Two weeks ago, I sent an e-mail to HarperCollins (USA), specifically, a publicity contact. Why? Because Snowy Fictions advocates for free speech and liberty in the arts. We are concerned about the growing use of morality contract clauses, sensitivity readers, censorship (both self and imposed) and dropping authors.
Previous articles on Snowy Fictions discussed Hachette dropping filmmaker Woody Allen, Penguin’s imprint Ebury censoring a rape survivor, and the toxicity of compelled speech. As you can gather, free speech is pressing issue in multinational publishing.
Because of that, I thought writing an e-mail to HarperCollins was absolutely necessary, and I plan to send similar ones to other big publishing houses soon.
You can read my e-mail here:
The response I got? Nothing. Complete silence, which leaves a negative impression on HarperCollins (and News Corp, owned by the Murdoch family). I believe big publishers do not consider free speech to be something to strive towards. It’s just an inconvenient principle.
You know what isn’t? Following around your authors, and condemning them for wrongthink.
Yesterday, historian Dr. David Starkey made a poorly-worded remark about how slavery was not genocide. Whilst his statement is certainly true (slavery is not the same as genocide), I believe that Starkey could have worded his sentiment better. To be honest, however, every single human being on this planet are prone to making off-colour remarks and using poor wording.
That doesn’t make you the worst person to ever live.
Starkey’s wording was brutal and too-the-point, and I can see that it does not fit into the sentiment of today’s culture. That said, his words are not violent, and certainly do not justify this reaction by HarperCollins UK on Twitter:
The views expressed by David Starkey in his recent interview are abhorrent and we unreservedly condemn them. Our last book with the author was in 2010, and we will not be publishing further books with him. We are reviewing his existing backlist in light of his comments and views.
— HarperCollinsUK (@HarperCollinsUK) July 2, 2020
This is chilling. A publishing company is ‘reviewing his existing backlist’ (i.e a writers legacy of published works) because the author upset people. Wow. This is certainly not normal behaviour of a publisher, and should be condemned from writers and publishers alike.
I wonder what HarperCollins means by ‘reviewing’ an existing backlist. Does that mean not reissuing them? Or putting little disclaimers? What’s also concerning are the authors who are gleeful about this, as if it would never happen to them (because they are pure angels, or something), or that there is a moral justification for censorship.
Because god forbid an author or a book makes you uncomfortable or upset. And last time I checked, saying something off-colour did not bring about the apocalypse or the end of the world.
The amount of cowardice in the publishing industry is immense, and shows no signs of slowing down. If these publishing houses do not want to be compared to book-burners and Orwellian tyrants, then they should stop acting like them.
Otherwise, the future of publishing looks awfully bleak.