Alex Haley, author of the best-selling book "Roots," says that he is suing his publisher for $5 million in punitive damages because he feels in the position of a sharecropper, twice over.
"You see, I really find myself representative of two groups of people, who have been cast in the lote of sharecroppers," Haley said yesterday in a telephone interview from Dubuque, Iowa. "One of them is black people, who have long struggled to throw off their second-class status.
". . . And the second group is writers, who are like sharecroppers in the sense that it is we who sweat and produce the crops the land, the company store, and the cotton gin, and at harvest time they give us what they think we ought to have."THaley charged in suit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court that Doubeday failed to adequately promote the hardcover version of the book in order to increase sales on the paperback version.
He also complained that he had to arrange his own speaking tours and that the book was not properly distributed.
Haley, whose book traces his family history back to the 18th century in the African nation of The Gambia, says that his quarrel was not with individuals within Doubleday but with the corporate structure.
"But it (Roots") is, in its time, the biggest thing there is, and they're still dealing with me on terms made years ago," he explained. "You produce a first-class book and you want to be dealt with in a first-class manner."
Haley's orginal contract was signed with Doubleday in 1964. In 1967 Double sold Dell the paperback rights to the book for a reported $18,000. Those rights, today, could be sold for between $1 and $2 million, according to publishing sources.