Prejudice Over Profit in New York Publishing

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:09

    You've probably never heard of Robert A. Waters or his book, The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves With a Firearm. "Success" is a relative term, and for a first-time author at a small publishing house to sell thousands of copies in one year is pretty impressive, but it isn't going to put Waters on Larry King Live or buy him a summer place in the Hamptons. Still, it's made Waters happy, and he is eager to follow up on his success.

    It was kind of a fluke that I got to know Waters. His brother Zack is an English teacher in Georgia who writes articles about Civil War history (Zack's special expertise is Florida regiments) and I got to know Zack when I was a journalist down home. Last year, Zack called me where I now work in Washington. His brother, he said, had just published this book, and would I be interested in getting a copy of the book and doing an interview? Sure, of course.

    So Zack called Robert and Robert called Cumberland and Cumberland sent me a copy of the book. I called Robert and did an interview and wrote an article. The day the article appeared, G. Gordon Liddy read it over the air on his radio show; the next day, Liddy had Waters on as a guest, and the phones started ringing off the hook at Cumberland. Bing, bang, boom.

    A few weeks later, I called Robert just to check in and he told me he was already at work on a sequel. Last week, I was cleaning out my e-mail basket and found his address and sent him a little note asking him when we could expect to see his next book. He responded: "Thanks for writing. My book is currently making the rounds of publishers. It's amazing that the liberal New York publishing establishment won't publish a pro-gun book?talk about subtle censorship!"

    Amazing indeed. If Waters could sell thousands of copies for tiny Cumberland House, imagine what he could do if he had the promotional power of a Random House behind him.

    There is no doubt that Waters is right to say that the liberal New York publishing establishment is engaged in censorship, subtle or otherwise, in attempting to suppress his "pro-gun" book. Why else would they refuse it? Is Waters paranoid to suggest that New York publishing is run by liberals whose anti-gun bias would cause them to turn down a sure moneymaker? Well, there is the story of Ann Godoff, chief editor of Random House, who, in explaining why she turned down Dan Quayle's new book, commented that she just wouldn't be associated with ideas which she "disagree[d] with so profoundly."

    aOkay. Dan Quayle is Dan Quayle. But he's not Pat Buchanan. There are literally millions of Americans who endorse the basic Republican beliefs that Quayle promotes. Quayle ultimately found a publisher, but not among the big New York houses that dominate the market, and no doubt Quayle's publisher is happy to have the business. Several thousand readers have now purchased his book, and, despite the sniffy New York executive's silly fears, the republic has not been toppled by brownshirts or theocrats.

    The point is that the New York executive knew that, with the enthusiastic backing of a major publisher, Quayle's ideas could have reached far more readers. Quite frankly, they don't like Quayle's ideas, they don't want those ideas to reach readers and, as this executive's comment suggests, they certainly don't want to do anything themselves to help Quayle's ideas reach readers.

    If book publishers are prejudiced, booksellers may be even more so. Just today I went into my local Borders and, after leafing through a few magazines, went to the "religion" section?where else but in the back of the store basement? If you know anything about retailing, you know that placement is everything. Put something up front, devote extra shelf space on the ends of aisles (notice how Coke and Pepsi fight for these spaces in your grocery store), display promotional posters and you will likely sell a lot more of whatever gets that special treatment. Products displayed at eye level sell more than those that people have to bend down to see.

    The eye-level "fronts" on the religion shelves of my local Borders were interesting choices. One of them was a new book endeavoring to show that Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus was something cooked up by church councils centuries after Jesus was crucified. None of the books prominently displayed reflected orthodox, conservative, traditional Christian belief. One might gather from this uniform promotion of heresy and agnosticism that the management and staff of my local Borders is hostile to traditional religious belief.

    Then I looked down at a table and saw She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. One of the most awaited titles of the fall season, this book by Cassie's mom tells the story of how the 17-year-old came to the Christian faith she died professing at Columbine High School. Here it is, on the back side of a table in the back of the basement of the store. What would lead the Borders staff to relegate this sure seller to such an obscure location? Is it not the same prejudice that leads them to give prime shelf position in their religion section to heretical works? And isn't this prejudice a lot like that New York executive's animus toward Quayle?

    It is easy to see why Robert A. Waters might suspect "subtle censorship" was working against his latest book. His first book was a series of stories, told in "true crime" style, of ordinary people who had a gun handy when they were confronted by violent criminals. Many of those people are women, including Sammie Foust, a middle-aged divorcee whose .25 caliber pistol saved her life from a brutal burglar who broke into her home and nearly beat her to death before she finally killed him. Reader reviews on have called the book "powerful and chilling," "fast-paced" and "exciting." Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinel has written, "Some [chapters] read like a suspense story, and they put the reader in the shoes of people whose normal, peaceful lives suffered the sudden, horrifying shock of a criminal attack... It'll make a believer in the Second Amendment out of any sensible person."

    Ah! This is just it. By telling these true stories in an exciting way, Waters supplies readers with the facts that demonstrate the benefits of gun ownership. Obviously, the "liberal New York publishing establishment" has no desire to let readers get access to these facts.

    Why should anybody care whether subtle censorship is at work against Quayle or Waters or Cassie Bernall's mom? Because the facts are the facts and the truth is still the truth. That New York executive didn't claim Quayle's book was false or dishonest; she just could not abide Quayle using the truth in support of ideas to which she is "profoundly" opposed. No one has suggested that Waters is making up the accounts in his books; they're based on police reports, court testimony and interviews with the would-be victims themselves. It's just that the accounts give credence to a viewpoint to which the publishing community is "profoundly" opposed. And if the story of Cassie Bernall is relegated to the back of a table in the basement of Borders, one can assume that the folks who run bookstores fare as "profoundly" opposed to the Christian faith as was the shotgun-wielding monster who blew a hole in Cassie's head.

    There are facts and ideas that some people in the New York-based publishing industry will use any means at their disposal to keep from the reading public. Even books that would certainly turn a profit are rejected by the major New York publishers if they argue too persuasively for ideas that do not fit the narrow prejudices of the industry's editors and executives. When publishers cut back on their lists and cry the blues about their profit margins, remember that they regularly reject titles that would turn a profit but that argue for the "wrong" ideas.

    But Robert A. Waters is not discouraged. He writes me that he is "still hoping to get...[conservative publisher] Regnery to take" his new book. ABC News contacted him and used the Sammie Foust story in a special about guns. There is hope the truth will ultimately win, even if New York publishers refuse to profit from the victory.