The date has been set, sort of. Former President Clinton’s memoirs will be published in late June, and promotion will begin a few weeks earlier with a speech at BookExpo America, the industry’s annual convention.
“It is the fullest and most nuanced account of a presidency ever written, and one of the most revealing and remarkable memoirs I have ever had the honor of publishing,” Sonny Mehta, president and editor-in-chief of Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement Monday.
“He talks with candor about his successes, as well as his setbacks, looking at both his career in public service and his life.”
The book, for which Clinton received a reported $10 million to $12 million, will be called “My Life.” Knopf is planning a first printing of 1.5 million, a realistic number given the success of “Living History,” the memoirs of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Nearly 1.7 million copies of the hardcover of “Living History” are in print and a 525,000 first printing was announced for the paperback, which just came out.
If the former president should fail to sell more books than the first lady, he need not be embarrassed. Memoirs by Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan both proved less popular than those written by their wives.
“We think his book will be stronger than hers,” Susan Yeager, category manager of history and politics for the Borders Group superstore chain, said. “There’s a sense he’s got more to say, because he’s in a position to recount more conversations and more events during his presidency.”
No exact date has been set for publication and other details were also uncertain, especially since Clinton is still writing “My Life.” The book’s length, cover, serialization rights and promotional tour have yet to be determined, although Clinton’s representative, Washington, D.C. attorney Robert Barnett, says the former president will travel extensively.
“We would not announce a June publication of the book if we did not think it would be done and ready for June,” Barnett said.
Clinton to be keynote speaker
One event is definite: Clinton will be the keynote speaker June 3 at BookExpo America, which takes place in Chicago from June 3-6. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was then first lady, spoke at BookExpo in 1995.
“A lot of booksellers love the Clintons,” said Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., and a former president of the American Booksellers Association.
“Politically, booksellers lean more in the Clintons’ direction, and, of course, they’re both people who clearly care a lot about books.”
Like Bob Woodward’s “Plan of Attack” and Richard Clarke’s “Against All Enemies,” Clinton’s book will likely make its way into the presidential campaign.
He has reportedly been eager to get “My Life” out before the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Boston from July 26-29. Sen. John Kerry is the presumptive nominee.
“We think it will serve as a good reminder of the unprecedented peace and prosperity that this nation enjoyed under the Clinton-Gore years,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera said.
An admittedly hurried productionThe book was edited by Robert Gottlieb, who has worked with such Pulitzer Prize winners as Robert Caro, Toni Morrison and Katharine Graham.
But it will be an admittedly hurried production, with Knopf having just two months to convert the manuscript into a finished book, a process that often takes several months.
Knopf also is hoping for a simultaneous worldwide production. Translations in German, Dutch, Spanish, French and Portuguese have been ongoing as Clinton hands in portions of the text.
If Clinton turns out a first-rate memoir, especially about his presidential years, he will be a true path breaker. The only highly regarded presidential memoir is by Ulysses Grant, who devoted the vast majority of the book to his triumphant Civil War military leadership and wrote virtually nothing about his often disastrous presidency.
Most presidential works have the dull, self-serving tone of a prepared speech. They suffer from the impersonal hand of a ghost writer or from the impersonal tastes of the president. The memoirs of Herbert Hoover, for example, include balance sheets on food assistance to Armenia and Lithuania and estimated totals of dried fruit exports.
Timing and luck have kept some of the more eloquent leaders from telling their stories. Four early, literary presidents — Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams and John Quincy Adams — never published full-length memoirs largely because it was considered in poor taste to dwell on one’s accomplishments.
Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy were assassinated; Franklin Roosevelt also died in office and Woodrow Wilson finished his presidency in such poor health he never got past the preface of an intended book.