One of the more interesting panels from the US Book Show was one titled: “Political Books: What Does the Post-Trump Landscape Hold?” As a politics lover, I wanted to explore exactly what was going on in publishing after the era of sensationalism Trump created.
Political books seem to be one of the largest areas of growth for the publishing industry. The industry received a lot of attention and blowback after the January 6th Capitol riots, after pulling Josh Hawley’s release off the slate of books scheduled for publication. But, Trump himself seems to have heavily influenced the industry. There was a massive boom in political book sales through the Trump administration, and the industry made history in terms of sales in just 2020 alone. While some of the panelists credited Trump’s sensationalism as the only reason why political books boomed so rapidly, panelist Tanya McKinnon took a different approach. McKinnon said while Trump did have an impact, people these days are reliant on political books because they are able to unpack how we got to this moment of our history. McKinnon said in an era full of confusion, political books led people to understand and make sense of their experiences. She was the sole panelist who didn’t want to give Trump a majority of the credit for the industry’s boom.
For the other panelists, the grip Trump imposed doesn’t seem to have loosened in any way. Trump’s lasting influence on political books seemed to boost the industry financially, so now, agents and editors alike are still trying to capitalize on the market. There were a couple of major takeaways.
First, the issue of fact-checking struck the biggest chord of concern for me. While those in the panel did say fact-checkers could be hired at the editor’s discretion, many couldn’t find the fine balance between misinformation and opinion. Many of the panelists said they wouldn’t be opposed to publishing books they didn’t agree with content wise, even if they didn’t perform well. Many didn’t draw the line anywhere with misinformation, as many focused on wanting to capture the raw opinions of those in the Trump administration. The only place where they drew the line was at Josh Hawley. As it turns out, the reason Josh Hawley’s book was pulled was not because of any of its content, but rather, because his decisions led to the January 6th insurrection. Companies are not shying away from conservatives in any way, and Simon & Schuster is slated to release Mike Pence’s book in the coming months. It’s concerning that politicians and authors can publish nearly whatever they want, as long as they don’t get themselves wrapped around a literal mass insurrection. Another concern of mine came throughout the panel. A phrase that was consistently repeated by multiple panelists was the idea of this incoming “revisionist history” era, where individuals in the former administration would try to shape and mold the realities of what went down in the Trump era. Scarily, none of these publishers are truly willing to step in for the truth. Many see this revisionist history as an era of rapid growth and selling for the industry, as people try to cleanse their minds of the horrors in the Trump era.
Also, the Power 5 Publishers have little power when it comes to controlling a rapid spread of misinformation through smaller publishing companies. The panelists said that there was nothing they could do to stop smaller publishing industries from publishing content at their will. With the rise of smaller, typically conservative publishers, the only solution any of the panelists provided was the idea that none of these companies could ever blow up to rival their companies. This solution is obviously rather feeble, as any one book could really circulate and serve as misinformation. They agreed there was nothing much agents and editors could do to stop any misinformation from these companies.
These red flags become more concerning as one evaluates why political books exist to begin with. The panelists all believe they exist because people need to go in depth in their knowledge and start to understand what truly went down. Instead of a piece of short lived fake news, political books exist to help people think and process. If the newer batches of these books are crammed with misinformation, there could be a new avenue of misinformation heading our way.
What stuck with me in this panel was this: the publishing industry is greed and money motivated. Many of these individuals were more than willing to sacrifice truth and facts for profit and good performance in the market. It was also interesting to see just how much these individuals bought into the Trump era and into how well those books sold. When asked about books written by Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, these editors and agents instantly said these books didn’t perform well and weren’t doing great. Instead of evaluating books on content or on impact, the publishing industry sees political books as little more than a new way to spin sensationalism. Though a couple of the panelists poked fun at the media for not being able to move past Trump, they hold an equal responsibility to provide accurate information. However, they fail to acknowledge their similar flaws.
Featured Image via David Todd McCarty on Unsplash