In the past four years, publishers have released more than a thousand books about Donald J. Trump. Authors have examined seemingly every facet of his persona, in works about his presidency, family, political rise, business dealings, reality-TV career and golfing habits. The body of work is so voluminous that there’s even a book about all the Trump books.
What’s left to parse? A lot, it seems. As his presidency comes to an end, publishers are racing to acquire news-breaking works about his final days in office, as well as comprehensive historical accounts of the Trump era, sober expositions examining how he has changed the Republican Party and the country, and gossipy insider accounts of what really went on in the White House.
“Trump doesn’t want to let go of his job, and a shockingly high number of us don’t want to let go of him,” said Rafe Sagalyn, a literary agent at ICM. “There’s going to be an amazing appetite for books about what happened, and all the OMG moments of the last four years. Books are the medium for filling in all these blanks.”
In the run-up to and aftermath of the election, publishers have snapped up a new crop of Trump books by prominent journalists and pundits. Penguin Random House has emerged as one of the front-runners in the race to lock up the first definitive accounts of the Trump epoch. Shortly after the election, Penguin Press announced that it would publish the New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s narrative of Mr. Trump’s political career, tracking his rise from his real-estate development roots to the final days of his tumultuous presidency.
Penguin also acquired a new book from the Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, the co-authors of “A Very Stable Genius,” published early this year. Their sequel will explore the last year of Mr. Trump’s presidency, as he faced impeachment, played down the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, was hospitalized with Covid-19 and fought to overturn the results of the election. Doubleday, another Penguin Random House imprint, acquired a book that will be co-written by Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, and Susan Glasser, a writer for The New Yorker, which will analyze how Trump has changed the culture and politics of Washington.
“The books that will endure are those that shape historical perspectives about the period,” said Kristine Puopolo, editorial director of nonfiction at Doubleday. “We’re moving into a new phase where we are going to see Trump as history. We’ve seen that it is only after people leave an administration that they’re open to being completely candid.”
In some ways, the continued tsunami of titles is no surprise. Whenever a new president enters the White House, there’s often a surge of books that analyze the previous administration, the key moments of the election and the challenges that the new president will face.
Still, there’s no doubt that publishers are likely to soon face the end of a very lucrative era. Trump’s presidency has been an enormous boon for the publishing industry, with breakout hits by former administration officials (John Bolton, James Comey and “Anonymous,” who later revealed himself as Miles Taylor, a former official at the Department of Homeland Security), exposés by journalists (Woodward, Michael Wolff) and tell-alls from estranged confidantes and protégés (Michael Cohen, Omarosa Manigault Newman). One of the year’s top-selling nonfiction books, Mary Trump’s “Too Much and Never Enough,” sold more than 1.3 million copies in the first week after its release; she recently sold a second book to St. Martin’s about Trump’s impact on the nation.
In sheer volume, Trump books dwarf works released about the previous administration during its first term: There have been more than 1,200 unique titles about Mr. Trump published in the last four years, compared to around 500 books about former President Barack Obama and his administration during his first term, according to an analysis by NPD BookScan.
Many of the factors that drove sales for earlier books about Trump might not persist after he leaves office. While Mr. Trump will likely still have a large social media platform, he’ll no longer control the bully pulpit of the White House, and is unlikely to drive constant cable news coverage as he has for the past four years. Many of the most successful books about the president got a boost from news coverage after he publicly attacked and sometimes sued the authors and publishers. It’s uncertain whether such outbursts will captivate cable news pundits once he is no longer in the White House.
“There’s always interest in looking back at a presidential administration,” said Robert B. Barnett, a Washington lawyer who has represented Mr. Woodward as well as the Obamas, the Clintons, the Bushes and other political figures. “The question will be: Which of the many books will be most appealing to readers and will break through?”
Some publishing executives remain bullish on the genre, noting that books about Trump have continued to sell well throughout his term, and have already defied predictions that readers would one day tire of him.
“The opportunity for book publishers was huge starting in 2016, and will be huge in 2020,” said Ann Godoff, Penguin’s president and editor in chief. “People say, ‘Well, there have been too many Trump books.’ I think you haven’t seen anything yet, and the reason for that is the sources are going to come loose; they’re going to be freer to talk.”
Simon & Schuster, which published several best-selling books about Trump this year, is still investing heavily in behind-the-scenes books about the president and the 2020 election. After publishing two blockbusters by Bob Woodward, “Rage” and “Fear,” Simon & Schuster plans to release Woodward’s next book, which he is writing with the Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, about the final days of the Trump presidency and the beginning of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s administration.
Simon & Schuster also acquired a book by the New York Times political reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, which will look at the 2020 election as a turning point in American politics, and an exposé by the reporter and longtime Trump chronicler David Cay Johnston about Trump’s finances.
Publishers hope to capitalize on interest in President-elect Biden as well. Forthcoming books include the journalist John Heilemann’s account of the 2020 election and Biden’s rise to the presidency; the Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer’s look at Biden’s first 100 days in office; and the Politico correspondent Ben Schreckinger’s book about the Biden family’s past tragedies, scandals and triumphs. For younger political junkies, there are also a handful of children’s books about Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, including a picture book about the Biden family’s dogs, Champ and Major.
Publishers are betting that there will be a substantial lingering appetite for Trump books, but some question just how large the market will be, and how long the public’s fascination with him will last. Seismic sales for former President Barack Obama’s memoir, “A Promised Land,” which sold more than 3.3 million copies in its first month, might signal that interest in Trump will remain high in coming years.
Another looming question for publishers is how to navigate a potential post-presidential memoir by Mr. Trump himself. While such a book would undoubtedly be a mega-besteller, mainstream publishing companies would likely face a backlash from their writers and staff members. On top of that, some publishers might balk at a Trump memoir if the book failed to meet the company’s standards for accuracy. The prospect of a memoir from Mr. Trump could prove especially fraught if he continues to argue falsely that he actually won the election.
Then again, Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede — and his hints about running in 2024 — could help fuel interest in another round of books about the 45th president.
“It’s a hard addiction to break for publishers and the public,” said the literary agent Matt Latimer, co-founder of the Javelin Agency, which has represented several former administration officials. “The Trump phenomenon is never going to completely vanish. We’ll be talking about Trump for the next four years.”