Department of Good News

PW reports: AuthorHouse Ordered to Pay Up

by Claire Kirch, PW Daily -- 8/8/2006

The Kansas district judge presiding over the defamation lawsuit brought by romance writer Rebecca Brandewyne against AuthorHouse ordered Friday that the POD subsidy publisher pay Brandewyne $200,000 in punitive damages. Brandewyne’s co-plaintiffs in the suit, her parents, also were awarded punitive damages of $20,000 each.

This past May, a Wichita jury found AuthorHouse guilty of publishing a book, Paperback Poison, in November 2003 by Brandewyne’s ex-husband that libeled her. The jury awarded Brandewyne $230,000 in actual damages (PW Daily, May 16).

In his 14-page decision, Judge Jeff Goering asserted that AuthorHouse “acted towards the plaintiffs with wanton conduct,” in publishing Paperback Poison, despite the fact that Gary Brock, the book’s author, had informedAuthorHouse during contract negotiations that iUniverse had rejected the manuscript on the grounds of possible libelous content.

The judge acknowledged that, based on its business model of dealing in volume, AuthorHouse “cannot read every book cover to cover,” and that the company, to a certain extent, is entitled to hold authors responsible for the content of their work. But, Goering noted, “The misconduct in this case is AuthorHouse’s failure to act when it had information that would have placed a prudent publisher on notice that the content of Brock’s book was harmful to the plaintiffs.”

Bryan Smith, AuthorHouse president, said he was disappointment in Goering’s decision, stating that he does not believe that AuthorHouse’s actions “justified the verdict or the damages awarded.” AuthorHouse canceled the book a month after publication.

In determining the damage award, Goering rejected AuthorHouse’s argument that any award be capped by the company’s gross income in 2002, the year AuthorHouse was formed. While not revealing AuthorHouse’s sales, Goering noted that the company’s 2002 gross income was 3.5% of its gross income in 2004 and 2.8% of its gross income in 2005.

AuthorHouse has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the award.

Sounds like if you write a book intending to libel your wife, just don't tell the publisher!


Nut said...


Anonymous said...

The judge acknowledged that, based on its business model of dealing in volume, AuthorHouse “cannot read every book cover to cover,”

Dear dog.

Maya said...

This case caused me endless amusement. Brock called the police late one night to claim that Brandewyne had planted a bomb in his carport. The police investigation determined that Brock had planted the bomb himself (and kept the receipts for the end caps).

My favorite part of PW article was the line where the judge said AuthorHouse “cannot read every book cover to cover.”

Sweet Mercy! What a concept. A "publisher" being expected to read every book it "publishes" cover to cover.

Sue said...

Well, AuthorHouse got bit because they were aware of the potentially libelous material and went ahead and "published". Let's get real here, folks, AuthorHouse, like many other named "publishers" are nothing more than vanity presses, a "dishonest" way to say self-published.

We all know they are not real publishers. They are print shops who assign ISBNs and deceive their public (authors, not readers) into thinking being published by them means something.

JerseyGirl said...

Now if someone would just do the same thing to a certain "publisher" in Frederick, Maryland.


Anonymous said...

It seems like some of you are scoffing at the judge's realistic, spot-on comment regarding a publisher not having the time nor resources to read every book it publishes. This is honestly the reality of the situation, folks. Editors barely have time to edit and we all have quarterly and annual quotas to meet. It's not an ideal situation in a literary sense, not at all, and I agree that it sounds crazy. But it is indeed the situation, and it's a business model that's successful for a reason. I'll try not to get into a huge tangent here, and let's just say that all publishers (legit or not) have bottom lines to keep an eye on.

Most of us on the publishing side wish we had more time to cozy up to our manuscripts. We just don't.* I'll tell you what helps ease that situation, and to reiterate what Miss Snark says repeatedly: Write well, check your work in multiple passes, and send it out into the world to be critiqued before publication. Clean work to start out with helps immensely---that way, book editors are more likely to catch the minute, nitpicky errors to help polish your prose instead of having to focus on the huge, monstrous, ill-formatted, gross and messy manuscripts that make us scream, "hey! how about some proper punctuation for once!"

(*And this explains the oft-remarked situation of editors working long hours for little pay: those who DO make the time to cozy up don't get paid extra for it.)

Pepper Smith said...

Hmmm. Let's see if they can keep this tied up so long in court that everyone dies of old age before a penny is paid out.

Carrie said...

Just read this PW article. Now, wouldn't it be nice if someone went after those rotten scam agents? But that's another post.

