From ‘Trump Survival Guide' to ‘Hillbilly Elegy,' book publishing turns to all things political

Pedestrians walk past The Last Bookstore on April 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif. The Last Bookstore said it has seen an uptick in sales of dystopian books such as "1984," as well as books about Donald Trump since the election.
Pedestrians walk past The Last Bookstore on April 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif. The Last Bookstore said it has seen an uptick in sales of dystopian books such as "1984," as well as books about Donald Trump since the election. TNS

As the nation hotly debated President Trump’s surprise election, Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena began stacking pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution near the registers early this year because customers kept asking for them.

The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles set up a display of dystopian literature after seeing heightened interest in books such as George Orwell’s “1984” and Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.”

And in 12 fevered days, author Gene Stone wrote “The Trump Survival Guide” so that his publisher, HarperCollins’ Dey Street Books unit, could rush it to stores in time for the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president.

The business of publishing and selling politically themed books moved front and center with the dawn of the Trump era in Washington. Books about all things Trump, including the societal trends that helped put him in office and the ideals of those virulently opposed to the president and his agenda, are still enjoying a sales boost after his Nov. 8 defeat of Hillary Clinton.

Customers “are trying to get a sense of who he is and what is happening,” said Katie Orphan, the Last Bookstore’s manager. “Books about him and in response to him are certainly selling better than books by him.”

The arrival of a new president from a different party from the predecessor typically flushes out a flock of fresh political tomes, experts note. But this time, it’s particularly pronounced, “propelled by this intense concern and interest in politics right now,” said Andrew Hsiao, U.S. publisher of left-leaning Verso Books.

Whereas conservative authors once had a united message against the Obama administration and liberals were divided in their views, now it’s the conservative writers who fall into different camps while the left’s books are uniformly against Trump.

“There are pro-Trump people, there are ‘Never Trump' people, full-throated Trump supporters and wary Trump supporters” among conservatives, said Eric Nelson, editorial director of Broadside Books, a conservative imprint of HarperCollins. “The left has gotten more united.”

That also means “there’s definitely not much of a market for anti-Hillary books,” said Marji Ross, president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, a leading publisher of conservative books.

“She wasn’t going to be president so that was no longer a big issue for people who disagreed with her,” Ross said. “There were definitely books we were looking at before the election that we agreed didn’t make sense to do after the election.”

Publishers Weekly’s list of the top 20 best-selling nonfiction hardcover books recently included “Big Agenda: President Trump’s Plan to Save America” by David Horowitz and published by Humanix Books.

Also on the list was “Trump’s War: His Battle for America” by conservative talk-radio host Michael Savage and published by Center Street Books, part of the Hachette Book Group.

There’s also “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance, an autobiography published by HarperCollins whose review in the Los Angeles Times carried a headline that said the book provided “a window into the pain and anger of Trump’s America.”

The Last Bookstore’s staff-recommendation table has also taken a political turn in recent months with titles such as Stone’s “The Trump Survival Guide.” The store has sold 140 copies of the book since it arrived two months ago.

Stone’s book has been described as a short history guide detailing President Obama’s policies, predicting Trump’s actions and offering resources for “fighting back” against the Trump administration’s policies.

Stone has written 40 books, including “The Bush Survival Bible,” published in 2004 after the election of President George W. Bush. Stone described the Bush guide as satire, but he said the Trump book is a “really serious book.”

“I was extremely depressed and dejected after Election Day,” he said. “I wanted something out there as soon as possible that I thought could help people.”

The book jumped to the top of the Los Angeles Times’ best-seller list for paperback nonfiction on Feb. 12 and has sold especially well in cities with strong independent bookstores such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis and Denver, Stone said.

Verso’s Hsiao said he likewise is “working on some more anti-Trump material and probably will have a book pretty soon by a bunch of left-wing writers on Trump.”

Verso already is set to publish “Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump” by David Neiwert. “We signed this quite some time ago but now people all over the country are intensely concerned and worried about this extreme-right resurgence,” Hsiao said.

One of Regnery’s conservative bestsellers is “Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption Is Worse Than You Think” by Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). The book is popular because “it taps into the same frustration that I think drove a lot of people to vote for Donald Trump,” Ross said.

Although publishers are accelerating or slowing schedules of political titles to fit the changing market, Ross rejected the idea that book publishing overall is suddenly going through some type of political shift.

“I keep getting the question, ‘How will your publishing program change as a result of Trump being elected?’” Ross said. “My answer is ‘Regnery’s program isn’t going to change because Trump was elected. Regnery’s program will respond to the trends that caused Trump to be elected.’”