Attention Libertarian Writers

by L. Neil Smith
[email protected]

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Is there a blacklist in New York and Hollywood against libertarian writers?

I address this question to all of my valued colleagues, published libertarian writers, as well as those who haven’t been able to find a publisher for works that are perfectly publishable. You all know who you are. Nor do I ask rhetorically. I’m inviting you to reply any way you wish. I want this question answered, so we can do something about it.

I’ll start.

I’ve been a novelist for 26 years. In all that time, it’s been unspeakably frustrating to me that, as far as I know, I haven’t been able to help a single new writer get published for the first time. I seem to have been utterly unable to blaze trails for the next crop of pro-freedom novelists. The jungle always closes up again, right behind me.

What’s worse, my recommendation is the kiss of death. New York publishers treat me exactly the same way I treat TV and movie critics—I listen to them and do precisely the opposite of whatever they suggest.

Is there a blacklist in New York and Hollywood against libertarian writers?

I’ve had my own problems, too. A famous publisher—my publisher at the time—once told my agent, “Neil could be a great writer if he’d just give up this libertarian nonsense”. However my philosophical convictions are the reason I started writing in the first place. Give up writing what I believe and I wouldn’t have anything left to write. In the end, I told my agent to tell my publisher that she could be a great publisher if she’d give up being Jewish—it amounted to the same demand she made of me—but he didn’t have the cojones to do it.

Most of my “inventory” has fallen out of print (this isn’t unusual for a “midlist” writer), and certain of my efforts that I know are important breakthrough works— Pallas, to name one, or Forge of the Elders — get released, seem to drop into a dark, bottomless pit, and rapidly fade into obscurity, although they’re well-written, and full of new ideas, interesting situations, and engaging characters. It was a struggle of a lifetime to get The Probability Broach back into print.

The only advice I’ve ever had from New York editors is to be less libertarian. (That’s not strictly true; I was once assigned a special editor to “help” me with love scenes in a particular book—trouble was, he was gay; and no, I wouldn’t take politicaldirection from a liberal or a conservative.) At the same time, I know authors who are dyslexics, functional illiterates, alcoholics, or very nearly dead, whose piles of script are tenderly stroked, kneaded, and currycombed by editors and editorial committees until they begin to resemble … literature.

You’d gasp if you knew who I’m referring to.

I’ve been sworn to secrecy.

Is there a blacklist in New York and Hollywood against libertarian writers?

Wanna know how they manufacture a bestseller? When a favored new book—by some writer with the proper credentials—is published, and the first printing is shipped out, the publisher sends hordes of gofers—steno pool girls and mailroom boys—out to every bookstore in Manhattan, pretending to be legitimate customers. They buy the new book back. The sales then get reported to whoever they get reported to—everybody knows what’s really going on but pretends not to—and voila!

Instant bestseller.

Is there a blacklist in New York and Hollywood against libertarian writers?

On the whole, I’ve fared better than other libertarian writers who either end up soft-pedaling their convictions or hiding them as best they can. I’ve written 23 books so far, one of them a nonfiction collection of essays, two of them contemporary “thrillers” I wrote with a collaborator, Aaron Zelman. As always, I have a couple of novels in the works right now, one with a collaborator, Rex May, and another nonfiction project, plus the half dozen columns I write every month.

Over the past 2.6 decades, it’s gotten harder and harder for me to sell books to New York publishers. They say my sales aren’t good. I say they don’t know how to sell my books. As the Bush-Clinton-Bush Depression has gotten deeper, they’ve been less and less inclined to try. What pains me is what I see them do for other writers. Those with “credentials”.

Is there a blacklist in New York and Hollywood against libertarian writers?

I once even had a shot at the movies. A longtime correspondent of mine was friends with my favorite writer/producer/director. With his help (and the w/r/d’s consent) I sent the guy a box of my novels that I thought were right up his alley, along with a freestanding movie “treatment”.


That was three years ago. I got to thinking afterward that this was the guy who was eviscerated over one very ideological movie he’d made and wasn’t much liked for most of his other work. He’s what I’d call a mild, conservative-leaning libertarian, but—in a climate of opinion that resisted Rush Limbaugh, a fake radical who never had a notion Ike Eisenhower wouldn’t have approved of—the expression of his mild, conservative-leaning libertarian ideas nearly destroyed his career.

He needs my ideas like a hole in his head.

I just wish he’d said something.

Which brings me back to the original question. Does New York—and we’ll throw in Hollywood— discriminate against writers who don’t have the right credentials? What exactly are the right credentials?

Is there a blacklist against libertarians?

Some of you will say yes, others will say no, and a few will write me 2000-word articles that avoid really saying much of anything. You tell me—and TLE—and then we’ll see if we can do anything about it.


Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for March 24, 2003

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