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The biggest book of the year?

14 June 2004

Bill Clinton's memoir was the hit of BookExpo this year and huge sales are anticipated when it's published on 22nd June. There's been a lot of speculation about the advance paid by the publishers Knopf, with the Wall Street Journal bringing its gigantic initial estimate down to a measly $9 million dollars. My Life is reckoned to be too important for the publishers to risk losing sales because of the serial. Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards said: 'You go down the road of serialization when you're trying to maximise exposure for an author. In this instance, we are controlling the exposure for Clinton.'

The first print is 1.5 million, but a huge reprint is waiting in the wings and this looks set to be the biggest book of the year. Clinton will undertake a massive tour. Although much bigger than the others, it's part of a rash of political books (see News Review 5 April 2004) condemned by Rachel Donadio in the Observer: 'publishers are flailing around, publishing even the dumbest political books'. But this book is a one-off and will rise above the other over-publishing in this genre. As his electrifying performance at BEABookExpo America, commonly referred to within the book publishing industry as BEA. The largest annual book trade fair in the United States showed, Clinton is in a class of his own when it comes to book promotion.

What is harder to forecast at the moment is the way in which this hugely influential book from the charismatic previous incumbent of the Oval Office is going to affect the presidential election in November. But this and the rash of books on the late Ronald Reagan being rapidly reissued to meet high demand show that the books are intimately entangled with the political events they chronicle and describe. When it comes to politics, books can have a massive influence.