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This book is like a hate crime generating prejudice, malice and potential aggression against members of a religion that has a more than 55 year history in Australia. In a country that respects religious freedom, Mr Cannane is proselytizing religious intolerance and hatred.
None of the Church’s good works are unconditionally recognized whilst the few gratuitously mentioned are cloaked in vicious barbs to denigrate them.
That tax payer dollars were used (through the government funded ABC) compounds the abuse and hatred intended by this book. The falsehoods are too many to comment on other than they are a disservice to the decades of hard work and dedication by the many thousands of Australians that are volunteer staff and parishioners of the Church of Scientology who want nothing more than to continue to practice their religion and to help their families and local communities.
The claims regarding these individuals are ludicrous and have no basis in fact.
Mr Cannane how lowered his journalist standards to the level of a tabloid gossip columnist.
And this is the last paragraph of a review of the book in last weekend’s The Saturday Paper in Australia:
No one from the Church of Scientology agreed to be interviewed by Cannane, and their lawyers, like those of Tom Cruise, flatly denied all allegations. But Cannane has been scrupulous in his pursuit and documentation of the evidence for his claims, conducting countless interviews and examining thousands of pages of legal and other documents. Fair Game has more than 30 pages of densely typed endnotes. A number of people – big names as well as smaller players – have spoken about their experiences here for the first time, at considerable risk to themselves. Cannane would be all too aware that publication makes him and his collaborators “fair game” – this is a book that is as brave as it is good.
We advise anyone unsure of which is correct to buy the book, read it, and make up their own minds.
By Humfrey Hunter
It’s all John Sweeney’s fault. Really, it is. He was the one who, back in 2012, when I was his agent and Silvertail Books was just an idea, told me in his typically bullish way that I should publish his book about Scientology because no matter what the church’s lawyers said, they would not sue either of us. The prospect was more than a little worrying, but Silvertail was new and I needed good books to publish. So, after even more bullishness from John, we published The Church of Fear and John was right; they didn’t sue. Fast forward three years, and now Going Clear by Lawrence Wright is being published by Silvertail in the UK and Australia. It is a fact that if I hadn’t published The Church of Fear, Going Clear wouldn’t be coming out now.
So what do I hope to achieve by publishing it now? Selling books, for a start – Silvertail Books is not a hobby, it’s a business. But there’s more than that involved here. Scientology is a fascinating organisation, one which provides news pages with a steady stream of great stories. But it has a dark side – by which I mean the side which breaks up families, treats children in a way I believe is inhumane, sees adults physically abused and reduces them to lives of poverty and so on – and these things are often mentioned in various different media. But for all sorts of reasons, this darkness has not been fully explored in book form in the UK. Going Clear will change that.
At the same time as our publication of Sweeney’s The Church of Fear was going on, another publisher was making the decision to cancel their planned publication of Going Clear. I do not know why they did this, but I would not criticise them for it; the other publisher is part of a huge international corporation, full of brilliant people who know what they’re doing and who make decisions for different reasons and in different ways to the permanent staff and shareholders of Silvertail Books, who can be counted on one hand. Actually, make that one finger – it’s just me. That means if I want to do a book, I can, lawyers permitting, of course. And in this case, they did, partly because in a 2013 Bill, which became legislation in 2014, the law here changed and introduced a defence against defamation lawsuits called ‘Publication on matter of public interest’. Essentially this means that if something is published which the publisher can show is in the public interest, or which the publisher reasonably believed was in the public interest, the law protects them. This matters to me a very great deal.
When I heard Going Clear wasn’t being published back in 2013, I wanted it immediately. I don’t think I’m obsessive about many things, but for the next couple of years I probably went a little bit that way over this book. What a prospect it was: a world-famous New York Times bestseller written by a Pulitzer Prize-winner. How could I not be excited at the prospect? What a coup that would be for Silvertail Books. On top of this, I hoped publishing the book here would do some good for the perception of the UK as a place where freedom of speech matters and is exercised. Finally, I hoped it would be a useful addition to the exposure of the church’s dark side and life in it. On this last point it might not do much because the book has been available for three years and its contents are widely known. But still, the fact it wasn’t published in the UK didn’t feel right. The church has a presence here, after all, so having it available meant something.
Then you add in Tony Ortega, author of the brilliant The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, hero to many, fountain of knowledge about the church, and someone who said Silvertail publishing Going Clear would be a good thing. When you’re sitting at a table with Tony and John ‘Trust me, they won’t sue’ Sweeney and they’re encouraging you to do something they approve of, believe me when I say you end up feeling pretty damn motivated. Finally, late last year, Lawrence Wright himself indicated he would be interested in letting Silvertail have the book. And so here we are. Today, 17 March 2016, Going Clear is being published in the UK for the first time.
