Trump Is a Godsend for Book Publishers. He’s Also a Nightmare.

From Intelligencer:

The past six months have been good to the book-publishing industry. Book sales, helped along by pandemic-induced lockdowns, are up. Adult-fiction sales have risen 30 percent year over year. And most of all, Trump hasn’t been in office. “Postelection, there’s been a breath of Thank God, we don’t have to do Trump books anymore,” one editor told me.

The lull has come to an end. After a brief reprieve from the dishy ticktocks that emerged from the turbulence of the Trump era, publishers are gearing up for a flurry of books detailing the final days and aftermath of his presidency. The Wall Street Journal reporter Michael C. Bender’s Frankly, We Did Win This Election and Michael Wolff’s third Trump book, Landslide, kicked things off on July 13. A week after that came Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s second Trump book, I Alone Can Fix It. In the coming months, we will see volumes by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, ABC’s Jonathan Karl, The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser and the New York Times’ Peter Baker, the Times’ Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, the Times’ Jeremy W. Peters, the Times’ Maggie Haberman, and the Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker.

Most of the publishing insiders I spoke to responded to the coming wave of Trump books with an audible sigh and an eye roll. “After the first few, all of these books seemed repetitive,” the editor said. “At a certain point, you had to wonder — do readers really care about some absurd thing some aide heard Trump say? I’m skeptical about this current crop of books, but my skepticism has been proven wrong again and again.”

Publishers were initially slow to capitalize on the chaos of the Trump era. When the journalist David Cay Johnston pitched a book about Trump in 2015, he was met with silence from big publishers. (He did end up selling the book, which was released in 2016.) At first, no one thought Trump would get the Republican nomination, then no one thought he would win the presidency. Books take months, if not years, to produce — by the time Trump volumes started rolling off the presses, the thinking went, he would be back hosting The Apprentice.

The Trump boom didn’t really begin until January 2018, when Wolff’s Fire and Fury set the template for future blockbusters: full of juicy detail, mired in the swamp. Above all, it made Trump mad. Thanks in part to a pathetic cease-and-desist letter sent by the president’s lawyers, the book was an instant megaseller and inaugurated the industry’s version of a gold rush.

Success followed a predictable pattern. Excerpts and scoops would be published in tip sheets, newspapers, and magazines. Trump would respond by calling the author a hack and a liar. Sales shot upward before falling just as quickly. Fire and Fury sold nearly 2 million copies in three weeks before it faded from the headlines. Its paperback edition sold fewer than 10,000.

For people with #resistance in their bio, hitting BUY NOW was irresistible.

. . . .

The Trump boom also had career repercussions. “These last few years, if you weren’t working on the big Trump book, you’re under the radar,” one senior Simon & Schuster publicist told me.

. . . .

 For editors of fiction and “serious” nonfiction, the past few years were a nightmare. “There was a sense that people had spent their entire careers knowing how to publish serious, important books by serious, important people, and they were getting blown out of the water by trashy, [*****] tell-alls,” said the former marketing director.

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

“Many of these political books are bought to express support and opposition to something,” said Matt Latimer, founder of the literary agency Javelin, “to make you feel like you’re doing something. And you are! Many of the books that were published did upset the president.”

. . . .

Now, we’re entering what one Penguin Random House publicist calls the “Downfall stage” of Trump’s presidency, referring to the film. “It’s the same people who read books about Hitler’s last days,” the publicist said. “It’s victory porn.”

Link to the rest at Intelligencer

Point 1 – PG thinks this may be the first post on TPVx that has mentioned the former president, but he’s still a little Covid-crazy, so he may be wrong.

Point 2 – TPVx has not, is not and will never be a political blog, so this is not a signal of any new direction.

Point 3 – Regardless of how they voted in any presidential election, PG suspects that great hordes of Americans would not mind the prospect of never seeing Mr. Trump’s name in the newspapers (are there any actual newspapers left?) or anywhere else unless he’s building another apartment tower, in which case, they could breeze on by the story if they weren’t real estate professionals.

Point 4 – PG doesn’t expect to see the scenario described in Point 3 happen very often. Trump sells newspapers (or used to) and he attracts online clicks like Wolfgang Puck or a Las Vegas stripper’s latest blog post. After all, PG clicked on the link to the OP.

The bottom line is that stories about Trump sell as the number of books about Trump listed in the OP and the quotes therein confirm.

Point 5 – The next time anyone associated with the New York Publishing scene mentions that they and/or their employer are curators of culture, mention Trump books. (PG just checked and two out of the top-ten non-fiction bestsellers are about Trump. Those two are published by Penguin and Henry Holt, owned by Macmillan, each a giant curator of culture.)

5 thoughts on “Trump Is a Godsend for Book Publishers. He’s Also a Nightmare.”

  1. If this is the Der Untergang* phase, does that mean that we’re going to have YouTube memes with fake subtitles to “translate” a favorite scene into other contexts, followed by the publisher (film producer) chasing them all down with DMCA notices — even the one that satirizes the DMCA notices?

    Oh, wait, that would require a sense of humor about the whole thing that was more than a cover for either righteous rage or dispair. Never mind, it’s far too soon.

    * Invocation of the actual title of the film entirely on purpose and a further slap at the “cultural curators” meme, since Der Untergang does not primarily mean “downfall” — and you have to know your German cultural references to understand why.

  2. I am mystified at the possibility of getting enough material from this topic for a book-length… book, much less multiples of them. Regardless of pro or con, is there really that much to say?

  3. Love your Point 5.

    They are media whores, and don’t care who they sell to (and if it foments misinformation and ridiculous behavior by people wearing two-tone paint), as long as they sell.

    I’m utterly convinced that the media got the former guy elected by giving him space no matter how ridiculous his pronouncements.

    But isn’t hucksterism the American Way?

    • I’d suggest an alternative explanation. The miserable failures of the credentialed experts caused zillions of people to dismiss them as ignorant and incompetent hacks. That set the stage for populism which is a reaction fueled by a widespread lack of confidence in institutional leadership.

      I don’t think we have seen the end of this phenomenon. The media merely went along for the ride, just like the publishers described above are doing. I see today as the end of Chapter One. Should be a great read ahead.

      • Personally, I would have been just fine with living in a period that people found it boring to read about.

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