With the presidential election fast becoming just a black-and-blue memory, chain and independent booksellers are steadfastly packing up political titles and positioning holiday books at the front of store, as a flurry of new proposals make the rounds of publishing houses. While industry observers of all stripes expressed some degree of emotional exhaustion when it comes to political books, many are warily looking ahead to the next watershed moment: President G.W. Bush's inauguration on January 20.
With houses like Warner, Crown Forum and Regan Books opting to hold back on political titles for the moment, Regnery moves to the front of the pack with two new titles that appear poised for major media coverage. First up is Newt Gingrich's look at the state of his party's Contract with America 10 years on: Winning the Future: A 21st-Century Contract with America (Jan. 10; $27.95; 100,000-copy first printing). "We knew we had a book that would work in either environment, though perhaps it would have had a different tone in the introduction if Kerry had won," said publisher Marji Ross. The house will also publish Men in Black: How Judges Are Destroying America by conservative legal pundit Mark R. Levin (Jan.; $27.95, 75,000 first printing), which argues that "Democrats simply can't win at the polls so they'll try to force their agenda through the courts," as Ross put it.
The Crown Group and Harper San Francisco are also rushing out new hardcovers that have been in the works for a while. Having made a safe bet that the war in Iraq would continue regardless of who became president, Harmony will publish
Deepak Chopra's Peace Is the Way: Bringing War and Violence to an End in Our Time (Jan. 18; $23; 200,000 first print). The veteran self-help author will promote the book on Larry King Live and with a 20-city radio satellite tour, and will coordinate online and grassroots activist efforts with the international peace organization the Alliance for the New Humanity. Harper San Francisco reacted quickly to post-election recaps that called it a referendum on America's "values" by pushing up God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (Jan. 18; $24.95; 50,000 first printing) by
Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine. "We wanted to get it out in time for Bush's prayer breakfast, which is usually a few weeks after the inauguration," said senior editor Eric Brandt.
The season's first instant book, Villard's humorous $9.99 trade paperback, The Bush Survival Bible: 250 Ways to Make It Through the Next Four Years Without Misunderestimating the Dangers Ahead, and Other Subliminable Strategiesby
Gene Stone (Nov. 9; 100,00 first printing), prompted bullish projections from Borders category manager Christine Edwards as well as politically oriented independent booksellers like Simba Sana, co-owner of the five Karibu bookstores in Maryland and Virginia. But B&N v-p of merchandising Bob Wietrak and buyer Gerry Donaghy at Powell's Books in Portland, Ore. were more inclined to wait and see. Booksellers also expressed moderate expectations for Public Affairs'Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future (Jan.; 75,000 copies), edited by
Evan Thomas and based on material gathered for Newsweek's special election issue, for which reporters were granted access to both the Republican and Democratic campaigns with the proviso that nothing would be published until after November 2. "I don't think that any of the insta-books will have any success [before the inauguration]. It's just too soon," observed Donaghy.
Many publishers are also repackaging books that may get a second wind and rushing them to stores before the end of the year: Tarcher is adding a new introduction to a post-election edition of
Stephen Mansfield's long-running bestseller, The Faith of George W. Bush (2003), which has sold 270,000 copies in hardcover and another 202,000 copies so far in this year's $9.95 trade paperback edition. Others are crashing trade paperbacks of popular books published earlier this year, like Sentinel's new $14 edition of A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush (Jan. 3; 40,000 first print) by
Ronald Kessler, which was a New York Times bestseller. Smaller houses are also seizing the moment. Soft Skull is "basically reprinting everything," said publisher Richard Eoin Nash, citing one of the first books that put the Brooklyn, N.Y.—based indie house on the map, J.H. Hatfield's controversial and unflattering Bush bio, Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President (2002; $16.50 trade paper), and
Ted Rall's Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take American Back from the Right (Apr.; $15.95 trade paper).
A Holiday Respite?
Already, some well-timed new issue-oriented books have gained traction, suggesting that politically engaged readers won't be abandoning serious books altogether before the new year. Foremost among those that popped after the election is Penguin Press's The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy by Washington Post London bureau chief
T.R. Reid (Nov. 4; $25.95; 35,000 first printing) which rose as high as #3 on Amazon following a long interview on NPR's Fresh Air and a Wall St. Journal review, and hit the New York Times list at #14 after two days on sale. Booksellers also mentioned that Norton's Perilous Times: Free Speech in War Time from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism by
Jeffrey R. Stone (Oct. 25; $35) also spiked upward after positive reviews by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times on November 5 and by Christopher Hitchens in the New York Times Book Review on November 7. The book is in its third printing, with nearly 25,000 copies in print.
There is evidence that some Democrats are reaching for analytical books along with the Alka-Selzer as they nurse their post-election hangovers. In the week following the election, an evenhanded study of the conservative movement in America by the Economist's U.S. editor, John Micklethwait, and Washington correspondent Adrian Wooldridge, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (Penguin Press, May 24; $25.95), jumped into Amazon's top 50 after selling steadily for months, as did more familiar hardcover bestsellers like
Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Metropolitan, June; $24) and linguist and Kerry adviser
George Lakoff's $10 trade paperback original on how political debates are framed, Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (Chelsea Green, Sept.), which is currently #9 on the New York Times's Advice/How-to list. And it was presumably Republican readers who propelled former Clinton adviser
Dick Morris's latest, Rewriting History (HarperCollins/Regan Books, May; $24.95), into the site's upper rankings shortly after the election; Morris is the go-to pundit when it comes to speculation about whether Hillary Clinton will run for the presidency in 2008.