John Sweeney’s book tells the story of his experiences investigating Scientology for the BBC. It’s a riot, as you’d expect, but also mildly terrifying that a journalist could be treated that way in a civilised country in the 21st century. The second Scientology book I published, Russell Miller’s Bare-Faced Messiah, revealed the true story of the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It is a powerful, important and ridiculously entertaining book and Russell is rightly revered as its author. Then there’s The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, Tony Ortega’s riveting biography of Paulette Cooper, the journalist who was the victim of possibly the dirtiest dirty tricks the church has ever pulled after she wrote a book about Scientology in the 1970s. Three brilliant books which belong alongside the best non-fiction of recent years. But something was missing. A portrait of Scientology’s recent history which gives an insight into what’s going on now, how the church became what it is today. And that’s where Going Clear comes in. It is devastating. Like the previous three, it’s impossible to put down because of the human stories it tells. These are real people, from the top to the bottom of Scientology. Real people with familes. Children, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, all of whom are affected by what the church does. That’s why Going Clear needed to be published here, and that’s why I’m proud to have Silvertail’s name on its spine.
NOTE: If it wasn’t for Amazon and the distribution network they offer publishers through print and e editions, no matter how big or small the publisher is, Silvertail wouldn’t exist, and none of the books mentioned above would have been published. That’s an opinion you don’t see very often: Amazon is a friend of free speech. But it’s true. All the books mentioned above are available thanks to Amazon.
Negative stories about Amazon are pretty popular at the moment. If you believe what they say, you’ll see Amazon as no more than a predatory, destructive monster which kills bookshops with its low prices, impoverishes countries by not paying enough tax, and is destroying authors’ lives. Well, there is another side to this story. A side where Amazon is a force for good, which is where I sit. This is why…
Let’s take readers first. They are, after all, the most important people in the publishing world, for the simple reason that they put all the money into it (they really do – let’s not forget that). Thanks to Amazon, readers can now have any book they want either delivered to their home the next day, or to their Kindle almost immediately at very low prices, after reading the first few pages from the comfort of wherever they choose to be. I love books and I love reading and this is why I think Amazon is great – it provides vast choice, market-leading value and convenience. Successful retail is about giving customers what they want. Amazon does that. It really is that simple: I am a very happy, satisfied Amazon customer. And I am a long, long way from being alone.
Now publishers. Silvertail Books has been around for two years now, and over that time I’ve learned many things, most of which are far too boring to mention here. The most important has been the difference between romance and reality. The idea of dealing only with independent bookshops falls into this category: it is a lovely and romantic notion, but I live in the real world, one where there is a mortgage to pay, food to buy and in which days only have twenty-four hours and weeks only seven days, and so I am irresistibly drawn to anything which helps my books sell, while also saving me time. Such as sending out books in bulk straight to a retailer, for example. A retailer who a) will stock any book you want them to, b) can sell books to anyone, anywhere in the world, c) pays their bill on time every month, d) tells you exactly how many books have been sold clearly and accurately, and e) has lots of happy, satisfied customers. That retailer is Amazon. And then there are ebooks. Silvertail Books, about as small a publisher as exists on the planet, can sell books electronically anywhere in the world with distribution costs of precisely zero, thanks to ebooks. Two of my books, The Church of Fear by John Sweeney, and Bare-Faced Messiah by Russell Miller, have sold a good few thousand copies in the US. Those sales – impossible without Amazon – are vital to the health of my business. For a small company like mine to be able sell that many units in a foreign market at such a low cost is surely something worth celebrating, for me, at least. I have also just published When In Doubt Be Nice, by advertising legend Peter Mead. He is known by advertising people across the world, and thanks to Amazon I can sell books to all of them (I hope very much that I will.) And then there is Elephant Moon, also by John Sweeney. This book has now sold almost 70,000 copies, which astonishes and delights me. The vast majority of those sales are ebooks, sold through Amazon. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that something which should put a smile on the face of anyone who loves books and has even a smidgeon of regard for small businesses trying to make their way? A publisher’s greatest challenge is finding and curating books which sell. It’s also not something Amazon can help you with. But what they can help you with is distribution, to such an extent that I can honestly say without Amazon I wouldn’t have a business. And anything that is good for me as a publisher, is good for my authors. So Amazon helps writers too.
