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In another era, it might have been shocking for an ex-FBI director to make the late-night rounds talking about sensitive legal investigations. But in Donald Trump’s America, James Comey, on tour to promote A Higher Loyalty, was just the latest character in our national political melodrama to step into the spotlight with a tell-all.
“All presidents generate their own train of books, but Trump has been unusual in being so divisive right out of the gate,” says longtime conservative publisher Adam Bellow, who points to the pace of personnel change in Trump’s White House. “In Trump’s case, the revolving door is spinning off the hinges, resulting in a bonanza for publishers.”
The latest deal: an oral history of the 15 years leading up to the launch of Trump’s winning presidential campaign in 2015. Vanity Fair contributor Allen Salkin and former New York Post reporter Aaron Short’s The Method to the Madness will be published in 2019 by Bellow’s St. Martin’s Press imprint All Points Books and will include new information about Trump’s fixer/lawyer Michael Cohen as well as Trump’s time on The Apprentice.
The book’s authors intend it to be a neutral piece of journalism, rather than a hit piece or an air kiss to a president. (“Neutral is kind of revolutionary right now,” Salkin says.) Some agents balked when the authors began pitching the concept in November, with one veteran saying that the market for Trump books is “saturated.”
Bellow felt differently. “It’s very full but not yet saturated,” he says. “That said, we do have to pick our options carefully.” (Foundry Literary + Media represented the authors for the deal.)
Method will join a long list of already-published Trump books, including Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and Katy Tur’s Unbelievable, as well as tomes still to come from The New York Times‘ Maggie Haberman, Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, ex-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, short-tenured White House employee Anthony Scaramucci, former CNN pro-Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord and fired U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.
Still, it’s one thing to make a book deal; it’s another to reach a level of success on par with Fire and Fury, which has sold more than 2 million copies and is being adapted for TV.
Salkin argues that Wolff’s book, which has spent 14 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list, is “the gold standard” of Trump books and influences what publishers will pay for them: “They look at every Trump book that comes in and say, ‘Is this a potential Wolff book?’ And they base their offers on that.”
Wolff’s book benefited from being at the center of a several-days-long news cycle that was inflamed by legal threats and rhetorical swipes from Trump’s lawyers and White House spokespeople.
On the other end of the spectrum, President Trump, who loves compliments in the written form, will sometimes bless his hagiographers with a promotional tweet to his 50 million followers. Former Fox News host Eric Bolling was on the receiving end of a Trump tweet for his last two books and says they “absolutely” goosed sales. For Bolling, and Trump, it’s a matter of loyalty. “As loyal as people are to him, he seems to be loyal back,” he says. (While nice, Bombardier Books editor David Bernstein, who is publishing Lord’s book, says “nobody is counting on a Trump tweet.”)
Spicer, who is polishing up his book The Briefing, says the number of books about Trump is justified by the “huge” consumer demand, including from readers around the world who are transfixed by U.S. politics. “I’m actually surprised there aren’t more,” he says.
Bolling doesn’t see the tide of Trump books subsiding anytime soon. The media is “all Trump, all the time,” he says. “And, because there’s no exhaustion on the media level, on the television level, I don’t think there’s exhaustion at the book level, either.”
But, while all interviewed agree that the going is good right now for Trump book publishers and authors, there’s no guarantee of success, and certainly not to the degree Wolff has enjoyed.
“Only some of these books are going to work, and nobody knows which ones are going to work,” says Bernstein.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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