But there's no denying that "there's plenty of dead meat in the politics section," as Sarah Pishko at Norfolk, Va.'s Prince Books put it. Washington, D.C.'s Politics and Prose is "sending back over 600 political titles, many of which have become obsolete post-election—that's about 30% of the titles in that section," said co-owner Carla Cohen, who decided before November 2 to feature almost nothing political in the store's holiday catalogue. Booksellers agree that all the Kerry books are goners, of course. And as the pre-election horse-race mentality recedes, many anti-Bush books are getting packed up as well. Ingram senior buyer Nancy Stewart projected that the bulk of the sales are over for titles like Maureen Dowd's Bushworld and Molly Ivins's Who Let the Dogs In?, while B&N's Wietrak added, "We're anticipating books not based on personalities, but on issues and analysis." Most agreed, however, that
Jon Stewart's America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction(Warner, $24.95) and
Ann Coulter's How to Talk to a Liberal (if You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter (Crown, $26.95), will be strong through the holidays.
Divide and Conquer
Overall, there's a great deal of optimism among retailers and publishers alike that political books will maintain their cultural centrality in the weeks and months ahead. Both B&N and Borders are projecting increases in sales of current affairs and political titles, which is saying a lot for the year after an election, when fewer such books are typically published. Though B&N's Wietrak acknowledged that the increase "might not be as high as 35%," he was convinced that sales would rise, because B&N has reported double-digit increases in the category each year since 2000, and "this kind of energy doesn't just come to a complete stop after an election."
But it remains to be seen how many books will be published in the category in 2005, and whether they can capture enough readers to drive the projected growth. In terms of the number of titles published, the last few years will be tough to match: more than 800 titles political titles were published in 2003, according to R.R. Bowker, and the final tally for 2004 is likely to be considerably higher. Books that are signed up now may also take more than a year to gestate. One of the first major book deals announced after the election—Doubleday signed New Yorker writer and CNN legal analyst
Jeffrey Toobin for a book about the Supreme Court to be handled by senior editor Phyllis Grann—isn't slated for publication until 2006.
Still, publishers across the board are confident that their books will find more readers in a less crowded marketplace. "Being so divided, Americans are more politicized than they've been in a long time, and that's good for the category," said Warner publisher Jamie Raab, noting the publishing axiom that political underdogs often buy more books, in part because their titles tend to have more edge. But the conservative imprints aren't giving up any ground. "We're not worried about conservatives continuing to be interested or buying books," said Regnery's Ross, exulting that "George Bush won by 3.5 million votes; and that gives us 3.5 million new readers."
In the coming year or so, retailers and publishers PW spoke with expect a trend toward more thoughtful books. In the near term, Crown's Steve Ross sees the battle over the meaning of election moving from editorial pages and TV into books. B&N's Wietrak also expects to see memoirs by cabinet members departing the administration, which typically arrive after a president is voted in for a second term. Bookspan's Brad Miner, who oversees the Conservative Book Club, also expects books by potential candidates positioning themselves for the 2008 election, perhaps including several politicians with strong publishing track records, like
Rudolph Giuliani and
John McCain (not to mention
Hillary Clinton). Miner also projected more books like
Todd Whitman's It's My Party Too: How the Radical Right Is Undermining America (Penguin Press, Jan. 27; $24.95; 125,000 first printing), in which conservatives "try to get to the heart of what we are—what it means from a social, economic and religious point of view," now that the coalition-building that was required for the election is over. Of course, there's likely to be plenty of soul searching among Democrats, too.
Both sides agree that there will be issue-oriented books on health care, social security and tax reform, among others. "But you have to be very careful," warned Regnery's Ross. "Just because it's a hot-button issue doesn't mean it will be publishing success." Overall, booksellers and editors also expect more substantial works of analysis and fewer rants by pundits, along with more examinations of the cultural differences among Americans. The Bush administration's return to power may also help pro-military books, as HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, among others, noted.
It's unlikely that 2005's crop of books will match 2004 in terms of breadth, when titles ranged from biographies to policy books to humorous parodies, observed Ingram's Nancy Stewart. Yet, at the same time, Koen senior buyer Sally Lindsay and Warner's Raab agreed that "overtly Christian books and ones that are more spiritual or appeal to values in a subliminal way," are certain to grow, accelerating a decade-long trend.
But in the end, the most disturbing legacy of this year's bitter partisan battles may be the politicization of bookstores themselves, which left many retailers feeling scarred. "While I intend to carry new books on politics, I have decided to give them very little front-counter display, because I don't want to appear as if I'm promoting my own politics in the store," said Pishko at Prince Books. "It was never my intention to do so, but it became pretty clear that there were plenty of customers who thought I was."