LiteraryArchitects

Literary Architects, LLC works with authors to combine the quality and standards of traditional publishing with the flexibility and control of self-publishing. Literary Architects' publishing professionals specialize in selecting and partnering with committed authors to produce trade-quality books, consulting with authors to plan and execute custom sales and marketing strategies, and providing authors with fulfillment and distribution of their books.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

AuthorHouse Loses Libel Case

PW reported yesterday that AuthorHouse lost its libel case based on a book it published last year. It's a pretty interesting case since POD publishers (like AuthorHouse, xLibris, iUniverse, etc.) tout that they put the author in control. What they really mean is that they give the author a price list of services and authors can choose what they think they need or don't need. Authors end up with the just what they order -- their self-published book which hasn't been edited and in many cases copyedited, designed, or proofread. Either way, the book isn't read in-house by an editor. Their contracts says the publisher (AuthorHouse) assumes no legal responsibility or liability for anything the author publishers.

In what seemed only inevitable, a book came in, libeled someone (in this case, the author's ex-wife), and AuthorHouse published it -- that is, they printed it at Lightening Source and LSI pushed it to their normal distribution channels through Ingram. AuthorHouse tried to distance itself from the claim by saying that the author was in control. However, the jury essentially ruled their contract invalid saying "if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck." If you call yourself a publisher, and provide services a publisher provides, then you're a publisher.

It's been interested to us, since our publishers liability (and Errors and Omissions) insurance is one of our single biggest yearly expenses. But we also acquire, edit, and advise authors on all books we publish. Most editors know (or should know) red flags for libel, fair use, and permissions issues. Plagiarism is to some extent harder to spot.

But what happens when you call yourself a publisher but no one in house reads or vets the books you publish? Can you still call yourself a publisher without being held liable for a problem like this? Or are you responsible for everything that comes our under your name? (Let's hope so.) If an author tells you the book has been rejected by another house (any kind of house) for libel reasons, wouldn't you ask the author if they've revised the material and then check it yourself? (I guess not if you think your contract absolves you of responsibility.) It's all very interesting -- and unless the punitive damages are extremely high we probably won't hear of it again. I don't know what kind of publishing insurance they must have (without being selective about what they publish or reading it in-house) but presumably this might be covered.

Interesting either way. We'll see how this unfolds.

4 Comments:

Blogger Linda M. said...

Hmmmm, I just published my first book with AuthorHouse (Dusty Angels) and while they were always professional and courteous, they didn't have any interest in the content of my book. My book includes "stuff' about my ex also. (Although not badly, I hope!) I didn't realize publishers should go beyond "printing". I'm writing a second book and wondering how to learn more about seeking a good publisher.
Linda

12:56 PM  
Anonymous renee said...

Ahhh, and herein lies the problem. When a traditional publisher acquires your title, they are investing a significant amount of money, time and effort into publishing your book. That means they edit your book at several different levels and an editor (usually an executive or senior editor) is going to flag any problems he or she may see with the manuscript from a legal perspective. This could include libel, fair use issues, permissions issues, plagerism, etc. They're also going to recommend (or not) if your book needs to be vetted by the legal department. When the publisher is investing a ton of money, then they have a vested interest in making sure your book meets legal standards for publication. However, an author services company doesn't have this issue. Since they take on every project, handle any issues an author requests and prints the book, they aren't being selective about their choices, and they don't have a vested interest in whether or not your book actually sells any copies. That's completely up to you -- as are any problems you might encounter from a legal perspective.

Hence the problem with AuthorHouse being a deemed a "publisher." They're not a "Publisher". They're an author services company. That's a big distinction. (I spoke with the marketing diretor at BEA of another very well known printer and author services house and she said she's now going out of her way to draw the line that they are *not* a publihser.)

A publisher selects your book to publish because they feel both parties can make it a success. A real publisher partners with you to examine every aspect of your book and produce the best and most saleable book for your market. An author services company gives you a price list, let's you choose your options and then prints your book.

Some would say that another distinction is that a publisher never charges an up front fee -- but that's a rule we're working to change -- we believe and author who partners with a *real* publisher can be a partner -- but they have to know what they're getting.

Bottom line, (and the answer to your question) is yes a *publisher* should advise you if there are any legal issues in your manuscript.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had a contract with authorhouse for a while. Short and sweet advice for anyone looking at self-publishing: avoid AH!! They are fantastic before you sign your contract, but have the amazing skill of being hard to get in touch with once they have your money. The quality and attention to detail of their 'designers' is beyond a joke. Save your money. Go with Lulu or someone else instead!

4:48 AM  
Anonymous Caroline said...

So what can new authors do to get started? I was thinking about using Authorhouse, but no contract signed yet, and I only learned about this expensive libel suit today.

If the use of "author services" is derided by booksellers, and while Amazon is capable of selling new books at £0.01 or $0.01 (yes, it does, it makes its money on the handling and postage fees), then what chances do new authors have if their stories, like Jo Rowling's, do not quite "fit the bill" for overworked agents and publishers' readers?

Does that push us all onto the Internet where e-books get stolen and pirated? Is that really our fate?

11:58 AM  

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