It's rare that I'm pissed at something a publisher has done. After all, I'm practically a book cheerleader! Fewer things make me happier than spreading the word about books I think others will love. But, right now, I'm hell fire fighting mad.
The news broke that Simon & Schuster, one of the major publishing houses, gave a quarter million dollar advance to a Breitbart editor as part of a book deal. If you don't know Breitbart, good! Because it's a fake news site that promotes white nationalism and neo-Naziism.
I won't say the author-to-be's name because I don't think he's worthy of anyone's time or attention, but suffice it to say that his only credential is being a professional troll. In short, he's a jackass. So we'll call him Jack for short.
Jack certainly isn't the first shady character to get a Big 5 book deal, so you may be wondering why this one irks me so much. Well, Jack is OPENLY a neo-Nazi. He's proud of it and doesn't even try to deny it. It'd be like Klan members going grocery shopping in their robes, shouting hate through the aisles.
Since Jack is open about his hate, that means by giving him a book deal Simon & Schuster is profiting off systemic oppression and systems of power that hurt others. They're funding and sponsoring white nationalism. They're paying a vile bigot to reach a wider platform, which he'll use to continue hurting others. He has targeted people in the past and they've received death threats.
This isn't some celebrity memoir or YouTube star getting a book deal just because the publisher knows it'll sell. Those are necessary to subsidize the literary award winners that don't sell as much and those, by and large, don't actively seek to promote a platform of bigotry.
But Jack's book deal is different. Yes, Simon & Schuster thinks it'll sell, else they wouldn't bring it into the world, but the problem is that they're willing to compromise the integrity of their publishing house and slap the faces of every author with a marginalized identity they publish.
At some point in business you have to choose between money and principles. That's not to say that you don't have principles if you're making money or that you won't make money if you have principles---it's not a zero sum game. But there will inevitably be times when businesses have to make the decision of whether to accept or reject a shitty deal (and the Jack deal is most certainly that).
Publishers shouldn't have to accepted a shitty deal. Publishers should have diversified enough products and revenue streams that a shitty deal isn't going to make or break their year. Rather than legitimizing and normalizing a neo-Nazi whose only professional credential is being a troll, they should be in a financial place where they don't have to entertain such a horrid idea.
For example, if you want to make more money as a publisher, publish more mystery and romance! The market has shown for decades that those readers are insatiable and always hungry for more. But rather than doing the sensible (and, frankly, ethical) thing, they're choosing to cater to neo-Nazis.
If a publisher is willing to stoop THAT low in their business and pander to the market of white nationalists, I cannot support it. Not with my dollars and not with my blog's airtime. That's why you won't see me review any more Simon & Schuster releases here. If they want to buddy up to Breitbart, they can coax them to review new releases.
What can we do about it?
I've spent a lot of time reading up on this and listening to other people's opinions in the literary internet. It's certainly a multifaceted issue, so I've outlined some of the most common arguments I've come across and included some food for thought.
Argument: Just support authors with marginalized voices. Buy their books and show the publishing industry that's what we want!
Yes, we should absolutely be supporting authors with marginalized voices (POC, LGBTQIA, non-Christian, differently abled, etc.). However, shouldn't people have been doing that anyway?
Continuing to do something you're (in theory) already doing is not a form of protest. Jack didn't get his book deal because there weren't enough people buying books by authors with marginalized voices. Jack got a book deal because Simon & Schuster is pandering to hate and those who perpetuate it.
Argument: But it's free speech! Publishers publish things all the time that don't reflect their personal views or their views as a company.
It's one thing to publish opinions that are different from yours, but it's another thing entirely to publish vile bigotry. Saying you don't like pistachio ice cream is an opinion. Saying you hate black people might also be an opinion, but it stands to reason that you will act upon your beliefs. And, unlike your ice cream preferences, acting on your beliefs about entire groups of people can be dangerous.
Also, while we're on the subject, here's a distinction worth noting. 99% of the people who cry "free speech" don't even know what the First Amendment really is.
The First Amendment opens with the words "Congress shall make no law..." Therefore, saying a white nationalist shouldn't get a book deal is not a free speech issue because it does not involve a congressional ruling.
Simon & Schuster can legally publish a book by a neo-Nazi if they want (and, sadly, they do). This isn't a matter of free speech--it's the marketplace of ideas, where ideas are subject to the whims of the free market. If people like the idea, it'll be absorbed into the collective consciousness or a group within the society. Translation: you can put any idea out there, but the market ultimately decides what's valuable and what ideas prevail.
