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LMILLER111
09-14-2011, 07:09 PM
A friend of mine signed a contract that he thought was an "open ended" series contract. He was told that as long as he writes books they want, they'll publish them in the series. BUT my friend now, after three books, said he doesn't have any more ideas for the series, and feels it has run its course. He told that to the publisher and they said, "Oh no, you'll write them until we decide we don't want any more. If you write one we don't want to publish, you have to just write another one. And another, and another until you write one we do want. And you'll do it FOREVER!!!!!!."

No, this is not a joke. This is real. He was ignorant to sign such a thing, but he was just a 23 year old kid, basically, too excited with the prospect of being published to realize that what they were telling him, and what they were writing were two different things. Now they're basically saying they own him for ever.

Is this legal? Can someone do something like that? He's so upset about the whole thing he hasn't left his apartment for days and feels like they'll take legal action against him if he doesn't keep submitting manuscripts in the series.

It makes me sick. Just another reason to always, always, always have an agent, I guess.

DeadlyAccurate
09-14-2011, 07:23 PM
Something seems really off about that. That's practically indentured servitude. He needs to get a lawyer or an agent involved now.

suki
09-14-2011, 07:25 PM
A friend of mine signed a contract that he thought was an "open ended" series contract. He was told that as long as he writes books they want, they'll publish them in the series. BUT my friend now, after three books, said he doesn't have any more ideas for the series, and feels it has run its course. He told that to the publisher and they said, "Oh no, you'll write them until we decide we don't want any more. If you write one we don't want to publish, you have to just write another one. And another, and another until you write one we do want. And you'll do it FOREVER!!!!!!."

No, this is not a joke. This is real. He was ignorant to sign such a thing, but he was just a 23 year old kid, basically, too excited with the prospect of being published to realize that what they were telling him, and what they were writing were two different things. Now they're basically saying they own him for ever.

Is this legal? Can someone do something like that? He's so upset about the whole thing he hasn't left his apartment for days and feels like they'll take legal action against him if he doesn't keep submitting manuscripts in the series.

It makes me sick. Just another reason to always, always, always have an agent, I guess.

He needs to consult a lawyer. Now. Before doing anything else.

No one will be able to give him any advice (nor should they) without seeing the contract, but he really needs a lawyer's advice.

In the meantime, look his publisher up, see if anyone else has dealt with this issue with them, and how that person resolved it - maybe someone else has already legally challenged the contact and won, so all he'd have to do is invoke that person's name and demand a release.

But he needs to get legal advice, and research the publisher to see if the contract is vulnerable.

~suki

Sheryl Nantus
09-14-2011, 07:27 PM
He can't be forced to write if he doesn't want to.

Definitely research this publisher and tell your pal to get to a lawyer ASAP.

Perks
09-14-2011, 07:27 PM
He told that to the publisher and they said, "Oh no, you'll write them until we decide we don't want any more. If you write one we don't want to publish, you have to just write another one. And another, and another until you write one we do want. And you'll do it FOREVER!!!!!!."

He'll write them or what? What are they threatening to do to him?

LMILLER111
09-14-2011, 07:28 PM
I know, right? I mean, I've heard of similar clauses where the publisher has the right to stop the series if the writer produces something they don't want to publish, but never did I think it would mean that they could say "Nope, we don't want that one, but you will write another one and if it's not better, you'll do it again and again until it is."

I've even heard of authors purposely writing a crappy book just to end a series in that way. But this kid is being told he can't do that, because if he does, he'll be forced to write another. Furthmore, he said, although the publisher didn't come right out and say it, that they insinuated that they could sue him for lost revenue if he fails to produce quality work that they actually want.

I mean Good God! So what? they sue and say, "if he would have produce 10 more books like the first three our company would have made millions. so that's what we're suing for!"

Sheryl Nantus
09-14-2011, 07:30 PM
There's something definitely off here - either your friend misread the contract or they're totally whack.

Again, get him to a lawyer. And tell him to write what he wants. They can't force him to write a series and the fact they think they can tells me more about the publisher.

James D. Macdonald
09-14-2011, 07:30 PM
I'd really like to know the name of this publisher.

And this is a completely weird contract, if that's what it says.

Perks
09-14-2011, 07:30 PM
Anyone can sue for practically anything. That doesn't mean they'll win.

suki
09-14-2011, 07:34 PM
There's something definitely off here - either your friend misread the contract or they're totally whack.

Again, get him to a lawyer. And tell him to write what he wants. They can't force him to write a series and the fact they think they can tells me more about the publisher.

