The Scary Truth About the Publishing Industry: Cancel Culture Has Won

It’s free speech week again… and I’m feeling stumped. Not just because my inactivity on twitter means I’m not privy to the latest gossip of who’s been cancelled. And not because I’m out of ideas. It’s because when I think about this topic, I feel my heart sink. Because not much has changed in the years since I’ve been writing about this topic. Authors are cancelled, threatened and attacked by the “virtuous” online… and too few seem willing to stand up to them.

More and more, I’ve observed the culture of fear that exists in publishing and writing communities around the world. Say or write the “wrong” thing and your career will be over (sometimes before it has begun). Heck, you don’t even have to say or do anything at all. Sometimes, as was the case with Zhao, you can write a book that no one in their right mind would deem offensive and be cancelled just because the mob was hungry that week.

A lot of the time, people deny that anyone gets cancelled at all (never mind those who have lost their jobs or had contracts cancelled) because some people are too successful for them to destroy. Which actually says a lot about them and not about those they wish to cancel- imagine seeing it as a mark of success to destroy someone’s life and measure your success by how much you’ve made them suffer!!

When I voice my fears (on a personal level) I have been told to just ignore it and carry on. Don’t engage. Don’t worry. Don’t think about it. But the problem is not speaking about it gives one group of people all the power. And those people seem very happy to use that power like a battering ram.

Honestly, I don’t blame people for letting it go under the rug. It’s become such an insidious part of online culture that no one talks about it anymore. It’s there, we know it’s there and there’s nothing we can do about it.

… Except that there is. Instead of going along with the crowd when someone tries to ban a book, you can lead a silent rebellion and read it for yourself. You can review it, you can share it, you can quietly display it without comment (if you happen to work in a library and happen to have a lot of Salman Rushdie books to hand 😉). Read the books that are dangerous, that are questionable (or even that were written by a dead Russian because somehow that’s offensive too). No one can crush creativity forever if you refuse to comply. Go forth and read naughty books! 😉

What do you think? Am I being too pessimistic? Or hyperbolic? Let me know in the comments below!


50 thoughts on “The Scary Truth About the Publishing Industry: Cancel Culture Has Won

  1. I hate cancel culture and totally share your view. And I would invite you to read Yellowface by RF Kuang. It’s fate that my review is today but cancel culture is a focal point of that book. It’s just brilliant and tackles social media hate, witch hunt, own voice etc. I had a blast reading it! It will be published in 2023 but it’s already on Netgalley and I think you’d love it 😉

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Dear lord, the amount of hate dead russian authors get now, aye yi yi. I’m currently doing a read through of 4 russian classic authors and maaaaaaaan, I had no idea.

    The thing is, a war of ideals can only end in one of two ways. Either side capitulates completely and goes underground (like the germans who hid jews during WWII) or it gets violent. That’s the problem with with our world today, nobody believes ideas actually lead to action 😦

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I think it’s hard to speak back against cancel culture because doing so really does risk one’s reputation and career. Or can lead to threats and other scary actions. It’s one thing for a celebrity who thinks they have enough money and fame to weather the storm to speak out, but I definitely understand why people innocently trying to mind their own business on the internet don’t want to get drawn into a situation where a mob is being encouraged to send them nasty messages. Or where a mob finds out where they live or work.

    I hope, however, that we can eventually move forward and I think we might have to because in some ways, the movement as it is does not seem sustainable. The people who cancelling others are now being cancelled themselves. The authors who argued that only certain people should be allowed to write certain characters are now complaining that they are being pigeonholed into writing only certain characters. At some point, I think people are going to call for a cease fire because no one really wants to live in a world where one mistake or one review is supposed to be justification for ruining a person’s life. Most reasonable people recognize that mistakes happen, people try to do better, and we move forward.

