Imagine making the bestseller list in June for a book that doesn’t come out until October? You would think the publisher would be ecstatic that its book hit No. 1 on amazon, right? Ballantine Books, who was set to publish Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up, squashed the book. It is a highly unusual move, for many reasons.
First, the book is already a money-maker. Since when does a publisher not publish a book that will make it money?
Second, the author has not been convicted of a crime, but has been accused of making a racial slur years ago. I am not saying we should justify such behavior, but I think it is up to the American public to buy her book – or not – and for the publisher to not stand on ceremony. It is hypocritical when publishers sell books written by or about despicable people, from murderers to billion-dollar scammers, to those at the center of political scandal, and now say they are dumping Deen. I hope - -and expect – another publisher to pick up the book and cash in.
Third, the book itself is not controversial. She doesn’t have racist language in the book and the book is not even about her – it’s a bunch of recipes. To not publish her book is akin to censorship.
On the other hand, it’s about time public figures who make millions of dollars for entertaining people, realize that they can’t abuse the public’s faith in them. She is paying a price by having her show dumped from The Food Network, and from sponsorship deals, and from others ceasing the selling of her line of products. I get it – these corporate brands don’t want to be sullied by her bad image. But I feel a book is different.
Anytime we shun the written word it is tantamount to silencing someone and impinging on her freedom of speech. Sure, publishers can choose not to agree to publish someone’s book and consumers can decide whether to not buy it, but once you committed to selling a book - -and it hits Amazon’s bestseller list – I think it sets a bad precedent to yank it off the shelves.
Look, is the world being denied anything so great in Deen’s book? Probably not. But the bigger picture is that publishers should not run scared just because an author’s character has been challenged. I don’t see publishers removing from their backlist books that were written by people later convicted of crimes or accused of moral inappropriateness. Publishers publish books by people accused – and convicted -- of crimes all the time. They publish books of those who have admitted to bad judgment, poor behavior, and unethical statements. Half the Republican party makes slurs on race, gays, women, and the poor but I don’t see that stopping publishers from publishing books by that party’s leaders.
What is next – if an author has a messy divorce and accusations fly about affairs or escorts, will publishers cancel his or her book? Or what if an author is arrested for a DUI or for consuming drugs illegally? What about an author who was a bad parent or a lousy neighbor? Which type of crime – or in this case, non-crime – will it take to make a publisher cancel its project?
Let me make it clear: I don’t defend the words or actions of Deen but I do defend the right to freedom of speech and her book should never have been squashed. I am sure it was not an easy decision for the publisher, even though they will get backlash as censors. I am sure they lament they will lose money on the project when they could have made millions. But they think they did the right thing. And some will support that decision.
But it is sadder today that they knocked her book out than the initial discovery that a celebrity chef used the N word. Words do mean something – especially if they never get published.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013
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