A Trump Memoir Would Likely Sell Millions of Copies But Publishers Worry They Could Face Credibility Issues

From a New York Times story by Elizabeth E. Harris and Alexandra Alter headlined “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. . . .

Mr. 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. . . .“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. . . .

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. . . .

Others noted that publishers would face credibility issues if they released a book by a public figure known for spreading falsehoods and misinformation. . . .

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. . . .

Some prominent writers who have been outspoken critics of the president said they would not object if a publisher took on the project. Stephen King, who has frequently denounced Mr. Trump on Twitter, said in an email that Mr. Trump should be given the opportunity to release his book, as a matter of principle.

“Anything he wrote would be a pack of self-serving lies, but I believe in the freedom of people to read what they want, and I hate censorship,” said Mr. King. “Let him publish, if he wants. I hope my publisher won’t be the one to do it, but in any case I can’t wait to see the critics take him apart.”. . .

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.

“It’s going to be an extraordinarily hard time to sell the Donald Trump memoir,” Mr. Urbahn said. “While not entirely insurmountable, this is the thorniest nonfiction publishing challenge that I’ve ever seen.”

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.

“I’m hoping they will stand by their principles and not get involved,” he joked, “so we have a better chance of picking it up!”

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.

“Unless he plans to write the Bible, I don’t think that’s accurate,” said the best-selling author Scott Turow. “But I’ll guarantee one thing: He’ll want a bigger advance than Obama got.”

Elizabeth A. Harris is a roving culture reporter. A Times reporter since 2009, she has covered education, retail companies for the business section, real estate as the “Appraisal” columnist, and New York politics.

Alexandra Alter writes about publishing and the literary world. Before joining The Times in 2014, she covered books and culture for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she reported on religion, and the occasional hurricane, for The Miami Herald.

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