He needs a lawyer before he does anything.

A non-compete clause could say he can't publish anything else while the contract is in effect, and it could say anything he write while the contract is in effect, they have a right to.

I'm not saying it would be legally enforceable, but he shouldn't assume this is unenforceable and do what he wants to see what they do.

Get him to a lawyer. Now.

And research the publisher. Now. To see if this contract is regularly challenged successfully.

~suki

LMILLER111
09-14-2011, 07:54 PM
Anyone can sue for practically anything. That doesn't mean they'll win.

The contract says that any legal disputes are to be held in the publishers town, and that is across the country from the author. Meaning it'll cost him thousands just to defend himself. I will convince him to consult a lawyer. For the time being, I've promised my friend I'd not name names b/c he's worried that doing so will just open him up to more confrontations.

Alitriona
09-14-2011, 07:55 PM
He needs a lawyer before he does anything.

A non-compete clause could say he can't publish anything else while the contract is in effect, and it could say anything he write while the contract is in effect, they have a right to.



Short of a search on his house for notebooks and computer records, how would the publisher or anyone know what he writes while the legal to get him out of this contract is ongoing? That's assuming he doesn't submit or publish any of it until he is free and clear.

kaitie
09-14-2011, 07:58 PM
This isn't PA is it? Sounds like their kind of wonkiness, and I know they have that clause about legal disputes in their contract. I haven't heard this specific one from them that I can recall, but the forum in the B&BC section here has a lot of information and advice. That might be helpful as well.

suki
09-14-2011, 08:00 PM
Short of a search on his house for notebooks and computer records, how would the publisher or anyone know what he writes while the legal to get him out of this contract is ongoing? That's assuming he doesn't submit or publish any of it until he is free and clear.

In the discovery phase of any litigation would be questions under oath about his writing, and likely an examination of his computer - and then meta data can't be totally manipulated.

I'm not saying he sits twiddling his thumbs. I am saying he needs a lawyer's advice now, so that he can best protect himself.

For the OP - venue selection clauses are common - he can consult any attorney who knows contract law well - and then go from there - a good attorney might put his mind at ease, or might be able to resolve it by correspondence. If it goes to litigation, then a local attorney would be needed, but the first step is to consult an attorney - but not just any attorney - someone who knows contracts, preferably literary.

But, again, I'd start by researching the publisher, and see if this is a commonly challenged contract - could save him time and money.

ETA: I will say, I'd be skeptical that a non-compete for all time, on all writing, would be very susceptible to legal challenge - ie, I'm skeptical they could keep him handcuffed to the contract for all writing forever - I just don't think that would be enforceable. BUT, he needs to make sure, not assume and then find himself down the road in a mess.

~suki

Bubastes
09-14-2011, 08:01 PM
Yeah, something doesn't smell right here. Check on the publisher first (including here on the Bewares and Background Check forum), then consult an attorney if needed.

Perks
09-14-2011, 08:01 PM
Yeah, it sounds too ridiculous to be any kind of really scary. Definitely have your friend talk to a lawyer, but also tell him not to fret overmuch. It sounds like a lot of bark without the likelihood of bite.

Like a chihuahua. (Don't tell Haggis.)

LMILLER111
09-14-2011, 08:04 PM
I should say, also, that it's possible that it's all a big misunderstanding. He's talked to other authors who are up also mad, so it might have been something they said that set him off and then when he talked to the publisher maybe something was mentioned that he read into.

There is a clause for "Future committed works, and future uncommitted works" being required. I'm not sure what all that means though.

bearilou
09-14-2011, 08:07 PM
Like a chihuahua. (Don't tell Haggis.)

*goes to tell*

And also, I echo what everyone else has said.

Research the publisher to see if this is an ongoing issue.

Contact a lawyer.

Alitriona
09-14-2011, 08:14 PM
In the discovery phase of any litigation would be questions under oath about his writing, and likely an examination of his computer - and then meta data can't be totally manipulated.



That is a very scary prospect for anyone, especially a young writer just starting out, and another example of why no one should ever sign something they don't completely understand.

suki
09-14-2011, 08:19 PM
That is a very scary prospect and anyone, especially a young writer just starting out and another example of why no one should ever sign something they don't completely understand.

QFT on the bold bit.

Contracts are scary things. Even ones that seem "unfair" can be binding. And even if not binding, they can cause expensive messes.