Argument: But Simon & Schuster publishes a lot of books between all their imprints. Won't you see a huge gap in your home library?
Not necessarily. I read somewhere that there are 1800+ publishers in the US alone and if you add self-published books to that, you could read hundreds of books a year and never touch one that had been published by the Big 5 (which are the major publishing houses worldwide: Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, and Harper Collins, in addition to Simon & Schuster).
The Big 5 are just the biggest publishers with the most marketing dollars, so their books are the ones you hear most about. You might have to do a little more searching, but there are absolutely other books out there. And they're damn good books at that!
In fact, I've been reading a lot of books by independent presses myself lately. Here are a couple of my favorite presses:
- Two Dollar Radio
- Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM)
- Graywolf Press
- Hyacinth Girl Press
- Haymarket Books
- Tin House Books
- Coffee House Press
- Uncivilized Books
- Bottlecap Press
- University of [insert college here] Press (lots of great university presses out there! I think University of Georgia is especially good.)
Argument: Just boycott the one imprint that's publishing Jack's book--don't hurt the other authors Simon & Schuster publishes. Some of them are marginalized and could really use the support, and this is not their fault.
That sounds well and good, except that those who are boycotting the Threshold Books imprint (Simon & Schuster's conservative imprint) probably weren't buying from that imprint anyway. You can't speak with your dollars by not buying a thing that you were never buying anyway. You can't boycott something you were never supporting before. That's not how boycotting works.
The marginalized authors Simon & Schuster publishes could absolutely use the support, and no one is going to tell you you're wrong for supporting them. Do what you feel is best, though I would encourage you to think carefully about supporting other, non-marginalized Simon & Schuster authors because the people making decisions at that publishing house seem content to take money that their other authors (the ones who are actually talented, not just loud) deserve and give it to white nationalists.
Argument: The question we should really be asking is why is there even a market for this?
That is something we should be asking. However, as sad as it is, there's always going to be a market for hate. There has always been--that's not new.
Nonetheless, just because there's a market for something doesn't mean that need should be supplied. There's a market for hit men, but that doesn't mean we should give them billboards to advertise their message.
Yes, it's problematic that there's a market for a book by a white nationalist, but I doubt there's anything we can do about the market itself. These bigots aren't going to disappear (as much as we wish they would). What we can do is act against the products that embolden that market.
Argument: We can't expect readers who aren't publishing-adjacent to know whose imprints are whose when they're just walking through the bookstore.
True. Most readers have no idea how imprints work or how many imprints might be under one parent publisher. But as Maya Angelou said, "when you know better you do better." Not every reader is familiar with Simon & Schuster's many imprints, but I hope those who are will consider their buying power carefully when it comes to Simon & Schuster's titles.
Argument: It's not like Simon & Schuster is only publishing white nationalists now. They have some pretty big imprints dedicated to publishing marginalized voices. We shouldn't punish those other imprints by boycotting Simon & Schuster when they had no control over this.
It's true that Simon & Schuster has two large imprints dedicated to publishing books by black authors and they recently started another to publish children's books with Muslim characters. While these are obviously good things, I doubt they gave many of those authors as large of an advance as they gave Jack. He got $250,000, so if they're not giving their POC authors that much then it still smells like supporting white nationalism to me.
No one is going to think you're a Nazi if you continue to buy Simon & Schuster titles, whether knowingly or unknowingly. And I'm not saying other authors they publish don't deserve support--they do. This isn't their fault and I hate that they got caught up in this debacle.
What I'm saying is that if you're really pissed and want to do something about it, the only way to do that through economics is to boycott Simon & Schuster as a whole because, as outlined above, the alternatives don't hold up well to logic.
However, there are ways to fight back that don't involve a blanket boycott. You can email the people and the imprints who thought giving a neo-Nazi a book deal was a good idea. Put pressure on them to void the contract with Jack (okay, his name is Milo Yiannopoulis; you'll need to know that when you email) and drop that book deal. Here's who to email:
Threshold Editions: GalleryPublicity@simonandschuster.com
Also call your local bookstores and libraries and ask them not to stock the book.
Additionally, if a blank boycott isn't your thing or you just really want to read a Simon & Schuster title, then considering buying the book used so as not to drive up demand.
I think it's important to put pressure on Simon & Schuster to drop this deal because I worry that now they've identified white nationalists as a lucrative market, what will they do to keep that market? Will we have reprints of Mein Kampf next (now with a new introduction by Trump!) or more neo-Nazi manifestos? Where does the vicious cycle end? Where will they draw the line, if a line is ever drawn?
If we believe books have power, we must also believe readers have power. Let's use our power for good.