Oh, how we conservatives once envied liberal writers. Just 10 years ago, liberal writers could propose a book on, say, how American capitalism stiffs the workingman or how the bourgeois family spawns injustice. Major publishers would respond by throwing oodles of money their way, or at least consider putting out the book. But pitch a critique of affirmative action or a defense of limited government and, unless your name was Buckley or Will, you'd be lucky to get a personalized rejection letter.
There was "a tremendous amount of marketplace and institutional resistance" to publishing conservative books, said Adam Bellow, an editor at Doubleday. The New York publishing world was a liberal preserve.
How things have changed. Over the last 18 months, three superpower publishers have launched conservative imprints: Random House (Crown Forum), Penguin (Sentinel) and, most recently, Simon & Schuster (Threshold, headed by former Bush aide Mary Matalin). Nor is that all. ReganBooks and the Christian publisher Thomas Nelson are putting out mass market right-of-center books, while mid-list conservative titles pour forth from Peter Collier's 5-year-old Encounter Books and several smaller imprints. There's never been a better time to be a conservative author.
What's behind the shift? Crown Forum chief Steve Ross thinks Sept. 11 made the industry less reflexively liberal. There's doubtless some truth to that. But what really turned the big New York publishers was the steady stream of bestsellers that Washington-based Regnery (my publisher) was producing, including Bernard Goldberg's "Bias," which spent seven weeks cresting the New York Times bestseller list. Sentinel's first year produced two New York Times bestsellers and Crown Forum published four, with Ann Coulter's polemic "Treason" reaching more than half a million copies in print.
Small wonder corporate giant Bookspan, which runs the Book-of-the-Month Club, recently started a new conservative book club, American Compass. It signed up nearly 50,000 members in months. "We don't yet know the upper extent to which conservative books can be published in the U.S.," said American Compass Editor Brad Miner. "Every time a new conservative imprint comes along, it manages to create bestsellers."
One reason is the emergence of political talk radio, cable TV, and the Internet and blogosphere, where the right is amply represented, creating what Publishers Weekly describes as a "right-wing media circuit." Right-of-center authors -- as I can attest from experience -- can now reach millions of potential readers without being reviewed by such traditional gatekeepers as the New York Times Book Review or the New York Review of Books, which rarely deigned to review conservative books.
Some liberals grouse that all these right-wing books are a menace. Ellen Heltzel, one of the "Book Babes" whose column runs on the Poynter website, laments that "the strident voices" of the right now have "a larger platform from which to spiel their predictable line."
Sour grapes, I'd say. Too many on the left yearn for a world when there weren't many conservative books -- and, for that matter, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, National Review Online and vocal conservatives, period. Those days are thankfully gone for good.