Morality Clauses in Book Publishing

Publicity plays a crucial role in any publishing house. Authors who accrue bad publicity are often subjected to the morality clause in their contract so that the reputation of the publishing house is not tarnished by the actions of the author. Recent developments in the entertainment industry, especially in regards to the #MeToo movement, have led to an increased focus on ethics and morality in professional, educational, and media settings. Publishing houses and agents have faced similar problems, which is where the morality clause comes into play; an increasing number of publishing houses and agents are now including these clauses in their contracts, requiring authors to comply with acceptable professional standards and providing for the possible termination of the contractual relationship if the author fails to conduct themselves appropriately.
Definition
If you are unfamiliar with the term “morality clause,” here is a definition from Wikipedia: “A moral clause within contracts that is used as a means of holding the individual or party(s) to a certain behavioral standard so as not to bring disrepute, contempt or scandal to other individual or party to the contract and their interests. It attempts to preserve a public and private image of such a party to the contract.”
Example
All morality clauses look different depending on what they cover contractually, but here is a generic example from Author’s Guild:

Publisher may terminate…if Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales.

Limitations and Benefits
There is much debate on whether or not morality clauses should be included in author contracts. Many publishers want to protect themselves from any bad publicity their authors might incur based on their beliefs, however, there are some who believe that morality clauses are inherently unethical because of the difficulty in drafting meaningful contractual clauses that explain what conduct is immoral or unacceptable other than in the vaguest terms possible. Because of this, publishers are able to terminate contracts based on what they deem to be inappropriate behavior. There is also the question of whether these clauses are necessary as a matter of law in regards to whether they add anything meaningful to what’s already in the contract.
While there are certainly limitations, there are also benefits to morality clauses. These clauses are meant to empower publishers to easily terminate contracts without having to go through a court proceeding. Publisher’s began adding morality clauses during the rise of #MeToo Movement as a way to protect victims and hold people accountable for their crimes.
Real Cases
In 2017, Simon & Schuster canceled Milo Yiannopoulos’s book contract after he made controversial comments on the topic of pedophilia. Instead of enacting the morality clause, which is harder to prove in court, Simon & Schuster claimed that the manuscript itself was unacceptable, which provided grounds for termination. This case provides some guidance about how already-existing contract clauses can be used to address situations like this, even in the absence of a morality clause.
Recently, Simon & Schuster also canceled their contract with Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri for his book, The Tyranny of Big Tech. In an Instagram post, the publisher wrote that it took this action “[a]fter witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.” Simon & Schuster went on to say, “We did not come to this decision lightly. As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints; at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.”
It’s a matter of balancing two aspects in the drive for justice: the desire to protect people from being penalized for their sexuality, lifestyle, or political beliefs versus the desire to believe victims and hold people accountable for their crimes.
Are morality clauses needed in the publishing industry? As a matter of law, the answer is arguably no, but the answer can also be yes when the clause is used as a reminder that publishing is an industry whose participants should adhere to moral and ethical standards of conduct. Should authors need reminders such as these in this day and age? Theoretically no, but in practice, given the current political and cultural climate, sadly it may be a good idea.

A white, wooden chair with a pink party balloon tied to it.

What We’ve Learned from a Year of Hosting Virtual Book Launch Events

In an October 2020 survey of nearly four hundred marketing professionals, the event tech company Bizzabo concluded that more than 80 percent of event marketers saw an increase in audience reach as a result of the sudden shift from in-person to virtual platforms. Ooligan Press has hosted four virtual launch events since the outbreak of COVID-19. First was for The Names We Take by Trace Kerr; it was originally planned to be held in person, so the team had to pivot to a livestream. Second was Laurel Everywhere by Erin Moyinhan and the choice to go virtual was made from the start. Third and fourth were Faultland by Suzy Vitello—hosted by the press—and Finding the Vein by Jennifer Hanlon Wilde, held by Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, OR. Both were created using Eventbrite. We have two more still ahead this year, so keep an eye out for info and dates on our platforms!
I reached out to graduating project managers Grace Hansen, Cole Bowman, and Bailey Potter who oversaw the successful launch events for Laurel Everywhere, Faultland, and Finding the Vein, respectively. I asked each of them about advice for planning future virtual events. Within a few hours, I had struck gold. Synthesized below are their replies and some guidance to get started when it is time to plan a celebration of your new book.

