Trump's memoir will be a bestseller, if it can find a publisher

Publishers are at odds over such a project with US President Donald Trump.
Publishers are at odds over such a project with US President Donald Trump.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - When American presidents leave office, regardless of their parties or approval ratings, a common ritual awaits: They write books, capturing the moment for history and sharing insight into one of the world's most unusual jobs.

But publishers are at odds over such a project with President Donald Trump, even though his presidential memoir would likely sell millions of copies. It is a debate that pits powerful commercial interests against fraught political and cultural fault lines, with some executives worried that signing him would prompt a revolt among their authors and staff, and that ensuring the book's veracity could be an even bigger concern.

"I would take a meeting," said Ms Dana Canedy, senior vice-president and publisher of Simon & Schuster's namesake imprint. "But there's a huge gap between taking a meeting and publishing a book." Concentrated in New York City, mainstream book publishing is dominated by editors, agents, publicists and other professionals who are politically left of centre, but the big houses all sign books by conservatives, seeing it as key to their mission and their business.

Fox News anchor Sean Hannity is at Simon & Schuster. Former press secretary Sarah Sanders is at Macmillan. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has been published by divisions of Penguin Random House, Hachette and Macmillan.

Mr Trump has published more than a dozen books, although some titles have sold more than others. According to NPD BookScan, Trump: The Best Golf Advice I Ever Received has sold about 3,500 copies since it came out 15 years ago. The Art Of The Deal has sold more than 630,000 copies.

Sales and profits this time around stand to be huge. Mr Trump was defeated in this year's election, but still has a megaphone on social media and holds sway with many conservative media outlets, which will give him a platform to promote his book even when he is out of office. More than 73 million people voted for him this year.

But the risks this time are different too. Several top executives said that publishing Mr Trump could be perilous in a polarised media environment - to a degree that is far different from his books released before he became president - and that the possibilities of boycotts, libel lawsuits and social media campaigns outweighed the obvious financial benefits.

Earlier this year, Hachette dropped a planned memoir by Woody Allen following protests by its employees and Allen's son Ronan Farrow, an author who is also published by a Hachette imprint.

Others 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.

"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."

Speculation about Mr Trump's plans for his memoir - which he has hinted at in the past - began picking up in the days after the election. Though he does not yet appear to be actively shopping for one, his finances are under stress and he could be looking for the type of cash infusion a book might bring.

Most of the president's businesses are losing money, according to an investigation by The New York Times, which obtained two decades of his corporate and personal tax information. These tax records also show that he has hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due in the next few years that he has personally guaranteed. He is also under audit by the IRS and an adverse ruling could cost him more than US$100 million (S$134 million).

Presidential memoirs have long been a popular and lucrative subgenre. Such books have a built-in audience and are generally reliable moneymakers.

But blowback from within the industry to a Trump memoir, especially as he refuses to concede that he lost the election, is likely to be severe.

Celeste Ng, author of the best-selling novel Little Fires Everywhere, said she would not hesitate to speak out against her publisher, Penguin Random House, if it struck a deal with Mr Trump.

"We have every reason to believe a Trump memoir would be primarily misinformation, ungrounded opinions and flat-out lies," she said in an e-mail.

Some prominent writers who have been outspoken critics of the president said they would not object if a publisher took on the project. Stephen King, who has frequently denounced Mr Trump on Twitter, said in an e-mail that Mr Trump should be given the opportunity to release his book as a matter of principle.

"Anything he wrote would be a pack of self-serving lies, but I believe in the freedom of people to read what they want and I hate censorship," said King, who is one of Simon & Schuster's top-selling authors.