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Ultimate Salesman

How Trump is helping to revive the publishing industry.

Illustration by Dan Bejar

The glass-encased Javits Center in Manhattan, where Hillary Clinton held her ill-fated victory party last November, now feels haunted by the ghosts of the election. In early June, during BookExpo America, the publishing industry’s largest annual trade conference, Donald Trump is everywhere. Authors, booksellers, and attendees are all eager to discuss the president’s latest assaults on democracy and common decency. Amid the banners promoting Dan Brown and John Grisham, a life-size cardboard cutout of Alec Baldwin doing his best Trump impression promotes the actor’s forthcoming book: You Can’t Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump. For a moment, Clinton herself manages to steal back the spotlight—she shows up at the conference to push a collection of personal essays and a children’s version of her 1996 best-seller, It Takes A Village. But it’s clear that the book industry—like the rest of the country—is now consumed by all things Trump.

Since the election, dozens of books about Trump have already hit bookstores—and they’re selling at a rapid clip. On the right, Trump adviser Roger Stone has written The Making of the President 2016, an account of the president’s insurgent campaign that has sold nearly 20,000 copies. Newt Gingrich has jumped in with Understanding Trump, which purports to explain Trump’s populist appeal to elites in Washington and New York. On the left, scholar Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, which offers tips on how to resist authoritarianism, has sold more than 100,000 copies, while historian Allan Lichtman’s The Case for Impeachment sold 10,000 copies in its first seven weeks.

“We are seeing more and more book publishers stepping up,” says Jenn Abel Kovitz, the associate publisher of Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull books. “They’re saying, ‘These are issues that need to be handled with a complexity and depth that an online hot take can’t provide.’”

Trump’s rise has also sparked renewed interest in dystopian fiction. To keep up with a spike in demand after the election, Margaret Atwood’s publisher reprinted 150,000 copies of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here have shot up the best-seller lists, while sales of George Orwell’s 1984 skyrocketed by 9,500 percent following Trump’s inauguration. Signet Classics, which publishes the mass-market edition, rushed out 200,000 additional copies. “We’ve printed, just this week, about half of what we normally sell in a year,” Craig Burke, the publicity director for Signet Classics, told The New York Times in January.

Trump didn’t always fuel such a frenzy on the part of publishers. When Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston first pitched the idea of a Trump book, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy, he was met with blank stares. “I tried to do a book when Donald announced in June of 2015, and Alice Martell, my literary agent, called around,” Johnston told Publishers Weekly last fall. “But nobody believed he would get the nomination, so nobody wanted the book.” The Making of Donald Trump was eventually published by Melville House, a small independent press in Brooklyn, shortly after the GOP convention. It has gone on to sell more than 30,000 copies and spend four weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

By and large, however, the publishing industry—like so many others—was slow to recognize that Trump was a force to be reckoned with. It was a costly mistake: When Barnes & Noble released disappointing financial numbers last fall, the company blamed the election. “The current trend can be traced precisely to the current election cycle, which is unprecedented in terms of the fear, anger, and frustration being experienced by the public,” chairman Len Riggio complained to investors. “The preoccupation with this election is keeping them at home, glued to their TVs and at their desktops.” If it wasn’t about Trump, Americans weren’t buying.

Now publishers are scrambling to make up for lost time. A slew of Trump-related books have hit bookstore shelves in recent months, and more are on the way. Naomi Klein recently rushed out No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. Fox News host Eric Bolling is publishing The Swamp: Washington’s Murky Pool of Corruption and Cronyism and How Trump Can Drain It. MSNBC anchor Katy Tur, who became a media star after she tussled with Trump during the election, will publish a campaign memoir in September, while journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann will churn out their inevitable take on the campaign sometime next year.

The person who may gain the most from the surge of interest in Trump books, of course, is Trump himself. By the time the real estate mogul launched his presidential campaign, his book Trump: The Art of the Deal—“the number-one-selling business book of all time,” he has falsely claimed—had faded in popularity. But during the election, Trump published a new paperback edition and encouraged fans at his rallies to purchase it. He even offered to sign copies for supporters who donated to his campaign. The book has once again soared up the best-seller lists. In the first six months of this year, it’s already sold more than 74,000 copies.