PERILS of PUBLISHING
by Leigh Lundin
The printing side of the business I have a passing familiarity with and I’m gaining familiarity with the writing side. Actual publishing remains a mystery to me, and from time to time I try to take a peek under the covers, so to speak.
It was with some horror, I came across the following story, that of a Gloucester, Massachusetts author who’d started her own publishing firm, and is now at risk of losing her home as well as virtually all her other assets. I know only part of the story, and what I do know is a cautionary tale.
by Jane Daniel
In the year 2000, in Suffolk Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a jury awarded to two women damages in the amount of $11 million, which was trebled by the court to $33 million. To put this in perspective, just three years earlier, Superior Court in Santa Monica, California awarded the same sum to the victims’ estates in the wrongful death lawsuit against OJ Simpson for the brutal killings of Ronald Goldman and Nichole Brown Simpson.
The Massachusetts case represents one of the largest awards in the state’s history (bracketed by record awards of $30 million in 1992 and $40 million in 2005 for medical malpractice resulting in massive brain injuries to newborns.) Unlike the OJ case and the medical cases, however, the lawsuit of the elderly women involved no death or physical harm; it was a contract dispute between two unknown co-authors and their tiny publisher.
Like many of you reading this, I am a writer. I am also a small-press publisher. Just lately, I have begun setting down the words of a book that I have been writing in my head for a decade. It is in blog form for the moment, but that may change. The story is about a horrific lawsuit that engulfed my life for a decade, involving a book that I published and mostly authored. The book was well on its way to becoming an international bestseller when we got hit with a massive lawsuit. Mine is a cautionary tale for all who are involved in the business of writing and publishing.
I am a believer in the power of the written word. Writing about this catastrophic lawsuit frees me from bonds of silence that are like those that imprison survivors of any trauma. We internalize the shameless acts of others and they become our own shame.We writers are given a great gift. How many of us have had the experience of typing away in an altered state in which our fingers set down words that seem to be flowing through us from a source other than our own consciousness? At such moments, we attain a state of grace. It is this kind of writing that touches the hearts and minds of our readers.The reactions to my ebook/blog from fellow writers and independent publishers have been wonderfully supportive. There have been a few, however, that I have heard about indirectly, that are like the comments we sometimes hear from friends of cancer victims. “Well, he smoked all through college and his diet is terrible. You have to take care of yourself or that’s what happens.”
It’s the way we distance ourselves from frightening things that happen to others that we fear could happen to us. It’s a little like blame, but not quite. We ascribe a cause for another’s misfortune that we know how to avoid, and we then feel a little safer.
One of the posts to my blog was from an independent publisher who wrote, “What happened to you sends chills through the whole independent and self-publishing community.” That it should.
But another wrote, “As a small-press publisher who longs for the kind of success you ‘apparently’ had, I now find myself cringing at the thought of dealing with such wolves in friends’ clothing. My contracts thus far have been very open, very generous on all levels. I now believe I need to have an attorney verify them!”
This respondent missed a key point in my tale of disaster. It was the attorneys I relied on, intellectual property specialists with the best credentials, who largely created the mayhem that swept away a successful book, a promising publishing company and my own financial security.
I wish I could tell all of you authors and publishers that there is some way to inoculate yourselves and your works from the kind of litigious grief that befell me. There isn’t. If it could happen to me it could happen to any of you. Alex Haley is said to have spent ten million dollars defending his book, Roots. And that was twenty-five years ago! Publishing is one of the most litigious areas of commerce. Author Michael Crichton laments, “We have four percent of the world population. We have eighteen percent of the world economy. But we have fifty percent of the lawyers. America has become Land of Lawyers. Everybody suing; everybody in court. After all, three quarters of a million lawyers have to do something.”
I urge you to read my Bestseller! blog. If nothing else, you will get a sense of the perils you need to watch out for.