B. Dagger Lee said...

Follow the money: "Goering noted that the company’s 2002 gross income was 3.5% of its gross income in 2004 and 2.8% of its gross income in 2005."

This is a fast and steep climb, I'm huffing and puffing just reading it.

I don't get it. Leaving this guy aside, because surely spite, for the large part, isn't what's driving the numbers, but what is?

I understand it's people who haven't gotten published by getting an agent and then an editor, but why wouldn't you choose instead to publish online on a blog or a cheap web page? You'd probably have the chance of a much bigger audience to read your words.

yrs, B. Dagger Lee

Alphabet said...

I don't agree with
Miss Snark on this; I don't agree with the comments above; and I don't agree with the judge. The case may well have turned on some legal technicalities of which I'm ignorant, but - the minor issue first, is Authorhouse a scam merchant? Or a provider of a service that is not traditional publishing and cannot be compared to traditional publishing? I would never self-publish, not even for a short-run local interest book - but I respect that others might want to. So being delighted that they have been hurt like this seems excessive.

More broadly, what about I Married A Communist? What about freedom of speech? What about the principle that damages should be proportional to the injury? What about the danger of the opposite situation evolving, where publishers become so chary of being sued for libel that they err on the side of banality? Would The Triangulations of William Thomas Jefferson ever have been published then? What about the idea that publishers, like web service providers, should be seen as neutral carriers rather than the agents in these cases, when, it seems to me, the author in question was the one who should have been sued, if anyone should have been, for he was the originator of the libel, and AuthorHouse are really only a fancy way of photocopying your book and handing out stapled copies at the church door on a Sunday - would Xerox corp be liable in that case?

Note also that AuthorHouse dropped the book after a month, correcting their error as best they could. I hope AuthorHouse appeal, and that they win the appeal. It seems to me that non-fiction publishing in this country will become much less interesting if they do not, and that would be bad for democracy, for - as bad as one might feel for the libelled - it's surely the case that a clamourous marketplace of ideas is better than a silencing tyranny of courts.

Nick said...

The funny part was when the book was continually referred to having "been published."


spongey437 said...

Not that I approve of anybody defaming anybody else in their writing, because I do not, I would have to say that I have to agree with the AH president a bit here.

I think that the world here is sue-happy and while I can see her suing to have the book taken off the shelves (or the internet sites as the case may be) I don't really think that she deserves $230,000 because her ex-husband self-published a book trashing her.

I mean, did she lose her job because of this book being published? If that were the case then maybe get some lost wages paid to her, but lawsuits like this IMHO are ridiculous - all parties should be shot and give the $230,000 to charity.

Daisy said...

Libel: "a false and malicious publication printed for the purpose of defaming a living person"

I don't remember the specifics, but as I recall from reading earlier articles about the lawsuit, he wasn't just saying mean things about her, he was accusing her of all kinds of criminal acts, as well as (I think) plagarism in her books. Free speech is only meant to protect you up to a point; that point is when what you are saying is intended to do harm to others.

And I do think that AuthorHouse should be held liable for publishing it-- they put their name on the cover, they took royalties from the sales. That makes it, for all practical purposes, their product, regardless of how much effort they actually put in to producing it.

Daisy said...

Okay, I found it:
Some of the more incendiary claims in Paperback Poison include allegations that Brandewyne broke laws, committed adultery, plagiarized several of her books, and hired a hit man to kill her ex-husband, the book’s author.

Even iUniverse knew better than to touch that.

Anonymous said...

First Amendment protections do not excuse libel. Libel is not rude remarks or unkind criticism; it means "lies." And lies can be deeply destructive.

Which by the way is one of the things you have to prove in court to get any money in a libel action. If you suffered no material harm, you won't get money -- or you'll get a token amount. The fact that she got more than $200K suggests that she proved in court that she was harmed professionally, for instance.

Contrary to talk-show cliches, judges do not throw money at any mook who walks into court with a claim.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

I'm not sure what the name of this con job is, but it goes like this:

Con #1 gets publishing house to print illegal stuff. Doesn't have to be a publishing house, but let's keep it in context.

Con #2 brings law suit against publishing house because that's where the money is. Con #1 is broke.

Judge awards fat payout, and Cons #1 & #2 split the take.

Just saw The Sting again. Guess the plot's sticking to my ribs. Love the FBI guys. Wonder if the judge is in on it?

Cara said...

Here is what I learned today...

I need to convince my ex to write a libel filled book about me, put on a hate show, sue him and we can split the damages from the 'publisher' so we can send our kids to college to become lawyers?