Know the Author

Cole pointed out that the author’s comfort is “the biggest barometer of whether or not the event will be successful” because attendees reflect the energy from the author, and “if they’re visibly nervous or clam up, it can really dampen the audience’s experience.” For all three launches, the moderators and guests were chosen to intentionally match authors with people they shared histories with. Talk to your author about their comfort level with speaking and reading live, their past public speaking experiences, and their expectations for the event.
Keeping the author at the forefront of planning should lead to conversations about the best possible ways to celebrate their achievements. Grace explained that this led to her team’s decision to have a roundtable discussion with the author and a small panel of people. They wanted those in attendance “to have more to hold on to than just the contents of a book they hadn’t read yet,” and it turned out to be a great structure; the “audience of book lovers [got] to track the entire publishing process from our author’s idea to actual publication,” said Grace. It was a prudent way to respectfully regard the heavy themes of the book.

Find a Meaningful Location

Once you have a relationship built with the author, encourage them to begin cultivating one with their local community venues. Then when it’s time, Bailey suggests they “pop the question!” Outreach efforts, Bailey added, “certainly led to many bookstores selling our book,” but “the author’s relationship with her local bookstore” is what paved the way to a successful launch.
The managers agree that finding a location three to five months before the launch event is important. Grace recalls reaching out to local bookstores only to find that “their calendars were all booked up or they weren’t doing events at all.”

Plan for Success

Commit to using a webinar format as opposed to a meeting format. They are more official and organized, Bailey noted, and they can be a bit of a built-in backup plan should the venue fall through.
Set the author up by providing them a list of questions from the moderator and an agenda for the event. Cole suggested allowing the author to choose whether or not to read from the book. “What this did,” they said, “was ensure that [the author] knew what to expect of the event itself and she felt like she was in control of at least part of it.” Being transparent about and flexible with the structure is an important part of successful communication.
Consider a few last recommendations from the managers: Decide if you’re planning a hybrid event or a totally virtual one. Create a separate link for an afterparty. Find ways to engage the audience with a giveaway, signed books, a “care package,” playlists, recipes, or anything that matches the theme of the book.

Two women working together in front of a laptop

Navigating the Publicist-Author Relationship

Book publishing is one big group project. Learning how to navigate relationships with authors is an essential part of being in the industry. There is bound to be some disagreement with the way the book is being edited, designed, marketed, and publicized. As the publicity manager for Ooligan Press, I have been in delicate situations with authors where everyone’s feelings must be taken into account. And the most important thing I’ve learned from going through these slightly awkward situations is that communication is king. Below, I will give some advice on how to coach your authors and clearly lay out what is needed and what they can expect when their book is ready for publicity.
Preparation
The first thing a publicist should do when preparing an author for their book launch is to get with the author and listen to their elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a thirty-to-sixty-second spiel on what the book is about and why someone should read it. It is called an elevator pitch because it should take the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator. Now, some authors may have already come up with a pitch like this when they were looking for publishing houses to publish their manuscripts. The difference between that pitch and this one is that this one should be slightly different to better sell the book to readers instead of publishing houses. It is also important you and the author are on the same page with how you want to sell the book. Working with marketing is a great way to do this because they have already come up with selling points and buyer personas for the book. Similar to the elevator pitch, it is also helpful for publicists to help authors come up with key talking points for interviews. This way, the interview stays on track and the author doesn’t feel lost or nervous.
Communication
Throughout the process of publishing an author’s book, there are bound to be disagreements between the press and the author. The most important thing to remember is that both you and the author want the same thing—to get their book read by people who will enjoy it. Always listen to and respect the author’s point of view. But remember that the author does not always know what will best sell and publicize their book. Clearly explain why you and the press are doing what you are doing so the author can understand where you are coming from. Sometimes you will want to compromise, and other times you will need to put your foot down.
Professionalism
Above all else, you are helping to run a business, so being professional is important. Clear communication, active listening, and compassion are important in professionalism. A publicist’s job is to make sure an author is knowledgeable about the publicity process. This may mean anything from making sure they are comfortable with interviews or author meet-ups to explaining to them how everything works. Again, remember you and the author have the same goal: to get their book to the right audience. Hopefully these tips will help you to have a successful relationship with your author.
For more tips from book publicists to authors check out: 33 Tips From Book Publicists For Self Published Authors or What to Look for in a Book Publicist.

