Monday, January 17, 2011

No immorality here!


We can't have authors going around being immoral: it might interfere with the sales of their books. So HarperCollins have introduced a clause into their contracts to ensure that their authors don't do any dirty deeds, otherwise they will get their advances clawed back. Oh, only if the sales of their book have been harmed, of course.

What constitutes immoral behaviour and how you know that it affected book sales isn't spelled out. I guess HarperCollins think we can trust them to be the judge of that.

You can read more and see the actual contract clause at [E-Reads]. I found the story via the newsletter, which is a daily update of publishing news.


McKoala said...

Aw, I wanted to know what they included as immoral!

Richard N said...

Well, I suppose they'll soon think of something if your sales don't cover their advance... "Not promoting hard enough" might offend their morality, for example... they may consider it your moral duty to make them money.

Of course, if they decided your politics or sexuality weren't to their moral taste those could be fair game under the new contract too. How about meat-eating? Driving a car? Being a feminist? Liking to share?

No author in their right mind will sign the new contract, Harper Collins can rot in hell before they'd see me sign anything as open-ended and subjective as that...

Old Kitty said...

What brought on this clause? I don't understand? Isn't all publicity good publicity when it comes to making money?! Not that I approve of course! LOL!!

Take care

fairyhedgehog said...

McK, I think we'd all like to know that!

Richard, that's exactly my reaction. I do hope authors or their agents notice the new clause and object. I guess it's easy to accept unfair conditions when you're desperate to be published.

Kitty, it's intriguing to speculate what happened that made them think they needed this clause! It all rests on what they consider to be immoral, I suppose.

Lexi said...

What happens if an author behaves immorally and the ensuing publicity increases sales of his/her book? Because, depressingly, that seems to me a more likely outcome.

fairyhedgehog said...

Lexi, they ought to get paid extra but I doubt that they will!

jjdebenedictis said...


Hemingway? Hunter S. Thompson? Harlan Ellison?

Yeah, I don't think it makes much financial sense to only publish "moral" authors.

David said...

I want a clause where rights (at least e-rights) revert to me if they do anything immoral. It doesn't have to be in my sole judgemt, I'm willing to negotiate the panel which makes the determination.

Rebecca Wells said...

Do you happen to know whether this clause is going to be part of ALL HarperCollins contracts moving forward? I mention this because a morality clause has long been standard in a particular area of publishing -- religious publishing, or publishing of books with specific and explicit religious themes and overtones.

Example (from real life): an author who was a religious leader of a commune signed a book deal to publish some book about his religious/leadership experiences, blah blah blah. But then it was discovered that he was doing some less-than-savory things with multiple women from his commune, and he was going to prosecuted for it. Under the morality clause, the publisher canceled his contract.

Anyway, I'm fairly certain that this clause is aimed that only the extremes (as above), and will not be invoked just because of someone's politics, or disinterest in marketing. This is not to say the prospect isn't daunting, but these morality clauses have been around for a while and I haven't heard anyone complaining.

(Of course, it would be interesting to hear what led HarperCollins to extending the morality clause to all their authors, not just the ones who publish in the religious imprints.)

Whirlochre said...

This is a worrying development.

In all sorts of workplaces for all sorts of reasons, all sorts of minor prohibitions are creeping in to help "protect reputations", "guard interests".

Personally, I'd never thought of publishers being writers' 'employers' as writers are typically self-employed and allied to multiple means of survival — from other publishers to magazines, 'day jobs' to shameless self-promotion.

Freedom is based on shifting sands and sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it's out — other times the entire estuary is reclaimed as the site for a new supermarket.

Clair Humphries said...

Will this clause cover 'celebrity' authors and their biographies? Only they don't always seem the most moral bunch to me ;)

fairyhedgehog said...

jj, well maybe HarperCollins feel that they can manage without the greats!

David, now there's an idea. Maybe you should write to HarperCollins and suggest it!

Rebecca, I think it's different if people are writing non-fiction inspirational works, as their own life is part of their authority to be heard on the subject. I can't see that the author's life makes any difference for fiction - although I must admit that finding out that Orson Scott Card is homophobic put me off his books quite considerably. But how can anyone define immorality? For me it's homophobia, for Scott Card it's erotic encounters if the participants are both male. I'm guessing HarperCollins are going to demand the last word in enforcing the contract.

Whirl, I agree it's worrying. It does seem to be part of the general tightening up of everything "for our own good". Did you know that the police raided a house the other day for cannabis growing, only to find that the heat was due to keeping guinea pigs warm?

I would heartily resist a morals clause (assuming I was ever to be in the position to be asked to sign one). I'd certainly want it spelled out a bit more clearly than that one, and like David I'd want it to be reciprocal.

But best of all is "Just say no!"

fairyhedgehog said...

Clair, I suppose it depends on how good their lawyers are!

fairyhedgehog said...

There's a wonderful take on this by Ursula LeGuin at Book View Café Blog.

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