Pub Rants

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For NLA’s March newsletter I wrote this article but hadn’t had a chance to post on the blog. Then PW recently ran this article on 4/27/2018 about how Publishers are increasingly inserting language into their contracts that allows them to terminate based on an author’s behavior. 

In further analysis and examination, I truly wonder if this is just a “change in market conditions” masquerading as a morality clause. 2018 is going to be an interesting year for contract negotiation!


In October 2017, the #MeToo hashtag went viral on Twitter. Thousands of women shared their stories of sexual harassment, misconduct, and injustice in the workplace. The momentum began with the allegations against film titan Harvey Weinstein and then morphed into movements across other industries.

It hit publishing in a big way in February 2018 with Anne Ursu’s  bombshell of an article on Medium about sexual harassment in the children’s book industry.

It engendered a lot of conversations here at NLA, as I imagine it did for a lot of authors out there. But I wonder how many authors realized that the #MeToo movement would directly impact them in one very specific and unexpected way: in their contracts.

It was no surprise to me when we received a Penguin Random House contract recently, and lo and behold, there was new language in clause 7.c, which deals with publication. There is a new “morality” clause that cites that if the author’s reputation materially changes, such changes could be cause for termination of the publishing agreement.

Every non-author-friendly clause in publishing contracts is there because of some other author’s previous bad behavior. But in general, I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that NLA clients have to contractually pay for the mistakes of others.

Personally, I fully understand why PRH wants to add this language given recent current events. I certainly support the intention! As an agency, though, we are going to negotiate this clause to be more fair for an author who isn’t guilty until proven innocent.

My sense is that PRH will not be alone in amending boilerplate language. We’ve got several other agreements coming our way in the next two weeks. We’ll definitely be looking for the addition of these types of morality clauses.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Luke Hoagland

2 Responses

  1. Kevin A. Lewis said:

    Although this started with a few style-impaired scuzzbags getting a well-deserved mud bath, it has since morphed into what appears to be a good old-fashioned Red Scare blacklist that’s all to easy to find yourself on if you’ve got the wrong chromosome makeup.(Can’t use the witch metaphor-the skies above the White House are black with crones waiting for landing clearance) As rumors of gender profiling at agencies proliferate and opportunities evaporate, a lot of gentleman authors are going down periscope and adopting gender-ambigous psuedonyms and one guy I’ve talked to who’s on the edge of a breakthrough swears he’s never going to come within a mile of a signing or event since his face makes him a target before he’s even said hi. Such is the weather report for now; film at 11…

  2. Lucia Culpepper said:

    I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts like this one from the agents that I follow, and I have to say that I’m relieved. To me, it feels like societal growing pains–it started with a good goal in mind, it’s probably eventually headed somewhere good, but it hurts in the middle. People going overboard, innocent lives ruined, careers irreparably damaged… I’m sure we’ll reach the middle ground eventually. Until then, this kind of thing is reassuring to hear, particularly from those in the industry that I admire.