Presidents in Publishing

Sometimes I wonder why anyone would ever want to be President of the United States. For one thing, it’s a huge time commitment. You live where you work. You’re responsible for an entire country. Plus, you’re guaranteed to come out of the experience having aged twice as much as you would have otherwise.

Then, I figured it out: book deals!

Well, probably not. But still, politics–especially presidential politics–have always meant money for publishers.

Politics spawn charismatic, controversial, larger-than-life men and women with stories perceived as essential to the “American Dream” and, as such, their books will always be popular. Whether political books take the form of autobiographies, retrospectives, or reprinted speeches, they serve as mementos to a time when “the good guy” was in office and publishers know it.

Though Former President Barack Obama published a few books prior to his presidency, Dreams from my Father in 1995 and The Audacity of Hope in 2006, fervor for his next projects is already building in the publishing industry. Already, rights have been obtained for both Barack and Michelle Obama’s farewell addresses by Melville House, following the actions of the Harvard Bookstore prior to this year’s inauguration.farewll

The outgoing administration has already begun to earn its share of book deals. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Simon and Schuster will be publishing a forthcoming memoir from Former Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. and Mrs. Obama famously scored a $65 million book deal with Penguin. While the purchase price of the Obamas’ books is nothing if not extravagant, the deal should not be a surprise. The sale of post-presidency books goes back as far as President Grant and has become a staple of the marketplace.

For publishing houses, political action can turn into profit. According to Forbes, Obama’s book sales peaked at $5.7 million in 2009 and while that doesn’t exactly put him on the all-time bestsellers list, it’s certainly a tidy profit for him and his publishers. For the books entering the arena post-presidency, like Bill Clinton’s My Life and RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, profits are even more secure.


Clinton’s book
earned him a $10 million advance and its sales broke one million before it
was even released. Nixon’s memoirs received a controversy befit to his time in office as fehrman-articleinline
they were vigorously protested by the Committee to Boycott Nixon’s Memoirs. Controversy, another guarantee in political publications, is another promise of profits–
even if the controversy is simply “don’t buy books by crooks.”

But you don’t have to be a president to impact your book sales. Donald Trump’s infamous Art of the Deal, published in 1987, received a post-election bump last December, according to CNN. After her bid for the Oval Office in 2016, Simon & Schuster scooped Hillary Clinton’s personal essays for 2017 publication.

The Office of the Presidency and men who have occupied it see interesting times. Nixon saw war and scandal, Bill Clinton saw even more scandal, and Obama ushered in the controversial Health Care act that now takes his name, to say nothing of the other triumphs and pitfalls that came about in his term. Yes, this all makes for a good book and, yes, American’s will buy them, but here is an instance, not just of politics in publishing, but money in politics.

Certainly, no one runs for office on the basis of selling the rights to their memoir, but the money Presidents will take from these deals doesn’t just go away. Already, Former President Barack Obama has set up Obama.org where he intends to carry on his political legacy out of office. A book deal as large as his will be sure to enact a similar mission to an equally large audience.

Political books deals are out there, and they are important mediums of our democracy.

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