Writing your way to the White House

Nancy Marshall-Genzer May 14, 2015
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Writing your way to the White House

Nancy Marshall-Genzer May 14, 2015
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Walk into about any bookstore in Washington and they are hard to miss – all the books by presidential hopefuls.

James Webb has a book  called “I Heard My Country Calling.” Ben Carson’s is “One Nation.”  Then of course there’s “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” from Mike Huckabee.

“This is where we put the newest books that were released in paperback – so  you can see right at the front is Hillary Clinton’s paperback:  just came out last week,” says Mark Laframboise, the book buyer for the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C. 

He points out other books, by Senator Marco Rubio, and Congressman Paul Ryan.

“Paul Ryan’s around sometimes,” he says. “He was down in the coffee shop a couple weeks ago.”

This is ground-zero for political books, a hangout for politicians and political junkies. But Lafromboise says even here, the presidential campaign book usually has a short shelf life.

“A month, three weeks,” he says.

So why write them?

“Candidates feel a lot of pressure to get their message out there in their words with their ideas, without the filters of lots and lots of other people,” says Lissa Muscatine, a former chief speechwriter for Hillary Clinton, who worked on most of Clinton’s books. 

Now Muscatine owns Politics and Prose with her husband, Bradley Graham. Muscatine says the candidates’ books take many forms.  Memoirs, or manifestos, laying out what they would do as president. Who buys these books? People like Gordon Mantler, a historian at George Washington University.

Mantler is browsing in the political section.  He bought one of President Obama’s books: “Dreams from my Father.”

“I didn’t feel like this was the typical memoir that’s setting up a presidential or national campaign,” Mentler says.

And that’s key.

“I think the most important thing is to write a book that the reader will find authentic,” says longtime publisher Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of the PublicAffairs publishing company.  

He says political writers should open up about their lives. And say something original. And it doesn’t hurt if people are really interested in you. “Dreams from my Father” was published in 1995, but sales didn’t take off until after Barack Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. 

And candidates shouldn’t worry if their book is a total bomb — we’ve had some pretty bad writers win the White House.

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