After three months of political and legal wrangling, culminating this weekend with former national security advisor John Bolton and President Donald Trump publicly lobbing insults at each other, pub day has finally arrived for Bolton's White House memoir, The Room Where It Happened (S&S) a book that PW described in its review as a “well-informed yet self-serving account” with a high “bombshell to chaff ratio.” While the national media attention The Room Where It Happened received for the past several weeks as the Trump administration appealed to the courts to prevent its publication guarantees it bestseller status, especially with the chains and online, it is receiving a decidedly mixed reception from indie booksellers.
According to Barnes & Noble buyer Sally Leventhal in a release this morning, due to pre-orders, The Room Where It Happened "has jumped to the top" of the chain's bestseller list. "We anticipate it holding that spot buoyed by the intense interest in this perspective look inside the White House,” Leventhal stated, “We are now launching into the Presidential campaigns in earnest, and John Bolton’s tell-all is the first of several big, partisan political titles publishing this summer and fall.”
In contrast, a survey of participants in PW’s Bxsellers Facebook group indicated that a slight majority of the approximately 30 respondents intend to stock the book, although many of them expressed caveats. Almost half of the indie booksellers responding to PW's query are opting to fulfill special orders only, while three booksellers disclosed that they flatly refuse to sell the book at all.
As far as Angela Redden, the owner of Reading Rock Books in Dickson, Tenn. is concerned, "Our motto is that books are for everyone, so we will sell it. Everyone means everyone." Pravadeen Madan, the CEO of Kepler's Books & Magazines in Menlo Park, Calif, responded by writing, "Of course we will be selling the book. And hopefully a lot of copies. I don't even comprehend the premise behind [PW's] question."
Judith Kissner, the owner of Scout & Morgan Books in Cambridge, Minn., reported that it has received 19 pre-orders, "high for a store of my size" in rural Minnesota "for yet another book about this administration." As of this morning, Kissner had not received her books ordered from Ingram.
“I did a post inquiring who is interested in the book,” wrote Bob Lingle owner of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in Lakewood, N.Y. “So I know how many to bring in. If people want to give me money for the book, I will take their money. But I'm not a fan of a man who, when he had the opportunity to do something, did nothing and is now trying to profit of his experience.”
“It's another Pol-Book of the Mo,'” wrote Stephanie Lillegard of North Bank Books in Stevenson, Wash., “No requests so far, will order it in for people, won't stock it. But I'll probably carry the one that's coming out soon that's been written by his niece [Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump], and [put] a copy in the memoir section and in the politics and culture section.”
Personal Politics and Bookselling
Claire Benedict of Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vt. Is going to be subversive when it comes to accommodating customers who buy the book. She received a few special orders and added a few copies to the order she made to S&S, to make sure that if there is demand, the store can meet it. “Between all the leaks before pub date and how people feel about Bolton,” she said, “I'm not sure we'll sell a lot but we want to be prepared.” Benedict said that, “for fun” a political sticker stating “Vote like your democracy depends on it,” will be placed inside every pre-ordered copy of The Room Where It Happened.
Three booksellers are going even further: hello hello books in Rockland, Me., Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Me., and Postmark Books in Rosendale, N.Y. not only refuse to stock the book, they won’t even accept special orders for it.
hello hello books’ website declares, “Please note: we are not accepting/processing orders for this book. While we very much appreciate you wanting to support us by buying it through us, we have made it clear to the publisher that we will not be ordering the book at all in protest of the $2 million advance Bolton was paid to cash in on information he should have been sharing during the impeachment trial. If you absolutely must purchase it, please consider ordering it from a Black-owned bookshop, (here's a list), ideally from their Bookshop,org storefront so the work is all done for them. We especially love Brain Lair Books.”
Print: A Bookstore simply does not include Bolton’s book among the June 23 releases listed on its website. A search provides complete bibliographic information for The Room Where It Happened, but notes that it is not available for ordering from Print.
Postmark’s Jesse Post expressed similar concerns, adding, “We also don’t support S&S’ long practice of stunt publishing that profits from what they see as scintillating controversies but are actually matters of life or death to people that don’t share the same privilege as Viacom executives. We have plenty of well reported and better intentioned books about the Trump White House we can sell people who are interested to learn more.”
The City Where It Happened
If there is any region where The Room Where It Happened might flop, ironically, it’s the Washington, D.C. metro area. Three of five area indies contacted by PW disclosed that they have received just a few pre-orders – between two and five -- for The Room Where It Happened.
“The sense I get is that people are mad at Bolton for holding out for the book, instead of testifying under oath during the impeachment hearings,” said one of these booksellers, who requested anonymity, saying she was speaking for herself and not for the bookstore’s owner. The store is filing special orders only. “Why do we even want to sell this book? And we sold tons of copies of the Mueller Report, so our customers are interested in such things. I do like the title, though – even if he did lift it from Hamilton.”
As for Kramerbooks & Cafe on Dupont Circle, which opened its doors to the public for the first time on Monday, a store representative declined to disclose how many copies have been stocked and how many pre-orders received. Publicist Leah Frelinghuysen would say only that the book would be made available inside the store, as well as through curbside pickup and delivery. Further up Connecticut Avenue, Politics & Prose ordered “a bunch of copies” even though to date it has received 70 pre-orders. According to co-owner Bradley Graham, that is “well below the pre-order number for previous newsy books about the Trump administration.”
In an earlier version of this story, Off the Beaten Path Bookstore in New York State was mistaken for another indie with the same name in Colorado; this error has been corrected.