Morality Clause

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 06 2010

Do authors of MG [middle grade] and YA [young adult] have morality clauses in their contracts with either the agent or the publisher? Just curious with all the scandals going on lately.

I’m assuming by “the scandals” you mean Hollywood scandals like Tiger Woods and Jesse James. I don’t think I’ve been so out of the loop that I’ve missed something else.

To the best of my knowledge the only authors who might be asked to sign morality clauses are authors writing for the Christian market and Christian publishers. In fact, I think morality clauses are only in some Christian publisher contracts. I don’t think the larger houses require them for any writer. However, this is not my area of expertise (Christian publishers). Although she doesn’t represent middle grade or YA, if you have questions about the Christian market, you should ask Rachelle Gardner, another agent blogger.


15 responses to “Morality Clause”

  1. I hadn't even considered that a morality clause might exist for writers, but I'm glad to know now that if it ever crosses my mind I don't have to worry about it!

  2. Avatar Bessie says:

    Also check out this website:

    I don't write "Christian" centered books, but Chip MacGregor and Rachelle Gardner are still on my daily list of must-read blogs because they offer information and insight that 99 percent of the time relates to all writing, not just that with a Christian focus.

  3. Avatar Bernita says:

    Bessie, I agree. I do too.

  4. Avatar Kimber An says:

    A morality clause may not be required, but I think all writers of children's fiction ought to have their own.

    It's not what your morals are.

    It's all about being more concerned with how your words and actions effect young people, placing their needs before your own ambitions.

    Young people deserve only the best, but I've read way too many stories by aspiring authors who really didn't care about their audience at all. In fact, some of them seemed downright hostile to teens in particular.

    However, I recently read an agent's post in which she states that she can always tell when a writer doesn't understand and appreciate young people. It shows.

    I find that reassuring.

  5. Avatar E.J. Wesley says:

    Interesting … I could see how a morality clause might be prudent on a publisher's part, especially as it pertains to authors of YA/MG. If the author of "The Fabulous Petting Zoo Detective" was getting DUIs every other week and/or assaulting (by ‘assaulting I mean sleeping with, on webcam) mall Santa’s, I could see how it might hurt sales (not just of the author, but of the entire company).

    However, assuming this isn't an issue of hitting it big and going crazy — I mean, Petting Zoo Detective is huge — chances are there were issues before contracts were signed, etc.

    How much of it is on the publisher to research the writer before getting into bed with them (see what I did there)? I feel like the publisher has the right to fire you (just like any employer) if you go all Britney Spears on them. From my understanding, even if you have a multi-book deal they can still opt not to publish future books. Sure, they might lose whatever they've invested in you up to that point (advance, etc.), but so does any employer who has to let someone go. In that sense, I think an MC would be extraneous.

    I’m assuming the person who asked the question might be referring to paying back said advance, and if that’s the case, there’s no way I’d sign an agreement (as an author) like that based upon my previous logic. If they don’t do the research to discover that I’m running some crazy foot fetish website on the side (I’m not, btw, just hands) then I shouldn’t be penalized (outside of maybe being fired and never publishing another puppy picture book) when they do.

    Agents are a different issue. From what I know (see – very little) most good agent/writer agreements have termination options built in, so if an agent felt you were committing career murder/suicide – murdering theirs/killing your own – they could simply bow out per the terms of the contract.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    The SCBWI Bulletin mentioned a couple years back that Random House UK had a morality clause for its children's writers.

  7. Avatar Eileen says:

    As a YA writer I have never been asked to sign a morality code.

    Alas, I fear that unless one hits JK Rowling type status, most authors are not "famous" and the press is not so concerned if we're sleeping around, hanging with Lindsey at the bars or otherwise causing trouble and acting like idiots. Ask yourself how many authors would you recognize on site? Plus, most of us spend our time inside beating our heads on our desks as we try and get a story line to work out.

  8. From my experience, that's more of an issue with school visits, where authors come under the same district policies regarding background checks and supervision as any other outside adult visitor to the school.

    I've heard that in the UK this has been more of an issue. Not sure if there's a specific reason why, though. I can't think of any case in which a children's author in the US has been sued or even dropped by a publisher over morality issues, and on the whole, authors in the US are a lot better behaved than they used to be.

  9. Avatar Marva says:

    On the Huffington Post there's a recent case of a children's author being arrested with child porn.

  10. Avatar Malia Sutton says:

    If someone is writing for children or YA and they need a morality clause in their contract, they shouldn't be writing for children or YA.

  11. I fully agree with you.

  12. I strongly agree with your analysis.

  13. I don't have a problem with morality clauses. As a teacher, it pains me to see a person that one of my students idolizes to fall from grace. Hell, it even hurts me. I feel very strongly that if you involve yourself in a child's life, even indirectly, you should be a person worth looking up to.

    Now, if only the professional athletes had the same clause….

  14. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    sorry…deleted my first comment as I didn't finish it! Sheesh…what I said was: Actually, there is a statement in my contracts that I always have Jessica remove, stating that my work contains "nothing scandalous or obscene" among other things, since what I'm writing is VERY explicit and edgy erotic romance. And, since scandal and obscenity are often in the eye of the beholder, I was uncomfortable signing that.

    There is, however, nothing regarding my personal morality or actions that I can find, after glancing through the contract. This is with Kensington, btw.

  15. Avatar Rachelle says:

    Some Christian publishers include "moral turpitude" clauses in their contracts, but not all of them.

    The clause states that if the author is publicly accused of an act of moral turpitude (substantiated by the preponderance of evidence, a court ruling, or the Author’s own admission), which could include the violation of a law or anything else that could cause public scorn or affect the sales of the book, then the publisher has the right to cancel the contract and recoup any advances they've paid out.

    As the agent, I always make sure I add language ensuring this clause only comes into effect if there is clear proof of the violation.

    We also have language in the contract that calls for mediation in case of a dispute.