl Bjorn Erickson
Comments on this post are now closed. It is not the forum for a debate on THE SHACK’S theological merits or lack thereof. It was intended as an illustration of the need for a contractual arrangement of a co-authored book.
Any new comments unrelated to the intent of this post will be deleted.
I appreciate the thoroughness of this post and links. Just what I needed to read!
I find this lawsuit extremely discouraging. I just finish listening to Young talk about how the 3 worked in union on the book. About the great relationship they have. I think he is speaking 2008.. Then I read on the internet they are suiting each other. My recommendation is all parties come out with an apology. As I was considering buying Young’s other books but this lawsuit even when it was settled outside of court is upsetting. Why is it the people who do not profess to know God or Jesus act more like him than the ones whom claim to have an intimate relationship with him?????
This lawsuit was settled six years ago. It allowed the movie production to move forward as well as everything else.
Jon M. McAuliffe
I didn’t know this was still going on. Thought the parties had worked something out. Why is it back on? Is this about money or control? Both?
It’s not new. The last update is at the end of the post dated: August 18, 2011
Thank you for another fantastic post. Where else may just anybody get that kind of
information in such an ideal means of writing?
I have a presentation next week, and I am at the search for
This beautiful story which has helped countless thousands,is degraded by selfish and unscrupulous people who only see money.
I wonder what would have happened if the disciples had made claims that there was plagiarism over their varying accounts of the gospels.
I think this well teaches us a lesson to keep away from notoriety AND HOLLYWOOD.