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Controversies Surrounding New Novel Provide Crisis Management Lessons
Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Washington, DC
Thursday, June 22, 2023


Richard North Patterson has a special reason to celebrate the publication on June 13  of his new novel. Indeed, The Trial represents a triumph over an unexpected obstacle in the publishing industry and is a cautionary tale for business leaders about preparing for and managing a crisis.

It's part of the job description of fiction writers to be able to put themselves in the shoes of others and see the world from different perspectives. Patterson has repeatedly shown he can do just that. He has written 22 novels, been on the New York Times bestseller list 16 times, and sold over 25 million books.  


Ironically, Patterson's expertise as an author created a problem. That's because he's white, and two of the three main characters in his new legal thriller are Black.

That difference in skin color is what Patterson said led 19 major book publishers in New York to turn down his book, saying that white authors couldn't write about the Black experience of racism in the U.S.

Although he anticipated that writing a book "across racial lines could pose a problem later…I was really startled by the uniformity of response and by how explicit publishers were inciting my ethnicity as a reason," Patterson said in an interview via Zoom.


"I wasn't prepared for the totality of the experience and how entrenched this belief was in the [New York] publishing world," he noted.

That's when Patterson realized, "I had to start to think about what do I do now?"

His experience of having the publication of his book "banned" by major publishers comes at a time when many schools across the country are being asked—or required—to ban books about race, history, sexual orientation, and gender.

Bucking that trend, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law on Monday that prohibits libraries from banning books, saying it's the first of its kind in the country, CNN reported.

"Pritzker and nine other governors sent a letter last month to textbook publishers urging them consider the negative impacts of book banning," according to the news organization.

Patterson said that his reputation as a writer who has tackled controversial issues such as gun control, reproductive rights, and capital punishment stirred controversy and opposition to some of his other books.

"But the only time I encountered preemptive censorship is when I wrote a book, directed at the racial problems I see [are] woven into the tapestry of our society," he observed.

Unafraid Of Controversy

 Bellow said he "was personally offended and appalled by what happened to [Richard Patterson] and I was very pleased to be able to give him a home" for his new book.

Patterson eventually found a publisher in Tennessee for The Trial who was not put off by the controversial issues surrounding the book.

"It wasn't a difficult decision" to publish The Trial, Adam Bellow, executive editor at Bombardier Books, a politically conservative imprint at Post Hill Press, said in a video interview.

Patterson "is a very viable commercial author. I'm a publisher in the traditional sense, which is to say I don't have to agree with every book I publish. But I was personally offended and appalled by what happened to [him], and I was very pleased to be able to give him a home" for his new book.

Best Practices

Patterson's response to the controversy he expected when the book was published followed several of the best practices companies and organizations should adopt when confronted with a crisis.

Be Proactive

"I'm not a big fan of sitting back and letting people do stuff to you when they think [you're] wrong," Patterson said. "I think the ability to be decisive and the ability to be clear about what you want to do and consistent in trying to do is something that transcends" book publishing.

Hire The Experts You Need

Companies may not always have the in-house expertise to prepare for or manage a crisis.

Neither did Patterson.

He and Bellow "talked at the outset about putting together [a] public relations team, and I hired some folks from the outside to do social media, which I know virtually nothing about as well as conventional public relations."

Prepare A Plan

As soon as you know, you will face a controversy or crisis, prepare a plan to address it.

"I was very keen to bring this to the public's attention," Patterson said. I wanted my response to the issue to be read, and I wanted it to impact the debate."

He, Bellow and the PR consultants discussed and agreed on the steps to take. "We started formulating a plan in the latter part of 2022. And I think we had our first conversation about it in January," Patterson recalled.

Control The Narrative

Controlling the narrative and telling your side of the story about a controversy or crisis can be crucial in helping to ensure success.

About six weeks before the book's launch, Patterson wrote first-hand accounts about his experience that were published in The Wall Street Journal and The Bulwark. And he encouraged people to read portions of the book themselves by posting excerpts on Substack.

Then, Patterson said, "I made people who have voices in the media aware of the situation, and some of them chose to write or publicize about it in some way. So we certainly thought about how to bring this issue to the attention of people…and also how to encourage people to read my book as a book rather than as simply symbolic" of an issue in the publishing industry.

"I'm hoping that because this is getting some fresh discussion, there'll be some fresh thought in the publishing world about censorship on the basis of racial identity…." Patterson said.

'Don't Let Them Cancel You'

Publisher Bellow's advice for other authors who are facing opposition to their work "is that standing up to bullies is the best strategy. Show them you're not afraid. Don't let them cancel you.

"Ric Patterson is one of those people, and that's why his book will find readership. I don't happen to agree with his outlook on [all] issues….but that is not important," Bellow concluded.


Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Order the book at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827JK83Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.

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