Morality Contracts, the Hot New Publishing Trend

Writerly Wednesday

Today The Guardian released a juicy bit of publishing news . With the #MeToo movement in full swing, the hot new trend in publishing are morality contracts.

What the heck is that?

In plain terms, a morality contract reserves the right to terminate a contract with your publisher if for some reason your conduct is not in line with the “public conventions and morals” of society.  Essentially, instead of judging the book by its literary merits, morality contracts serve to judge authors by their personal lives. This has me thinking: can we separate the lives of authors from their works?

Being Good, or Good Writing?

Censorship is a dirty word. Part of the nature of good writing is the ability to write from an honest place. But reputation matters too, even if you aren’t Sherman Alexie or Junot Diaz, both of which have been recently accused of some serious sexual harrassment charges. Some would say that the “outings” of certain men in Hollywood and in the literary world is a “witch hunt,” of sorts, and that morality contracts are censorship of art.

But here’s the thing: morality contracts aren’t that new. They’ve actually been around since 1921 when Fatty Arbuckle was arrested for rape and murder. In 1940, the House of Un-American Activities Committee used morality contracts to blacklist the “Hollywood 10.”

Would you still pick up a book by an author once you knew that they’d behaved in a “predatory” way? 

I want to believe that I could separate the art from the author, but truthfully, I don’t know if I can. Finding out that your favourite author is a creep is a lot like peeking behind the fence at a theme park and catching your favourite character with his big bobble head off, revealing a sad, tired, sweaty guy smoking a cigarette.

Is good writing enough? 

 The Death of the Author

Depending on who you ask, the Author is already “dead” once it is sent out into the world. As readers, we aren’t supposed read the Author in between the lines, because the Author isn’t there. The story is the story. It’s the rough equivalent of kids whose parents are murderers. The book is its own, separate entity.

So, sure. Everyone judges a book by its cover, but can you also judge a book by its author?

The line between the author and their work is always going to be muddied. You love the book, so you love the author too.


When it comes to art and morals, where do you draw the line?







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