Sexual assault allegations to racist remarks: Authors dropped by publishers for being too controversial

It is as if to say no matter the severity of the offense, publishers don't condone it and hence don't intend on representing the author henceforth

                            Sexual assault allegations to racist remarks: Authors dropped by publishers for being too controversial
Woody Allen, Linda Fairstein and James Dashner (Getty Images)

The relationship between an author and a publisher is a rather precarious one. The process of writing a book and publishing it can be a tedious one, especially when it comes to finding a publisher and convincing them that your book is worth investing in. When a publisher decides to invest in a book to disseminate it as printed copies, it forms a unique relationship with the author, provided that the publisher is the sole proprietor of the work.

Through the sale of the book, the author earns royalties and fees while the publisher earns the profit.

Thus, the author and publisher share a simple and profitable relationship, yet it is delicate enough to be severed on grounds that the author has done something that cannot be blindsided. With the passage of time and change in mindset, many concepts that were once handled lightly are now frowned upon. The inclusion of any offensive topics in books, lead to manuscripts automatically being rejected.

Furthermore, any brash commentary or unsuitable actions engendered by authors, despite their work being on the verge of publication is immediately dealt with. Publishers have also begun to revise their policies to incorporate inclusivity and other measures to adhere to the current ethos. 

In spite of the many developments in the literary world, there are still some odd ones out there that continue to stir trouble. Authors who had long-time partnerships with their publishing houses have been dropped for their problematic behaviour or controversial remarks, even if their wrongdoings have been a thing of the past. It is as if to say no matter the severity of the offence, publishers don't condone it and hence don't intend on representing the author henceforth.

And if we were to cite examples, here are five authors who have been dropped by publishers for being controversial.

 Woody Allen - Hachette

Director Woody Allen attends the 'Cafe Society' Photocall during The 69th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 11, 2016, in Cannes, France (Getty Images)

In March 2020, Hatchette announced that it would not publish Academy award-winning director, Woody Allen's memoir 'A Propos of Nothing.' The decision came after the staff at the publisher's New York office, as well as the employees at Little, Brown and Co,  as well as  Grand Central Publishing (other Hatchette publishing houses), protested against the publication of Allen's book.

“The decision to cancel Mr Allen’s book was a difficult one. At HBG we take our relationships with authors very seriously and do not cancel books lightly. We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books.” the publishing company said in a statement. Furthermore, Hachette said that it was committed to “making sure every day in our work that different voices and conflicting points of views can be heard” and also “offering a stimulating, supportive and open work environment for all our staff”. 

Allen has been accused of sexually abusing his daughter and has seen himself as among offenders accused of sexual abuse in the industry, which sparked the #MeToo Movement.

Hachette “will return all rights to the author”, the statement read. "Over the past few days, HBG leadership had extensive conversations with our staff and others. After listening, we came to the conclusion that moving forward with publication would not be feasible for HBG."

Natasha Tynes - Rare Bird Books and California Coldblood

(Barnes and Noble)

Author Natasha Tynes lost a book deal with publishers Rare Bird Books after tweet-shaming a Washington DC metro worker for eating on a train in 2019. The tweet that has since been deleted featured a picture of the metro staffer with a caption that said, "When you're on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train. I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds."

The tweet incited backlash from followers and accused Tynes of racism, and her publisher immediately sought to stop the publication of her debut book 'They Called Me Wyatt'. Eating and drinking on the Washington Metro are illegal, though leniency has now been enforced by the police with regard to this.

Rare Bird Books, said, "Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behaviour directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies. We think this is unacceptable and have no desire to be involved with anyone who thinks it's acceptable to jeopardize a person's safety and employment in this way." Another publisher, California Coldblood, announced it would "discuss appropriate next steps to officially cancel" it.

"We do not condone her actions and hope Natasha learns from this experience that black women feel the effects of systemic racism the most and we have to be allies, not oppressors," the publishing company said in a statement. Furthermore, her book was criticized on GoodReads by people who hadn't even read it.

James Dashner - Penguin Random House

Author James Dashner attends Variety Gotham Comic-Con Luncheon at Rama on July 19, 2013, in San Diego, California (Getty Images)

Author of the popular young adult series 'Maze Runner' was dropped by his publisher Penguin Random House in 2018, after accusations of sexual harassment against him surfaced. The anonymous allegation against him was made online, in the comments sections of a copy on sexual harassment in the children's books world, published by US trade magazine, School Library Journal.

There were many accusations against Dashner, and one even commented that the "harassment/abuse from James Dashner was not a one-time unwanted touch or a joke I took the wrong way. It entailed months of manipulation, grooming and gaslighting”.

Dashner then issued an apology via his Twitter in which he said, after “reexamining my actions and searching my soul” he had “taken these past few days for introspection, to see if I’ve been part of the problem. I think that I have.”

“I didn’t honour or fully understand boundaries and power dynamics. I can sincerely say that I have never intentionally hurt another person. But to those affected, I am so deeply sorry,” he wrote. “I am taking any and all criticisms and accusations very seriously, and I will seek counselling and guidance to address them.”

Linda Fairstein - Dutton

Linda Fairstein attends the God's Love We Deliver's 3rd Annual "Authors in Kind" Luncheon held at The Rainbow Room April 4, 2006, in New York City (Getty Images)

Linda Fairstein was dropped by her publisher, Dutton in 2019, following the release of Netflix miniseries 'When They See Us', directed by Ava DuVernay. Fairstein, a former prosecutor-turned author, had wrongfully convicted five teens of rape and beating a female jogger in 1989. DuVernay's series is based on this conviction, which was titled 'Central Park Five.'

Fairstein began writing in the 1990s and has authored some of the best-selling and critically acclaimed crime novels to date. The release of 'When They See Us' saw Farstein receiving backlash and more than 125,000 people signed an online petition calling for all book retailers to stop selling her books. 

Jay Asher - Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Jay Asher (Wikimedia Commons)

Jay Asher, the author of 'Thirteen Reasons Why' was dropped by his agency Andrea Brown Literary Agency, on accusations of sexual harassment. He was also expelled from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators after he allegedly violated the organization's harassment code. The allegations made by anonymous users surfaced on the comments sections of a School Library Journal piece about sexual harassment in children's literature. 

However, Asher has denied the allegations.

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