“I am suing Simon & Schuster for $10 million,” said Yiannopoulos during a livestream promoting Milo Inc., his latest venture. “I want to send them a message that they can never again do this to a libertarian or a conservative.”
First of all, I just want to say that I love that Milo says his message is that publishers can’t do this to libertarians and conservatives in particular. Proving that he doesn’t have an interest in free speech, just his speech.
Later in the article Milo goes on to complain about Simon & Schuster’s “leftist rules,” and goes on to praise his own vanity press, Dangerous Books, as a free speech platform. Again, I am 100% certain that Dangerous Books will only be publishing far-right libertarian opinions. Publishing books that you agree with is not a free speech platform. It’s a soapbox.
Now you may say, “but Jen, does that mean that you will be publishing opinions that you don’t agree with?” No. I will not. Because that is not what publishing is. And that is not what free speech is. Free speech, and the right to it, as enshrined in the Constitution (as you probably already know), refers only to censure by the government. Claiming your right to free speech does not mean that you have the right to have anyone in particular listen to you, and it certainly does not mean that you have the right to be published by one of the big five publishing houses in the U.S. (If that were the case, I also have a right to free speech, and I would like my multi-million dollar book deal now, please.)
Publishing (at least before all the major publishing companies bought each other out, morphing into gigantic corporations whose main imperative has to be turning a profit) is about something else entirely. I have taken Robert Calasso’s lovely little book, The Art of the Publisher, as a source of inspiration. In it, Calasso says a lot of insightful things about the role of the publisher, but I had to choose only one quote to share here, so let’s let it be this one:
No, my proposal is that there should always be one minimum but essential requirement incumbent on publishers. And what is this indispensable minimum? That the publisher enjoys reading the books he publishes.
A publishing house should have a voice, an opinion, a soul. As a publisher develops a reputation with a reader, its colophon (a publisher’s logo or emblem, on the spine or title page of a book) should become a symbol of a certain kind of reading experience. It should establish trust. Small publishers know this — they know that every book that they publish must speak to their vision, must bolster the reputation that they are trying to build or uphold. Melville House does this well, for example. It is why I smile and feel a certain expansion in my chest whenever I see their colophon on the shelves of my local bookstore. Whether or not I would have had any interest in the book in question had I not known it was published by them, its colophon lends a certain affection, a preparedness to approve of its content, because of the reputation Melville House has built with me through every single book I have read from them so far.
Before this kerfuffle, the colophon of Simon and Schuster was completely neutral to me. (I actually had to look it up just now, that’s how little impression it’s made with me.) It would give me no information of the kind of book I would likely find inside, only that one of the largest publishing houses in the country thought that it had a good chance of making a profit. Now? It would cause me to curl my lip and be more likely to put the book right back down. (Especially since I have pledged to only buy books from small, indie, and university presses this year.)
Now, apparently I have a lot of thoughts about this, as I keep writing and writing and writing and still have not gotten to many of the points that motivated me to start this post. But let me just close with this. Dancing Star Press is not a free speech platform. You will not find its colophon on any book that is promoting hate. Rather, I am searching and digging for stories that lift up little heard voices, that bring visions of hope, that bridge divides and have faith in humanity. Everything that Milo isn’t. That story has been told too long. Let’s bring the world something new.