Wednesday, June 16, 2021


On Friday, Donald Trump posted this on his website:
I turned down two book deals, from the most unlikely of publishers, in that I do not want to do such a deal right now. I’m writing like crazy anyway, however, and when the time comes, you’ll see the book of all books. Actually, I’ve been working on a much more important project right now!
What inspired that? Now we know:
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former president Donald Trump and a senior adviser in his administration, has secured a book deal to recount Trump’s presidency.

Broadside Books, a conservative imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, announced that Kushner’s book will come out in early 2022. Kushner has begun working on the memoir, currently untitled, and is expected to write about everything from the Middle East to criminal justice reform to the pandemic. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Trump knew that Jared was about to announce a book deal, so he had to tell us that publishers want his book too, you know.

(It's possible that "I turned down two book deals" actually means "I discussed my book with two publishers, who either turned me down or made me an offer I would have been embarrassed to accept.")

I'm not sure why publishers aren't interested in a Trump book. There are millions of Americans who worship Trump as a god and would buy gold-plated turds if he were selling them. He wouldn't need bulk buys from the GOP or conservative interest groups -- in a country where there are entire stores devoted to selling Trump merchandise, I'm certain that his book would legitimately sell.

We've been told since late last year that publishers are reluctant to sign Trump up because they fear (for obvious reasons) that he won't be truthful. A New York Times story from November said that some executives in the book world
noted that publishers would face credibility issues if they released a book by a public figure known for spreading falsehoods and misinformation. Publishers, who typically rely on authors for fact-checking and accuracy, would likely need to take additional steps to verify that Mr. Trump’s account was factual and that he would be willing to undergo that kind of review. And if the factual and legal vetting did not eventually satisfy the publisher, would they be able to claw back whatever portion of the advance had already been paid?

“I’d have to be satisfied that he met Simon & Schuster’s overall standards for publishing a book, which is that book be honest, fair and balanced,” Ms. Canedy said. “We’d want to know that he would be willing to be edited and submit to a rigorous fact-checking process.”
A Politico story published on Monday said the same thing.
Their reluctance is driven by several factors, though the underlying fear is that whatever Trump would write wouldn’t be truthful.

“[I]t would be too hard to get a book that was factually accurate, actually,” said one major figure in the book publishing industry, explaining their reluctance to publish Trump. “That would be the problem. If he can’t even admit that he lost the election, then how do you publish that?”
But beyond what's necessary to avoid libel suits, most book publishers generally don't fact-check:
In general, fact-checking is not a standard part of the workflow in book publishing, even in nonfiction book publishing. What usually happens is this: Authors submit their manuscripts, the manuscripts go to editors who help to refine them and shape them, and from there the book goes into production and copy editing.

The copy editor will look for grammatical errors, and sometimes the publisher’s lawyer will check the book to make sure there’s nothing libelous in there, but fact-checking is not part of the standard publisher’s process. [...]

So how do publishers generally handle it if factual errors creep into a book? Basically, the same way they handle plagiarism: They make it the author’s problem.

One of the standard parts of any book contract is the warranty and indemnity clause. By signing on to that clause, an author is guaranteeing that their book is their own, original project, not plagiarism, that it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights, and — if the book is nonfiction — that its facts are accurate. And if it turns out that any of these claims are untrue, the liability is all on the author. They’re the ones who pay up if someone decides to sue.
Some authors hire their own fact-checkers, but
we’re left with an industry in which a lot of nonfiction books don’t get looked over by a professional fact-checker.
Of course Trump's book would be dishonest. But over the years, mainstream publishing houses have published many books by the likes of Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Ben Shapiro, and Candace Owens. They're about to publish this Jared Kushner book and books by Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway. These books will be vetted for libel. But how truthful will they be?

Obviously, Trump lies more brazenly than other people -- even Kellyanne Conway. Obviously, he won't want to be told to excise the most actionable lies (although I bet he'd do it if his publisher threatened to withhold a portion of the advance). But is this enough to explain why no publisher wants his book, which would be a huge seller?

I'm intrigued by something in the Politico story that, regrettably, goes unexplained:
“I’m skeptical,” added another publishing insider when asked if they believed Trump’s statement that he had gotten two offers. “He’s screwed over so many publishers that before he ran for president none of the big 5 would work with [him] anymore.”
What did he do? Did he take large advances for books he and his ghostwriters never delivered? Did he try to intimidate publishers by suing them, or threatening to sue, possibly when they tried to get advance money back for vaporware manuscripts?

In addition to the inevitable massive dishonesty of Trump's book, I think what publishers find offputting is his approach to business (treat everyone badly, cheat whoever you can, sue if they don't like it), plus the likelihood of outrage on the part of staffers, readers, and authors (the Simon & Schuster staff protest against Mike Pence's book deal hasn't worked, but protests against Trump would be much greater, and might be joined by the reading public, and by superstar authors).

What I find baffling is the decision to sign up a Jared Kushner book. Does anyone like him? Liberals and progressive don't. Old-line Republicans don't. Trumpers are wary of him. Right-wing groups wouldn't even bulk-buy it.

But some people in the publishing world probably regard Kushner, wrongly, as a future figure of influence, in politics or in business. Maybe it's New York tunnel vision. (Prior to his time in D.C., Kushner operated out of the New York metro area, and locals tend to think anyone who's even a vaguely big deal here is a big deal nationwide.) Maybe his publishers believe that right-wing Jews, as well as evangelical Christians who regard themselves as great friends of the Jews, will buy Kushner's book. Or maybe Kushner is planning to dish some embarrassing dirt on his father-in-law. (It was reported earlier this year that Jared and Ivanka want to make a "clean break" from her father, though I don't believe that.)

Meanwhile, Donald Trump could easily self-publish a ghostwritten book and sell millions of copies. But he won't, for the same reason he won't start a social networking site to rival Twitter and Facebook, or simply join an exisiting right-wing site, which would then become a conservative communications hub: He wants to be welcomed into The Club, and he can't bear the thought that he's been rejected. So he'll probably continue to insist that his book is imminent and will be published by a major house, but there'll never be a book.

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