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Simon & Schuster publisher Dana Canedy on Mike Pence’s book deal controversy

October 13, 2021, 5:00 PM UTC

Dana Canedy, who was appointed senior vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster in July 2020, has one of the biggest jobs in the book publishing industry. She’s also among the most powerful Black women in publishing as the first African American executive to head a major imprint.

“I’m someone who just believes we have to understand the country and the world we’re living in,” Canedy said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. “The books I try to acquire do that.” She described how she told her editors that she doesn’t want anyone coming to her with manuscripts that are “just okay,” and that there has to be a value in what is being published. “It can’t just be information you agree with,” she noted.

A prime example: Simon & Schuster’s two-book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence—a reportedly seven-figure deal—signed in early April, just a few months after the Trump administration’s departure from the White House and the insurrection on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. Scores of Simon & Schuster employees were outraged by their employer’s decision and petitioned for the deal to be canceled. But the publishing house is moving ahead with the agreement as planned anyway.

“Broadly speaking, one of the things I do when I have a big decision to make, and you know it’s controversial, I ask myself, ‘What are my motivations? Am I motivated by anger or confusion?’ Those are the wrong motives,” Canedy said. “If I’m motivated by something I can articulate, then I can make those decisions. And I ask myself if can I live with the backlash.”

When it came to publishing the former vice president’s memoir, Canedy said she went through that exercise and felt confident in her decision. At the same time, she admitted, she did expect the fervent response from Simon & Schuster employees.

“You come to work, and you have a job to do, but that doesn’t mean you leave who you are at home. I knew there would be people who didn’t agree with it,” Canedy said. “What you don’t want is employees who come to work and are too intimidated to speak truth to power or quit.”

Another point Canedy made: While she stressed she would never make a decision for this reason alone, Canedy underscored that the first books she purchased as publisher of Simon & Schuster were by authors of color. But she doesn’t want anyone to think she is predictable, either.

“What I don’t want to do is what the industry does. It has to diversify. We need much more range. Through the people I’m hiring and the books we’re acquiring, I’m already trying to do that,” Canedy said. “I didn’t make the decisions for the wow factor. I’m not the Black publisher, I’m the publisher.”

Canedy stressed she thinks the Pence books will be important, because no matter what your political affiliation is, she said we need to hear from someone senior on the inside of that administration to know what they were thinking.

“We’re not just writing for the moment, we’re writing history,” Canedy said, adding that when we’re all gone, she wants to know that she contributed to a body of work that will help people understand this country generations from now.

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