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aruna
03-08-2008, 03:58 PM
An interesting discussion on Tess Gerritson's blog (http://tessgerritsen.com/blog/2008/03/05/the-downside-of-suing-your-publisher-race-and-publishing-redux/)...


Author Millenia Black (pen name) wrote a book called THE GREAT PRETENDER. The characters in the book were not African American. The book first appeared as a self-published novel, with a cover depicting two wedding rings in flames, and it sold well enough to attract the attention of a mainstream publisher (Penguin) as well as foreign publishers. Translation rights were sold to Turkey and Poland. Penguin soon learned that the author was African American and decided to market THE GREAT PRETENDER as an African-American novel, with a cover design depicting two non-white women. This was done against the author’s wishes.
Now the author has sued. She feels that being categorized as an African-American author has limited her sales and has banished her books to the “African American literature” section, rather than the general fiction area, of bookstores, .

Perks
03-08-2008, 04:52 PM
That's really likely to come down to contract issues, isn't it? If she didn't have any provision for approving cover art, I don't see how it'll stick. It's Penguin's job to market the book, although I can't really see how putting two people on the cover who are not representative of the characters inside the cover is a smart idea.

Ultimately, it may just be a good idea to kick up a big fuss over a stupid decision. Perhaps Penguin will rethink their strategy.

Writers have to go to bat for their work. I think cover design and art is extremely important and would, if ever given the chance, try to make sure I had input and some veto power where that was concerned. Books get judged by their covers every day.

aruna
03-08-2008, 05:08 PM
That's really likely to come down to contract issues, isn't it? If she didn't have any provision for approving cover art, I don't see how it'll stick. It's Penguin's job to market the book, although I can't really see how putting two people on the cover who are not representative of the characters inside the cover is a smart idea.

Ultimately, it may just be a good idea to kick up a big fuss over a stupid decision. Perhaps Penguin will rethink their strategy.

Writers have to go to bat for their work. I think cover design and art is extremely important and would, if ever given the chance, try to make sure I had input and some veto power where that was concerned. Books get judged by their covers every day.

I think it's a bad idea to sue your publisher, for ANY reason; as one of the commenters said, it's probably career suicide. But I think she;s right to be pissed off, and I hope this fuss makes publishers realize that it;s a bad idea to ignore intake from authors. This was a stupid stupid, stupid and really stupid publishing decision.

Perks
03-08-2008, 05:17 PM
I think it's a bad idea to sue your pulisher, for ANY reason; as one of the commenters said, it's probably career suicide. Yeah, you know, I didn't think that all the way through. Amusingly, I think I didn't give enough weight to that because I don't have a career to jeopardize.

You are completely correct.

Toothpaste
03-08-2008, 07:16 PM
Suing isn't the way to go. But I feel for that woman. I've read a fair bit on the issue, and what her publisher did was stupid. Just because she is AA they thought it would make more sense to put her in the AA section even though the main characters in her book are not AA (they evidently aren't described as any particular race). Change the cover and voila! Now no one can think anything differently. Bad form, I say.

Julie Worth
03-08-2008, 07:33 PM
After reading the first couple of pages at Amazon, I'd say she was lucky to get published at all.

Soccer Mom
03-08-2008, 07:44 PM
I feel for her, but I just don't think you can sue your publisher for making stupid choices in marketing.

Toothpaste
03-08-2008, 07:50 PM
While that's not really the issue at hand, kind of have to agree with you there Julie. I'm shocked.

Soccer Mom
03-08-2008, 07:54 PM
Hmmm, I checked the book out on Amazon and the cover shows a bed. No people. And I found no mention of the author's race or the characters.

ETA: I was looking at the Great Betrayal, not Great Pretender. Sorry. I see the women in the background on that one.

