Milo’s Book Deal Is Toast. Now What?

Life comes at you fast. (Note: Adam Rothberg is the director of corporate communications for S&S.)

It was a pretty tumultuous weekend for Milo Yiannopoulos. Friday night, he appeared on Bill Maher’s HBO talk show, where Larry Wilmore handed him his ass after Maher himself proved to be a toothless sycophant. Then, on Saturday, we found out Milo was going to be a featured speaker at CPAC, which is basically the right-wing movement’s Comic-Con. Well, that upset a crew calling themselves the Reagan Battalion, who unearthed footage of an online interview where Milo vigorously defended… not pedophilia, he was at pains to emphasize, but ephebophilia, which is all about grown men having sex with really, really mature young teens who are totally ready for it, “the sort of coming of age relationships in which those older men have helped those young boys to discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love.”

Sunday the Internet had a field day with that footage, as conservatives discovered their “provocative free-speech champion” was, as one commenter put it, “a philosophically bankrupt libertine,” and liberals gleefully reminded everyone that we’d known all along that Milo was a little shit. On Monday morning, CPAC rescinded their invitation; later that day, Simon & Schuster cancelled the publication of Dangerous, a book that was reportedly worth $250,000 to them when the deal was first announced in late December.

So what’s that mean for Milo?

Well, first of all, the chances are good that he’s probably going to keep the money Simon & Schuster has paid him—but they haven’t paid him anywhere near $250,000. Book advances are paid out in stages; usually, it’s 1/3 when the contract is signed, 1/3 when the manuscript is delivered and accepted, and 1/3 when the book is actually published. (Some houses like to break it down into quarters, saving the last chunk for the publication of the paperback, but I’m assuming Milo’s agent wouldn’t have gone for that.)

If the reported $250,000 advance is accurate, let’s say Milo got around $83,000 when he signed the contract with S&S. He notified his online fan base recently that he hadn’t turned in the manuscript yet, because he wanted to write about what was happening on his college speaking tour, and said that his editors were fine with granting him the extension. Let’s take him at his word on that. We can reasonably assume that signing money is the only money he ever got, or ever will get, from this book deal.

Does he have to give it back? Probably not.

If Milo had failed to turn the manuscript in on time, and his editors were not cool with that, then, yes, they could have initiated a procedure that would result in cancelling their publishing agreement and compelling Milo to give the money back for failing to live up to his end of the deal. But he says they were fine with the book being late, and as a former acquisitions editor, that makes sense to me. After all, Milo discussed the extension publicly well before his support for ephebophilia became widely known—although it was out there for anybody who would have made the effort to find it—and his editors and publicists were likely quite happy to be able to tell people, “Look, Milo’s going to talk about all this stuff that happened to him on tour!” Especially if he wasn’t going to talk about it in the media beforehand, so it’d be news. The book was in no danger of not selling, after all, so why not give Milo an extra three months?

And then the book was in danger of not selling.

But Milo didn’t do anything “wrong,” at least not in terms of his book deal. It’s just that Simon & Schuster got cold feet. Whether that’s because they were afraid about a potential backlash, or because they were already getting word from retailers that orders for Dangerous would be cut, or maybe they just suddenly found the guy distasteful, I don’t know. The point is, S&S figured they were better off without Milo’s book hanging around their neck, but since they couldn’t point at Milo and say “this is how you failed us,” they probably don’t have cause to ask for the money they already gave him back.

Unless they do, but that would require an unusual circumstance.

I want to pause, and make something perfectly clear: I don’t know the particulars of Milo’s contract with Simon & Schuster. Even what I’ve said above is based strictly on my general knowledge of book contracts. It’s very likely to be applicable in Milo’s case, but it might not be. And that’s especially true of what I’m about to describe now.

Many book publishing contracts have what’s commonly known as a morals clause. There’s lots of different ways to write such a clause, but here’s one that was made public a few years back:

“Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales, Publisher may terminate this Agreement.”

If such a clause existed in Milo’s contract, his publisher might be able to argue that the surfacing of an interview celebrating sexual relationships between adult men and young teens was an “act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt,” and one that “would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales.” If that were the case, Milo, as the Author, would be required to give the money he’d already received back, because he would have failed to honor his end of the deal by failing to be a decent person.

Those are big ifs, though.

First, if Milo’s agent is any good at what he does, and the fact that he was able to get a reported $250,000 for Milo suggests he is, that morals clause would’ve been one of the first things he objected to if it were in the contract Simon & Schuster initially offered—which, again, I have no idea, because I’ve never seen an S&S contract.

Second, even if that clause survived contract negotiations and was part of the finished agreement, a good agent (or attorney) could argue that this interview occurred well before Milo signed his book deal, so it’s not an act that’s covered under the terms of the agreement. Furthermore, because the interview was readily available to S&S, if they conducted a thorough background check on him before offering him a book deal, a good agent (or attorney) might also argue that S&S knew, or ought to have known, who they were going into business with, and if they didn’t think Milo showed “a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals” then, if they didn’t think he was held in “serious contempt” by the public then, but now they’re suddenly squeamish about him, well, that’s their fault.

Long story short: I am fairly certain that Milo just made something in the neighborhood of $83,000, minus his agent’s cut, without ever having to turn anything in to his former publisher. And that’s entirely on the editorial team that decided to invest in him, and I don’t feel sorry for them about it at all.

So what happens to Dangerous now?

Again, I don’t know what Milo’s deal with S&S was like. I do know, from similar situations, like the time HarperCollins pulled the plug on O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It, or the time Random House was so afraid of terrorist attacks they cancelled The Jewel of Medina, that it’s entirely possible Milo and his agent could find some smaller, hungrier publisher willing to take the book and run with it. Heck, seeing as Milo’s already had a big payday for a book he never delivered, he could forego a huge advance this time around—just get the book out before his fifteen minutes are over, and try to get as big a percentage on the royalties as possible, maybe even go into profit-sharing.

For that matter, the publishing landscape is a bit different now than it was ten years ago. If Milo wanted to try asking his most loyal fan base to crowdfund the book, there’s nothing stopping him, and it might even work.

I don’t know what he’s going to do, and, frankly, I don’t care. But it’s really a matter of whether or not Milo’s most loyal fans are okay with him calling “age of consent” laws into question—and, given that’s an issue even many mainstream Libertarians get excited about, I suspect that, one way or another, we haven’t heard the last of the little shit.