Wednesday, April 11, 2018

All Books Should Be Published, No Matter What An Author Did Or Said

Some book publishers are cancelling books because allegations have been raised about the sexual misconduct of authors and illustrators.  Mario and the Hole in the Sky is one such book that got shelved as a result of the #MeToo condemnations.  Those involved in harassment scandals include NYT best-selling authors such as Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump, political journalists, and a National Book Award-winning novelist.  However, is this a huge mistake by the book publishing industry?

It should be noted that this debate is not whether those who break the law should be given a free pass. No, no. If someone violated another’s body, rights, or ability to work in s hostile-free society they should be punished. However, the punishment should not be that a book goes unpublished.

Now, before we debate this, let’s first give some context.  The book publishing industry has always – knowingly – published books by unethical people, many of whom performed illegal acts.  Book publishers have sold millions of books by wife-beaters, rapists, murderers, racists, harassers, mysoginists, frauds, liars, and disgusting human beings.  Why should now be any different?

Point two, if you choose to ban books by authors accused of something – but not convicted, and in many cases not even arrested or even sued – are you opening up a can of worms?

Point three, if you choose to focus on sexual harassment today, will you clean house and stop selling books in your backlist that were written by sexually misbehaving authors?

Point four, will you look beyond sexual harassment and stop authors with other red marks from being published?  Should we dismiss an author with a DUI or three of them?  How about someone who served time for robberies?  Or someone who publicly supports the KKK, NRA, or Black Panthers?

Ok, so we haven’t even delved deeply into this and you can see that there’s no easy solution here.  But let me throw a few more things into the equation:

Who is in a legitimate and responsible position to judge whether an author’s behavior – or alleged behavior – warrants a book to be cancelled?  People at the publish houses may misbehave themselves – will they be judged too?  And who will judge their judges?  Can we publish based on rumor and accusation?

Should publishers be obligated to state publicly the exact code of conduct they expect authors to adhere to – and make it retroactive to past acts as well?  Or will publishers secretly try to deal with things on a case by case basis through a smell test?  Let’s face it, publishers only stop a book if they think it’ll lose money, is a hoax, or because they are being pressured by outside forces to adhere to a moving ethical boundary that’s covered in confusion and contradiction.

All businesses have to determine what products they want to sell, which services to provide, who should work for them, and how they should market themselves.  But in almost all cases, we are talking about widgets and things, but in this case, we’re talking about books – and free speech.  To me, there’s a higher standard in place.  Words trump all, in my mind.

Everyone – yes, everyone, has the right to free speech, and to maintain free speech book publishers should not look to squash it by refusing to publish a book solely because they disagree with an author’s personal behavior.

I know, I know, this is not so simple, you say, but maybe it needs to be.  Rather than the book industry trying to police behavior and make determinations best left to the courts, the book world should publish any and all books even when the author is proven to be, by any measure, a horrible person or a criminal.

Why would I defend the rights of these alleged immoral burdens, these monsters and violators of decency?

Because I refuse to defend their actions or judge them.  You should be punished if you violate the law, but you should never lose your right to free speech.  Even under the Son of Sam Law that prevents convicted criminals from profiting from their crimes don’t stop convicts from publishing books.  The community of free ideas demands it.  We depend on hearing the voices of all people – not just whom we anoint as the kind of person we believe someone should be.

Now that doesn’t mean there can’t be a public backlash against an author.  If you choose not to buy someone’s book or if you want to speak out against that writer, go ahead.  If you want to write your own book, do so.  But do not stop the free exchange of information and ideas.  When you do that, society suffers more than the writer you seek to punish.

Books may be products and because they are sold, they are seemingly like anything else up for sale.  But they are not widgets or donuts or cars.  They embody thoughts, experiences, and opinions.  They encase words to produce a cogent viewpoint.  They are a piece of society, part of its fabric.  Books are above our debates, above our morals.  They are free speech and they must be allowed to be published, written, and distributed in an unfettered matter.

I know what I’m asking for here, that repugnant evil-doers be given more rights and consideration than they did their victims.  But I’m not saying don’t punish wrong-doers.  Sue them, jail them, and get street justice if necessary, but do not let their acts exceed the value that society holds dearly – free speech at the highest price.  We kill for it.  We must not stop the act of publication, regardless of what an author did, said, or thinks.  It’s the only way I know how to live, where a free press runs independently of anything else that may need to be done to see that justice takes place.


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.”

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