Polenth
03-08-2008, 08:03 PM
I can sympathise with the issue, but suing doesn't seem to be the answer. It raises awareness of the issue in the short term, but in the long term most will forget it. It'd seem more logical to have complained without suing, and kept going at building her career. That way she'd be in the spotlight for years to come, and able to make sure no one forgot about it.

jamiehall
03-08-2008, 08:23 PM
I think it's a bad idea to sue your publisher, for ANY reason; as one of the commenters said, it's probably career suicide. But I think she;s right to be pissed off, and I hope this fuss makes publishers realize that it;s a bad idea to ignore intake from authors. This was a stupid stupid, stupid and really stupid publishing decision.

There are reasons to sue your publisher. For example, if they cheated you out of a large amount of royalties and an audit proves this, and you give them adequate time to pay you, but they still don't pay up. Then you would be fully justified in suing them.

A bad cover is not a reason to sue your publisher. Especially in the beginning of your career. You'll just make a name for yourself as a trouble-maker.

I sincerely hope this incident does not reflect badly on other authors who move from self-publishing to real publishing. I know that authors who started out with self-publishing or vanity publishing have a reputation for being used to controlling more of the publishing process, and I hope that trade publishers won't begin to think of such authors as a lawsuit risk!

Claudia Gray
03-08-2008, 10:58 PM
I agree with Jamie -- there are reasons to sue your publisher, but they involve clear contract violations that could not be resolved through extensive negotiation, and it really is an act of last resort.

This author probably has a point about stupid marketing, but that's not a reason to sue your publisher. That's a reason to look for another publisher next time. She's turned what could've been a self-publishing victory story into a death knell for her career.

aruna
03-09-2008, 12:16 AM
I just read the blog of Author of Color. She managed to get hold of a copy of the lawsuit, it's up there right now and very interesting. To my non-expert mind it does seem to be racial discrimination. Read it. (http://bestsellingauthor.blogspot.com/2007/01/millenia-blacks-complaint.html)

aruna
03-09-2008, 12:22 AM
And WOW!!!!

F. Award judgment for all the past and future economic losses suffered or to be suffered by plaintiff in the amount of $250,000,000.00.

NicoleMD
03-09-2008, 12:27 AM
And WOW!!!!

I knew I was going about this publishing business all wrong! Suing is where the money is at!!! ;)

Nicole

Soccer Mom
03-09-2008, 12:28 AM
Remember that these are unproven allegations. I still don't know that she states a cause under which she can prevail and I"m puzzled over the allegations about The Great Betrayal.

Here is the cover as shown on Amazon:

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41mNC1bM0EL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-dp-500-arrow,TopRight,45,-64_OU01_AA240_SH20_.jpg

I see no mention of race of author or characters on that one. Not anywhere on the listing.

Here is the cover of The Great Pretender

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ANB068Y3L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-dp-500-arrow,TopRight,45,-64_OU01_AA240_SH20_.jpg

It shows two women with clearly ethnic faces.

I thought ethnic lit was selling well right now, but maybe not.

aruna
03-09-2008, 12:38 AM
Remember that these are unproven allegations. I still don't know that she states a cause under which she can prevail and I"m puzzled over the allegations about The Great Betrayal.

Here is the cover as shown on Amazon:


I see no mention of race of author or characters on that one. Not anywhere on the listing.


.

I skimmed the part on The Great Betrayal in the lawsuit, but it seems she succeeded in getting them to change the cover in that case.

ETA: Yep. In the case of Betrayal:
52. After plaintiff threatened to sue Penguin for racial discrimination, Penguin withdrew its demand that Aldred rewrite the work to change the race of the characters, and advised that it would remove the African American couple from the cover art.

jamiehall
03-09-2008, 12:44 AM
I just read the blog of Author of Color. She managed to get hold of a copy of the lawsuit, it's up there right now and very interesting. To my non-expert mind it does seem to be racial discrimination. Read it. (http://bestsellingauthor.blogspot.com/2007/01/millenia-blacks-complaint.html)

Ouch! That's such an awful thing for the author to suffer. I still don't believe a lawsuit will bring her personally any long-term good, but perhaps this will cause publishers to think twice about "playing the race card" when the author doesn't want to do so.

By the way, the quoted legal stuff indicated her agent is Sara Camilli (of The Sara Camilli Agency). Yay for agents who will consider self-published authors!