    And the thing is, the idea started out well (I think so, anyway). It is very helpful to have the type of discussions that are being raised about the stories we tell and how we tell them. It’s just not helpful to shut down discussion completely in favor of letting a handful of people on Twitter decide who gets to have a life or career, and who doesn’t–and oftentimes based on a mistaken reading of the book, such as with Zhao. We need to move back to a model where people raise questions and civil conversations can be had.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes and there often seems so little to be gained. You will have to go through all that… And nothing will change because the people doing it have no self awareness and think they’re the good guys. So yes- I completely understand why people don’t want to put their lives on the line.
      But I agree- it’s not sustainable and it doesn’t allow for growth or creativity (although the pessimist in me worries that it’ll get worse before it gets better)
      I do agree- I definitely think there is reason to have discussions about these things- but not like this- and not with a foregone conclusion of “right” and “wrong”.


      1. That’s true. I see a lot of people basically say things like, “I’m against bullying, but this person DESERVES to be bullied!” Ouch. Or, “I am usually against censorship, BUT THESE BOOKS ARE THE EXCEPTION.” No, no, the point is that we bully no one–we engaged in rational discourse. And then we trust the public to be smart enough to make up their own minds. Believe me. Many, many people can recognize when a book says something hurtful all on their own! The public is, I think, not as foolish as Twitter believes and if a book is that bad, word will get out and people just won’t buy it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Can confirm. The following is a little off-topic, but related …

    When I was trying to get trad published, no agent nibbled. Now this is a normal situation to begin with. As they say, “Wanting to be an author and not get rejected is like wanting to be a boxer and not get punched.” Sometimes, you can’t break into the industry because that’s just the way the industry is. Of course, the temptation is then to start playing the “Is it me?” game. And almost no matter what your demographics or beliefs are, you can easily imagine that those are the reason no one wanted to touch your book with a ten-foot pole. I heard authors who had had more success than I, say that they didn’t have more – and sooner – because of their immutable characteristics. They imagined that people like me were having our doors beaten down by publishers, I guess. Anyway, eventually I indie published, and I’m so grateful that there are resources out there which allow us to do this.

    In my case, I can’t prove anything. I do know that my works are a slow build … defy genre … and deal with a lot of cross-cultural/first contact situations, which by the law of publishing industry, someone of my demographics has no business writing about, even if I do have some experience in that area. Oh, and my first one leapfrogs off a story from Genesis, which might have been the kiss of death as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I despair sometimes about the direction in which our world is going. People fought for the right of free speech yet this achievement is being eroded by the woke brigade who can’t resist any opportunity to jump on the latest bandwagon. Instead of entering into debate and discussion about the issue, they just want it erased.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Good point. Being liberal doesn’t mean you remove a topic from debate – surely you can hold particular views and we willing to explain them. Instead we get people wanting to shut down discussion.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Don’t worry about it, I understand. I often feel bad about having such an open comments section that allows for these things to happen- but I guess I’ve got to stand by my point about free speech 😉😅 so sorry you had that interaction

          Liked by 2 people

  6. I don’t believe in banning books…and that includes Dr. Suess, Ernest Hemingway, or any book that discusses LGBTQ+ info. I will stand up for any banned book, because once we ban ideas, we are done for a a civilization. Those who ban books are dictating the truth as to how they want it to appear. They are fear mongers. That’s the real hate…being afraid of people thinking for themselves and coming up with conclusions…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I completely agree with your post, and it’s rather sad to see what the situation has become. I’m not on social media at all, and this is one of the aspects of it that I don’t miss, it creates no productive discussion and is generally very tiring to deal with.

