Earlier this week, it was announced that Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette, would release Apropos of Nothing, the memoir by film-maker Woody Allen. As many people pointed out, the optics of this decision was messy for various reasons. The one that caught the public’s attention, however, was that this news meant that Allen would be sharing a publisher with his estranged son Ronan Farrow, whose book on the Harvey Weinstein investigation, Catch and Kill, was a New York Times best-seller for the company. Farrow has repeatedly spoken out in public in support of his sister Dylan, who accused their father of sexually abusing her as a child. As a result, Farrow announced via Twitter that he would no longer be working with Hachette on future books.
Hey, just wanted to share my thoughts on some recent news: pic.twitter.com/ovPczgx8pB— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) March 4, 2020
Farrow notes the ‘wildly unprofessional’ behavior of Hachette with their latest acquisition and encouraged them ‘to conduct a thorough fact check’ of Allen’s account. Notably, fact-checking in publishing is shockingly rare for non-fiction works. Farrow was an exception to this strange rule, having paid for a fact-checker out of his own pocket for Catch and Kill.
Publishing us a multi-tentacles behemoth of varying divisions, all run by separate editorial teams and often with little crossover. Some houses focus exclusively on one genre while others aim more general. Ultimately, publishing is a business run mostly by upper-middle-class white people with the explicit aim to garner hefty profits. This is why we end up seeing even the most respected houses release obvious crap like right-wing political memoirs and screeds (and think about the mess that creates in a business where fact-checking is rare.) It’s a system that continues to flourish because hey, do you want to be the mid-list author with the four-figure advance who speaks out against the creeps, bullies, and bigots who are getting all your publisher’s attention?
That’s what makes Ronan Farrow’s move so gutsy. He is a very big deal; a celebrity and journalist with a freaking Pulitzer Prize on his shelf. Catch and Kill no doubt made a solid profit for Hachette and helped to make Farrow the sort of non-fiction author whose work can reliably sell well to the general market. He’s far more valuable for Hachette to have on the books than Woody Allen, in my opinion. He decided that he didn’t want to stand aside and implicitly endorse his boss’s decisions. Imagine if other big-name authors decided to call our their publishers for giving hefty advances to the John Boltons and Sarah Huckabee Sanders of the world.
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