Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Case of the Obstinate Movie Star

Tony Curtis wasn’t content to be a famous movie star. He wanted to be a novelist, too.

He started on that path when Doubleday & Company offered him a two-book contract. With the help of a skillful, hands-on editor, his first novel was a commercial success. But only one of them was a gifted writer, and it wasn't Tony Curtis.

His second attempt was problematic from the beginning. First, he kept missing his deadlines. Second, for whatever reason (probably the frequent employment moves in the publishing business), this book ended up with a different editor. And because of Curtis’ personal circumstances at the time, he didn't have the same face-to-face relationship as he did with his first editor. Still, the new editor put in substantial time and effort and provided detailed comments on Curtis’ partial draft.

Then Doubleday got his "final" draft. Curtis had ignored much of the editor’s advice. To make matters worse, the ending just didn’t work. The publishing house determined that the manuscript was unsalvageable, terminated the contract, and asked for its advance back.

Tony Curtis refused, and Doubleday sued. Fortunately for Doubleday, the publishing contract required Curtis to provide a satisfactory manuscript. That may sound like a “get out of jail free” clause that allows a publisher to change its mind for any reason at all, but it isn’t. According to the courts, a publisher can only invoke the clause if it is honestly dissatisfied with the quality or completeness of the manuscript. Because Doubleday acted in good faith, it got its advance back.

So if your editor has suggestions for improving your manuscript, you might want to listen.

Join me on January 23 and every fourth Thursday throughout 2014 for a new series called “A Writer’s Guide to the First Amendment.”

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Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her new book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013) is available from and other retailers. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at


  1. Good post, Kathryn. Thanks for sharing it. I smiled with this story, having seen Tony Curtis in the Peter Ustinov adaptation of Agatha Christie's "Murder In Three Acts."

    1. BTW, Kathryn, I suggested the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library purchase Writers in Wonderland and put a hold on for In God We Trust. (Though with the ruling last year on DOMA and prop 8, it might be due for a revision.)


    2. Jeff, I would love to update "In God We Trust," but it has a traditional publisher who is unlikely to agree at this point. I almost wish it would go out of print so I could get the rights back . . .