Memoirs are meant to be grounded in truth, particularly presidential ones. But just as Trump governed outside many norms, anything he produces in book form is likely to fall outside the boundaries of nonfiction. Indeed, whatever he publishes should be regarded as fake news until proven otherwise. Remember, this is the man who, according to The Washington Post, made more than 30,000
false and misleading claims while in office. He also fomented
a violent attack on the Capitol with baseless claims of election fraud.
Where the former President’s memoir is concerned, the foundational misleading claim
is that he’s currently “writing like crazy,” which he released in a statement last week. Notorious for being called
“The President who Doesn’t Read” by The Atlantic, Trump is famously impatient with the written word — a necessary skill for outlining a book, not to mention the actual penning of it. Previous books decorated with his name have been produced by ghostwriters, and given the way he treated
ghost writer Meredith McIver, he may have trouble finding one this time.
McIver, whom I met when I wrote a 2015 biography of Trump, became his scapegoat when errors were identified in two previous Trump books. (Both errors involved misstatements
about Trump’s net worth.) She also took the heat for apparent plagiarism of passages she says
were accidentally left in after she sought inspiration from Michelle Obama that were noted in Melania Trump’s address to the 2016 Republican National Convention. After this happened, McIver seemed to drop off the face of the earth.
While I don’t know what happened with the Melania Trump speech, as someone who has done some high-profile ghost work (no, I’m not saying for whom), I do know that reputable ghostwriters won’t help those who are bent on deception. In Trump’s case, deception could be Job One. Trump has shown genuine hostility toward facts in his handling
of the Covid-19 crisis and in his refusal to accept
that President Joe Biden him beat him in the last election.
When he’s not resisting established truths, Trump has to be watched for twisting them. A prime example: Insisting
he never met people he clearly knows — like artist Lil Jon, twice a contestant on “The Apprentice” and once called a great friend by Trump. When later asked about him, Trump claimed he had no idea who he was.
With McIver standing as a cautionary example and Trump’s funhouse version of reality, he’ll have to find a ghost whose standards allow for collaborating with a fabulist. If her experience doesn’t scare writers off, they may want to consider Tony Schwartz, who wrote “The Art of the Deal” for Trump. In the time since Trump became President, Schwartz has often aired his regrets. saying
at one point, “I’ve contributed to creating the public image of the man who is sociopathic and people don’t realize it.”
Of course, money can often soothe the squeamish, so Trump could find such a person, especially if he offers to pay a big fee. But then there’s the problem of finding a publisher who is willing to pay a big advance. Trump will want to surpass the $65 million paid
to the Obamas for their post-White House books — and a publisher that will be comfortable putting its imprimatur on “the book of all books.”
Although some readers may doubt it, quality publishers still hew to certain standards for what they issue. In my 30-year experience in books, editors and publishers’ lawyers have all enforced guidelines that ensure a work is factual and fair. The result is that whether you pick up a book from Macmillan, Random House, Viking, Simon & Schuster (I’ve worked with each of them), or any number of reputable others, you should expect that a nonfiction title is grounded in reality.
The matter of standards explains why Simon & Schuster was willing
to ante-up for Vice President Mike Pence, who has shown some respect for the truth, but likely won’t consider putting out Trump’s presidential memoir. In fact, when Politico recently polled
the major publishers, most said they wouldn’t touch a Trump project. They cited two main reasons. One was his unreliability. The other was related to morale inside their respective companies.
Even before Trump left office, hundreds of editors, authors, and other professionals signed
an open letter titled, “No book deals for traitors,” which called for publishers to decline proposals from outgoing administration officials. “We believe in the power of words,” the letter reads, “and we are tired of the industry we love enriching the monsters among us, and we will do whatever is in our power to stop it.”
For the former President, being shunned by the powerful major publishers may be painful, as he has always tried to associate himself with winners. But alternatives can be found, and they may satisfy his desire to cash in. One option would be to make an arrangement with a niche right-wing publisher. But I would recommend he simply self-publish the book (despite the damage a lie-filled book could cause), cutting out the middle man and pocketing every penny, minus expenses.
Think of all the millions of Trump fans who would buy his book because they love him. Add to that the millions more who can’t resist the chance to peek inside his mind because they hate him. All would prefer something unedited, unvarnished, and thus, genuinely Trump. He surely knows this, which means that by his light, he’s guaranteed to produce a book that will sell like crazy and draw crowds if he ever takes to the road to promote it. For a man who values money and attention, not truth or literary quality, it may well be the book of all books.