    I’ve very much against banning books in any way shape or form, and I think that’s exactly what cancel culture has become. I’m going to continue reading whatever I want to, and deeming for myself the value of its content.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. You can’ t get cancel if your not on twitter. Cancel culture doesn’t seem like it has much of an impact like it used to. With more people moving to self and indie publishing. Who needs big publishing companies anymore.
    I hope Elon Musk buys Twitter. With the way people on Twitter are having a meltdown is hilarious AF.
    Just so you know I made a list on GR of books that have been a victim of cancel culture. Feel free to add some books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s just sick. The right are the ones banning books from shelves. I hope Musk does buy it, because a lot of people will leave. A lot of us were disappointed when he pulled out last time. Elon Musk is literally on the side of the people actually banning books. What is wrong with you?


      1. Elon Musk is a liberal that doesn’t judge people base on their politics. That is sick to point your figure and scapegoat one side of the pollical aisle. It not one side banning books. The world is not simplistic black and white place.


    2. I agree with you. Personally I just think it’s time for Twitter to die- it was never a healthy environment (reducing debate down to a limited number of characters was never conducive to productive discussion) but I hear what you’re saying. It was very funny. That’s really great- I’d love to check it out- do you have a link?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A link to Elon Musk buying Twitter? The deal has been settle. It was in the news this morning.
        I’m not sure what that commenter was getting at. Okay Elon Mask was a Liberal and the Los Angles Times says he declare himself a Republican. So what. Still doesn’t make it right to demonizes and scapegoat a political party or any group of people.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha no I think it was impossible to miss the news about Elon musk 😂 I’d like a link to your Goodreads list so I can check out the books ☺️
          I’ve no idea- you’ve got to have some serious blinkers on not to be aware of cancel culture on the left. If she’s looking for sources, I’ve got other posts on the topic with them- most notably calling out call out culture- or she can use Google. I can’t be bothered to get into a pointless debate with her. I agree with you.


  9. Banning books, gosh it’s criminal and I can’t help but have flashbacks to Fahrenheit 451. Are we going to start burning them next? Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in this country and everyone should be allowed to have their say and let the masses make their own decisions on what to write and read. That is the ideal, but the unfortunate reality is that for those who do stand out a lot may be on the line in terms of their job and reputation. 😦 Not even to say if things turn violent, and physical harm becomes a potential reality then it can be more than just themselves but their families also at risk. It’s tricky territory but where we can we should stand up! We should read and write those banned books! We have to keep fighting, and in turn, look out and defend one another wherever we can.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re not far off :/ I agree with you. I don’t think we’re far off physical harm- we are just lucky that some of the people who have been threatened over this have security (though the Salman Rushdie situation was a sobering example of how that’s not enough a lot of the time- we have to get people to stand down or it could get even more ugly). I for one fear for the authors like Rowling who have had people outside their house- to deny that is threatening is insane to me. Absolutely!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh my gosh, hear hear. It’s become so bad I mostly stay off of social media now, some days it just feels like one big echo chamber of trying to see who can be the most offended. Cancel culture is the worst product to come out of such a toxic environment, I just want no part of it. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just one side banning books. Mainstream media has an agenda and tends to be louder so we only see a piece of the puzzle, but the left’s attempts to erase history or ban certain classics because of “problematic” language or subjects is just as bad as the right’s suppression of marginalized voices. We’ll never learn from history if we keep trying to deny it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree with you. I’ve basically run away from Twitter now- it’s so toxic and it makes me feel ill. I deleted it off my phone and I’ve been feeling so much better! I agree. I completely agree with you. And pointing fingers and pretending it’s just one side gets us nowhere- anyone with a little bit of power is perfectly capable of being unreasonable


  11. Thank you for this article. I work in a library in Canada, though I am originally from Romania. The cancel culture reminds me of my childhood under communism. Lately, I am very careful what I say and to whom. I censor myself. I do not engage anymore in “controversial” topics, because the most conversations these days are not about exchanging ideas, and trying to understand different points of view. They are about vilifying even the slightest different opinion.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow thank you for your comment. I very much relate to not engaging in potentially controversial topics. It never ends well and people are often not interested in hearing alternative opinions. All that often happens is that you get crucified for saying something someone else inevitably disagrees with


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