WHERE IS THE LINE, EXACTLY?
Special Guest: Glenn Yeffeth, publisher of Benbella Books
A few months back I was offered the opportunity to consider publishing Milo Yiannopoulos’s book, Dangerous, which has gone on to be a self-published hit. I decided against it, but it wasn’t a casual decision.
It’s not as though I feel the need to agree with my authors’ politics or that I avoid controversial projects. I published Jose Baez’s inside story of his successful defense of Casey Anthony, a woman who pretty much everyone had decided was guilty of killing her own daughter. I published the notorious Rielle Hunter, whose affair with John Edwards briefly made her the most hated woman in America. Both books became New York Times bestsellers. More recently, I published Rachel Doležal, whose belief that race transcended DNA made her the object of widespread scorn.
Less newsworthy, but no less controversial, I published The Cure for Alcoholism, which was rejected by mainstream houses because it went against the conventional wisdom. It went on to help many thousands of people overcome that deadly disease. I published The China Study, which promised dramatic health benefits from a vegan lifestyle. This was back when veganism was considered quite wacky, and when the media was still wary after Oprah was sued for over $10 million by the beef industry. The
China Study went on to help transform the health of hundreds of thousands, and sell over two million copies in the process.
So why Jose, Rielle and Rachel, and not Milo? For me, it’s a judgment. Do I want to work with this person, even if I don’t always agree with their actions? Do I think the book will bring a useful and interesting perspective into the world? In the cases of The Cure for Alcoholism and
The China Study, I did my research, reviewing the underlying scientific papers and talking to experts. In both cases, I decided these were messages worth spreading.
Now who, exactly, anointed me with the awesome responsibility of deciding where that line is, the power to determine who gets published and who doesn’t?
No one, thankfully, and that’s the beauty of independent publishing. There are many hundreds of us, all with our own lines, our own perspectives. As a group, we play an important role in ensuring that the marketplace of ideas never gets stale. We are needed, because the big publishers, for all their merits, often think along similar lines.
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but when I hear that every major publisher refuses to touch a book project, it actually gets me excited. That’s a good sign that an opportunity exists for a smart, independent-minded publisher.