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WordWork™ Wall of Shame
(and Musts to Avoid)

Abusive treatment of writers by editors, publishers, and other functionaries in the market economy is an increasingly widespread phenomenon. I'm not speaking here merely of underpaying us severely, a behavior now pandemic in the publishing industry. Nor am I speaking of the minor and inadvertent mishaps to which any collective enterprise is prone -- the occasional check gone astray or paragraph mangled in the editing process. I'm talking about deliberate lies, deceits, treacheries, and diverse forms of deviousness and chicanery on the parts of editors, publishers, and others with whom writers work nowadays.

Enough is enough. It's time to take the gloves off. They're not going to reinstitute the pillory, a much-missed feature of our public life. So the only choice left is to start naming names.

Most professional writers' organizations provide advisory spaces -- in their printed newsletters and at their websites -- for members to use in identifying editors and publishers who behave badly, and for warning their colleagues of the incompetents, bullies, cheats, and other scoundrels who infest the management/capital side of publishing. That's all well and good -- except that those sections of those house organs generally limit access to members only, so that the miscreants never face an open public accusation, never have to answer for their acts, and never face the social opprobrium that results from forthright disclosure of appalling behavior.

For me, that ends now. Henceforth, when I'm mistreated I'm going to blow the whistle, loudly, right here, where anyone can hear it, by listing people, publications, and other entities with which I refuse to work under any circumstances because direct experience has shown them to be unscrupulous. I'll offer short synopses of these misdemeanors, giving the particulars and specifying the wrongdoers -- the individuals involved, and the periodicals, publishing companies, and corporations or other institutions for which they work. If any of these hijackers and connivers have the gall to object, I'll call their bluff by beginning to post the documentation. "Proof," as Paul Simon sings, "proof is the bottom line for everyone."

In addition, I'll also designate -- on a separate "Musts to Avoid" list -- publications and publishing houses that have not done me any actual injury (because we never did business), but with whom I've negotiated and whose assignments and commissions I've turned down because I find their contractual terms onerous in the extreme. No good reason not to out them as well, while I'm at it; maybe I can spare another writer the time wasted by assuming that they offer decent terms and negotiate in good faith.

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Wall of Shame

  • Paul Kopeikin Gallery (2001): In the summer of 2001, a Google search of the internet with my name as the keywords turned up two essays of mine posted illegally at this gallery's website. Further investigation disclosed a massive copyright infringement there: 53 essays by three dozen writers from two dozen periodicals, all posted without permission. Kopeikin became extremely insulting and abusive when I confronted him with this theft of intellectual property. I initiated a one-man campaign that forced him to strip all that pirated content from his site, and am now pursuing payment for his unauthorized usage of my own work through the National Writers Union. (For more on this, click here.)

  • Janet Swan Bush, Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown (1997): Swan Bush called with an urgent assignment -- an introduction to a book of images of high-tech invasive surgery by photographer Max Aguilera-Hellweg, The Sacred Heart. I told her I didn't work without a satisfactory contract, and that I didn't sign contracts requiring me to surrender copyright or other rights or containing lunatic indemnification clauses. She promised me (verbally) an unproblematic contract, insisted that I start work on the piece as the deadline was imminent. I did so (big mistake), submitting a working draft that everyone loved. The contract arrived with the galley proofs, and -- surprise! -- it was an all-rights contract with a demented indemnification clause. Instead of taking responsibility for this, Swan Bush simply turned me over to the publisher's legal department to resolve it on my own. By holding my essay back in the face of their deadline pressure, I eventually managed to get the most offensive terms of the contract modified to the point of tolerability. But I would never again work with either this editor or that publisher.

  • Leah Bendavid-Val and Walton Rawls, National Geographic Society (1998): In July of '98, Rawls -- on behalf of the Society's Book Division -- contacted me to commission an essay for a forthcoming compilation of photographs from National Geographic. The fee was excellent: $5000. He told me that it was a work-for-hire contract. I told him that, on principle, I signed no such contracts, and turned down the assignment. In early October Rawls contacted me again, to say that he'd negotiated a contract modification that met my requirements, and urged me to get started on the research and writing. I then received a letter from Bendavid-Val, head of the Book Division, welcoming me to the project and promising to supply the necessary research materials. A few days later the contract arrived; it was, of course -- as both Rawls and Bendavid-Val knew it would be -- the very same contract I'd rejected in July. Bendavid-Val subsequently confessed that, back in August, the Society's counsel had refused to make the changes I requested. Confronted with this, Rawls refused to accept responsibility for any of it. I wrote a letter to them, for circulation in their editorial department, asking to be put permanently on a list of writers not to be called for assignments under any circumstances. (Footnote: They were later sued -- and lost the case -- by a photographer whose work they'd illegally included in a CD-ROM compilation. Gladdened my heart.)

  • Arthur L. Carter, New York Observer (1997): This real-estate magnate demanded that I donate my electronic rights to him, in perpetuity, for no additional payment, if I wanted to continue writing the column I'd premiered in that publication in 1988. I walked instead -- after an unsuccessful attempt to organize the Observer's other freelance contributors (including Hilton Kramer, Todd Gitlin, and Rex Reed) in opposition to this greedy, bullying demand. (click here for more information - needs link)

  • The American Indian Culture and Research Journal from the American Indian Studies Center of UCLA (1996): A paper on the photographer Edward S. Curtis that I'd delivered at a 1993 conference on photography of Native Americans (not held at UCLA) was included in a compilation of proceedings submitted by the conference organizers and sponsors to this peer-reviewed scholarly journal for publication, without prior notice to the participants. I only found out about this when I received a set of galley proofs of my own essay, ready for publication -- along with an all-rights contract turning over copyright and all subsidiary rights to UCLA. I could see how an academic desperate for the publication credential, with a facsimile of the published version in hand, could be tempted to submit to such blackmail. Fortunately, I'm not in that position. All attempts to negotiate an improved version of the contract failed; so, reluctantly, I pulled my paper from the proceedings. (For more on this, click here.)

  • American Visions (1995): This magazine addressing African American life commissioned an essay on the photographer/filmmaker/composer Gordon Parks for its print edition. This feature-length essay eventually ended up in the database of Infotrac, an online content aggregator, without my permission or copyright notice, and without any additional payment to me. Correspondence with the editor and publisher over this went unanswered.

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Musts to Avoid

  • Abbeville Press: Non-negotiable all-rights contract for a book introduction -- with a particularly ludicrous indemnification clause intended to protect them, as the assigning editor told me, "against trouble not yet invented."

  • Artforum: Anthony Korner, the publisher, and Jack Bankowsky, the editor, actually believe that publishing a writer's work entitles them to share the copyright of the published essay.

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Copyright © 2001, 2002 by A. D. Coleman. All rights reserved. For reprint permissions contact Image/World Syndication Services, POB 040078, Staten Island, NY 10304-0002 USA;T/F (718) 447-3091,