Books

“Everybody at the Company Felt Betrayed”

A Hachette Book Group employee explains why she and dozens of others walked out to protest Woody Allen’s memoir.

Woody Allen sits behind a microphone, wearing a gray sweater with a collared shirt under it.
Woody Allen holds a press conference in San Sebastián, Spain, on July 9.
Ander Gillenea/Getty Images

Update, March 6, 2020: Hachette Book Group has canceled the publication of Woody Allen’s memoir and says it will return the rights to Allen.

On Monday, Hachette Book Group’s Grand Central Publishing announced that director Woody Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing, will hit bookstores on April 7. The news came as a surprise, and not just because the book had been rejected from multiple major publishing houses over allegations that Allen sexually abused Dylan Farrow as a child (allegations that Allen has repeatedly denied). Last year, another division of Hachette published Ronan Farrow’s bestseller Catch and Killa book that Ronan has since described as being “about how powerful men, including Woody Allen, avoid accountability for sexual abuse.” In a statement on Tuesday, Ronan announced his intention to cut ties with Hachette over the news, writing that the publisher’s decision to publish Allen’s book demonstrated “a lack of ethics and compassion for victims of sexual abuse.”

On Thursday, at 3 p.m. EST, a group of Hachette employees walked out of the company’s New York City headquarters “in support of Ronan and Dylan Farrow and all survivors of sexual assault,” according to a statement that employees tweeted out and shared in automated email responses from their work accounts. The walkout’s timing coincided with a town hall meeting that Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch had scheduled that afternoon to answer questions about the decision-making process behind acquiring and publishing Allen’s memoir. Instead of attending, protestors—many of them from the imprint that had published Farrow’s book, Little, Brown—stood outside for around an hour, then went home.

Others within the publishing industry, including authors who have published books with Hachette’s various imprints, shared their support for the walkout, including Ronan Farrow, who retweeted the protesting employees’ statements. Dylan Farrow also expressed her gratitude.

In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, Hachette Book Group said that it “respect[s] and understand[s] the perspective of our employees who have decided to express their concern over the publication of this book. We will engage our staff in a fuller discussion about this at the earliest opportunity.”

To learn more about the internal response to the Allen memoir, how the walkout was organized, and what Hachette employees hope it will achieve, Slate spoke to an associate publicist at Little, Brown who wishes to remain anonymous. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Slate: Tell me more about the walkout. How was it planned?

Hachette employee: It was kind of just word-of-mouth whispers. The walkout wasn’t fully planned until earlier this afternoon. Obviously we weren’t going to be emailing each other, just because we didn’t want to implicate ourselves, I guess. Not that there’s anything wrong with what we did, but you never know. It was really pretty quiet. Some people were passing around sheets of paper that had just one sentence and it was really straightforward. I think it stems from frustration that the CEO was holding a town hall and instead of going to a town hall where they’ll try to placate us, we decided to walk out.

Why didn’t you want to hear what he had to say at the town hall?

The general sentiment is that he has been very defensive, and the town hall did not seem to come from an honest place. More a “due diligence.” He obviously knows how everyone feels already.

When did you find out that Grand Central Publishing would be publishing Woody Allen’s memoir?

I am not directly involved in Grand Central Publishing. I work at Little, Brown, which is where Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill was published in October. Nobody in the entire imprint of Little, Brown—at least the people I know—heard about it until the Associated Press wrote about it. It was a big-time secret even to the highest editors and publicists in our division. I think the general mood when everybody found out was confusion. Nobody knows why it is happening still, and that’s part of why we did this, to push for its cancellation. It was a very big secret from everyone at Little, Brown. And the excuse was—since Grand Central is publishing it—that Little, Brown isn’t involved, which isn’t a very good excuse [for not telling the employees] because it’s the same company.

When the news broke, what was the internal discussion like?

Again, we also found out about it with the AP piece, and it wasn’t news of the acquisition. The acquisition was done last year, but there was no deal announcement [at the time], which usually happens. We found out a month before it’s being published, so this book already physically exists somewhere. That’s also part of the problem and a lot of the reason a lot of people at Little, Brown and everybody at the company felt betrayed. It was a complete secret up until it was produced and made into a bound book.

When would you normally be informed that Hachette is publishing a memoir by a celebrity like Woody Allen?

Usually for an acquisition for a celebrity memoir that isn’t written by someone as deeply problematic and terrible, [we would know] as soon as the contract was signed. It’s exciting when you get any other celebrity who hasn’t done terrible, awful things, you want to tell everybody: “We bought their memoir. We’re publishing it and we just signed a contract. Stay tuned next year because you’re going to be able to buy it.” Because why wouldn’t you want to announce this amazing thing that you just bought that your readers are going to get to have? Obviously, they must’ve known that they were doing something wrong, because they didn’t tell anybody when it was acquired. And the book had been shopped a couple of years ago and nobody wanted it, which I find unsurprising, personally.

Do you see any value in publishing the book?

I do not. Perhaps [Allen] still has fans, but I don’t think any of that matters in the slightest considering the things he’s been accused of doing.

How many people walked out?

Around 75. It wasn’t just from Little, Brown. There were people from Grand Central and Orbit, but the majority of the people were from Little, Brown. Most of my team walked out. The people I work with are so amazing. Normally in publishing, we’d be told to defend the company, but my entire publicity team is women, and our director supported us in walking out. Especially in publishing, which is historically older white men and problematic, it’s nice to know there’s a team like this.

What do you hope the walkout will accomplish?

We want the book to be canceled. It’s going to be expensive, but it’s the right thing to do. We want a public apology from the CEO. This has ruined a really amazing relationship that Little, Brown had with Ronan Farrow, who’s been in touch with us and sent us support. The least they can do is cancel the book.