Hachette has dropped plans to publish filmmaker Woody Allen’s memoir after staff walk-outs and controversy.
Woody Allen is no stranger to controversy. Although not formally convicted in a legal court, the mere mention of his name will stir up strong reactions. This article is not a comment on Woody Allen’s character or his actions. It’s about the troubling trend of publishers dropping authors when public pressure heats up.
Remember: Hachette already agreed to publish Woody Allen’s memoir. They were fully aware of Allen’s controversies, yet decided to go ahead. They only stopped when they realised it was too much of a hassle, and wanted to take the easy way out. Hachette’s decision is not a triumph of justice, rather it is a declaration of cowardice by a publisher too spineless to stand up for their authors.
Of course, Woody Allen is not the first author this has happened to. Milo Yiannopoulos had a book deal with S&S, that fell apart due to comments about child sexual abuse. To my knowledge, he was not given the chance to explain to Simon & Schuster his comments, and why he made them.
All that mattered was public opinion, made out of an angry mob, who deemed Milo too big of a risk. Neither Yiannopoulos nor Allen are the first authors this has happened to. The young adult genre is notorious for ‘cancelling’ authors. And this begs the question: Why is it, when authors are being attacked by the masses, the publishers never stand up for them?
Instead, we have publishers ‘picking a side’ and abandoning their authors, despite agreeing to publish a book. And before someone chirps that publishers are under no obligation to publish anything, you are right. But that doesn’t make them morally righteous or correct. Plenty of companies follow the law. That doesn’t make them special or deserving of protection from valid criticism.
Worse, is that alot of this cheering comes from authors, who see no issue of a publisher abandoning an author. Probably because these authors never see themselves as being the victims of a vicious mob. They can’t comprehend themselves as ever having the wrong politics or ideas. This level of ignorance is troubling.
There’s a saying my mother tells me whenever I discuss the Reign of Terror in France: “Revolutions devour their own children.” One moment, you are cheering the beheading of someone. The next, you are the one who is about to lose their head. Mobs turn on each other very fast the moment someone does not conform.
It also sends a troublesome message to writers. If we are convicted in the court of public opinion, we can never get a book deal. And before someone screams ‘you can self-publish’ please have a reality check. Self-publishing is a fine option for some authors, but not for all. There are writers who would benefit greatly from traditional publishing for their book to reach a target audience.
Traditional publishing can’t accept every manuscript that is submitted, nor should it. But ‘vetting’ books based on potential controversy is absolutely awful. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I want books to be controversial. To make us think. To talk about taboo subjects. To challenge the status quo. Literature is boring when everyone thinks in the ‘correct’ way.
So, to conclude this blog post, I’d urge any publisher to grow a spine. Stand up for your authors more. If you are unwilling to do that, then have the guts to say so on your website. Don’t make contracts with authors that you are willing to break at the first sign of trouble. Ask yourself: Do you really want a culture where potentially great books can’t get published if they are ‘problematic’?
Now is the time for powerful literature, not publishers who bend the knee.
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