In the wake of the sad news of the death of incredibly talented author and journalist Richard Ben Cramer comes an update on a story about the publishing industry at large. Back in September of last year, you may remember, The Smoking Gun broke the news that a number of big-name authors — including The New Yorker's Rebecca Mead, blogger Ana Marie Cox, and Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel — were being sued by Penguin Group for "breach of contract" having failed, according to the publishing house, to "deliver books for which they received hefty contractual advances, records show." Those three women, among a total of 12 authors named, found themselves in the dubious position of not only being asked to return advances—with the threat of having to go to court over it—but also making New York magazine's Approval Matrix in the upper left corner of the highbrow and despicable quadrant.
In a story that didn't get quite the same attention around the Internet, in December of last year, The Smoking Gun also reported that the Hachette Book Group had sued Richard Ben Cramer, "seeking repayment of a $550,000 book advance" for a "behind-the-scenes account of Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees." The manuscript, part of a $1.5 million two-book deal with Warner Books, which is a subsidiary of Hachette, had originally had a due date of 2008, which was extended to a February 2010 due date that Cramer also failed to meet. Of course, we know now that Cramer was likely battling the lung cancer that would end his life. But according to Hachette, responding via a statement upon the death of Cramer, his publisher (or at least, their legal team?) didn't even know he was ill. Sarah Weinman of Publisher's Marketplace, who received the statement, tweeted the following about what it said:
1. We were very surprised to hear of Mr. Cramer’s illness. We had been trying to contact him for well over a year...— Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) January 8, 2013
2. and unfortunately received no response despite repeated attempts, so litigation was a last means recourse." Didn't say if suit continues.— Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) January 8, 2013
The book deal had been terminated by Hachette in September of 2011 (and a repayment of the advance demanded), but in an interview with the New York Daily News last summer, per The Smoking Gun, "Cramer said that he had placed the Rodriguez book 'in abeyance' while he worked on another project."