Person holding tablet with the pages of a document on the screen

The Anatomy of a Press Kit

Not just a pretty document, a press kit provides the media with information about an upcoming book release that could potentially lead to earned publicity for the book and the author. A good press kit makes it easier for journalists to learn quickly about an upcoming book release. There are six vital components to creating a press kit that will catch the media’s eye and get your author the attention they deserve. Below, the anatomy of a press kit will be dissected so your book can launch successfully.

Contents of a Press Kit

COMPONENT ONE

The first part of a press kit provides all of the details about the book’s outward appearance. It also shows important information like when the book will be published and whether it is paperback or hardcover. These details include:

  • Title, subtitle, and author
  • Metadata
  • Image of the book cover

COMPONENT TWO

The second part of the press kit contains all the information about the book. This includes information about author appearances and reviews. It explains why a reader would want to pick the book up. This is usually done with a press release. Another option instead of the press release is to do a one-page book description and another page on author appearances and events.

  • Press release
    • Should include a hook, summary, reviews and praise, information about launch events and other author appearances, author bio, subject matter of the book (why they want to buy it, how it pertains to the reader), when the book will be published, and where it can be preordered. Remember to keep each of these sections short and to the point.
    • The bottom of the press release should say something like, “For more information, to receive a copy of [title], or to interview [author], contact: [contact information of publicist or publishing house].”
  • Or, a one-page book description and one page about author appearances with dates and locations.

COMPONENT THREE

The third part of the press release is the author bio and photo. While the author bio is also included in the press release, feel free to go into more detail here.

  • Author bio with a photo of author

COMPONENT FOUR

The fourth component of the press kit keeps the book breathing: praise and reviews. Make sure to include key reviews from important people or organizations for your book. Praise is there to show the media that your book is worth taking a look into.

  • Praise and reviews

COMPONENT FIVE

The next part of the press kit allows the media to get a running start on articles and interviews for the author and book. Adding talking points to your press kit will make it that much easier for a busy journalist to write a great piece on your upcoming book release.

  • Talking points
    • These can be talking points about the book for interviews, or a filled-out Q&A with the author (needs to include questions and answers).

COMPONENT SIX

The last component of the press kit is a section on the publisher and who they are. This does not have to be long and can just be a normal publisher bio.

  • Publisher bio

Contents of a One-Pager:

The one-pager is basically a one-page press kit. It also resembles a tip sheet, but it is sent to media outlets instead of salespeople or publishers. The one-pager includes the following:

  1. Title, subtitle, author
  2. Hook, book description
  3. Book cover
  4. One to two blurbs (keep it short)
  5. Author bio
  6. Metadata

What is publicity?

Think of a publicist as an author’s strategist, promoter, organizer, and cheerleader. Publicists are evangelists for the books they are working on. Publicity is often referred to as earned media because it is not paid for. Some examples of publicity for books are articles, author interviews, author appearances, reviews, and blog posts. Publicity depends on a third party to spread the word about an upcoming book release. Because it depends on someone other than the publisher to talk about the book, consumers tend to think it is more trustworthy.

And that’s all there is to it. So go forth and get that earned media for your book.

Pitching in a Pandemic

I’ve read the New York Times article. It certainly doesn’t look great to be sending out media and sales pitches as if all were normal, and as much as I admire the work being done in the #booksareessential campaign, the image of someone holding a book up to their face to mimic a mask makes me a bit uncomfortable. Books are essential, but they are not N90 masks.

