Kristi Noem’s latest memoir received 'dagger of death' on New York Times Best Sellers list

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem discusses the drug cartel presence in the state’s tribal lands during press conference on Friday, May 17, 2024, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem discusses the drug cartel presence in the state’s tribal lands during press conference on Friday, May 17, 2024, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota.
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Gov. Kristi Noem’s recently released memoir, “No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward,” spent about a week in May listed at No. 9 on The New York Times Best-Sellers List for combined print and e-book nonfiction, but it was also branded with the Times’ ominous “dagger of death” symbol (†).

The little mark is used to identify books on the bestseller list with sales figures that include retailers who reported "receiving bulk orders," according to The New York Times website. But, research shows colloquially that little dagger can cast doubt about whether those behind the books allegedly "bought" their way onto the list with such orders or reached the list in a questionable way. Hence, the symbol's nickname.

The book, released May 7, has already faced significant controversy, and Noem is one of several being considered for former President Donald Trump’s 2024 vice-presidential pick. Those controversies include a passage that describes her shooting her 14-month-old hunting dog Cricket and a goat, and at least two corrections needed to be issued tied to false statements inside.

No. 1 international and Wall Street Journal bestselling ghostwriter of more than 80 books, Joshua Lisec, has previously provided insight into the ghostwriting process, and where some of the missteps and factual errors in Noem's book may unfolded along the way. Toward the end of her book, she thanks a ghostwriter for helping her with the process.

Kristi Noem's "No Turning Back" memoir on display on May 14, 2024, at Barnes & Noble in Sioux Falls.
Kristi Noem's "No Turning Back" memoir on display on May 14, 2024, at Barnes & Noble in Sioux Falls.

“This raises suspicions that these are not 'real' book sales but rather the author's own organization(s) placing bulk orders for the book and shipping to a myriad of different addresses to look like ‘real’ bulk purchases," Lisec said of the dagger's meaning. "It is considered a stain on one’s reputation in the publishing industry, …and you become marked for life as an ‘authentic fake.'"

The book was on the list for the week of May 20-26. As of May 27, the book was no longer on the list, though it's unclear why.

“Institutional, special interest, group or bulk purchases, if and when they are included, are at the discretion of The New York Times Best-Seller List Desk editors based on standards for inclusion that encompass proprietary vetting and audit protocols, corroborative reporting and other statistical determinations," Melissa Torres, manager of external communications for The New York Times said of the symbol. "When included, such bulk purchases appear with a dagger."

The Times’ Best-Seller lists are derived from a detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of bookstores and online retailers, applied consistently to ensure an accurate reflection of what’s overly popular now.

But the impact of the Best-Seller list is clear: Books on it can gain substantial credibility and commercial momentum. Appearing on this list can significantly boost a book's visibility and sales and often solidify an author's reputation in the literary, and in Noem’s case, political worlds.

The South Dakota Governor’s first book, “Not My First Rodeo: Lessons from the Heartland” also made the New York Times Bestseller List when it was first released in June 2022 at No. 14. This publication did not, however, possess the dagger of death symbol.

A shadow of a doubt

Written with the intent of delving deeper into her political career, the focus of Noem’s book has been overshadowed. And that shadow looms over 14-month-old hunting dog Cricket, and the fact Noem did not meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, as the narrative initially portrayed.

More: Did Kristi Noem shoot her dog? 'No Going Back' and its various controversies, explained

The inaccuracy of meeting Kim Jong-un, as well as the false claim that in late 2016 Sen. Mike Rounds called for Donald Trump to drop out of the presidential race, has prompted Noem’s publisher to make corrections and reissue the book in print.

Noem's team acknowledged the errors and assured corrections in future editions, but the controversies have led to the cancellation of some national interviews and the evasion of inquiring local media outlets.

More: A ghostwriter explains why Kristi Noem’s new memoir might be hard to find in Sioux Falls

After reaching out to Noem’s Chief of Communications, Ian Fury, multiple times for comment about the symbol her book has received, the Argus Leader has yet to hear back.

What does this say about Kristi Noem?

Associate Professor Emeritus Michael Card, who has a Ph.D. in political science, public policy and administration at the University of South Dakota, said purchasing books in bulk is fairly common, especially for political books “that otherwise wouldn’t sell very well.”

Card said selling the book in bulk is not necessarily a character flaw, but only a method to sell them.

“We know that Gov. Noem is fairly popular among the conservative speaking circuit,” Card said. “She seems to be able to raise lots of money, so it may have been one of the donors to conservative or Republican causes that may have purchased those books.”

More: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks before Trump supporters in Florida book event

When it comes to addressing the contents of the bestseller though, Card said Noem could have handled the inaccuracies a little differently.

“To a large extent, you know, the cues that seemed to work I mean, ironically, for ‘No Going Back’ is to use the Donald Trump method and either not address it, just keep moving on, or to say, ‘I'm not going to talk about that,’ and just move on, and that just didn't work,” Card said.

My new book “No Going Back” is my unfiltered vision for America. We’re not going back to the old way of politics – and that’s a good thing!Preorder your copy here:

Posted by Kristi Noem on Monday, April 15, 2024

Card said denying these mistakes “just makes it seem worse.” In the end, Card said these controversies over Noem’s memoir may or may not be temporary.

“It's very clear that Gov. Noem believes that she has a recipe for… how to lead America out of its current malaise," he said.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Gov. Kristi Noem’s book received NYT 'dagger of death': What that means