Ivanka Trump’s second book Women Who Work is not getting good reviews. Slate’s Katy Waldman describes the advice book as “a road map to personal and professional success for a theoretical rich, hot woman.” The New York Times’s Jennifer Senior says it is “witlessly derivative,” while The Huffington Post’s Emily Peck writes that Women Who Work is “a grab-bag of generic work-life advice for upper-middle-class white women.” NPR’s AnnaLisa Quinn, meanwhile, highlights Trump’s “habit of skimming from her sources,” which “often results in spectacularly misapplied quotations,” including a Toni Morrison passage about slavery that is used to exemplify the difficulties of time-management for working mothers. “Are you a slave to your time or the master of it?” Trump asks.
But not all the press has been bad. In fact, Trump has deftly used the opportunity of her book’s publication to do what she does best: Make Ivanka Trump look good. In a Facebook post published on April 20, Trump announced that she would be refraining from promoting her book to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. She also said she was establishing a foundation to donate some of the proceeds from the book to charity.
The press has amplified Trump’s message. The Associated Press noted that Trump is “donating the proceeds to charity and has opted not to do any publicity to avoid any suggestion that she is improperly using her White House platform.” Much of the coverage of Women Who Work—even the negative coverage—has echoed this line, conceding that, regardless of the book’s merits, Trump is playing by the rules of good governance. Her overabundance of caution and her sizable contributions to charity—two $100,000 donations is nothing to sneeze at—also create distance between Trump and her father, a dynamic we have seen play out throughout the campaign and his young presidency. Donald Trump may be a miserly, corrupt bigot but his daughter is caring, charitable, dutiful.
The problem is that many in the media—displaying a basic ignorance of how publishing works—have misreported Trump’s charitable giving and greatly exaggerated it. Furthermore, the idea that Ivanka Trump is not promoting the book out of some sort of ethical obligation is false. She may not be doing Today, but she’s brazenly promoting the book—just in a way that shields her from having to answer difficult questions about her father’s presidency.
In a statement announcing the creation of the Ivanka M. Trump Fund, Trump made it clear that she would be donating the unpaid portion of her advance to charities and that the first two recipients would be the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Urban League, both of which would get $100,000. The Ivanka M. Trump Fund, the statement notes, “will contribute a minimum $425,000 to the Fund, which is the unpaid portion of the advance, net of expenses. In addition, the LLC will contribute all future royalties it receives that are in excess of the advance to the Fund during the period from May 1, 2017 to May 1, 2022.”
Publishers usually refuse to comment publicly on the size of the advances they give authors (although they often leak the figures anonymously to generate publicity). But we can glean a lot of information from Trump’s statement. Publishers typically pay large advances in four equal installments—the first when the contract is signed, the second when the manuscript is delivered, the third when the book is published, and the fourth when the paperback is published. Given that $425,000 of Trump’s advance was unpaid two weeks before Women Who Work was published, it is likely that her advance was $850,000 or at least in that ballpark.
In other words, Trump has already pocketed the portion of the advance that was paid before the book’s publication—about $425,000. While her charitable contributions are commendable, suggesting that Trump is donating all the proceeds from the book, as some media outlets have, is misleading.
Furthermore, if Women Who Work sells enough copies to earn out its entire advance, Trump says she will donate her royalties to charity. But earning out is not easy to do, particularly for big advances. (Most agents who work with celebrity clients like Trump will tell you that if the book earns out its advance then they have not done their job.) For Women Who Work to earn out its advance, the book would have to sell more than 200,000 copies in hardcover. That’s possible, but hardly guaranteed. Trump’s first book, The Trump Card, sold 15,660 in hardcover and 9,376 in paperback, according to Nielsen BookScan. That’s a solid sales record—and Trump is certainly more famous now than she was in 2010, when the book was published—but a far cry from the kind of sales Women Who Work would need to start generating royalties.
Then there is the notion that Trump is not publicizing the book. This is flat-out absurd. The promotional campaign for Women Who Work has been very active, and the book has received coverage that most authors could only dream of. The great irony is that Trump has been guiding most of it, all while telling people that she is not promoting the book.
The coverage started on May 2, the day Women Who Work was published, with a lengthy New York Times profile of Trump’s role in the White House that detailed her efforts to be a “moderating force.” Women Who Work is briefly mentioned in the fourth paragraph of the story, which later notes in a parenthetical that “Ms. Trump says she will not be promoting her book for ethics reasons.” But this is the kind of story that most authors aspire to—and that anyone who works in publishing knows is exceedingly rare. Such stories almost invariably lead to a surge in sales, even if they only mention a book in passing. There have also been excerpts and favorable coverage of Women Who Work published in People, USA Today, Fortune, and US Weekly. Even with the negative reviews and without television appearances, that’s about as good as book publicity gets.
Trump boosted the Fortune excerpt on Instagram, where she has 3.5 million followers. A spokesman for Trump told The New York Times that she decided to only promote the book on social media after consulting with the Office of Government Ethics. But Norman Eisen, who served as Barack Obama’s chief ethics adviser, told the Times that this could signal that it was fine for government officials to promote Trump businesses.
Trump seems unconcerned with such a possibility. By my count, she has posted eight times about Women Who Work on her Instagram account since April 20, including this cringe-inducing staged dance with her two kids, which went viral.
She’s posted about the book nine times on her Facebook page, which has 5.7 million likes, and a number of times on Twitter, where she’s followed by 3.69 million people. A campaign in which an author can reach millions of potential readers is a huge boon for book sales and Trump has delivered, regularly reminding her followers that Women Who Work exists—while she doesn’t link to Amazon or overtly say “buy my book,” it’s very clear that she’s promoting it.
This is not how someone who is concerned about ethics behaves. It is particularly galling for someone who has loudly proclaimed she will not do any promotion for her book. It suggests that Trump, as far as ethics are concerned, would have happily gone on a book tour or appeared on television to sell the book—if it weren’t for the fact that she would have received questions in public or on national television about her father and the many ways in which he has been antagonistic to the advancement of women in this country. Using social media is a canny way to control the narrative.
At any rate, what Trump is doing is a promotional campaign in everything but name only. Her claim otherwise is a shameless act of brand-polishing—and further proof that this family simply doesn’t care that it is one huge conflict of interest presiding over the White House.
Update: Women Who Work sold 10,404 copies in hardcover in its first week on sale, per Nielsen BookScan. That number does not include all hardcover sales, however, and is likely somewhat higher. It does not include ebook sales, which will not be available for several months and could very well double (or more) the book’s sales.