Former Vice President Mike Pence is due to have a book in stores in 2023, and two years out, we can confidently predict that Pence’s volume will come nowhere near toppling sales records set by, say, “The DaVinci Code” or “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”
Tomes by second-tier political figures rarely set the world aflame, and Pence is also in the unenviable position of being despised both by folks who adore his former boss Donald Trump, and those who abhor Trump with the heat of a thousand suns. He is viewed by detractors as having been too obsequious to Trump through most of his term, and not obsequious enough by the Trump die-hards who insist he had the power to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Congress on Jan. 6 (he did not, but that’s another story).
This hardly sets up Pence to sell lots of books, never mind stage a successful presidential run in 2024.
Still, Pence has the right to seek whatever publishing deals he wants and have his say. But that’s not the view of some employees at Simon & Schuster, the publishing company that gave Pence an advance somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million. They want Simon & Schuster to not only cancel the deal, but they also want the venerable publishing house to agree not to publish any books by any other former Trump administration officials. Doing so would, according to these employees, put them on “the wrong side of justice.”
For people who are in the business of publishing books, it’s a mighty peculiar stance to take.
Jonathan Karp, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, has rejected these demands, pointing that the company’s employees “come to work every day to publish, not cancel, which is the most extreme decision a publisher can make, and one that runs counter to the core of our mission to publish a diversity of views and perspectives.”
Obviously, Pence has little in common with Woody Allen, but the announcement last year that the Hachette Book Group was going to publish the filmmaker’s autobiography stirred up a similar tempest among employees of that company. They objected to Hachette taking on “Apropos of Nothing” because Allen’s daughter has accused him of molesting her close to 30 years ago. Even though no charges were ever brought, the statute of limitations has long since expired, and no one else has accused Allen of molestation in the three decades since, the mere allegation was apparently sufficient to render Allen guilty to the Hachette rank-and-file. Unfortunately, their bosses caved, canceled Allen’s contract, and the book was ultimately published by a smaller house.
Of course, publishers have the right to decide who they want to publish or who they don’t want to publish, based on the quality of an author’s work, their reputation, and whether it will make the cash registers ring. And there are some perspectives that are, frankly, beyond the pale – no publisher should be in the business of disseminating modern-day versions of “Mein Kampf” or “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” This is not a black-and-white issue. There are shades of gray. Still, except for egregious cases, publishers should err on the side of letting the presses roll.
Last year, Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman made the following observation about the Allen book, and it applies to Pence’s, too: “What a strange, through-the-looking glass world we live in, when people who consider themselves liberals celebrate suppressing others’ words.”