News ID: 277322
Published: 0720 GMT November 25, 2020

A Trump memoir would sell. Will publishers buy it?

A Trump memoir would sell. Will publishers buy it?

When American presidents leave office, regardless of their parties or approval ratings, a common ritual awaits: They write books, capturing the moment for history and sharing insight into one of the world’s most unusual jobs.

But publishers are at odds over such a project with President Trump, even though his presidential memoir would likely sell millions of copies. It is a debate that pits powerful commercial interests against fraught political and cultural fault lines, with some executives worried that signing him would prompt a revolt among their authors and staff, and that ensuring the book’s veracity could be an even bigger concern.

Concentrated in New York City, mainstream book publishing is dominated by editors, agents, publicists and other professionals who are politically left of center, but the big houses all sign books by conservatives, seeing it as key to their mission and their business.

Sean Hannity is at Simon & Schuster. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is at Macmillan. Newt Gingrich has been published by divisions of Penguin Random House, Hachette and Macmillan.

Trump has published more than a dozen books with houses that include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House, though some titles have sold more than others. According to NPD BookScan, ‘Trump: The Best Golf Advice I Ever Received’ has sold about 3,500 copies through traditional retail channels, like Amazon or big-box stores, since it came out 15 years ago. ‘The Art of the Deal’ has sold more than 630,000 copies.

Sales and profits this time around stand to be huge. Mr. Trump was defeated in the 2020 election but still has a megaphone on social media and holds sway with many conservative media outlets, which will give him a platform to promote his book even when he is out of office. More than 73 million people voted for him this year.

But the risks this time are different, too. Several top executives said that publishing Mr. Trump could be perilous in a polarized media environment — to a degree that is far different from his books released before he became president — and that the possibilities of boycotts, libel lawsuits and social media campaigns outweighed the obvious financial benefits. Earlier this year, Hachette dropped a planned memoir by Woody Allen following protests by its employees and Mr. Allen’s son Ronan Farrow, an author who is also published by a Hachette imprint.

Others noted that publishers would face credibility issues if they released a book by a public figure known for spreading falsehoods and misinformation. Publishers, who typically rely on authors for fact-checking and accuracy, would likely need to take additional steps to verify that Mr. Trump’s account was factual and that he would be willing to undergo that kind of review. And if the factual and legal vetting did not eventually satisfy the publisher, would they be able to claw back whatever portion of the advance had already been paid?

Speculation about Mr. Trump’s plans for his memoir began picking up in the days after the election. Though he does not yet appear to be actively writing one, his finances are under stress and he could be looking for the type of cash infusion a book might bring.

Most of the president’s businesses are losing money, according to an investigation by The New York Times, which obtained two decades of his corporate and personal tax information. These tax records also show he has hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due in the next few years that he has personally guaranteed. He is also under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. This audit has been going on for years and an adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.

Presidential memoirs have long been a popular and lucrative subgenre. Such books have a built-in audience and are generally reliable moneymakers. Even Richard Nixon found a publisher for his 1978 memoir, ‘RN,’ despite a boycott effort.

But blowback from within the industry to a Trump memoir, especially as he refuses to concede that he lost the election, is likely to be severe.

Celeste Ng, the author of the best-selling novel ‘Little Fires Everywhere,’ said she wouldn’t hesitate to speak out against her publisher, Penguin Random House, if it struck a deal with Mr. Trump.

Brooks Sherman, an agent with Janklow & Nesbit, said on Twitter that he would stop submitting books to any publisher that took on a Trump memoir. “I promise, I will never sell another book to a publisher that dares do this,” he wrote.

Other agents said agencies and publishers should be open to releasing a memoir by Mr. Trump, depending on the nature of the book.

Keith Urbahn and Matt Latimer, who co-founded the Javelin literary agency and have represented several former Trump administration officials, said they would take a meeting with Mr. Trump but acknowledged how difficult it would be to find the book a home.

Thomas Spence, the president of the conservative publisher Regnery, which has worked with Mr. Trump before, said he would be eager to buy the president’s memoir, but he doubted that the big five publishers would ultimately refuse such a big seller.

Another possibility is that Mr. Trump could self-publish a book and bypass the houses entirely. That would mean taking on printing, distribution and other logistical headaches along with financial risk, since self-published authors forgo an advance in exchange for a much higher percentage of sales. But given the number of books Mr. Trump is likely to sell, retaining complete control of a book’s content and message is likely to be an appealing proposition.

An article in The New York Post last week, citing an unnamed source, said Mr. Trump could be offered book and TV deals worth $100 million, but publishing professionals said that number was almost certainly too high for a book.

 

The article was first published in The New York Times.

 

 

   
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