Clickbait Books – A Publisher’s Response

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Recently, the ‘Big 5’ publisher Simon & Schuster signed a deal reported to be worth $250,000. So far, no worries. But when the author of their acquisition is a (very loud) mouthpiece for the ‘alt-right’…things start to get a little cloudy. (Note: I’m not going to write names here – they’ll get no online kickbacks from this site!)

I have other work to do today, so here’s a pre-emptive list to cover some important things before we begin.

  1. I have done my homework and dutifully read a number of articles previously written by this mouthpiece.
  2. Yes, I understand what ‘Freedom of Speech’ really means – including the fact that it does not have anything to do with necessity of platform entitlement.
  3. No, I do not condone the censorship of any book.
  4. And yes, I know that publishing is a business that needs to make money to survive.

Okay, good.

What’s the real problem here?

Words are powerful. As publishers, we have a responsibility to all of our readers (current and future), to provide a platform which is diverse and inclusive. In which readers are able to see themselves in a light which is empowering, not degrading.

So why can’t Inspired Quill just sit down and keep our mouths shut? This deal doesn’t affect us, right? We’ll likely never be in the same league as any of the Big 5.

Thank goodness.

If being in their league means taking on a clickbait book in order to be ‘edgy’ and make money, then we want no part in it. Staying quiet in the face of such an issue would be to passively legitimize it – and that’s not going to fly with us any more.

To clarify, we’re not upset at the fact the book is going to be available for the public to read – heck, unflinching optimists might even say that it might pull a handful of people into realistic dialogue (I know, I know). We’re the last ones to suggest that any book should be ‘banned’.

The issue we take with the likes of the aforementioned book is that Simon & Schuster are actively legitimizing and normalizing behaviour and ideas that are damaging to the well-being of many different groups. They’re making money from clickbait negativity.

“Hey guys! Antagonise people for kicks, denigrate numerous already-marginalised groups to whom you have a greater privilege*, and we’ll plaster your face in every bookshop window in the country! And we’ll protect you with ‘Freedom of Speech’ clauses! Sound good? Your advance is on its way.”

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

You don’t need to tear others down, and make them inferior, in order to rise up. In reality, there is no ‘bigger piece of the pie’ – there’s enough pie for everyone. Coming from a place of fear is the easy option. And for a company with as much clout as Simon & Schuster to swoop in and capitalize on that fear is, quite frankly, disgusting.

Being negative or silent is the ’safe’ approach. So we won’t be. Our tagline is ‘Positive Publishing’ – not because our books are schmaltzy tales with sweet endings where the protagonists ride off into the sunset – but because we wholeheartedly believe that every single one of them adds value or enrichment, however small, to whomever reads it.

Anyone in this industry will tell you that remaining optimistic is pretty exhausting. I’ll readily volunteer that during the six years I’ve been running Inspired Quill, there have been more than a few struggles and moments where I just sit back and ask myself ‘what’s the point’?

Then I remember the importance of books. The potency of their words and how they have the ability to make people realize that they are not alone. Their ability to lift people up and to create a dialogue amongst two strangers that – before reading about the inclusivity of the other in a book they’d taken to heart – may have looked at one another with suspicious glances.

Books are cultural artefacts. They give us ideas of what’s possible in the world, and they’re a very powerful tool for learning about self-identity (especially for youngsters).

A positive outcome

I can say, at least, that this debacle has had one positive effect. It’s given Inspired Quill the kick it needed to stop mumbling about social enterprises and win-win situations.

From now on, we’re going to stand up, square our shoulders, look inequality, injustice and fear in the face and say:

“We see you. And while we may never stop you completely, we will still do whatever we can to make it happen. We see you, and we will not shirk our responsibility any longer.”

Now begins the process of considering the best ways to make that happen.


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