This week’s election will shake up the power structure in Washington. And if we’re lucky, it might do the same for our bookshelves.
Since the advent of President Donald Trump, the solar system of publishing has revolved around him — from Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” to Bob Woodward’s “Fear” and a whole host of other titles caught in the gravitational pull of the president’s scandals and victories. We’ve enjoyed or endured memoirs by Trump’s former employees, his devoted sycophants and confirmed enemies. Books about Russian collusion, financial abusion and media delusion have dominated the bestseller list for many months.
But now the midterm elections offer the first real challenge to that obsessive focus on all things Trumpian.
Not only have the Democrats retaken the House — with promises to stop the Trump train in its tracks — but scores of fresh faces are about to arrive in Congress. Many of them have compelling stories to tell that have nothing to do with the world’s most famous reality-TV star. Literary agents and editors should be preparing a whole new slate of political memoirs and nonfiction books for a reading public eager for something different.
“Interest will be high among publishers for books by the young freshman women,” says David Kuhn of Aevitas Creative Management in New York. “One assumes their paths to success are both unusual and inspiring, and the inspiring story of someone from a marginalized community breaking into national politics is more exciting to publishers than a policy book.”
Ilhan Omar, for instance, will be one of the first Muslim women in Congress. A 37-year-old Democrat from Minnesota, she was born and raised in Somalia before fleeing civil war and coming to the United States. Her remarkable life and her sudden elevation to the national stage sound like the plot of a gripping novel or the content of an irresistible political memoir.
At just 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York’s 14th District, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She’s also a captivating speaker whose rise to power has been described as a veritable revolution. Howard Yoon, a literary agent at the Ross Yoon Agency in Washington, says, “Publishers have been trying to sign Ocasio-Cortez to a book deal ever since she won the primary against Joe Crowley in June.” A book by her — promoted around the country by her — would surely draw large crowds of curious people, including those elusive younger readers who typically show little interest in political memoirs.
Even losers from this week’s election should find the publishing industry keen to buy their stories. Ted Cruz may have beaten Beto O’Rourke for the Senate seat in Texas, but the race made O’Rourke a national celebrity and the face of the progressive side of Democratic Party. Losing hurts, sure, but it could also provide free time to write a book, shape the narrative about his campaign and prepare the audience for his next move.
Lynn Chu, an agent with the Writers’ Representatives agency in New York, notes that the old rules will still apply to this new crop of politicians. “The biggest book deals will go to those who have the most to say that is of any actual interest — or, of course, to those with the biggest name recognition. However, most of these are ‘ooks,’ not books — ‘celebrity merchandise,’ ‘campaign literature.’ ”
Ideally, these exciting stories will reach bookstore shelves before the next inevitable wave of political titles. After all, with the presidential election just two years away, we’re about to be bombarded by those inevitable concoctions of Ambien-in-print: presidential campaign biographies.
House members who take up the pen, though, will have to contend with ethics rules that govern how they can receive payment from publishers. Book contracts need to be approved by the House Standards Committee, and advances are strictly limited. Those rules were put in place after then-incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich secured a $4.5 million advance for a two-book deal with HarperCollins in the mid-1990s. Criticism of that arrangement from both sides of the aisle forced the speaker to decline the advance. (Ironically, in the late 1980s, Gingrich had helped bring down Speaker Jim Wright by raising objections about how Wright handled his own book deal.)
No matter how aggressively agents and publishers pursue him, there’s one victorious politician we definitely won’t be hearing from: Tuesday night, brothel owner Dennis Hof won the race for Nevada’s 36th Assembly District. Unfortunately, Hof died last month at his Love Ranch after his 72nd birthday party.
We’ll have to make do with Hof’s 2015 memoir, “The Art of the Pimp: One Man’s Search for Love, Sex, and Money” — which, come to think of it, sounds like a story we’ve already heard too many times in Washington.
Give us something new, please.
Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com.