On August 26th, Hachette Book Group sued Seth Grahame-Smith, known for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, for breach of a publishing contract for two new books, a sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and another book “on a subject to be determined by [Grahame-Smith & his company, Baby Gorilla, Inc.] with Publisher’s written approval.” He received an initial installment of half-a-million for each book in a four-million-dollar deal.
Apparently, Grahame-Smith delivered on the first book, The Last American Vampire, which Hachette published in January 2015. The manuscript for the second book, however, is a different story, at least according to Hachette.
In its bare-bones complaint, available here via Publisher’s Marketplace (PDF), Hachette alleges that the manuscript Grahame-Smith delivered (after a lengthy extension on the deadline):
- Is not original to Smith, but instead is in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work;
- Materially varies from the 80,000-100,000 word limit fixed in the Agreement;
- Is on a subject that was never approved by Hachette in writing, as required by Paragraph 1(b) of the Agreement; and
- Is not comparable in style and quality to Smith’s wholly original bestseller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, as also required by Paragraph 1(b) of the Agreement.
Basically, the manuscript Grahame-Smith delivered was allegedly unsatisfactory because, according to Hachette, it “varied so materially and substantially from that described in the Agreement.” As a result, they want the $500,000 advance back.
I’m dying to know what public domain work Grahame-Smith allegedly ripped-off. In Covering the Classics: An Homage or a Rip-off?, I expressed ambivalence about the merits of adaptations of classics, explaining:
Part of the writing process is building a story from scratch, scene by scene, and it feels like cheating when a writer simply borrows a blueprint for a story that someone else developed 150 years ago.
To be sure, literary references are part of the creative process, and even Shakespeare borrowed plots from the earlier works of others. But should unoriginal derivatives be billed as stand-alone novels when there is little novel about them?
Needless to say, I’ve changed my tune since writing Amelia Elkins Elkins, a courtroom drama retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but that doesn’t mean I’d be okay with an adaptation that adds little to the original work. That’s essentially what Hachette alleges Grahame-Smith did.
We’ll see whether a jury, if it comes to that, agrees with Hachette. I wonder whether the lawyers will check out potential jurors’ Goodreads profiles before empaneling them.