Three for book news

As promised, here’s your quick roundup of book-related news in the 2016 race, or at least some recent highlights.

1. We found the pivot!

Donald Trump has had a mini-makeover in the literary world.  His campaign book, formerly called Crippled America, has been re-titled in the paperback edition to Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America.  Some other things have also changed: the preface in my copy of Crippled America begins “Some readers may be wondering why the picture we used on the cover of this book is so angry and so mean looking. I had some beautiful pictures taken in which I had a big smile on my face…The photographer did a great job.” But he concludes that such a happy picture wouldn’t be “appropriate” because America is in such bad shape.  He goes on to say that “People say that I have self-confidence. Who knows?” and to use this strange humble-but-not segue to outline all of the issues, from illegal immigration and deadlocked congress, crippling America.

But here’s the pivot: the new cover photo is Trump half-smiling in front of a rippling flag, adjusting his cufflinks.  Correspondingly, the new preface (published on Amazon) is exactly the same…but with the first few paragraphs about the cover photo edited out, beginning with the assertion that people believe Trump is self-confident but “who knows?”

I’m trying to work out why this is funny to me.  Maybe it’s the fact that it just skips over an emotion and a line of argument that seemed so important in the first edition–that America was in a dire place and Trump wasn’t joyous and therefore he wouldn’t let his image reflect a false joy.  That felt honest to me, even if it was also, paradoxically, thoroughly gimmicky.  This new preface doesn’t acknowledge that at all, not even a word about how the original cover was dark and gloomy but now that he’s won the primary he feels some hope or any other emotion that might be appropriate (if anyone in the Trump campaign would like to use that in the third incarnation, be my guest). Switching your branding to something less gloomy but not acknowledging the significance of that shift seems lazy to me–or maybe indicative of something rotten in the campaign.

Trump’s campaign has been dominated by tensions between Trumpists and Presidentialists.  A pivot in book branding that leapfrogs over the rest of the campaign’s [candidate’s?] branding toward a more Presidential-looking, optimistic image might indicate that book promotion work was in the Presidentialists’ portfolio.  This makes sense: books are a well-loved establishment tactic, and Trump’s book is policy-wise almost indistinguishable from other republicans’ offerings.  But as the recent hirings and firings in the Trump campaign indicate, there is no general agreement on whether to make Trump pivot toward the Presidentialists’ image or whether to ‘let Trump be Trump.’  Rewriting this preface toward joy and optimism would be a clearer signal of a true pivot toward this image, but avoiding the question altogether and just deleting the original paragraphs seems like the kind of awkward, contrived compromise characterizing the Trump campaign.

It might be pushing too far to take Crippled America’s rebranding as a tiny case study, a fragment representative of the whole fragmentation of the Trump campaign, but I didn’t say it.

2. Both candidates have made a lot of money off books, but you spend money to make money.

Hillary Clinton’s recently-released tax returns show that she made $3 million off book sales in the last tax year, which presumably doesn’t include reimbursing her campaign for the copies that she gifted her 17 rivals, but who knows.  As you’ll remember, Clinton’s book Hard Choices made the New York Times Bestseller List for quite some time after it was first published.  Fame drives sales, which drive coverage, which drives sales.

This is not unique to Clinton.  Alex Shepherd at the New Statesman recently reported that the Trump campaign sent supporters an email advertising (appropriately) a deal on his most popular book, The Art of the Deal.  The email claimed that the book was out of print, but you could get it from the campaign for $184.  What a steal, right?  Shepherd muses that this price inflation could be because the campaign is selling a hardcover edition from the original print run in 1984.  In which case, more power to them—a signed first edition text from such an interesting political figure is certainly worth more than list price, for certain collectors.  But claiming that the book is now out of print is, as Shepherd says, disingenuous, making money by creating demand based on falsehood.

And money for books gets into complicated FEC rules, although the FEC shows little initiative in enforcing them.  The Daily Beast raised questions over whether the Trump campaign’s $55,000 purchase of Trump’s books could be illegal: if Trump receives royalties on his books, this “counts as an illegal conversion of campaign funds to personal use.”  You can get around this by agreeing to not accept royalties on campaign purchases, but Trump so far has a history of making his campaign profitable.

3. Clinton has added to my reading list… again.

As far as I know, this is a first in US campaign books: In September, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine are releasing a joint book, Stronger Together, outlining their positions and plans for the White House.*  The blurb focuses on Hillary, so it will be interesting to see what role Kaine plays in the book.  The only other prominently co-authored book in this race so far as been Immigration Wars, by Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick, which was actually my favorite of this lot.  Their model was to have each author start with a solo preface, and then proceed without attribution for the rest of the book, even though it was clearly written to hit all of Bush’s strong points.

As we’ve said a million times, books are a window into the mechanics of a campaign, and the mechanics of celebrity, and the cross-pollination between the two.  But what the slow churn of book news also tells us is that the machinery of this campaign is still to a certain extent uncertain: we can tell how fast it’s going or where it is, but not both.  For the next while, news will raise more questions than it answers.

*The Cut also commented that it looks an awful lot like an Elena Ferrante book cover, from which the obvious conclusion to draw is that Ferrante has kindly stepped in as a ghostwriter.

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