Even though much of the Manhattan publishing crowd was out of the city for at least a couple of weeks, Summer 2008 was surprisingly heavy on drama of the publishing variety. Here, we spice up your Labor Day weekend by providing a rundown of the events that shook up the city this season.
SHERRY ARGOV VS. F+W MEDIA
Sherry Argov, author of Why Men Love Bitches, accused F+W Media (parent company of the book’s publisher, Adams Media) of underreporting her book’s sales and tracking royalties incorrectly, especially royalties from translation rights deals.
Arbitrator Herbert Abrams ruled that for the six-month domestic royalty period ending on June 30, 2005, F+W withheld the materials necessary to conduct a royalty audit from Argov’s accountant (Argov believes that over half her foreign rights statements are still missing). The ruling also stated that F+W interoffice e-mails “manifest[ed] an intense dislike of Ms. Argov in her attempt to obtain a royalty audit” and upheld Argov’s unfair practices claim.
Abrams found that Argov had not proven that she was owed money, but he awarded $25 in statutory damages, $200,000 to cover legal fees, and $9,000 in arbitration fees. She is still free to seek underreported domestic royalties for periods after June 2005, as well as all foreign royalties.
David Nussbaum, President of F+W, defended the company. He said the employees accused of unfair practices are no longer working at F+W, and that F+W will cooperate fully with all of Argov’s future foreign rights royalties inquiries.
BOOKLOCKER.COM VS. AMAZON.COM
In late March, Amazon announced a new policy requiring publishers of POD titles to use BookSurge, an Amazon subsidiary, for printing. Those who refused would have their “buy” buttons disabled. The Authors Guild e-mailed its members saying, “Once Amazon owns the supply chain, it has effective control of much of the ‘long tail’ of publishing…We suspect this maneuver by Amazon is far more about profit margin than it is about customer service or fossil fuels….We’re reviewing the antitrust and other legal implications of Amazon’s bold move.”
In May, Bangor, ME–based POD publisher BookLocker.com filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon, calling the company’s moves “highly suspicious.” The Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN) voted to support BookLocker in the lawsuit and has posted a petition on its Web site.
In July, Amazon filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying, “Booklocker.com has not alleged an unreasonable restraint of trade.” BookLocker filed a counter-motion. The judge has not yet ruled on the case’s dismissal.
“Once things hit the courts, they start to crawl, as you probably know,” BookLocker co-owner Angela Hoy told Small Press Blog. “While we’ll have to wait awhile, I’m confident that either Amazon will come to its senses and withdraw their ridiculous plans to take over the printing of POD books, or that, despite Amazon’s pretty verbiage, the court will see the company’s recent actions for what they really are.”
S&S VS. FOXY BROWN AND LIL’ KIM
On July 24, Simon & Schuster filed two separate lawsuits against rappers “Foxy Brown” (real name: Inga Marchand) and “Lil’ Kim” (real name: Kimberly Jones). Lil’ Kim received $40,000 for a novel to be released in 2004. Foxy Brown received $75,000 for her memoir Broken Silence, to be co-written with Kim Osario and released in Fall 2006. Neither manuscript was delivered. Both women spent time in jail (for unrelated offenses); Lil’ Kim was released in 2006 and Foxy Brown was released last April.
Brown’s attorney, Laura Dilimetin, told Web site AllHipHop.com that her client never reneged on the deal, and that S&S agreed to put the project on hold while she underwent surgery for hearing loss. After Brown’s recovery, Dilimetin claimed that S&S decided not to go forward with the book. “I find it suspect that after all of these years of silence, Simon and Schuster pick now to bring this meritless action when they were the ones to halt the project,” she said, but added that Foxy Brown would still love to publish her book with S&S.
No comment yet from Lil’ Kim, and her MySpace page hasn’t been updated since April.
THE LACE READER’S SCORNED PUBLICIST
The scandal here is not that The Lace Reader isn’t a very good book. It’s that Kelley & Hall, the publicity firm for the originally self-published novel, thinks it deserves more recognition for the book’s success than it has received. In an August 14 letter to GalleyCat, Jocelyn Kelley wrote, “We want you to know that we are thrilled with the attention that THE LACE READER is getting…Our only regret is that we have received virtually no recognition for our significant part in these events.” Kelley goes on to say that K&H were instrumental in the book’s eventual sale to William Morrow—they secured a distributor, got the book a starred review in Publishers Weekly, sent 500 galleys to independent bookstores, and were in touch with author Brunonia “Sandy” Barry and her husband daily. Once Morrow bought the book, Kelley writes, Barry “proceeded to hire Stephen King’s accountant, Nicholas Sparks’ attorney and placed all of her publicity needs in the hands of William Morrow. After a year of virtual silence and ignored requests for a quote about the great work we had done, we were invited to the ‘all the little people who helped us’ party…You can see that without us, THE LACE READER would not have achieved the stratospheric success that it ultimately obtained.”
Most GalleyCat commentators agreed that K&H shouldn’t air its grievances publicly. “The whole idea behind a publicist’s job is to promote the book and author, not the publicist,” one wrote; another said Kelley had “shown potential clients that she can harness the power of the media to complain about them.”
CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL VS. HEALTH COMMUNICATIONS
Back in April, a Connecticut investment group bought the copyright to the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand. The books had been distributed by the Deerfield Beach, FL–based Health Communications, which retains the license to the older titles. (Simon & Schuster was announced as the series’ new distributor in July.) Health Communications owner Peter Vegso refused to turn over the distribution to the older titles, telling the Miami Herald, “It wasn’t a good proposition from my point of view.”* Series creators Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen and the new Chicken Soup owners, William Rouhana and Robert Jacobs, filed a suit against Health Communications for “interfering with the sale of the publishing and distribution rights” and for trademark infringement. That case has settled, and the owners are now suing HCI over royalties that weren’t received. Vegso has responded with a countersuit, saying the new Chicken Soup titles are “very similar to what we’ve done.” He claimed new titles, including Chicken Soup for the Soul: Loving Our Dogs: Heartwarming and Humorous Stories About Our Companions and Best Friends, “cherry pick and . . . take the best stories [from older editions].”
Health Communications is launching its own Chicken Soup–esque “Ultimate” series this fall, and previous Chicken Soup books are still featured prominently on its Web site.
Meanwhile, the new Rouhana/Jacobs group is called Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing. IMG is handling their licensing, and will be developing, in the words of IMG EVP Tim Rothwell, “eco-friendly, compelling lifestyle and consumer products that complement Chicken Soup’s core values of hope, inspiration, compassion and love.”
*This is a Google cached version of the article, which has been removed from the Miami Herald’s Web site.
RIELLE HUNTER AND JAY MCINERNEY
John Edwards’s mistress, Rielle Hunter, a.k.a. Lisa Druck, dated Jay McInerney in the late 1980s, inspiring the character of Alison Poole in McInerney’s 1989 Story of My Life. “I don’t feel my questions have been answered with regard to Edwards,” McInerney told the New York Daily News. He also said that he was surprised to hear of Edwards and Hunter/Druck’s involvement: “She’s not attracted to conventional guys, and Edwards, with his haircut and all, is a conventional guy.”
After the Edwards/Hunter scandal broke, Story of My Life gained lots of new readers. Vintage ordered an additional printing of 2,500 copies. At press time, the book was out of stock on Amazon.
In unrelated news, McInerney will appear on the CW show Gossip Girl this fall. He will be playing the mentor to the character Dan.
RANDOM HOUSE CANCELS THE JEWEL OF MEDINA
Sherry Jones’s The Jewel of Medina was sold as A’isha, Beloved of Muhammad to Ballantine in spring 2007, in a two-book deal, for a reported $100,000. At the time, Publishers Marketplace described the book as “the story of the favorite wife of the Prophet Muhammad, recreating her marriage at the age of nine, her struggle for personal freedom in a society where women had few rights, and her dedication to The Prophet’s vision of a true faith.” The book was supposed to be published this summer, but Random House canceled it in May. The story broke in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, “You Still Can’t Write About Muhammad,” by Asra Q. Nomani.
Nomani’s article identified Denise Spellberg, Associate Professor of Islamic History at the University of Texas in Austin, as the “instigator of the trouble.” Spellberg received a copy of the galley for review and was extremely upset by it. She told the WSJ that the book was “a very ugly, stupid piece of work. . . . You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography.”
After reviewing the galley, Spellberg, a Knopf author, called her editor, Jane Garrett. After the phone call, Garrett sent an e-mail to Knopf executives, writing, “[Spellberg] thinks [the book] will be far more controversial than the satanic verses [sic] and the Danish cartoons. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP.”
Spellberg also called a UT guest lecturer, Shahed Amanullah, about the galley. Amanullah e-mailed a listserv for grad students about the book, and his e-mail was later posted on a site called Husaini Youths, along with ideas on how to respond to the book. The ideas, reports GalleyCat, included monitoring and responding to media coverage and arranging media blasts.
Random House Publishing Group Deputy Publisher Thomas Perry said that RH received “from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment” and that RH “postpone[d] publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.” Jones signed a termination agreement with RH so that her agent could shop the book to other houses.
On August 9, the WSJ printed a letter from Spellberg. She wrote that she did not have the power to “single-handedly stop the book’s publication. Random House made its final decision based on the advice of other scholars, conveniently not named in the article, and based ultimately on its determination of corporate interests.” She also said, “As an expert on Aisha’s life, I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel’s fallacious representation of a very real woman’s life.”
Amanullah told the Austin American-Statesman that he opposed the book’s cancellation, and , and Salman Rushdie told the Associated Press, “This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent indeed.”
On her blog*, Jones wrote, “You won’t hear from me again until ‘The Jewel of Medina’ is out, and you have had a chance to read it.” She got one last word in, though, in a guest post on the Washington Post blog Islam Advance.
“So far, discussion has centered around my not-published book, which almost no one has read,” she wrote. “Soon, I hope, we will address the text itself, in published form, and my ideas, derived from research and experience, of moderate Islam as a religion of egalitarianism and, yes, peace.”
*As of press time, Jones’s blog had been taken offline. The link above is to a cached version of the page.