Design and lifestyle gurus Chip and Joanna Gaines have, over the past decade, built a business empire worth nearly $1 billion, by some estimates.
The Waco, Texas-based couple were described in a Variety profile last month as having “unrivaled reach and influence” in the “home, hearth, food and family” sectors, which includes “curating” the Magnolia Network, a 24/7 cable channel they co-own with Warner Brothers Discovery.
Chip, 48, grew up in Dallas, where his mom worked for a company that published books for late televangelist Billy Graham.
“The impact that man has had on my life is immeasurable,” Chip said of Graham in a 2015 interview.
Joanna, 44, is also deeply spiritual, telling Oprah Winfrey last year that she often hears what she believes to be the literal voice of God.
“I’m very realistic,” she said. “I need to hear it. I’m literal. And so that’s how He shows up for me.”
But a venerable New York City literary agent who has represented not only the Gaineses in book deals, but Pope John Paul II as well, claims they’ve acted far from pious in their business dealings with him.
“While Joanna and Chip Gaines brand themselves as moral Christians who purportedly operate in an ethical manner insofar as they treated [me], nothing could be further from the truth,” David Vigliano says in a lawsuit filed Wednesday and obtained by The Daily Beast.
In the suit, which was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Vigliano, who has worked with authors from David Mamet to Kurt Cobain to Suzanne Somers, claims the Gaineses “outrageous and arrogant breach of a publishing agreement” in 2017 cheated him out of millions.
Vigliano, in the simplest of terms, was “screwed” by Chip and Joanna, according to his lawyer.
“The reality is, we don’t have access to what the sales of the books were, so we don’t know exactly what is owed to us,” Vigliano’s attorney, Larry Hutcher, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “We need an accounting.”
The Gaineses, who did not respond to a request for comment via their present literary agent, Byrd Leavell of the United Talent Agency (UTA), will be served with copies of the lawsuit in the coming days, Hutcher said.
UTA is also named as a defendant in the suit. Agency executives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The lawsuit describes Chip and Joanna as “internationally known reality television stars who gained vast fame and recognition for their show Fixer Upper on the HGTV network, which aired from 2013-2018.” And although they have both become successes in their own right, Joanna has been the main draw in recent years, teaming up with Target and Anthropologie, for example—but not with Chip—to create bedding and home decor lines, according to the suit.
In 2015, Vigliano brokered a three-book contract for the couple with HarperCollins. Sales were “highly successful,” and at completion, HarperCollins offered a new five-book deal, the lawsuit states.
“However, since it was apparent that Joanna was the driving force behind the Gaines’ success, HarperCollins was only interested in entering into a new book deal with Joanna individually, not Chip,” the filing contends.
Joanna’s new deal came with a $12.5 million advance, for which she was to deliver two cookbooks and three non-fiction books “on a mutually agreed upon topic,” the suit goes on. They would be published over five consecutive years, and Joanna stood to earn an additional $250,000 bonus per book, depending on sales.
In addition to a list of various clauses pertaining to such things as the right of first refusal for a sixth book, the contract Joanna signed designated Vigliano as her “sole and exclusive agent” for the life of the five-book contract, and that he would be paid a 7.5 percent commission on sales of those five books, in perpetuity, according to the lawsuit.
At first, things went smoothly, Vigliano claims. Joanna delivered her first two books, Magnolia Table: A collection of Recipes for Gathering, and Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A collection of Recipes for Gathering, and Vigliano got his commissions in full.
However, in 2018, the Gaineses fired their manager and hired UTA—and that’s when things started to fall apart for Vigliano, he says.
First, the lawsuit states, Chip and Joanna wound down their company, C&J Gaines, and replaced it with a new one called Magnolia Brands, LLC. Then, on July 7, 2020, the pair “executed a purported amendment” to the 2017 contract with HarperCollins. This cut down Joanna’s obligation to the publisher from five books to four, one of which would now be written by Chip, not Joanna.
As a result, Vigliano would only be getting paid for three books by Joanna and one by Chip, “whose popularity and fame does not match Joanna’s,” his lawsuit notes, adding that Chip was not a party to the original agreement and cannot be added to it without Vigliano’s permission.
“Joanna’s books are bestsellers and her brand encompasses all areas of food and lifestyle,” the suit continues. “Chip has not found the same success individually. HarperCollins knew this and excluded Chip from the Agreement, despite previously entering into a book deal with both Joanna and Chip.”
Additionally, Vigliano claims UTA negotiated a “side agreement” for Joanna to publish an additional book, The Stories We Tell, which was published last month. Joanna received a $7 million advance for the project, “with more expected to be earned in royalties,” according to the lawsuit. And since the book was “delivered and published before any of the remaining three books in the Agreement,” the suit says it should thus count as the third of the five titles in the original contract.
Treating it as separate, according to Vigliano, was “an intentional breach” of the deal intended to cut him out of his rightful proceeds.
Vigliano is asking for “no less than” $2 million, plus interest, from the Gaineses and UTA for breach of contract and tortious interference.
“It’s really a very simple story,” Hutcher told The Daily Beast. “My gut tells me that [Vigliano] got caught in the crossfire between the desire of the Gaineses to oust their existing management, and [Vigliano was] collateral damage.”
He went on, “It’s important [to consider] who you get into business with… These are people who profess to have the highest Christian values. But they had no problem ignoring my client’s rights, so it all comes down to character.”
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