Soccer Mom
03-09-2008, 12:47 AM
I don't think that necessarily helps her. She refused, said she would sue, and they withdrew their demands. The biggest hurdle she will face is proving actual harm. I'm not convinced she will be able to demonstrate actual harm.

The bright side is that she's bringing attention a little discussed problem.

The dark side is that she's probably killing her career. She's going to be a pariah to the big pub houses.

Maryn
03-09-2008, 01:04 AM
FWIW, I learned long ago that when someone's going after punitive damages, they can pull any number out of the air that they want. It's not like they have to provide receipts for medical bills or counseling needed. The judgment, if there is one, is almost never higher than the amount the plaintiff sues for, so you might as well reach for the skies.

Maryn, whose family was sued for $23.5 million (hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha)

Julie Worth
03-09-2008, 02:22 AM
And WOW!!!!

250 million? If that were punitive, it would require actual damages to be 25 million or more. According to a ruling by the Supreme Court: few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages will satisfy due process.


But, according to the wording, these are actual damages. Which means that Penguin really shot itself in the foot. Taking the lawsuit at face value (which is apparently based on every white American buying a copy if they hadn't changed the cover), this pub would've earned several times the loss to the author. So the lost earnings would've exceeded a billion easily. Penguin would have to be the most racist group in the world to cost itself so much just to screw this author.

IceCreamEmpress
03-09-2008, 02:38 AM
But, according to the wording, these are actual damages. Which means that Penguin really shot itself in the foot. Taking the lawsuit at face value, this pub would've earned several times the loss to the author. So the lost earnings would've exceeded a billion easily. Penguin would have to be the most racist group in the world to cost itself so much just to screw this author.

Or the author could be incredibly wrong in estimating the potential earnings of her book.

I'm voting for that option myself.

TheChuck
03-09-2008, 03:43 AM
Or the author could be incredibly wrong in estimating the potential earnings of her book.

I'm voting for that option myself.

Me too.

timewaster
03-09-2008, 04:40 AM
Writers have to go to bat for their work. I think cover design and art is extremely important and would, if ever given the chance, try to make sure I had input and some veto power where that was concerned. Books get judged by their covers every day.[/quote]

Unless you sell shedloads you have no imput. It's a good idea to come to terms with that early. There is no point in being overly precious about it. If you want creative control - self publish.

How2writer
03-09-2008, 05:00 AM
A smarter approach would have been to get a good publicist who would simply launch a publicity campaign so the author could get her points across.

Andrea (former publicist and publisher)

megan_d
03-09-2008, 05:12 AM
I just read the sample pages on Amazon. My lord, what an awful book! One of the MCs actually looks in the mirror and describes himself...

jamiehall
03-09-2008, 09:00 AM
Or the author could be incredibly wrong in estimating the potential earnings of her book.

I'm voting for that option myself.

It could be that the author is estimating what she would have made from this book plus future books if the marketing plan had been different.

I think what she is essentially saying is that she has been forever pigeonholed and every book she writes from now on will earn only a portion of what it would have if she hadn't started off her career that way.

I'm not saying this is true, as I don't know enough about market forces to say which way of marketing would have sold the most books or whether the way your first book is presented to the public will really influence all your future books.

But I think the idea of a potential loss in sales is about more than just this one book.

caromora
03-09-2008, 09:46 AM
She's incredibly brave. Suing your publisher might ruin your career, but some things are bigger than that. I'm guessing that her editor will take the fall and Penguin will settle.

aruna
03-09-2008, 11:47 AM
Or the author could be incredibly wrong in estimating the potential earnings of her book.

I'm voting for that option myself.

Me three.;)
But that is beside the point.

A smarter approach would have been to get a good publicist who would simply launch a publicity campaign so the author could get her points across.

Andrea (former publicist and publisher)

But then the whole thing would have quietly slipped under the bed, and life would go on as ever before.

She's incredibly brave. Suing your publisher might ruin your career, but some things are bigger than that. I'm guessing that her editor will take the fall and Penguin will settle. (my bold.)
That's what I think. Never mind the quality of her work; in taking a stand she has highlighted a problem that many others have felt but have not been able to do a thing about.