Finally, tax. As a rule, I try to pay as little tax as is legally possible and I am fairly sure just about everyone else in the country is the same. That’s what Amazon does and, as long as it’s legal, I cannot see why they should be criticised for it. I, for one, would be a hypocrite to do so. While we’re on economics, Amazon employs people too. They pay NI, income tax, all those things. Another good thing the company does.
So I don’t think Amazon is something to fear or boycott or even get angry about. We should be celebrating and embracing the opportunities it offers, not condemning it.
A very experienced and brilliant publisher recently said to me that he believes publishing is on the brink of a new golden age. I agree with him. This is why.
Publishing has always been and always will be about the reader more than anyone else. The reader is, we must never forget, the one who puts the money into publishing. Without readers buying books, there would be no publishing industry. The reader is, therefore, the most important part of the business.
Take me as an example of a reader. I read a lot. Always have (useful for a publisher/author/agent, you might say). And yes, I am sad that bookshops are disappearing so quickly. Of course I am. I have spent many happy hours in bookshops. When I was younger I treasured the time I spent in Waterstones in Cambridge, just looking around, dipping into books here and there, discovering new ones or spotting ones I already knew. Book tokens – they seem so old-fashioned now – were my absolute favourite birthday or Christmas present because they meant I could buy a few more books and that made a book nerd like me incredibly happy. But today, as more and more bookshops close down, what can I do to get the same thrill? Can anything replace that experience for me?
Well, yes. These two things can: ebooks and Kindle vouchers. I know that’s heresy to many people but talking purely as a reader (one of the ones who put the money into publishing), the arrival of some gifted cash in my ebook account gives me exactly the same feeling of excitement as those book tokens did twenty years ago. I keep a list of books I want to read and on my Kindle, iPhone or PC (whichever is closest to hand), I read the first few pages of those books and then decide whether or not I want to pay for the rest. I’ll then read the book when I finish whatever I’m on now. As a reader, what could be better? Samples brought straight to me, wherever I am. Whole books brought to me, wherever I am, whenever I want them. The book nerd in me who loved going into Waterstones in Cambridge with a ten pound book token back in the early nineties is in heaven right now because I have such easy access to all this wonderful material. I literally can’t imagine anything better. Why? Because it wasn’t the bookshop I loved. It was the books in the shop. Now the books are simply in a different place. A place which is ridiculously easy to get to. Without leaving my home I will never, ever run out of things to read, and that includes print books too, if I want them. How on earth can that be a negative thing? Well, the flipside of this new golden era is that bookshops will feature on our high streets less and less and that is indisputably sad. But is it bad? For the people who run the shops, yes. But for readers (still the people who put the money into publishing) no, it isn’t.
The sad truth is that in the wider scheme of things in publishing, bookshops are being evolved out of existence, especially the small ones. Like the horse and cart or the fax, their business model fits perfectly in a different era, one disappearing further into the past every day. Today they don’t sell many books and for me, as a small publisher (I am part book nerd, part book businessman), selling books in ones or twos to little outlets is romantic and nice but in terms of profit made and time spent on each sale (packaging up the books and then posting them), it borders on pointless. I know this sounds heartless but I have much more potentially profitable things to do with my time, because this is not a hobby for me. My aim, as publisher of Silvertail Books, is to sell as many books as I can. That is the only way my business will be a success, the only way I will pay the mortgage, support my family etc etc. I can’t spend time on anything which doesn’t contribute positively to my business. For example, I can’t afford to worry about how I can help small bookshops survive. For another very different example, I officially don’t care about how Amazon runs its tax affairs, as long as what they do is legal, which it is. If something isn’t going to help me sell books, as neither example will, it’s parked, permanently.
Why, then, am I so delighted that one particular independent bookshop in one particular place is stocking a few copies of one of my books and will be putting a poster of the cover in the window? There is a faint whiff of hypocrisy here, you might think. And you might well be right. The answer is simply that I hope this will help me shift copies of a certain book. The book, by the way, is Clapham Lights by Tom Canty and the shop is Clapham Books which is in – you guessed it – Clapham.
I might not be single-handedly securing the survival of a swathe of independent bookshops (which, to be clear, I would love to be able to do but know in my bones is beyond my powers) but what I am doing is engaging with one in what I hope will be a mutually beneficial project: raising awareness of a book in the area it is named after and where its story is based and thus where it will have the most traction with its readers. This will, I hope, lead to lots of people wandering in and buying copies.
I will end with a message to all residents of and visitors to Clapham: if you’re in Clapham and want to buy a brilliant book based in Clapham and named after Clapham from a shop in Clapham, then Clapham Lights is available from Clapham Books on Clapham High Street. They even have signed copies.
Both the book nerd and the book businessman in me are happy with that.