Robin B., Diana Holquist and a few other folks have sent me the link to this article from early August in the UK Guardian about a clause in some Random House contracts for children’s book writers that attempts to dictate behavior. From the article:
If you act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication / Renegotiate advance / Terminate the agreement.”
Oh, come on now, and I mean it. What defines acts or behavior that damages value of the work? And what’s up with casting childrens authors as role models for all? The Society of Author’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group has advised authors who receive that clause in their contract to ask for its removal, but the idea that its in there in the first place makes my jaw drop for a host of reasons.
The degree to which authors in many genres are asked to serve as spokespeople for their books, marketing themselves as much as the book itself, is profoundly, in my opinion, bizarre to the point of being fucked up. But in the latter part of the last century, the romance novel authors who received the lion’s share of press were also those who lived to some degree that opulent fantasy lifestyle – or appeared to, anyway. Barbara Cartland and Danielle Steel come to mind. One dripping with pink and pearls, the other pictured in jewels and couture in her posh flat with art in the background.
So if authors are called upon to market themselves as well as the work, is it such a jump for a publisher to have a preference in conduct for that author? I’m not saying it’s appropriate or that it’s not profoundly insulting, but in the current marketing atmosphere, it doesn’t seem like this clause is coming out of nowhere.
But on the other hand, shouldn’t a publisher know better than the cast all its authors according to a stereotypical mold according to genre? Do the mystery writers have to wear trenchcoats and carry magnifying glasses when they go on tour? Are the romance writers going to get upper east side apartments or at the least a big string of pearls (literally, not figuratively!)? What about erotica writers? A no clothing clause? Holquist mentioned the same in her email to me, and I shudder to ponder the erotica author clause.
The Guardian article mocks the entire concept of the clause based on the number of titty-licious stars whose fame has led to contracts for children’s books, from Jordan to Madonna. But the part that really caught my eye:
Publishers often flirt with the idea that sanitisation equals success, presumably copying an American business model, and this is utterly, utterly wrong.
Agreed, ma’am. Utterly agreed. Meet you at the pub.