Although Jodi Kantor’s new peek at the Obamas got a strong media blast out of the gate this week, its staying power remains a big question as reactions pour in. Late morning Wednesday “The Obamas” was ranked 24th on the Amazon best-seller list, but a good portion of its early strength was due to pre-sales before the book’s release as readers bet on the hype.
First Lady Michelle Obama sat down with Gayle King of CBS This Morning to discuss Kantor’s portrayal of life within the White House and within the Obama marriage, and added her voice to those reviewers and journalists who say the book overplays the drama in the West Wing.
To the assertion that the first lady and the president’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had a contentious relationship, Michelle Obama told King: “Rahm and I have never had a cross word.”
What seemed to irk the first lady most, as the contents of the book were described to her, was its presumptions about what lay within her heart and mind. She told King, “I never read these books. I’ve gotten in the habit of not reading other people’s impressions of people.” Later in the interview, she added, “Who can write about how I feel? What third person can tell me how I feel?”
Kantor’s book is the latest to over-promise and under-deliver. Think “O: A Presidential Novel,” by Anonymous, released at the start of last year amid fervid speculation over who could be the author of a juicy book about the 2012 presidential election. “The truth only fiction can tell,” we were promised. The novel was a dud and disappeared within days.
Or, remember “Julian Assange: The Unauthorized Autobiography,” the much-hyped memoir by the WikiLeaks editor in chief. The Scottish publisher Canongate brought the book out against Assange’s wishes after he showed hesitancy, even though he had been paid a considerable amount for the work. It sold a paltry 644 copies its first week.
In Kantor’s case, the author is partly to blame for the hype and disappointment of the book, which just didn’t seem to have the goods on the Obamas.
But the responsibility also falls on the publisher for over-hyping a book it clearly paid too much for — a reported $1 million advance — and is desperate to recoup its investment.
To pump anticipation, Little, Brown embargoed the book — a practice all too common among other publishers — which in theory keeps the books out of stores and reviewers’ hands until the very day of release. Supposedly, pent-up excitement will, in publishers’ faulty reasoning, send buyers scurrying to get a copy.
But in our lightning news world, the balloon can pop nearly as soon as it’s launched, as Web sites, tweets and Facebook updates tell a tale different from the manufactured one the publisher sought to put over on the public.
Sure, the buzz could hum along, keeping the book alive, but this week’s readers will have to find enough there to want to tell readers about it next week.