This Writer REALLY Got The Shaft…After 5 Years!

Hi, Angela,

In 2001, I signed a contract through my agent, and began working with an editor at the publishing house that accepted my proposal. After I delivered the manuscript and received half of my advance, the editor told me that she proposed my manuscript to the company as a hardcover rather than the gifty small book I’d proposed. Great, I thought. The bad news was that it would have to wait another season. Then it was pushed back again because she claimed that she hadn’t figured out what the art should be yet. At that point, we were talking two years. But I didn’t think that meant never.

More time went by and I heard little about what was happening, until the editor called to say that she was pregnant, but that she would only be on maternity leave for a few months. Well, she never returned. Her replacement was supposed to pick up where she left off. She didn’t.

I just got word last week that they decided not to publish my book after all because the manuscript is so old, along with the fact that the market for that genre is swamped. That’s what I thought when I signed the contract, but I figured they knew better. According to their website, the company has published 11 books in my specific genre since I delivered my manuscript!

Furthermore, I will not receive the rest of the advance because they are not contractually obligated to do so. I should never have signed such a contract!

There are two or three other authors in the same boat, and some of them never received any portion of their “advance.”

I’m not sure who is more to blame, my agent for not keeping on top of things and letting it go this long, or the company.

Any thoughts?

Thanks so much!!

If I were you, I’d certainly blame my agent. It’s their job to protect us when they help us land a specific contract. And, they should ensure our contracts protect us should a publisher sit on our manuscript for years!

I think it is also terrible that the publisher led you along for years, giving false promises and excuses. This was incredibly irresponsible and unprofessional.

I’m VERY happy you got the $1750! And, now you can perhaps update the book a bit and then either pitch it elsewhere or publish it yourself. The sooner you get that book on the market, the less you’ll feel the sting of what that publisher did to you.

I feel all publishing contracts, whether for articles or books, should have time limits specified therein and penalties for those not meeting those time-limits. If a publisher fails to publish a book in the time-limit specified, they must either cancel the contract and pay the remainder of the advance to the author (for their trouble), or they must renegotiate the contract with the author’s agent and pay a penalty based on a percentage of the original contract.

Many magazine writers now ask editors to insert time-limits in their contracts. This is especially needed in those “pay on publication” contracts, which used to mean editors could sit on an article for months or years, never use it, and never pay for it (holding it hostage, for lack of a better term, from the writer). Unfortunately, this still happens ALL the time. I get complaints almost daily from writers who want to sell an article elsewhere but have it wrapped up with an editor who promised to run it years ago but never published it and won’t release the writer from the contract, even though no payment has changed hands yet!

Writers and agents should give editors and publishers a time-limit and penalty in the contract that says something like:

If the article/book is not published within ___ months/years, the publisher must pay the writer 50% of the original article fee (or the full advance plus a penalty for book contracts) at that time. The contract will then be renegotiated (provided both parties desire the contination of that relationship) or all rights will then revert back to the author.

That’s my $0.02.