No one should sign a contract related to their writing that they don't completely understand. If the writer isn't capable of understanding every clause, they need to find someone trustworthy who can explain it to them.

~suki

Cyia
09-14-2011, 08:20 PM
Is this a publisher or a book packager? Maybe your friend is misunderstanding that a packager can continue to put books in a series out, if written by different writers.

(No clue really, but this was the only thing I could think of other than the same idea that Katie had about PA.)

RobJ
09-14-2011, 08:21 PM
but he was just a 23 year old kid
Either he was 23 or he was a kid.

Calla Lily
09-14-2011, 08:36 PM
The contract says that any legal disputes are to be held in the publishers town, and that is across the country from the author. Meaning it'll cost him thousands just to defend himself. I will convince him to consult a lawyer. For the time being, I've promised my friend I'd not name names b/c he's worried that doing so will just open him up to more confrontations.

Bolding mine. This sounds exactly like PA.

kaitie
09-14-2011, 08:49 PM
Either he was 23 or he was a kid.

23 can be a kid when you're older. :tongue

Jamesaritchie
09-14-2011, 09:24 PM
So who is the publisher? All the new writers need to know.

LMILLER111
09-14-2011, 09:29 PM
FWIW - this is not PA. This is an advance paying, royalty publisher who prints via offset printing. Their books win awards, are distributed in stores nationally and internationally and most of their books have been translated into dozens of languages. Their books are reviews by top reviewers. Plus, very well respected literary agents have done deals with them for their clients. I personally buy many of their books when I see them in stores.

That said, in the past year or so they have had financial problems and have now restructured. By "restructured" I mean they are basically pulling a "dorchester," only, I fear it might be worse. I think people's (including the publishers) emotions are running hot and perhaps people are not understanding what's being said. I hope that's the case.

He's getting a lawyer now, so I will update if there is any clarification or resolution

ETA: if it turns out that the publisher is really doing this stuff, and that the author has not misunderstood, I will update the thread here at AW. I promise.

Perks
09-14-2011, 09:30 PM
Yeah, let us know what happens. Hopefully, it's just a misunderstanding. But we can all benefit from his, ahem, adventure either way. Gah! I'd hate to be rattled that way. Adrenaline like that is no fun.

Best of luck to him!

kaitie
09-14-2011, 09:54 PM
Wow that sounds terrifying. Definitely let us know how it turns out.

Polenth
09-14-2011, 10:37 PM
The contract says that any legal disputes are to be held in the publishers town, and that is across the country from the author. Meaning it'll cost him thousands just to defend himself. I will convince him to consult a lawyer. For the time being, I've promised my friend I'd not name names b/c he's worried that doing so will just open him up to more confrontations.

You don't have to say it in public, but it would be a good idea to talk about the details with someone knowledgeable. I'd suggest emailing Writer Beware.

Writer Beware is here: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/

Their email address is on the page.

priceless1
09-14-2011, 11:18 PM
Did your friend have an agent? If so, I can't believe any agent worth their salt would ever agree to an open-ended contract. It's for specific number of books, and the author's advances are based on that number. How does the publisher calculate your friend's advance? He gets a certain amount with each book pubbed?

I have to admit that this open-ended contract from a legit publisher is a new one on me. It depends on the wording of the contract, but I don't see how a publisher can force an author to write a book where no contract for that specific book exists - and get away with it.

Irysangel
09-14-2011, 11:43 PM
I will say that I had a friend that signed a 4 book contract and had only turned in proposals (50 pages + lengthy synopsis/outline) for 2 of the 4 books.

When it came time to do the next 2, she and her editor could not agree on the books. She would create a proposal and the editor would nix it. Create another, nixed. Create another, nixed again. I think she told me she went through six or seven proposals before they landed on one her editor liked...

And they went back through the same thing again when book 4 was due. Multiple proposals before one was accepted. It taught her a very important lesson - have the contract spell out exactly what you're turning in before you sign on it.

I'm wondering if this could be the case? Is it a contract for 4 books and he turned in 3, and now they want a 4th in the same series rather than something else? Just speculating.

RemusShepherd
09-15-2011, 12:41 AM
A friend of mine signed a contract that he thought was an "open ended" series contract. He was told that as long as he writes books they want, they'll publish them in the series. BUT my friend now, after three books, said he doesn't have any more ideas for the series, and feels it has run its course. He told that to the publisher and they said, "Oh no, you'll write them until we decide we don't want any more. If you write one we don't want to publish, you have to just write another one. And another, and another until you write one we do want. And you'll do it FOREVER!!!!!!."

