Seth Grahame-Smith's career blossomed after publishing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a zombie remix of the Jane Austen novel. The book was a surprise bestseller, quickly followed by the historical horror mashup Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, film deals for both books, and a new line of work as a Hollywood screenwriter and producer.
Except now he's being sued by his publisher, Hachette.
Back in 2010, Grahame-Smith signed a $1 million deal for two books, the first of which was a follow-up to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The second novel was meant to be on a new topic, to be delivered in 2013. After 34 months of delays, Grahame-Smith submitted a manuscript so disappointing that Hachette replied with a lawsuit.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the publisher has several problems with the new book. Along with being late and the wrong length, Hachette describes it as "in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work."
It sounds like Grahame-Smith attempted a thematic follow-up to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which The New Yorker's original review described as "eighty-five per cent Austen." The book retained most of Austen's original text, with additional material introducing zombies to the Regency-era setting.
In a general sense, this kind of derivative work is legal if you're using a text in the public domain—in other words, if you're not trying to publish Harry Potter fanfiction. But in this specific case, Hachette was clearly expecting an original work. The publisher's legal complaint states that the new manuscript was meant to be “original with Author in all respects," adding that it "is not comparable in style and quality to Smith’s wholly original bestseller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."
Grahame-Smith hasn't commented publicly on the lawsuit, but Hachette claims that he has no plans to repay the remaining half of his $1 million advance. That $500,000 is more than enough reason for the publisher to sue for breach of contract.