As a society in this pandemic, our hierarchy of needs has shifted. Physiological and safety needs are not a given; anyone who has had to go to five different stores to find toilet paper or has had to call the unemployment office for days on end can tell you this. I am telling you this.

To sit down and construct a publicity pitch feels utterly frivolous—more than usual. I love the work I do because I get to communicate with people every day about the books that Ooligan has created. I get to connect with media outlets and people who write stories that I admire and tell them a story of my own about our most recent title, yet right now I struggle to contextualize the necessity of the work I do in the wake of this pandemic. I am not an essential worker, but the books I am tasked with informing people about are still launching and I need to continue with my pitching.

So, after some long reflecting I came up with a few rules to live by in the weeks and months to come.

  1. Don’t act like all is normal. Address the person you are pitching with this in mind. Send them your best wishes and tell them to take care. If ever there was a time to truly personalize and value the human you are speaking to over email, now is it (but in all seriousness, you should be doing this outside of pandemics too). In times like this, small signs of caring can make a big impact.
  2. Be generous with follow up deadlines and emails. With everyone working from home, emails are piling up in inboxes. It is easy to lose track of those you have replied to and those waiting for a reply. We can’t possibly know what is going on in the world of the person who is receiving our email, so be kind when following up on requests.
  3. Avoid the typical pitch-writing techniques. Be clear and communicative about your goals. Speak to your shared interest and try to be helpful. For example, if you want your book on a listicle or gift guide, help the media outlet you are pitching by having something already prepared. Work right now is stressful for everyone, and if you are being helpful the chances of your email being welcomed are greatly improved.

And please remember that books are essential, but they aren’t the essentials. Books can give comfort in difficult times and allow for us to feel connected when environmental factors like this pandemic keep us apart, but they do not usurp safety and health. Avoid hyperbole and do not overstate the importance of your book. There will be many days in the future for that!

The Perfect Content Cocktail: Newsletter Curation & Creation

Organizing and sending out a newsletter involves more than just grabbing random pieces of information and sticking them into a Mailchimp template. Newsletters are a great way for a publisher to give subscribers new information about your titles or the press. As the publicity manager, one of my tasks is to send out quarterly newsletters. But getting people to read them is another story. That’s why I decided to change up how we do our newsletters while simultaneously giving some love to our backlist titles.

Sales-only newsletters do not do much in terms of creating excitement about your newsletter. They can often turn people off from reading because they are overly pushy. It’s okay to want to sell books through your newsletter, and you should. However, there should also be other content inside the newsletter your readers may find interesting or engaging. In short, you need to create the perfect content cocktail. This “cocktail” of content should strike a balance between created content, curated content, and sales materials.

So, what exactly is curated content? According to Stevie Snow, content curation “is the process of finding relevant content from external sources and sharing it with your audience.” It is important to consider that your audience may not always want to hear from your brand all the time. They will appreciate the occasional article or social post showing something else they may be interested in that’s still similar to your brand or company.

Original Content:

Content you or your team have created.

Original content includes blog posts, social media posts, images, etc.

Curated Content:

Content from external sources.

When using curated content, keep in mind these five simple rules created by Curata in 2016.

  1. Only use a small portion of the original article.
  2. Always give credit to the original creator and try to guide visitors to the original publication.
  3. Retitle the content you use.
  4. Add your own creativity and voice to the content you curate.
  5. Try to make sure your notes and ideas are longer than the excerpt you are reposting.

Need help finding relevant curated content? Here are a few sites that provide articles and posts you can save and share with your audience:

Pocket

Scoop.it

Feedly

Content curation is used to help with the creation of newsletters. Coming up with fresh, new content for every newsletter may be difficult. The content curation strategy assists with “putting time back in your day, filling up your content calendar, making a good impression, and staying relevant.”

Sales Content:

Any materials promoting your books and pushing people to buy them.

While putting together a newsletter from scratch may seem daunting, the process speeds up when you learn how to make the perfect content cocktail using 65 percent original content, 25 percent curated content, and 10 percent sales content. With all the information available at our fingertips, it is vital to make it easy for readers to engage with useful content. Creating a mix of content allows you to become a reliable source of information your audience will (hopefully) engage with and enjoy.