The ColophonWriters and Writing

Open letter signed by 500 authors, publishers, and industry stakeholders opposes book contracts for those who worked in the Trump administration

An open letter by U.S. YA author Barry Lyga calling for a boycott of any book deals for members of the outgoing Trump administration has garnered some 500 signatures from American writers, publishers, agents, journalists, and content creators. The letter, titled “No Book Deals for Traitors,” reads, in part: “As members of the writing and publishing community of the United States, we affirm that participation in the administration of Donald Trump must be considered a uniquely mitigating criterion for publishing houses when considering book deals.”

The letter, which had 250 signatures as of last Friday, saw that number double over the weekend after articles appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Publishers Weekly. Signatories currently include Cassandra Clare, bestselling author of the Mortal Instruments series; Sarah Weinman, journalist and author of The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World; and Celeste Ng, author of the bestselling novel Little Fires Everywhere.

PW quotes Lyga as saying: “Traditionally, members of an outgoing administration can – and do – rely on the cushion of a fat book contract with a healthy advance. In the case of the Trump Administration and its history of outrages, lies, and incitement to insurrection, we cannot allow this to stand. No one should be enriched for their contribution to evil.“

According to Business Insider, the entire publishing industry is on tenterhooks about how to deal with the possibility that Trump, once out of office, will try to sell a memoir, as is common among former U.S. presidents.

Overwhelmingly, the publishing rank and file said they hoped a Trump memoir would not get published, citing the likely toxic nature of the content. 

Some of the lower-level workers we spoke to said they’d try to push back if their publisher took the book; others said they would fear speaking up, but would try to opt out of promoting it.

The dilemma publishers find themselves in is that while their staffs may revolt – as they did at Hachette last March, when they successfully lobbied to have the publication of Woody Allen’s memoir cancelled by the house (the book was later picked up and published elsewhere), executives are usually in favour of publishing presidential memoirs because they are huge sellers. Barack Obama’s book A Promised Land sold more than 3.3 million copies in its first month, during a pandemic.

Lyga’s letter references Son of Sam laws that prohibit criminals from profiting off of media appearances or books about their crimes. “In that spirit, those who enabled, promulgated, and covered up crimes against the American people should not be enriched through the coffers of publishing.” (Not all such laws have been effective; in 1991 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that New York’s Son of Sam law was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment.)

Business Insider says that Lyga was cheered by Simon & Schuster’s decision to cancel a book by U.S. senator Josh Hawley following the deadly incursion on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, but this also points to one way a multinational publisher can claim the moral high ground while also cashing a cheque. In the wake of the cancellation of Hawley’s The Tyranny of Big Tech, Regenry, a conservative-leaning publisher, picked it up and plans to release the book in May. Who distributes Regenry? Simon & Schuster.

Share this post