That sounds like one of the screwed-up non-compete clauses that some publishers are introducing recently.

Specific language in a contract can give the publisher the right to have the first look at anything the author writes, and if they don't want to publish it then it cannot be published anywhere. So they can basically dictate what that author writes for the rest of their life. A good agent wouldn't let you sign a contract with this kind of clause in it.

More information on the blog of The Passive Voice, who posts some excellent analysis about contracts and recent events in the publishing industry. Here's a specific post he wrote about non-compete clauses. (http://www.thepassivevoice.com/08/2011/want-to-write-a-blog-post-get-permission-from-your-publisher-first/)

I feel for your friend. At this point he probably needs to talk to a lawyer.

IceCreamEmpress
09-15-2011, 12:46 AM
Any business can try to do anything to their vendors/contractors if they don't care about ruining their reputation and/or facing sanctions in court.

Your friend needs legal assistance, and he needs to contact writers' watchdogs like Writer Beware and any professional organizations specific to his genre or market.

But, no, they cannot actually make him write a book for them. That's actually part of the matter of the Olivia de Havilland case. Can they make it difficult for him to publish a book in the same genre with another publisher? Possibly, depending on what his contract says. That's why he needs good legal advice.

Bubastes
09-15-2011, 12:51 AM
That sounds like one of the screwed-up non-compete clauses that some publishers are introducing recently.

Specific language in a contract can give the publisher the right to have the first look at anything the author writes, and if they don't want to publish it then it cannot be published anywhere. So they can basically dictate what that author writes for the rest of their life. A good agent wouldn't let you sign a contract with this kind of clause in it.

More information on the blog of The Passive Voice, who posts some excellent analysis about contracts and recent events in the publishing industry. Here's a specific post he wrote about non-compete clauses. (http://www.thepassivevoice.com/08/2011/want-to-write-a-blog-post-get-permission-from-your-publisher-first/)

I feel for your friend. At this point he probably needs to talk to a lawyer.

Um, there's already a thread about this: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=224528

LMILLER111
09-15-2011, 01:28 AM
It's not a non compete clause. In fact, they even took out the right of first refusal from the contract before he signed. Apparently the publisher basically said something like,

"I don't care what else you write for anyone else, but if this series continues to sell, I expect you to write more of them. When we decide we no longer want to continue, we'll stop. In the meantime, if you purposely write something bad or something I don't like, you'll have to write something else."

That's what I understand has been said. My friend is waiting to hear back form a lawyer, and I won't see him for a couple days, but when I do, and I hear what happened, I'll update.

alvin123
09-15-2011, 01:34 AM
A friend of mine signed a contract that he thought was an "open ended" series contract. He was told that as long as he writes books they want, they'll publish them in the series. BUT my friend now, after three books, said he doesn't have any more ideas for the series, and feels it has run its course. He told that to the publisher and they said, "Oh no, you'll write them until we decide we don't want any more. If you write one we don't want to publish, you have to just write another one. And another, and another until you write one we do want. And you'll do it FOREVER!!!!!!."

No, this is not a joke. This is real. He was ignorant to sign such a thing, but he was just a 23 year old kid, basically, too excited with the prospect of being published to realize that what they were telling him, and what they were writing were two different things. Now they're basically saying they own him for ever.

Is this legal? Can someone do something like that? He's so upset about the whole thing he hasn't left his apartment for days and feels like they'll take legal action against him if he doesn't keep submitting manuscripts in the series.

It makes me sick. Just another reason to always, always, always have an agent, I guess.

Lmao. I'm sorry to laugh, but this publisher sounds ignorant. They can't do anything to him. It's like quitting a job. What are they going to do?
Shoot, counter-sue if they attempt to sue. This isn't the days of slavery you know :/
I'll make sure I read contracts before signing them. Also... someone should slap the person who wrote that, seriously :/
They could at least give him 6 or more months of downtime to regenerate ideas. Are they paying him well? Did he get an advance?

LMILLER111
09-15-2011, 01:37 AM
No advance. He had no agent. They do pay advances, but only for agented work??? or from established authors. crazy! Anyway, that's what happened.

So you think he just needs to say, "Sorry, I don't have any more ideas. I'm done."

James D. Macdonald
09-15-2011, 01:41 AM
So you think he just needs to say, "Sorry, I don't have any more ideas. I'm done."


No, I think he needs to talk with a competent lawyer. And say nothing to anyone other than through that lawyer.

