What are the ethics of publishing books by problematic writers?

I am sort of stuck in the middle on this one. There has been much discussion on the subject, and a whole lot of name calling. Writing is a right. Everyone gets to do it. But publishing is a business. And not everyone does. I believe no one is ENTITLED to have a book. It’s not a right to have your story told. It’s a privilege, that becomes a business transaction. The publisher makes a decision based on market forces as to whether or not to go ahead with your work. So, I support the prerogative of any private enterprise (say, oh, I don’t know, Hachette) to decide in favour of, or against, publishing anything. They have an editorial department that makes artistic decisions, along with a legal team that vets those for liability, and a sales team that has input based on what people are buying. All three have to agree on a book to move forward with it successfully.

But what happens when an author is so repulsive to the staff working there that they go on strike to protest having to work with the man? Well, I think that’s all part of the same set of healthy rights the publishers have. Employees aren’t soldiers. They were hired presumably because they were smart, talented, creative people. So it behooves any good employer to listen to its workforce (if, you know, they want to keep them).

When the staff at Hachette/LB walked out to protest publishing accused-child-molester and confirmed-weirdo Woody Allen’s memoir, particularly in light of the fact that they’d all worked closely with one of his accusers on a previous book, I was in support of it.

Personally, I was never going to buy that douchebag’s book, and have walked out on several of his later movies, but that’s MY choice as reader. I vote with my wallet. The employees don’t really get that option, so they voted with their work. They said, we don’t want to be part of this. Besides strongly-worded-yet-ineffective-emails to the boss or quitting en masse, this is all they could do to express themselves.

I don’t think it’s censorship because it’s not like the book was banned — a private company just decided against it based on market forces (which INCLUDE THE WORKFORCE). Mister Allen, who allegedly has some darker moments around his woody, was welcome to take it elsewhere until he found a publisher whose calculated risk to publish it, which is exactly what he did. The book is available and being widely reviewed (though it appears to be taking a beating). But people, mostly Jordan Peterson-type trolls and Lionel Shriver, are freaking out that the book was censored. How is that censorship? It was a business decision, because in publishing, editorial concern is part of what informs the business.

On the other hand, there is this whole push-pull between taking accusers seriously and caring for their health while also doing the innocent-until-proven-guilty thing. So I defend Allen’s eventual publisher’s right to put out the book, but also defend Hachette’s decision to back out. And I most vehemently defend the right of the employees of Hachette to make their feelings known, even with work action when it is important enough and no one seems to be listening.

Make sense? I’m rambling a little at the start of a new week. Thoughts? Anyone want to freak out and yell at me like this is Twitter? Comments below.

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