Is Suing Someone Going Against Christian Values?

Michelle is a novelist. Her first literary agent got her a three-book deal. The advances were coming until they didn't come anymore. Should Michelle sue her former agent to get this money back?

QUESTION: Michelle in Miami is a novelist. Her first literary agent got her a three-book deal. The advances were coming until they didn’t come anymore. Her agent was receiving the checks and keeping them. Should Michelle sue her former agent to get this money back? Is that a Christian thing to do?

ANSWER: The normal deal is the agent has rights to the contract, and their cut is paid to them directly by the publisher and your balance is paid to you by the publisher.

My rule of thumb is it very seldom works out to anybody’s benefit for the lawyers to go to court. We just kind of know that as a practical basis. Christians, hypothetically, should be able to sit down—anyone who’s of their right mind and has honor and integrity—and work through a disagreement. There’s a whole procedure in the Bible in Matthew to first go to the person, then go to the person with a witness, then go to the person and bring them to their pastor and talk it through there. I’ve seen some pretty bizarre instances of people trying to follow that literally, but the idea is that we ought to be able to sit down and take care of it.

What I’ve kind of come down to in our situation as a believer is I almost never sue, because I don’t want that reputation. I’m not afraid to if I have to, though, because there are times that you’re not left with any other reasonable action. I would try everything to give the person every chance to do the right thing. Then lastly, if they have absolutely no money, it serves no purpose to sue them, because you can’t get anything from them. A lawsuit doesn’t make people magically have money—quite the contrary. From a practical standpoint, all you’re doing is smacking somebody because they deserve to be smacked, and they probably do, but it just costs you some more money.

Truthfully, she’s due a cut of anything once you earn through your advances. She won’t get that from you until you’ve met the $4,200 plus interest payback. Then you’ve got an obligation to honor the contract even though she didn’t. She was stressed out, freaked out, stupid, and it left her with no money and no integrity. But she probably wasn’t a crook. It probably wasn’t a scam that she set up. She was just dumb and got herself into a pinch and didn’t know how to handle it. It leaves her looking like a crook because that’s the net result to you.

I think you have to make sure other folks don’t hire her as an agent. You need to be in touch with that publisher, and however you heard about her, wherever that connection was made, you need to let them know. She’s got problems, and she doesn’t need to be trusted with handling money. That’s a reasonable thing, and that’s not you hitting back. That’s just you saying, “This is a bad one.”

I don’t think you’re going to get any money by suing her. You’re going to spend more than $4,200 in lawyer’s fees chasing this chick. I think you can mix in there pretty quickly that it’s not going to spiritually move the needle for you or her. I have gone after folks a time or two where I knew they had the money, where they messed me over, they were sitting there with the money, they’re just being twerps, and in those cases, I never even got paid. I don’t want to put out there that I’m afraid to go after somebody, because I’m not.

I have trouble getting the idea that you never, under any circumstances, sue anyone. But I almost never do. Being transparent, a large portion of that is the practicality side—not just the spiritual side. You do have to keep that in mind. I think what happens is that Scripture or the faith side of this discussion forces me to go to that person and try to reason with someone who oftentimes is unreasonable. Try to find other ways to put pressure on them to bring the thing around. It forces you to think differently than just getting mad and hitting someone.