Many years ago, I had a first class publisher and first class agent. I have always written for the mainstream, but with "ethnic" characters. However, it was always clear to me, and even spelled out, that in the case of love stories, one of the characters, preferably the male, HAD to be white.
Later, when I tried to published a novel set in my home country, the publisher rejected it, even though the editor said it was my best writing yet. Reason? "Mainstream readers can't identify with this country."
When I protested, my agent tried to calm me, saying, "Publishing is extremely xenophobic. You just have to play the game, and when you're big you can write whatever you want.
" Those are words branded into me: publishing is xenophobic,just play the game."
Here we have it again, and Millenia could have done as suggested, kept quiet, marketed the book and try to build a career.

And I could have written the books my publisher wanted, set in colonial India with always a white-Indian couple at the centre.
And nothing would ever change.

In this day and age, I think zenophobia in publishing is an utter disgrace and the only thing that can show it up is a dramatic and obvious case of racism as in this one.

No matter what, I would never have had the guts to sue my publisher; my protest was a silent one, I dropped my agent rather than do what they all wanted and that left me high and dry, I now have three unpublished "ethnic" manuscripts which can't get in the door because they are too "ethnic" for the mainstream. So I hurt myself and the problem goes on.

So I too am on Millenia's side and I hope she gets a whole lot of money and this becomes a big story splashed all over the media and publishers realise it's time to stop this nonsense. (Yes, I have flip-flopped. In the beginning I said she was wrong to sue. Now I congratulate her and wish her well.)

BarbaraKE
03-09-2008, 06:32 PM
On the other hand, this author has gotten at least some publicity that she otherwise would not have had.

Robert Toy
03-09-2008, 06:59 PM
Or the author could be incredibly wrong in estimating the potential earnings of her book.

I'm voting for that option myself.
The numbers are crunched by the lawyers, very rarely the client.

I can only guess the thought process being, if you ask for 2.5 million, assuming a settlement it will be considerably less than 2.5 million, so go for 250 million. That, and in addition, the publicity for both the law firm (we handled a 250 million case), and the author.

Either way, win or lose no other publishing house would go near her without a whole bunch of contract caveats.

Julie Worth
03-09-2008, 07:01 PM
The numbers are crunched by the lawyers, very rarely the client.


This was filed pro se, I believe.

Cranky
03-09-2008, 07:05 PM
Me three.;)
But that is beside the point.


But then the whole thing would have quietly slipped under the bed, and life would go on as ever before.
(my bold.)
That's what I think. Never mind the quality of her work; in taking a stand she has highlighted a problem that many others have felt but have not been able to do a thing about.

Many years ago, I had a first class publisher and first class agent. I have always written for the mainstream, but with "ethnic" characters. However, it was always clear to me, and even spelled out, that in the case of love stories, one of the characters, preferably the male, HAD to be white.
Later, when I tried to published a novel set in my home country, the publisher rejected it, even though the editor said it was my best writing yet. Reason? "Mainstream readers can't identify with this country."
When I protested, my agent tried to calm me, saying, "Publishing is extremely xenophobic. You just have to play the game, and when you're big you can write whatever you want.
" Those are words branded into me: publishing is xenophobic,just play the game."
Here we have it again, and Millenia could have done as suggested, kept quiet, marketed the book and try to build a career.

And I could have written the books my publisher wanted, set in colonial India with always a white-Indian couple at the centre.
And nothing would ever change.

In this day and age, I think zenophobia in publishing is an utter disgrace and the only thing that can show it up is a dramatic and obvious case of racism as in this one.

No matter what, I would never have had the guts to sue my publisher; my protest was a silent one, I dropped my agent rather than do what they all wanted and that left me high and dry, I now have three unpublished "ethnic" manuscripts which can't get in the door because they are too "ethnic" for the mainstream. So I hurt myself and the problem goes on.

So I too am on Millenia's side and I hope she gets a whole lot of money and this becomes a big story splashed all over the media and publishers realise it's time to stop this nonsense. (Yes, I have flip-flopped. In the beginning I said she was wrong to sue. Now I congratulate her and wish her well.)

