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Blocking a Book's Publication


Yes, but it was a book not on politics, and not on running, but rather on business.

The book was titled The Business Healers, about the management consulting profession, then dominated by firms such as McKinsey and Booz-Allen.  It grew out of an article I wrote for Playboy magazine titled “Executive Chess.” Based on two chapters and an outline, my agent got me a contract with what was, admittedly, a second-level publishing house that specialized in business books. I began work. But as I researched and wrote the book, I began to have second thoughts about the publisher. It was too good a subject and too well-written a book to waste on a second-level house. My ego told me that, but a contract is a contract.

Then during the fact-checking period, three separate companies objected to my book, which they perceived as being not friendly to them, or to the profession. The three companies screamed "libel" and threatened lawsuits, which, of course, would have blocked publication of the book.

Ethics required me to inform the business publisher of the threats. The publisher showed the completed manuscript to its attorneys. The attorneys said that the book was “full of landmines.” Well, yes. Without landmines, The Business Healers would not have offered an accurate portrait of the management consulting profession. Heroically, I asked for the manuscript back, hoping I could find a better and more courageous publishing house, along with a better advance against royalties.

Soon after, I traveled to New York pitching article ideas to different magazines, including Esquire. I mentioned to an editor my unsold manuscript, which had received a half dozen turn-downs already. The Esquire editor said he heard  that Random House was looking for someone to write a book about the management consulting profession. This was in the era before cell phones.  As soon as I hit the lobby, I called Random House and told one of the editors about my project. “Send me the manuscript,” he said.

Random House immediately asked to publish the book. This allowed me to squirrel out of my earlier contract with the business publisher. The Business Healers never quite made the best-seller list, but it went through several editions and was translated into a half dozen different languages including Japanese.

As for the three companies who threatened to sue me, that never happened. They were simply shouting “libel” to either scare me into removing the landmines, or scare anyone from publishing The Business Healers. Two of the three companies ran rogue operations, more interested in charging for their time than offering sound business advice; they are no longer in business. The third company was an accounting firm that objected to my contention that it was a conflict of interest for such firms to spin off into management consulting, becoming judge and jury for their clients. 

You may have heard of the accounting firm; it was Arthur Andersen, later  caught in the Enron scandal, doing what I had warned firms in the accounting and management consulting professions not to do.