Do British publishers want to protect their rear ends—or their bottom lines?

sherry_jones_smallerAfter getting a ton of ink in 2008 (much of it electric ink right here at Likely Stories), Sherry Jones’ controversial Jewel of Medina hasn’t made much news this year. Now, however, in a story with a tabloid-worthy headline (“Muhammad child bride novel author condemns UK ‘censorship’,” by Alison Flood) The Guardian reports that Jones “has accused British publishers of being too afraid to publish her book” on her blog.

Her novel, The Jewel of Medina, was initially acquired for a six-figure advance by Random House US, but dropped by the publisher last summer after it was warned that the book’s subject matter “might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment”. It was later acquired and published in America by small US publisher Beaufort Books. Gibson Square bought UK rights, but dropped the book following an arson attack on the home and office of its publisher Martin Rynja.

I was unaware or had forgotten that Gibson Square hadn’t gotten around to publishing the book–I thought they had responded to the attack with brave words about carrying on with a stiff upper lip and so forth. But Flood’s article does raise an interesting point: that, controversy aside, the book may not be very good. (For more on that, see this.)

I still haven’t read it, and still don’t plan to–not my bag, baby–but I’d have to agree that, were the reviews glowing and the sales crackling, even a firebomb wouldn’t have stopped the publisher from firing up the presses. I don’t mean to belittle the reactionary protests against the book, which were just plain wrong, but financial self-interest isn’t exactly self-censorship.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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