As you may remember, about a week ago, Senator Josh Hawley challenged the results of the election, encouraged the storming of the Capitol, and then complained about Simon & Schuster canceling his book deal, calling the publisher’s decision “Orwellian” (how?) and “a direct assault on the First Amendment” (the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee everyone book deals).
Yesterday, it was announced that Hawley’s book has been picked up by the conservative publishing house Regnery, who has previously published Ann Coulter and Ted Cruz. (Simon & Schuster distributes Regnery’s books, but does not publish them.)
In response to this controversy (and the many others like it), over 500 publishing professionals have signed an open letter hosted on the website of novelist Barry Lyga, titled “No Book Deals for Traitors,” which states in part:
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.
Consequently, we believe: No participant in an administration that caged children, performed involuntary surgeries on captive women, and scoffed at science as millions were infected with a deadly virus should be enriched by the almost rote largesse of a big book deal. And no one who incited, suborned, instigated, or otherwise supported the January 6, 2021 coup attempt should have their philosophies remunerated and disseminated through our beloved publishing houses.
“Son of Sam” laws exist to prevent criminals from benefiting financially from writing about their crimes. In that spirit, those who enabled, promulgated, and covered up crimes against the American people should not be enriched through the coffers of publishing.
Though it assumes publishers have a moral goal in mind, this is an eminently reasonable position—especially since tomorrow brings the end of the Trump presidency, and with it a presumed wave of post-Trump administration image-resuscitation attempts. Discouraging government officials from profiting off their crimes through working with major publishers is substantively different than both “silencing” them (that would mean cutting off all their sources of communication with an audience) and “cancel culture” (that would mean treating people as disposable for a minor or isolated infraction). And publishing is already discretionary curation, so why not curate well?
Yet Thomas Spence, president and publisher of Regnery, responded to the open letter in a statement in the Wall Street Journal, describing the philosophy espoused in the open letter as “silenc[ing] someone because of who he is or whom he associates with,” “cancel culture,” and “blacklisting.” According to Spence, Josh Hawley is being silenced by getting his book discussed and promoted to potential readers in the Wall Street Journal. Good grift!
You can read the full open letter—and sign it, if you are a publishing professional and are moved to do so—here.