Book bombs: Trump aide tell-alls fail to sell

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A year after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, his former chief of staff Mark Meadows released a tell-all book about his 10 months in the White House that promised to be a “frank, candid account” of running Trump’s chaotic West Wing.

The buzz around it was heavy. But in the publishing world, it was a bust.

The Chief’s Chief” has sold only 21,569 books, according to NPD Bookscan, a market research firm that tracks book sales. And it’s not the only book by an ex-Trump aide that has failed to fly off the shelves.

The memoir of Deborah Birx, the Covid response coordinator under Trump, has sold fewer than 6,000 copies; Dr. Scott Atlas’ book sold 27,013 copies; Dr. Ben Carson’s book sold 21,786 copies; former White House press secretary turned Trump critic Stephanie Grisham sold 38,249 books; counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway has sold 42,273 books since it was published in late May; and former defense secretary Mark Esper sold 20,900 books.

Former attorney general Bill Barr sold 64,103 books. But the one Trump post-White House book sales that did best appears to be Peter Navarro’s, whose “In Trump Time” has sold 80,218 copies of his book so far. The book, unlike the others, is less a revelation about life inside the former administration than an ode to Trump’s approach to governance. Perhaps for that reason, it has earned extensive publicity in MAGA circles and is currently advertised on Steve Bannon’s The War Room website.

“Since he left office, the Trump memoirs have not done great,” said one top publishing executive, who was granted anonymity to talk candidly about author sales. “Each of the people who have written a book so far was telling stories that we pretty much already knew.”

Bookscan data is not a full account of a book’s success as it captures around 70 percent of hardcover sales and does not track ebook and audio uploads. Still, the numbers show a sea change in the audience for works from Trump-tied authors. Dishy books by former Trump White House and administration figures, after all, used to be a boon for booksellers.

Former national security adviser John Bolton’s book “The Room Where It Happened,” has racked up a whopping 680,949 in sales according to BookScan. And former FBI director James Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty,” was also a success with 626,810 in sales.

But those works benefited from timing and intrigue. Trump was in the White House, and the nation was eager for a window into how things actually operated. Bolton’s book, in particular, benefited from his back and forth with the White House about whether he was revealing classified information.

With Trump out of the White House, publishing success has become rarer.


In some cases, the failure to sell post-Trump White House books written by Trump vets has raised the prospect that the publishing houses could suffer financial losses.

Multiple book editors and publishers interviewed for this story said the hefty advances doled out to the authors before publication – for some, in the millions, like Conway and Barr – might not be made back by the publisher with sales.

"Every White House memoir so far has been a loser except Navarro. Meadows and Scott Atlas underperformed, and Barr, Conway, Birx, and Esper lost money,” said another publishing world insider, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about authors.

"It’s boring people cashing in by saying the same things they’ve been saying all along. If you don’t have big news nuggets, and you’re not telling MAGA what they most want to hear, you’re wasting your publisher’s money. The amazing thing is that Conway, Barr, Birx, and Esper got over 5 million [in advance money] between them.”

A representative for Barr said his book is still selling a couple of thousand copies a week and has sold up to 140,000 to 150,000 in total.

A spokesperson for Conway’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, said in a statement: “Since publication, ‘Here’s The Deal’ has appeared on a variety of national bestseller lists including the New York Times where it hit #1 on their combined list in its first week on-sale (and has been on the list for 3 weeks).... We are very pleased with the sales and anticipate the book will continue to sell through the end of the year.”

Grisham and a spokesperson for Meadows declined to comment, while Atlas, as well as a representative for Carson didn’t respond to requests for comment. Birx and a spokesperson for Esper directed POLITICO to their respective publishers who didn’t respond to requests for comment.

While a strong foothold on the New York Times bestseller list—and healthy profits—is always a goal, publishing sources stressed that sometimes they invest in authors for the sake of history and to make sure they are publishing books of record.

Two more books are on the way, although it’s unclear how newsy they will be. One is from former vice president Mike Pence, who has been a subject of intense public interest over this handling of the Jan. 6 riots. Another that will be released in August is by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who spearheaded some of the top policy priorities of the White House.

Kushner’s book, “Breaking History,” from the conservative imprint Broadside Books, is being promoted as a “true historical thriller,” and “not your typical political memoir.”

“Political books from now until 2024 are going to have to have a real reason to exist for the market to exist… unless you’re someone like Maggie Haberman,” another publishing insider said, in reference to the star New York Times reporter who is expected to publish her book on Trump later this year. That book is likely to contain a number of never-before-surfaced revelations, as Haberman is one of, if not the, best sourced reporters on the Trump beat.

“The era of everyone paying attention to cable news 24 hours a day because of the Trump administration, that’s gone,” the publishing insider added. “People are not engaged as much as they were a few years ago.”

Despite the cooling of the Trump aide book market, one author in particular has been quite successful: Donald Trump.

Our Journey Together,” a $75 hardcover collection of photos from his time in the White House (captured by official photographers like Shealah Craighead who were not given a cut of the profit) with captions written by the ex-president has made more than $20 million since its release in November, according to CNN.

Trump aide Sergio Gor published Trump’s book under the imprint of Winning Team Publishing, the publishing house he established with Trump son Donald Trump Jr. He plans to publish another book this year by Trump.

“Conservatives have no interest in reading books that perpetuate falsehoods about President Trump from disgruntled former administration officials,” Gor said. “These authors are left without an audience, since liberals never liked them to begin with.”