Why Politicians Write Fiction: Insider Knowledge and Instant Name Recognition Sell Books

From a Wall Street Journal story by Mark Yarm headlined “Stacey Abrams, Hillary Clinton, and Why Politicians Write Fiction”:

Last year was a banner time for political nonfiction, from a plethora of books about Donald Trump to Barack Obama’s latest bestselling memoir, A Promised Land. But a different sort of trend is making a comeback in 2021: Big-name politicians are writing fiction.

Stacey Abrams’s While Justice Sleeps, which centers on Avery Keene, a law clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court justice, is out May 11. After the justice falls into a coma, Keene must unravel a high-level conspiracy. On June 7, former President Bill Clinton teams up again with author James Patterson for The President’s Daughter, in which a former president, who had served as a Navy SEAL, embarks on a one-man mission to save his kidnapped teenager. (The pair’s 2018 novel, The President Is Missing, which centers on a different make-believe president, was a huge hit, selling more than 3.2 million copies; the new book has an announced first printing of 1 million copies.) Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton follows suit in October with State of Terror, a collaboration with friend and mystery novelist Louise Penny, which concerns a novice secretary of state trying to get to the bottom of a series of terrorist attacks.

“There’s just instant name recognition, and that really does make a difference when someone’s picking up a book,” says Kristen McLean. Another part of the appeal is the insider knowledge that people like the Clintons can bring to the page….

American politicians writing novels is a tradition that traces back to Ignatius Donnelly, a Minnesota Congressman in the 1860s who released a dystopic bestseller called Caesar’s Column in 1890, according to critic Colin Dickey….Jimmy Carter was the first president to publish a novel, 2003’s The Hornet’s Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War. Former senators Barbara Boxer and Gary Hart are also known for their fiction….

Fiction also allows politicians to deal with the “messy ambiguity” of politics by taking control of the narrative, says Colin Dickey. “With Newt Gingrich, it was very much a sort of stripped-down good and evil,” Dickey says of the ex-speaker’s recent trilogy—Duplicity (2015), Treason (2016) and Vengeance (2017)—written with journalist Pete Earley. “With people like Boxer and the Clinton-Patterson book, it was about the sort of heroicness of the difficult decision that the politician has to make.”

In addition, the books can be handy promotional tools for politicians still in the game. Rose-Hayes, Boxer’s collaborator, suspects that getting her name even more out there may have been part of the then-senator’s motivation. “It was a useful thing to talk about on the campaign trail,” Rose-Hayes says. “And she did get some terrific publicity; she was on all the talk shows.”

Of course, there’s a profit motive, which Gingrich is blunt about. “I always try to do books that have three goals,” he says. “One, educate the reader about something significant. Two, educate myself. And three, make a little bit of money.” The monetary aspect, he says, transcends party affiliation. “Bill Clinton doesn’t write a novel to get his name better known,” Gingrich says. “He writes a novel because if you combine him and his co-author, they’re going to sell a tremendous number of books.”

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