Three lawsuits: Penguin,Epatha Merkerson and pepper spray

Writers must be shivering over this: Penguin, a very large publisher, is suing a number of well-known writers who signed book deals, took advances but failed to deliver the books. Penguin wants its money back, with interest.

From today’s Publisher’s Lunch:

The Smoking Gun highlights multiple lawsuits filed recently by Penguin to recover advances from authors who the publisher says never delivered their manuscripts. The suits look to recover advances and interest from:

New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead
$20,000, for a 2003 deal to collect her journalism
[Mead did have another announced 2003 deal, for the book about “the selling of the American Wedding” that Penguin Press did publish in 2007]

Elizabeth Wurtzel
$33,000 (and at least $7,500 in interest), for a book to help teenagers cope with depression

Former “Wonkette” blogger Ana Marie Cox
$81,250 (and at least $50,000 in interest), for a 2006 contract promising a “humorous examination of the next generation of political activists”
[This was a follow-up after Riverhead published her debut novel]

Conrad Tillard
$38,000 for a 2005 memoir deal about his “journey from the Ivy League to the Nation of Islam” and break with Louis Farrakhan
[Penguin’s Tarcher imprint was the second would-be buyer of this book; HarperCollins announced a deal for it in 2003, with Karen Hunter as co-author. The version Tarcher bought in 2005 had Playthell Benjamin as co-writer]

In a league by itself, they are also seeking $30,000 (and at least $10,000) from disgraced Holocaust fabricator Herman Rosenblat.

Trident Media Group ceo Robert Gottlieb says in a posted comment, “If Penguin did this to one of Trident’s authors we could cut them out of all our submissions.”

I’m sure the writers have another side of the story — that’s the Robert Gottlieb quote: he’s a major literary agent— but maybe I’m thinking this because I’m a writer and when I get an advance, I will certainly be delivering the promised book. (As a writer who follows deals, though, I am not entirely surprised at the rather meager advances to some rather big writers. Even before the economic crash, publishers were not giving major advances, even to prominent writers. I think they figured out that in too many cases the books weren’t making the advances back. I know of one writer who’d collect a $150,000 advance pretty much every year, churn out a book that wouldn’t sell that well, and then go on to the next one and the next advance.)

And, in a lawsuit dear to my heart, S. Epatha Merkerson is suing a co-op board for failing to render habitable an apartment she purchased.  (BTW, I once met a guy who worked on Law and Order. He told me Ms. Merkerson was wonderful, how she pronounces her name and why she uses her middle name and not the S. I think he also told me what the “S” stands for, but I forgot everything, except that he told me all that.)

Co-ops are such peculiar birds, you know. But in New York City they are Big Birds. And they squawk loudly.

And, lastly, the Occupy protesters who were pepper-sprayed got a settlement from the University of California-Davis.


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