CULTURE & ARTS
02/21/2017 02:46 pm ET

Milo Yiannopoulos’ Canceled Book Is A Lesson In Battling Hate Speech

The alt-right writer may find self-publishing success, but mainstream validation will be harder to come by.

When Milo Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook Monday night that his book deal with Simon & Schuster had been canceled, his tone wasn’t concerned, but matter-of-fact.

“They canceled my book,” he wrote in a post that got over 6,000 shares. In another post, which got over 8,000 responses as of writing this piece, he wrote, “I’ve gone through worse. This will not defeat me.”

He’s probably right.

It took a lot ― too much, many argued ― for Simon & Schuster to cut its losses with Dangerous, which was slated to come out in March, but was later pushed back to a June release date. Prior to the $250,000 deal, Yiannopoulos had been banned from Twitter and widely condemned for his inflammatory, trollish comments about women, people of color, transgender individuals and Muslims. After the deal was announced, fellow publishers aired their concern, and Roxane Gay, whose book How to Be Heard was set to come out with Simon & Schuster, withdrew her contract.

Simon & Schuster originally stood by its decision to publish Yiannopoulos, a move that was bolstered by the National Coalition Against Censorship, which wrote in a statement last month, “the suppression of noxious ideas does not defeat them; only vigorous disagreement can counter toxic speech effectively.”

It’s a just concept in theory, but in practice, one person’s voice is capable of undermining or outright silencing countless others’, on social media and beyond. And, while hateful language aimed at disenfranchised groups can’t be policed by the government, it can be removed of its platform. Which is what happened yesterday after Yiannopoulos made a comment condoning pedophilia, an act apparently beyond the boundaries of alt-right acceptability. He was subsequently uninvited to next week’s Conservative Political Action Conference; a publicist at Simon & Schuster announced the deal decision shortly after. Right now, no comment has been issued about whether Yiannopoulos will hold onto his advance. 

Still, Yiannopoulos is right that an axed memoir deal doesn’t mean he’s done telling his story.

There isn’t much precedent for book contracts canceled due to public backlash, but the best-known case points to the possibility of a new deal being struck. In 2006, O.J. Simpson’s ghostwritten book If I Did It, which detailed how he would have hypothetically committed the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, was yanked from HarperCollins’ list after criticism. The rights to the title were then bought by the family of Ronald Goldman, whose theoretical murder was described in its pages. The book was eventually published by Beaufort Books, with commentary contextualizing its original content.

While hateful language aimed at disenfranchised groups can’t be policed by the government, it can be removed of its platform.

In a more likely scenario, Yiannopoulos could self-publish Dangerous, a move that could at least bring him success in terms of units sold, with his committed fan base and recent uptick in notoriety. A Google trends search for his name shows a big spike since his book deal and the subsequent controversies. And, he’s not a stranger to the publishing model; before this deal, he self-published two books of poetry, which both have high star ratings on Amazon.

Still, the end goal ― or at least the end result ― for many self-published hits is a contract with a publisher. Both Fifty Shades of Grey and The Martian started out that way, later securing deals with Penguin Random House imprints.

Reverting to the grassroots method of story promotion after securing a publishing contract could be considered a step backwards in terms of legitimacy ― and legitimacy, plus a more mainstream platform, seem to be what Yiannopoulos craves. (Comparisons to Trump are ripe for picking.)

As a Simon & Schuster author, Yiannopoulos’ name could have been grouped with Bob Woodward’s, Hillary Clinton’s and Stephen King’s. Make no mistake: its ultimate removal from that list is the result of protest, not conscientiousness on the publisher’s part. But now, no matter how his story is disseminated, it is, for the time being, on the fringe of public consumption.

So, contrary to the NCAC’s statement, voicing concern doesn’t have to be the only ethical, constitutional method for combating hate speech. Publishers have the right ― and arguably the responsibility ― to determine what’s a bigger impediment to free speech: fostering authors with oppressive views or refusing to publish them. 

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