Publishing is xenophobic?? Did these people never read, oh, say, Pearl Buck? Criminey! I also have to say that based on the excerpts I've read, I hope you can publish your book set in Guyana. I'd buy it in a second, no joke. I was hooked. :D

That said, I feel for the author, and I hope that taking a stand like this doesn't end badly for her, though I expect it will.

I have no comment on her work itself...

Robert Toy
03-09-2008, 08:59 PM
This was filed pro se, I believe.
You are right, but reading portions of the complaint, she is either a very well versed lawyer or had assistance from one/more.

http://bestsellingauthor.blogspot.com/2007/01/millenia-blacks-complaint.html

aruna
03-09-2008, 11:09 PM
Publishing is xenophobic?? Did these people never read, oh, say, Pearl Buck? Criminey!

There is also Amy Tan, Arundhati Roy, and a host of others. But there's a method to the madness. India for instance is considered Very Highly Desirable in Publishing. And I think my first books only got published because so much of them deal with India and Indians. And at the moment certain parts of Africa are completely in. That guy who writes those Lady detective novels, for instance, has hit a gold mine, and they are set in Botswana, another unlikely place for a novel setting. And I've heard tell that Nigeria is also highly desired in publishing at the moment, and there are several excellent Nigerian novelists in the mainstream at the moment.
And there are also, gasp, quite a few successful Guyanese novelists. Pauline Melville, for instance, who won the Whitbread Prize a few years ago, Fred D'Aguiar and Oonya Kempadoo have also been shortlisted for major prizes. But they are all highly literary, where the rules are a bit different. No Guyanese author who has written a bestseller, set in Guyana, to date. As soon as that happens they will all be rushing to buy Guyana novels. That's the way it works! The thing is they are shit scared. It's a risk, taking on a subject that has not yet proved itself commercially.
At the moment my only hope is to keep writing and improving myself, till I reach a rejection-proof stage!

Penguin Queen
03-10-2008, 02:22 AM
I'll say she has a case for sueing, all right. Taken from the page (http://bestsellingauthor.blogspot.com/2007/01/millenia-blacks-complaint.html)referenced by Aruna:


43. The Great Betrayal focuses on marital infidelity and family secrets. As initially written by Aldred, The Great Betrayal’s characters are described as *white.
44. After reviewing the manuscript, Penguin demanded that Aldred re-write the characters so as to render them African American or race-neutral.
46. On information and belief, Penguin intended to classify and style The Great Betrayal as African American fiction/literature, based solely on plaintiff’s race and without regard to the subject matter of the book.
48. On information and belief, if The Great Betrayal had been written by a white author, Penguin would not have demanded that the author edit the white characters to render them black or race neutral.


That is a frigging disgrace. >:-[

IceCreamEmpress
03-10-2008, 02:35 AM
Many years ago, I had a first class publisher and first class agent. I have always written for the mainstream, but with "ethnic" characters. However, it was always clear to me, and even spelled out, that in the case of love stories, one of the characters, preferably the male, HAD to be white.

It sounds like you had the exact opposite problem, though.


If the facts of the matter as outlined by her are accurate, I agree with her that this is appalling behavior on the part of Penguin. Just gross and racist and stupid and horrible.

On the other hand, she chose to continue with the contract. As someone who has personally withdrawn a book from contract because I didn't like the changes the publishers insisted on, I'm not sure what's up with that.

On the third hand, you have to make waves if you want to see change. Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Emmeline Pankhurst, etc., etc.

On the fourth hand, estimating her actual potential receipts at ONE BILLION DOLLARS is bizarre hubris of the sort that makes her look like a nutcase.


So I feel like she has a totally legitimate grievance (if her statement of the facts of the matter is accurate) but I think she's handled it in a really odd manner to date.


And I learned something interesting from this whole thing, which is that Tess Gerritsen is a person of Asian heritage. Since I read her in paperback, I'd never seen her photo and had assumed from her name, I guess, that she was a person of Scandinavian heritage.