Five-hundred American authors and literary professionals have signed a letter calling on US publishers not to sign book deals with members of the Trump administration, saying “those who enabled, promulgated, and covered up crimes against the American people should not be enriched through the coffers of publishing”.
Put together by the author Barry Lyga, the letter, which is continuing to add names, has been signed by bestselling writers including Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere, Holly Black and Star Wars author Chuck Wendig. Titled “no book deals for traitors”, it opens by stating that the US “is where it is in part because publishing has chased the money and notoriety of some pretty sketchy people, and has granted those same people both the imprimatur of respectability and a lot of money through sweetheart book deals”.
Lyga told Publishers Weekly: “Traditionally, members of an outgoing administration can – and do – rely on the cushion of a fat book contract with a healthy advance. In the case of the Trump administration and its history of outrages, lies, and incitement to insurrection, we cannot allow this to stand. No one should be enriched for their contribution to evil.”
Endorsed by a range of editors, authors, booksellers and publishing staff, the letter goes on to state that “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 that “no one who incited, suborned, instigated or otherwise supported the 6 January 2021 coup attempt should have their philosophies remunerated and disseminated through our beloved publishing houses”.
In November, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid the New York Post claimed that Trump was “being bombarded with book and TV deals that could be worth a staggering $100m”, although his son, Donald Trump Jr, chose to self-publish his most recent tome.
Lyga’s letter comes in the same week that rightwing Missouri senator Josh Hawley was forced to find a new publisher for his book The Tyranny of Big Tech, after it was dropped by Simon & Schuster over his backing of baseless claims that the election was stolen. America’s National Coalition Against Censorship has spoken out against the cancellation of Hawley’s deal, saying that while it shares “the outrage of our fellow citizens” over the attack on the US Capitol, it was deeply concerned about Simon & Schuster’s decision to drop the book.
“Cancelling the book weakens free expression … It is crucial that publishers stand by their decision to publish, even when they strongly disagree with something the author has said,” said the free speech organsiation. “Cancelling a book encourages those who seek to silence their critics, producing more pressure on publishers, which will lead to more cancellations. The best defence for democracy is a strong commitment to free expression.”
The debate comes in the midst of a reckoning for big publishers about the titles they release. In November, staff at Penguin Random House Canada protested over the press’s decision to publish a new book from Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, the self-styled “professor against political correctness”. Hachette dropped Woody Allen’s memoir last year after a staff walkout, and Hachette imprint Little, Brown in the UK cancelled a contract with Julie Burchill to publish Welcome to the Woke Trials after it said she “crossed a line” with her comments about Islam on Twitter to the journalist Ash Sarkar.
Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote Donald Trump’s 1987 memoir The Art of the Deal, was given the nickname Dr Frankenstein by his former editor for the gloss his book brought to the man who would become president. Schwartz spoke out about how “staggeringly dangerous” he felt a Trump presidency would be in 2016, saying: “Oh my god, I’ve contributed to creating the public image of the man who is sociopathic and people don’t realise it.”
Lyga’s letter points to Son of Sam laws, which prevent criminals from benefiting financially by 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,” say the publishing professionals, adding: “We believe in the power of words and we are tired of the industry we love enriching the monsters among us, and we will do whatever is in our power to stop it.”
Lyga told the LA Times that each signatory to his letter “will act to the dictates of their conscience and to the extent they are able to effect change”, pointing to the Hachette walkout which led to the cancellation of the Allen memoir. “We are committing to doing what we individually can when and if the time comes,” he added.
“To those who believe this is censorship, I can say only this,” he wrote on Twitter. “If the first amendment guarantees book deals, then there are some publishers who turned down books of mine in the past who now owe me money.”