February 7, 2017
Publishing during wartime, part VIII: Enter the rainmaker?
by Dennis Johnson
Over water coolers throughout the book industry, discussion of the Milo Yiannopoulos book deal with Simon and Schuster is still raging. The overwhelming consensus is clear: Shame on Carolyn Reidy and Simon and Schuster for publishing this schmuck. Even lots of conservatives—admittedly, a minority in the book biz—agree with the liberals on this one. (Remember, all the other big house conservative imprints turned the book down.)
But from there, opinions about what to do in response diverge greatly. It’s dispiriting: The book business, like the larger anti-Trump movement, just can’t seem to get it together on tactics.
As previously reported, only one book industry publication—the Chicago Review of Books—has announced an out-and-out boycott of S&S titles. No other publication has announced that they’ll do anything at all in response, let alone a boycott.
Only one bookseller has announced anything close to a boycott — The Booksmith in San Francisco will cut by 50% the number of S&S titles it stocks, giving proceeds from what’s left to the ACLU.
No other bookseller has announced anything close to that. In fact, a few have announced that they will focus on S&S titles they like and make an extra effort to sell more of them, in order to encourage S&S to publish only good books. In other words, their response to S&S publishing a hateful book is… to work hard to make S&S more money.
In short, a boycott is just not on the radar of the bougie book industry — why, the people that work at S&S look like me! And what if they publish a book that I like? You mean I wouldn’t be able to read it? What if the author is my friend? This, I say again, from people who wouldn’t hesitate to boycott a Trump hotel or a store selling Ivanka’s dreck, and render into collateral damage the people working there.
Well, I say those S&S authors, like all of us, made their choices about the company they would do business with, and as it turns out, many of them are stepping up, in a bigger way than most of the rest of the industry.
No one has made a stronger statement of protest, for example, than the S&S children’s authors I reported on earlier. Their letter to Carolyn Reidy accused S&S of having “chosen to legitimize this reprehensible belief system, these behaviors, and white supremacy itself.”
Then there was Roxane Gay’s dramatic withdrawal of a book she had forthcoming from an S&S imprint. As I noted at the time, she said, “I guess I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” and indeed she was.
It was a galvanizing moment, but Gay wasn’t quite a big enough author to rock S&S’s boat. Not like, say, if the man who is probably S&S’s biggest author, Stephen King, spoke out.
Then, Friday, something interesting happened. For once, someone at another big house spoke out: Joy Peskin, the editorial director of FSG Books for Young Readers, published a smart, moving commentary in PW called “Why the Milo Yiannopoulos Book Deal Tarnishes the Publishing Industry.” It’s worth quoting at length:
…the worst thing about Milo, the self-dubbed supervillain of the Internet, is what he does as an editor at Breitbart, where he turns the sincere desperation of working-class Americans into fodder for his own amusement, and money in his pocket.
In Milo’s Breitbart articles and on his Dangerous Faggot tour, he tells young white American men it’s not their fault that they’re out of work, or that they’re struggling. They don’t need a college education. The reason they are not succeeding is because of women, people of color, immigrants, and Muslims. From now on, it’s not ladies first. It’s not people of color first. It’s not trans people first. It’s white men first. It’s America first.
Sound familiar? It’s not a coincidence that Trump went from a reality television star to president of the United States, thanks, in part, to the radicalization of the white working class. And a lot of the leg work was done by Milo and his mentor, Steve Bannon.
Milo is more than a provocateur. He is a terrorist, shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. The fire is otherness — that which is not white, Christian, and male; the crowded theater is America.
If you think Trump’s presidency is the last gasp of the white male patriarchy, think again. Milo’s book is sure to be a bestseller, and the men who are going to read it are young, white, and angry. Dangerous indeed.
It was a relief that, finally, someone from a big house had broken the law of omerta ruling the book business and spoken out, and damned eloquently at that.
But what made Peskin’s piece all the more powerful—and made a lot of people hopeful that the book business hasn’t lost this first battle with Trump and his minions yet—was that it was amplified by a retweet from a certain S&S author:
See part one, Publishing during wartime
See Publishing during wartime, part II
See Publishing during wartime, part III
See Publishing during wartime, part IV
See Publishing during wartime, part V
See Publishing during wartime, part VI
See Publishing during wartime part VII
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him at @mobylives