Tromboli
09-15-2011, 01:48 AM
Is this a publisher or a book packager? Maybe your friend is misunderstanding that a packager can continue to put books in a series out, if written by different writers.


This is what I thought of too. But he never mentioned that if he didn't write what they want him to they will get someone else to do it... which is what a book packager does (I think)

Little Ming
09-15-2011, 01:51 AM
I have a feeling this is a case of massive mis-communications. I just can't believe that anyone can write a contract like this (especially a big/respected publisher who probably has lawyers on retainer). This is a very basic law school 1L contracts case.

I'll wait for more information before I comment further.

And tell your friend to stop talking to anyone but his lawyer (even you, LMILLER111) there are confidentially issues here. Don't even talk to the publisher. If publisher calls tell them he is now represented and that the publisher should contact the lawyer directly.

VeryVerity
09-15-2011, 01:51 AM
No, I think he needs to talk with a competent lawyer. And say nothing to anyone other than through that lawyer.
Absolutely agreed.

Legal advice before anything else at this stage. Good luck to him, sounds like a horrible situation (not to mention really bizarre).

Anne Lyle
09-15-2011, 02:00 AM
No advance. He had no agent. They do pay advances, but only for agented work??? or from established authors. crazy! Anyway, that's what happened.

Sounds like they've been really battening down the hatches - a publisher who's making money doesn't usually have one modus operandi for newbies and another one for existing clients. Different levels of advances and royalties, yes, but screwing new, unagented authors is plumbing the depths...

IceCreamEmpress
09-15-2011, 02:28 AM
"I don't care what else you write for anyone else, but if this series continues to sell, I expect you to write more of them. When we decide we no longer want to continue, we'll stop. In the meantime, if you purposely write something bad or something I don't like, you'll have to write something else."

Nobody can make you write a book for them. I have no idea if your friend is mistaken or if they are mistaken, but they can't make him write them any more books (unless he has already been paid for them, in which case they can sue to get either their money back or the book they want, but that's a different matter).

What they can do is mess up his ability to publish anything elsewhere until he is released from his contract with them, which is why he needs a lawyer. A LAWYER. A LAWYER.

He needs not to talk about this with anyone but A LAWYER. If he cannot afford a lawyer, he should talk with a writers' watchdog group about where to find an affordable lawyer--many US states have a Volunteer Lawyer for the Arts organization of similar.

A LAWYER is what he needs. No, they cannot make him write a book, so he should stop worrying about that. But he is in a mess that he needs A LAWYER to sort out.

On edit: And after he sees A LAWYER, he needs to come here and tell us wtf is going on with this publisher because if they are that out there, other writers need to know. But he should talk with A LAWYER about how to word his public statements, including the anonymous and pseudonymous ones and the ones to friends.

escritora
09-15-2011, 03:34 AM
He's getting a lawyer now, so I will update if there is any clarification or resolution

Yes, please keep us updated.

CheshireCat
09-18-2011, 04:15 AM
I haven't seen anyone say it specifically, but please tell your friend to get a Literary Attorney, not just a lawyer. And, assuming the pub is in NY, get the attorney there. (He can do it all by phone, fax, and email.) Most will take on this kind of BS contract stuff by reading the contract and then either calling their pal in the publishing house or by writing a letter, but either way you're only talking about a few billable hours. Cheap to find out if there really is a problem and then get it straightened out.


Specific language in a contract can give the publisher the right to have the first look at anything the author writes, and if they don't want to publish it then it cannot be published anywhere. So they can basically dictate what that author writes for the rest of their life. A good agent wouldn't let you sign a contract with this kind of clause in it.

Okay, I've never, ever heard of a clause like this in a standard contract, and I know if it's there it can't be enforced. Once a publisher rejects a work they have no further right to prevent you shopping that work to sell it elsewhere.

Seriously, that's restraint of trade, and you don't have to be a lawyer to know it would never stand up in court. And while signing a contract does bind you in most cases, there are clauses that simply aren't legal -- and the pub often knows it. They also know many writers won't fight them to put it to the test in court because they have deep pockets and most of us don't.

Having a literary attorney review a contract -- cost probably a few hundred bucks -- can save you a fortune in the long run. Even if you have an agent, ask her/him to have it done or tell them you're doing it yourself.

Too many publishers are trying to stick into contracts blatantly unfair and even illegal clauses to "protect" their own interests, the writer's interests be damned.

Do yourself a favor and budget a few hundred to get a literary attorney to review any contract before you sign it.