“How Cuomo’s Book Became a Cautionary Tale”

From a New York Times story by Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris headlined “How Cuomo’s Book Became a Cautionary Tale”:

Last summer, publishers really wanted to buy Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s book.

At the time, it seemed like a guaranteed best seller. Sales of political books were surging, and Mr. Cuomo had become a cable news fixture with a rising national profile as the man who steered New York through the first devastating surge of the coronavirus pandemic. When the manuscript began circulating, several major publishing companies vied for it in a frenzied auction, with bids soaring into the seven figures.

Crown, an imprint of Penguin Random House, beat out competitors with an offer of more than $5 million. It was a gamble on an author whose previous memoir sold fewer than 4,000 hardcover copies. And it backfired spectacularly.

On Tuesday, the governor—facing sexual harassment scandals and multiple investigations, including some related to how his book was drafted—said that he was resigning from office.

“It’s like a publisher’s worst nightmare,” said Matt Latimer, whose literary agency, Javelin, represents many politicians. “It can sometimes be very risky to work on a book that responds to what’s in the zeitgeist at the moment. But I can’t imagine any publisher would have foreseen such a catastrophic ending.”

In the months following its October release, Mr. Cuomo’s book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic,” became a source of financial and ethical headaches for Crown. Sales were surprisingly weak for a title that Crown had invested in heavily, with fewer than 50,000 hardcover copies sold….Promoting the book became challenging, as Mr. Cuomo was mired in investigations that battered his public image, including allegations of sexual harassment from several women. In March, Crown made an attempt to distance itself from the governor, saying that it had canceled plans for a paperback version and would no longer promote the book.

Following Mr. Cuomo’s resignation announcement on Tuesday, questions remained about whether Crown will pay the remainder of his advance. The governor’s tax records and other financial disclosures…showed that he received the bulk of his advance, $3.12 million, in 2020, and expected to receive the remaining $2 million in installments over the next two years. A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said around that time that the governor netted about $1.5 million for the book after taxes and expenses….

Robert Barnett, the lawyer who represented Mr. Cuomo in his book deal, declined to comment.

Both the New York attorney general’s office and the New York State Assembly’s judiciary committee have been investigating whether ethics rules were violated when government employees worked on Mr. Cuomo’s book. Staffers helped with tasks such as typing notes or printing and delivering drafts to the Executive Mansion, where Mr. Cuomo lives. His top aide, Melissa DeRosa, who announced her resignation on Sunday, joined video meetings with publishers and helped Mr. Cuomo edit drafts of the book.

The governor was granted permission to author the book by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The commission barred Mr. Cuomo from using state resources, including help from government employees, to work on it….

Many in the publishing industry were stunned by the size of Mr. Cuomo’s advance. While former presidents often land multimillion-dollar book deals—Penguin Random House paid more than $60 million for Barack and Michelle Obama’s memoirs, and Bill Clinton sold his autobiography to Knopf for about $15 million—Mr. Cuomo’s deal seemed to be an outsize sum for a governor.

At the time Crown bought the book, Mr. Cuomo’s coronavirus briefings had become appointment television for people who were desperate for a sober response to the pandemic, in contrast with former President Donald Trump, who often played down the severity of the disease. When Crown announced the book, it called it an inside account of how Mr. Cuomo stepped onto the national stage during a moment of crisis….

After a brief appearance on the best-seller list, the memoir’s sales stagnated. In the spring, its prospects dimmed further as reports emerged that some of Mr. Cuomo’s aides changed a state Health Department report on nursing home deaths, adjusting the report to make the situation seem less dire just as Mr. Cuomo was starting to work on his book.

It isn’t clear whether Crown or its parent company will take any further steps to cut their losses or recoup the portion of the advance already paid. Many author contracts include conduct clauses that give publishers a way out if information comes to light that damages an author’s reputation or threatens book sales. Penguin Random House has said it requires conduct clauses in all its contracts to avoid the implication that it trusts certain authors more than others. Those agreements generally don’t allow for it to claw payments back from authors.

For the week ending July 31, the most recent data available, Cuomo’s book sold 71 copies.

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.How Andrew Cuomo’s Book Became a Cautionary Tale

Elizabeth A. Harris writes about books and publishing.

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