Landing a book deal with a former vice president ordinarily would be a cause for celebration, but Simon & Schuster staffers had a very different reaction after the company’s seven-figure contract with Mike Pence was announced: Cancel it.
An online petition from the “workforce of S&S” posted this month demanded that the publisher nix the two-book contract with Mr. Pence reportedly worth $3 million to $4 million, and “do not sign any more book deals with former members of the Trump administration.”
Simon & Schuster refused, saying “we come to work each day to publish, not cancel,” even though the publisher in January dropped Sen. Josh Hawley after the Missouri Republican objected to the Electoral College certification in two states.
Welcome to the world of woke publishing, where former Trump officials, Republicans and conservatives are increasingly at risk of being written out of the narrative as their ideological foes fight to keep them off the bookshelves.
“Cancel culture is absolutely alive and well in publishing,” said Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the conservative Media Research Center.
More than 600 “publishing professionals,” including authors, editors, agents and audible book narrators, have signed on to a letter urging publishing houses to stiff-arm former Trump officials because they should not be “enriched by the almost rote largesse of a big book deal.”
“As members of the writing and publishing community of the United States, we affirm that participation in the administration of Donald Trump must be considered a uniquely mitigating criterion for publishing houses when considering book deals,” said the open letter, titled “No Book Deals for Traitors.”
Some Trump administration figures reportedly are having trouble signing. CNN cited unidentified sources as saying they face a “higher bar” than past White House officials. Those who have, including former Attorney General William P. Barr and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, are being excoriated by social media mobs, as are their publishers.
After The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mrs. Conway was nabbed by Threshold, Simon & Schuster’s conservative imprint, millennial Democrats tweeted that the move was “putting their employees in a morally untenable position and betraying their readers by amplifying lying bigots.”
“These people always want to present the Trump people as somehow being beyond polite society, so it’s not surprising,” Mr. Graham said. “Obviously, it’s extremely customary for publishers to publish a memoir by a Leon Panetta or a Mike Pompeo or the major figures in an administration. There’s nothing controversial about that, except that they’ve convinced themselves that the Trump people are beyond the pale.”
For others on the right, getting published is only half the battle, as conservative author Ryan T. Anderson can attest.
In February, Amazon delisted his 2018 title, “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement.” The company later sent a letter telling Republican senators that “we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness.”
Mr. Anderson, a former Heritage Foundation scholar who now heads the Ethics & Public Policy Center, and Encounter Books publisher Roger Kimball disputed Amazon’s characterization and accused the company of using its “massive power to distort the marketplace of ideas and is deceiving its own customers in the process.”
“Everyone agrees that gender dysphoria is a serious condition that causes great suffering,” they said in a March 12 statement. “There is a debate, however, which Amazon is seeking to shut down, about how best to treat patients who experience gender dysphoria. ‘When Harry Became Sally’ is an important contribution, praised by medical experts, to that conversation.”
Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, accounts for 53% of all U.S. books sold and 80% of e-books, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“The idea that Amazon would say, ‘We can’t sell this Ryan Anderson book, but you can get Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’” — that’s what I think blows people’s minds, and it shows you what woke censorship looks like,” Mr. Graham said.
Taking a page from cancel culture
Even conservatives with no connection to Mr. Trump whose books remain listed on Amazon still face hurdles.
Powell’s Books in Portland canceled plans to carry in-store local journalist Andy Ngo’s “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy.” The bookstore cited the safety of its employees after being slammed with protests.
“This book will not be placed on our shelves. We will not promote it,” Powell’s said in a Jan. 14 statement on Publishers Weekly. “That said, it will remain in our online catalog. We carry a lot of books we find abhorrent, as well as those that we treasure.”
Compounding the dilemma for publishers already uneasy about imposing ideological purity tests is that conservative authors tend to sell books by the bushel.
Mr. Ngo’s title, published in February by Center Street, a conservative imprint of the Hachette Book Group, remains a bestseller two months later. It is ranked No. 1 on two Amazon lists and No. 2 by Publishers Weekly for “History & Poli-Sci.”
Right behind “Unmasked” on the Publishers Weekly list was “Blackout,” a Threshold book by conservative commentator Candace Owens. Radio and Fox News host Mark Levin’s “American Marxism” was ranked No. 2 on Amazon, even though the release date isn’t until July 13.
“When Harry Became Sally” hit The Washington Post and Amazon bestseller lists before it was pulled.
The “publishing professionals” letter warned against pursuing the dollar. “Our country is where it is in part because publishing has chased the money and notoriety of some pretty sketchy people,” it said.
“‘Son of Sam’ laws exist to prevent criminals from benefiting financially from writing about their crimes,” said the letter, led by novelist Barry Lyga. “In that spirit, those who enabled, promulgated, and covered up crimes against the American people should not be enriched through the coffers of publishing.”
Mr. Graham noted that there was no such backlash against former White House figures such as Omarosa Newman and John R. Bolton, who penned anti-Trump exposes.
“As long as they were ripping Trump, that’s fine,” he said.
Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reportedly in publishing negotiations, according to Politico, and former trade adviser Peter Navarro disputed reports that he was striking out on book deals.
“The reports of my publishing death are greatly exaggerated,” Mr. Navarro told Politico. “I have a major publishing agreement with an attractive advance, and my book will be out shortly after Labor Day.”
Who’s the publisher? Not Simon & Schuster, which also published Hunter Biden’s memoir, “Beautiful Things,” he said.
“I can tell you it won’t be Simon & Schuster, based on their unethical cancel-culture treatment of Josh Hawley and his fine and powerful book on the social media oligarchs juxtaposed against their publication of the whitewashed book by Hunter Biden that conveniently ignores his sellout of America to communist China,” Mr. Navarro said.