Best-Selling Authors Are Loser Candidates
Donald Trump’s next book, due next month, will almost surely be a best-seller, but as book-writing politicians have learned to their dismay, book sales don’t mean ballot-box success.
Reality host, two-time divorcée, four-time bankruptcy participant, presidential candidate, and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump announced on Monday that he will release a new book on October 27 that will “explore his views on key issues,” presumably to shed light on his views that do not include mockery of prisoners of war, Mexicans, women, and people who don’t like his neckties.
The press release epitomizes Trump’s glorious and complete lack of self-awareness, anointing his book, which will not be released for over a month and has not even finished being written yet, a “bestseller.” Pity the poor copy editors and production designers at Threshold Publishing who will have approximately 14 picoseconds to turn Trump’s brain splatterings into a handsome hardcover.
Yet though he may be jumping the gun, there is little doubt that Trump’s book will, in fact, be an actual best-seller. Though it would be rather embarrassing for a book from a presidential frontrunner to not be a best-seller—Trump would really only have to hit the top 35 on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list to claim such distinction—he has proved the maxim again and again that controversy creates cash. So, given that his entire campaign has been predicated on controversy rather than substance, booksellers around the country are likely smiling at the extra bucks a new Trump tome will bring in around the holiday season. Your local bookstore owner will likely smile and stock copies through gritted teeth while Trump mounts his next verbal assault on, let’s assume, homeless people and puppies.
Trump’s biggest publishing success, The Art of the Deal, was released in 1987. Trump’s claims that it is the best-selling business book of all time may be exaggerated, though perhaps only slightly. TAOTD has sold a few million copies, but does trail business books such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Yet this was around the time when he was still viewed as a legitimate real estate tycoon, a newly minted prince of New York, and before he was famous for firing Lorenzo Lamas.
Trump’s next biggest book was Trump: How To Get Rich, released in early 2004 during the hugely successful first season of The Apprentice. T:HTGR sold a hair (no pun intended) over 203,000 hardcover copies, according to Bookscan. Still big, but far from Art of the Deal big.
Over the next 11 years, Trump became a publishing division unto himself, releasing at least 10 books, including Trump: The Best Golf Advice I Ever Received, which has yet to be adopted into most higher education curriculums. His most recent book, Time To Get Tough, released in December 2011, sold just 34,264 copies, according to Bookscan, with a few thousand of those coming over the last couple of months as Trump has dominated the GOP field. TTGT debuted at a tepid 36th on the Bookscan non-fiction chart in its first week, behind books by Mindy Kaling, Bill Maher, Ellen DeGeneres, Regis Philbin, and more. The nation clearly had Trump fatigue.
It’s highly likely that Trump’s new, currently untitled book will sell far more than Time To Get Tough, given that he has dominated the news cycle for the past two months, and its preordained success will offer Trump more ammunition against his GOP adversaries whose books have, comparatively, seen rather pitiful sales (Ben Carson excepted). Here are sales for the most recent political books by the current GOP candidates (sales taken from Bookscan):
Jeb Bush: Immigration Wars—4,934 copiesBen Carson: One Nation—368,192 copiesTed Cruz: Time for Truth—52,280 copiesCarly Fiorina: Rising to the Challenge—6,228 copiesMike Huckabee: God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy—66,856 copiesBobby Jindal: Leadership and Crisis—20,129 copiesJohn Kasich: Every Other Monday—12,454 copiesRand Paul: Taking a Stand—10,900 copiesMarco Rubio: American Dreams—8,647 copiesRick Santorum: Blue Color Conservatives—3,955 copiesScott Walker: Unintimidated—19,229 copies
(Chris Christie and Lindsay Graham have not yet published books. Bobby Jindal will release a new book, American Will, in October, but America doesn’t seem to be queuing up to pre-order that one.)
Other than Ben Carson, and to a lesser extent Huckabee and Cruz, those are pretty sad sales figures, topped easily by the latest book from whatever YouTube celebrity slaps their face onto a few hundred pages while we mourn the loss of the nation’s trees. It would be fairly surprising if Trump’s book didn’t move a few hundred thousand copies, and perhaps even more, depending on just how incendiary the book is (the more incendiary, the more media coverage, and ’round and ’round the wheel goes).
However, even if Trump’s book is a massive best-seller, it hardly means he’ll be any more likely to win the GOP nomination or a general election. Trump is still, to the benefit of his celebrity if not his political aspirations, considered more of an entertainer than a politician. And if you think people are excited to see him at a rally, you’ve clearly never been to a Beyoncé concert.
Books by entertainers and commentators have far higher ceilings, overall, than books by politicians, excepting former presidents. Bill O’Reilly, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert have each sold more than a million copies of their books in hardcover, and commentators such as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter sell in the hundreds of thousands. And nobody would elect Ann “Fucking Jews” Coulter to office either. Sarah Palin, who is more likely to win an Emmy than be elected to high office these days, sold more than a million and a half copies of her first book, Going Rogue, which was released at the height of her popularity, though her latest, Good Tidings and Great Joy, dropped down to Huckabee levels at just 77,027 copies.
Palin, like Trump, captured a segment of the nation’s interest, focus, and sympathy for a time, selling oodles of books to people who truly felt she was a politician who would Change The Way Washington Works™. And then Palin resigned as governor, turning to the far-more lucrative field of commentating and reality TV. Like Trump, the end goal was more about cashing in than swearing in. If Trump fails to win the nomination or election, or drops out before he can be overlooked, is there any doubt he’d be welcomed back to The Apprentice with open arms and a check the size of which would reanimate Ed McMahon? Especially since NBC is turning to a fallen giant in Arnold Schwarzenegger, toxic on any screen since MaidGate, to take over the lucrative franchise.
The Trump iron is as hot as it has possibly ever been from a commercial standpoint, and his new book, like How To Get Rich, is being released at the perfect time. But at some point the bombast does become tiresome. At some point the body adjusts to hot water. And once that happens, any substance is replaced by sideshow (see Celebrity Apprentice). There are now many, many Trump supporters who will, for whatever reason, hand over their cash (which they probably need far more than Trump does) for this book, when they could just wait one news cycle for the media to cherrypick the juiciest bits. (Don’t look for the media to cherrypick any actual policies—those practically don’t even matter).
And like Palin’s, Trump’s book will surely be a giant serving of red meat to the hungriest on the far, far right. In entertainment, unlike in politics, you can succeed with fanatical devotion from a relatively small segment of the populace. You can host a hit television show with 6 million viewers (as Celebrity Apprentice did in its most recent finale), or have a best-selling book that sells a few hundred thousand copies. Being hated by a political demographic hardly impedes book sales: Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl has sold several hundred thousand copies even though she’s as popular among conservatives as Nancy Pelosi, and Ann Coulter’s latest vomitorium of repugnance has nearly outsold all the GOP presidential candidate/authors combined (excepting Carson, Cruz, and Huckabee). But a big book doesn’t mean that Trump has any better chance of being elected president than Coulter, Kasich, or even Gary Busey. In politics, it’s actually better to be meh’d by many than loved by a misguided few.
Jason Pinter is the founder and publisher of Polis Books, an independent press he launched in 2013. He is also the best-selling author of six novels, which have been nominated for several awards. Follow him at @JasonPinter.