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Publishing can’t stop making Trump books

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The past six months have been good for the book publishing industry. Book sales, aided by closures induced by the pandemic, are on the rise. Sales of adult fiction are up 30 percent year over year. Most importantly, Trump has not been in power. “After the elections, there was a breath of Thank God we don’t have to do any more books on Trump,an editor told me.

The lull is over. After a brief reprieve from the ticking that emerged from the turmoil of the Trump era, publishers are bracing for a flurry of books detailing the final days and legacy of his presidency. The Wall Street Journal journalist Michael C. Bender Frankly we won this election and Michael Wolff’s third book Trump, Landslide, kicked off on July 13. A week later, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s second Trump book, Only I can fix it. Over the next few months we will see volumes by Washington To post‘s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, ABC Jonathan karl, The New Yorkerby Susan Glasser and New York Time‘Peter Baker, the Time‘Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, the Time‘Jeremy W. Peters, the Time‘Maggie Haberman, and the Washington Examiner‘s David M. Drucker.

Most publishing insiders I’ve spoken to responded to the next wave of Trump books with an audible sigh and a roll of their eyes. “After the first few, all of these books seemed repetitive,” the publisher said. “At one point you must have wondered – do readers really care about something absurd that an aide heard from Trump? I’m skeptical of this current crop of books, but my skepticism has been proven wrong time and time again.

Editors were slow to capitalize on the chaos of the Trump era at first. When journalist David Cay Johnston presented a book on Trump in 2015, he was met with silence from major publishers. (He ended up selling the book, which was released in 2016At first, no one thought Trump would get the Republican nomination, and then no one thought he would win the presidency. The books take months, if not years, to produce – by the time Trump’s volumes started coming off the presses the thought was gone he would be back as host. The apprentice.

Trump’s boom didn’t really start until January 2018, when Wolff’s Fire and fury set the template for future blockbusters: full of juicy details, mired in the swamp. Mostly, it drove Trump crazy. Thanks in part to a pathetic cease-and-desist letter sent by the president’s attorneys, the book was an instant mega-seller and ushered in the industry’s version of a gold rush.

Success followed a predictable pattern. Snippets and scoops would be published in tip sheets, newspapers and magazines. Trump would respond by calling the author a hack and a liar. Sales climbed before dropping just as quickly. Fire and fury sold nearly 2 million copies in three weeks before it disappeared from the headlines. Its paperback edition has sold less than 10,000 copies.

For people with #resistance in their bio, clicking BUY NOW was irresistible. For publishers, it was almost like printing money. In 2020, that of Mary L. Trump Too much and never enough, that of John Bolton The room where it happened, and Woodward Rage all sold hundreds of thousands of hardback copies. Kristen McLean of NPD BookScan called 2020 a “record holder”. Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt credited these sales for helping revive the declining chain. “The company had lost its direction considerably and above all had lost its confidence,” he said. “That feeling of having exceptional days and long queues and having to rush to unpack the boxes and take out the stock – it brought a lot of joy back to selling books.”

For many publishing employees, however, the feeling was hardly one of jubilation. “After Trump’s victory, we were horrified,” a former Big Five marketing director told me. “The attention, the enrichment of the people we suddenly decided was on our side because they decided to say something mean about Trump – it all sounded disgusting.”

Trump’s boom has had career repercussions as well. “In recent years, if you weren’t working on Trump’s ledger, you’re under the radar,” a senior publicist at Simon & Schuster told me. (“Hanging out with Joe and Mika is pretty fun,” the publicist added, referring to the hosts of Morning Joe, but it’s “weird to be involved in this excitement, because you don’t care!” For publishers of “serious” fiction and non-fiction, the past few years have been a nightmare. “There was a feeling that people had spent their entire careers figuring out how to publish serious and important books written by serious and important people, and they were being thrown out of the water with loud denunciations,” the former said. responsible for marketing. director.

It doesn’t help morale as readers don’t seem to particularly care either. “People approached these books as merch,” literary agent Kate McKean said. “We all buy books that we intend to read but don’t – it’s not that the content doesn’t matter, but people buy them like they buy a shirt, a hat, a sticker. “

“A lot of these political books are bought to express their support and opposition to something,” said Matt Latimer, founder of the Javelin literary agency, “to make you feel like you’re doing something. And you are! of books that have been published have upset the President. ”

Success was hardly guaranteed (Seat, Wolff’s follow-up to Fire and fury, sold less than 50,000 hardcover copies), but each book had at least a chance of selling in the hundreds of thousands. For publishers, who will tell you that their industry is truly a sophisticated form of gambling, those odds were too good to be overlooked. “Every editor I know is exhausted by this shit, but it might sell so you have to publish it,” said an editor at Hachette. “You can talk about this guy endlessly, even though there isn’t much of interest to say. Either way, these books are easy to do.

Now we get into what a Penguin Random House publicist calls the “Fall step ”of Trump’s presidency, in reference to the film. “These are the same people who read books about Hitler’s last days,” the publicist said. “This is victory porn.”

This trend of rightly buying books may have dissipated, now that Trump has lost his two bully chairs: the presidency and his Twitter account. He has apparently lost his supernatural ability to dictate the news cycle – and thus to draw attention to the anti-Trump books. “The same tweets that boosted sales of [James Comey’s] Higher loyalty and Fire and fury – this is no longer available as a source of Trump’s immediate complaint converted into an anti-Trump sales gratuity, “a Macmillan editor told me. “I think there are a lot of people who are hoping this continues, but we’re starting to see that the foundations of this one are pretty shaky going forward.”

Many editors further noted that interest has shifted to other issues, including racial justice. “The same people in the industry who used to buy Trump books are now buying books like How to be anti-racist and So you want to talk about race,», Declared the editor Hachette. “It has become a hashtag trend just as much as the Trump books. Now you see insane money for these books, and these are the same publishers who buy them – people who know how to follow a trend. “

While there was considerable skepticism about the prospects for selling books from former Trump officials like Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos, everyone agreed that a book by Trump himself would mean a sales boon for them. editors. “Every time a new book comes out in the past four years, we get closer to publishing Trump,” said a publicist from Penguin Random House.

But a contender among the big five in publishing has yet to emerge. The chief of the most likely candidate, former Trump editor Simon & Schuster, told staff in May that the company would not buy a book from the 45th president. Instead, there is speculation that Trump might be a good fit for a new independent “anti-cancellation-culture” publisher, All Seasons Press, founded by former executives at Simon & Schuster and Hachette.

Even though Trump does not publish a presidential brief, one thing is clear: the books on him are not disappearing. “There are 15 or 20 books on Nixon coming out next year,” Latimer told me. “I hate to tell you this, but it won’t be the end of Trump’s books no matter what.”