J. Carson Black said...

Seems to me that Brandewyne was libeled in print. She's a well-known author and public person, and allegations in this "published" book could cost her in readers and money.

Good for her for going after them!

Anonymous said...

"It seems like some of you are scoffing at the judge's realistic, spot-on comment regarding a publisher not having the time nor resources to read every book it publishes. This is honestly the reality of the situation, folks. Editors barely have time to edit and we all have quarterly and annual quotas to meet. It's not an ideal situation in a literary sense, not at all, and I agree that it sounds crazy. But it is indeed the situation, and it's a business model that's successful for a reason."

Anon. #2, don't go dragging down all publishers. Both of mine are doing a great job of editing and both are major NY houses. A publisher who doesn't read every book it publishes isn't a publisher at all. It's a copy machine.

Nut said...

Great idea, Cara!

Anneliese said...

Backspace, backspace, backspace ... I guess I better shave off the ex-husband angle of my memoir.

Mark said...

Well this makes it clear: you are legally published if not commercially published with any of these vanity press services. This is not self-publishing, which is an ala carte system with no royalties only expenses and or loss/profits. I don't know why people can't get this?

Nick said...

Wait! Does this mean I can't write a book where I suggest my wife is a Pig-porking prostitute and get away with it? Or, actually, my publisher get away with it so as to keep my books on the shelf?

~Nick (not the previous)

Dave Kuzminski said...

Just for those who don't know yet, PA is already facing a libel suit similar to what AuthorHouse went through. In both cases, the "publisher" should have vetted the manuscript to discover beforehand if it was libelous and afford themselves the opportunity to not publish the works in question. They didn't. They get to pay for their failure.

The amounts awarded were based upon the law. Just how would you compensate someone whose name was connected with a false accusation of planting a bomb? The public rarely remembers that the individuals involved were cleared. Instead they're remembered as having been accused and some people even create a false memory of those individuals being convicted.

Libel is not the same as running a scam. Lots of legitimate publishers get sued regularly for libel each year. Most, however, try not to publish libelous works.

McKoala said...

"What about freedom of speech?" somebody asked.

Freedom of speech remains. You can speak freely without employing slander and libel. If everything in the book were true, then there would have been nothing that Brandewyne could have done about it in the courts.

archer said...

Trust me, if spongey437 so much as sprained an ankle in the supermarket she'd tackle the first lawyer she saw and say "We are going to get rich. Filthy rich. We are going to make millions! It's a lock. I know you can do it, because you're a lawyer and you will lie cheat and steal to get me the money, right? Right."

I see these people all the time. They listen to too much daytime radio.

Gar Lipow said...

As to publishers not reading all of a manuscript:

I have a publishers currently considering a book a I wrote for publication. They have not yet made a final decision, but they already spent money to pay an outside consultant to check my work (highly technical) for accuracy. Again they spent that money, not even having made a final decision. (There is apparently going to be a meeting at which the final decision will be made - still unscheduled. There is a certain amount of stress for me in this.)

So if they put this kind of effort into deciding whether to accept a manuscript, I have trouble imagining them ever actually publishing something without reading it all the way through.

mythago said...

The case may well have turned on some legal technicalities of which I'm ignorant,

It did. They're called "what the law is". Since you admit you don't know what the law is, how on earth do you feel you are qualified to say whether the judge's decision was a bad one or not?

And cara, as archer suggests, I recommend that you go file a lawsuit if you think it's a ticket to riches. Hint: an enema is generally believed to be a more pleasant experience, and is certainly quicker.

Anonymous said...

The $230k was "actual damages," not hurt feewings. Think about the charges this woman faced. Think about how much it must have cost her to defend herself. Think about missing a deadline because you had to be in court, or helping organize a mass of information to prove you didn't do A, B, or C. Yes, I know the courts considered her innocent until proven guilty, but I also know how horrifyingly easy it is to win against a person who does not mount a vigorous and coherent defense.

Recovering Editor

Anonymous said...

In my experience it's absolutely untrue that editors of reputable publishing houses don't read books before they publish them. To think of one example, the editor sent the manuscript (fiction) out to a couple of readers who provided comments, and the (first-time) author and editor discussed in detail what to change or leave with respect to those comments. This was in addition to line-editing.

Julie Leto said...

I also write for two major publishing houses. Both of them edit. Extensively. Revisions. Line edits. Copy edits. Both of my editors are extremely overworked and yet they know my story as well as I do and can say the same for their other authors as well.