Why we must publish books we hate

Political books have exploded because politics has morphed into entertainment; becoming a mix of soap opera, reality show, chat show, talent show, crime story and pantomime.

Many in the publishing industry are horrified by the vulgar and brutish turn of events. So should we be willing to assist in the promotion of the sort of people and policies we abhor? Or should we retreat to the ivory towers that people believe we already dwell in, and refuse to have anything to do with promoting the current circus? Should we listen to the ideas of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson with the same relish we might once have listened to the confessions of Alan Clark and Edwina Curry?

The players all want to write books. Even Donald Trump, who has almost certainly never read a complete book in his adult life, understands that being a published author can lead to real power and real change.

So should a publisher refuse to publish a manuscript on the grounds that it might result in an unwanted success for the author? Should a ghostwriter turn down a client because they might one day turn out to be a ruthless dictator?

If Trump hadn’t put his name to The Art of the Deal, written for him by Tony Schwartz, (a ghost who also suggested the format and subject matter of the book), he would probably not have been chosen to front the US version of "The Apprentice", a show which convinced enough people to vote him President.

Could continued publicity lead to Milo Yiannopoulos ending up in a position of power? Should a publisher refuse to publish a book by him, even if that book is interesting and entertaining and likely to find an appreciative audience? Will Simon and Schuster’s decision to cancel his autobiography, Dangerous, look as Canute-like in years to come as the decisions of those who attempted to crush Lady Chatterley’s Lover or the works of Oscar Wilde? Is it any different to a university refusing to allow Germaine Greer to speak because some students might disapprove of her views?

Most people go into publishing to help promote work that they personally like, but if the majority of us share similar tastes and backgrounds, (as surveys keep telling us is the case), then who is going to help promote those who have very different tastes? Are we only ever going to write and publish for people who think like ourselves?

Yiannopoulos self-published his book anyway, probably garnering more Trumpish publicity from the cancelled contract than anyone in Simon and Schuster’s marketing department could have achieved, and I suspect he values publicity and notoriety far more highly than sales. Self-publishing and hybrid publishing are likely to prove increasingly attractive to writers who are aware that their views will be met with disapproval by the "sort of people" who have traditionally been drawn to work in publishing.

The events of 2016 should have taught us liberal "bubble-dwellers" a lesson, rudely awakening us to the fact that far more people thought and felt radically differently to us than we had imagined. It came as a shock because we hadn’t been listening to them or reading anything they might have written. Trump, Yiannopoulos, Robinson and Farage are not necessarily the sort of people that publishing folk would want to invite into their homes, but does that mean they shouldn’t be listened to, published and read?

If someone has written something like Mein Kamf it is probably advisable to publish and read what they have written in order to be forewarned of what they are planning. If we took notice of people with opposing views earlier and more often, they might not then feel the need to take up guns and force those views on the world.

Books must not break the law by inciting racial hatred or libelling people, and I can understand why a publisher might not want to become the subject of a fatwa or the target of an angry mob, but after that books’ only duties are to be interesting, enlightening, instructive or entertaining.

The recent explosion of political bestsellers could either be seen as a "dumbing-down" or a "spicing-up" of the political stories that came before, but it would always have been easier to sell books about Jeremy Thorpe to the reading public than about David Steel.

As a ghostwriter I am frequently asked if I find it necessary to "like" the author before accepting a commission. The answer is "no", but I do need to find them interesting and feel a desire to hear more of what they have to say, even if I disagree with it.

I am also asked if there are any moral lines I would refuse to cross and the answer is the same. If bad people exist we need to find out about them and do our best to understand them so that we can explain them to wider audiences.

President Trump has been threatening to write a tell-all memoir when his time in office finally ends. If he were to give the ghostwriter a free hand, an insight into this heart of darkness could be a great read. It’s certainly the elevator pitch from heaven; "A family not unlike the Corleones has actually managed to get control of the most powerful nation on Earth".

To be able to get even a glimpse from the family’s point of view could make it as gripping a read as The Great Gatsby. Ingredients like crime, wealth, nepotism, sex and power seldom hurt any book’s chances of getting into the bestseller lists.

It will be a shame if the book ends up as stuffed with insults and empty bragging as the President’s Twitter feed, (and a nightmare for the editors at whichever publisher gets bullied into buying the result), but of course that is probably what will happen and that will be a genuine "dumbing down". Maybe we will have to wait until Melania and Baron are ready to tell their sides of the story before we get to enjoy the full horror from inside this modern Medici hell. Personally, I look forward to receiving that call.    

Andrew Crofts is an author and ghostwriter who has published more than 100 books, a dozen of which were Sunday Times bestsellers. What Lies Around Us is published on 13 June by Red Door.