From today’s Publisher’s Marketplace. I’ve bolded a couple of things.
Did Anyone Else Actually Bid for Milo?
Slate talks to many of the conservative books editors about Milo Yiannopoulos’s book proposal, and the NYT covers a couple as well. “It appears that Yiannopoulos was actively shopping his proposal to various right-wing imprints, with minimal success,” Katy Waldman writes for Slate. “Multiple publishing houses specifically told me that they had turned down his book.”
Of course there’s no glory or gain now in declaring yourself an underbidder, but it’s not clear that anyone but Threshold offered for Milo’s book. The Times may misconstrue agent Thomas Flannery Jr.’s remark that “virtually every major conservative imprint expressed interest” (expressing interest is different from bidding) as demonstrating that “Simon & Schuster was far from alone in its willingness to embrace Mr. Yiannopoulos.” So far, no one else says that they bid on the book, though some editors indicated they were open to the idea.
Disingenuous remarks from Milo’s agent. Here’s how presenting a book to editors works: the agent contacts editors he knows and talks up the book. The editor may “express interest,” i.e., may say to the agent, “Sure, I’ll take a look at it.” The agent sends the book proposal, usually as a pdf email attachment, to the editor. The editor then (1) emails the agent and says “no thanks, I’ll pass; (2) emails the agent telling him precisely why she’s passing (“Are you kidding?!”) or (3) never responds.
So “expressing interest” means: an editor replies to an agent she knows because, hey, it’s the editor’s job to find potential books and any book proposal could be viable. She won’t know until she sees it.
Adrian Zackheim at Sentinel comments, “I don’t mind publishing people who say outrageous things to get people worked up if they can move the cultural conversation in a significant way. But I was looking for evidence of a coherent doctrine.” Adam Bellow passed on making it a signature acquisition for his new imprint at St. Martin’s: “First acquisitions make a strong statement. My feeling about Milo was that if I’d had my imprint up and running for a couple of years, I would have personally been comfortable publishing him.”
Marji Ross at Regnery “said she considered Mr. Yiannopoulos’s book proposal but did not pursue it because she felt it would be too polarizing among mainstream conservatives. ‘Some of our market would have loved it, and some of our market would have been very uncomfortable with it.'”
But everyone interviewed is clear in expecting that someone would publish Milo’s book. At the institutional level, the National Coalition Against Censorship organized a Statement in Support of the Right to Publish that was formally endorsed by the ABA, the AAP, the Authors Guild and many others. Their primary point is that in general, “threats to boycott publishers undermine intellectual freedom and harm readers and writers.” The statement says that “the suppression of noxious ideas does not defeat them; only vigorous disagreement can counter toxic speech effectively. Shutting down the conversation may temporarily silence disfavored views, but does nothing to prevent them from spreading and resurfacing in other ways.”
While supporting the right to publish, which we agree is core and unequivocal (though a right is not a compulsion, and all publishers make choices about what they wish to publish), the statement also recognizes the right to protest: “Readers are of course free to criticize any book for any reason. They are likewise free to choose not to read any book that they think contains objectionable material, or to urge a boycott. Because other readers may disagree, however, publishers and writers need the freedom to express and disseminate ideas, even if they are controversial and offensive to some. We need not endorse the ideas contained in a book to endorse the right to express them.”
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — attributed to Voltaire. Or “Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”–from a letter Voltaire wrote to some religious dude in 1770.
Love Voltaire but I’m not giving my life for Milo Yiannopoulos’s right to write alt-Reich. He can do it all by himself.
On a broader level looking at the conservative books market in the Trump era, Bellow tells the Times, “Conservative publishing is always a better business when the other side is in power.” Agent Matt Latimer at Javelin agrees that, “The audience has fractured. A few years ago, a Paul Ryan book was widely embraced by conservative book buyers. Would Trump voters buy a Paul Ryan book today? I don’t know.” (Actually, Ryan’s hardcover sold a little under 21,000 copies through outlets tracked by Nielsen Bookscan.)
I think I know how those 21,000 copies of Ryan’s book got “sold”: publishers often resort to trickery to make sure a book gets onto the Times best seller list, published in the NYT book review section every Sunday, so they can advertise the book as a “New York Times best seller.” (The Times publishes only 20 books per category as “best sellers.” Publishers claim a book is on the best seller list when it’s somewhere in the top 35, even if only once.)
To get to the number of book sales that’ll get a book on that list (I once was told what the number was but have forgotten), a publisher–like, say, Paul Ryan’s publisher–buys up a number of books (at serious discount) and distributes them to appreciative venues which will help publicize the book, like, say, Fox News. And right wing organizations who support Paul Ryan’s daft and dangerous policy notions also buy up a number of books.
And Ryan himself and his pals in Congress all want to buy copies.
So that “21,000 copies” number is misleading. It suggests that 21,000 individual fans of Ryan’s prose ran eagerly to bookstores…oh, sorry, I still buy books from bookstores, not from Amazon…and bought a book. And maybe more than one copy–they make great Xmas presents for the whole family.
So just guessing here but could it be that of those 21,000 sold books, only 2,000 or even 200 books were actually purchased at full list price by individual people?
And that 21,000 number is not a lot of books.
Everything is misleading here. An editor can “express interest” without being interested in the book, and book sales numbers are not real.