Sarah Palin inspires variations on book theme

October 31, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- The envy of nearly every other first-time author, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's good fortune includes an advance upward of $1.25 million, an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show the day before publication, and a print run of 1.5 million books for a memoir that already sits on bestseller lists.

So it's no surprise that in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 17 release date of "Going Rogue: An American Life," there are plenty of other authors hoping that they, too, can sell books in Palin's slipstream.

The first one hits stores Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the 2008 presidential election that transformed Palin from an obscure governor to a figure of parody on "Saturday Night Live." "Sarah from Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar," was authored by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe, television news reporters who followed Palin on the vice presidential campaign trail last fall.

Next up, on Nov. 12, a book with a more right-wing bent: "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star," by Matthew Continetti of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.

Then, on the day before Palin's own book publishes, comes a book of left-leaning essays being sold only online, "Going Rouge: An American Nightmare." The book, with its parody title and strikingly similar cover art, was put together by two senior editors at The Nation magazine and will be available only on the Web site of its publisher, OR Books. Alaska blogger and radio host Shannyn Moore is among the contributors.

There's also a satirical coloring book of the same name, produced by a husband-wife team hoping they're funny enough for an appearance on Comedy Central's "Colbert Report." Julie Sigwart and Micheal Stinson's version of "Going Rouge," which will be sold at bookstores, is unrelated to the book of the same name by editors of The Nation.

Also in the pipeline, but not this year: a close look at Palin by Joe McGinniss, who chronicled Alaska's oil boom years in 1980's "Going to Extremes."

So how will all these books sell?

"It would seem to me that the book that's going to sell the best is the real Sarah Palin, not all the knockoff Sarah Palin," said Mary Matalin, a former adviser to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the editor-in-chief of Threshold Editions, whose authors include high-profile conservatives such as Mary Cheney, daughter of the former vice president.

"I'm predicting it's going to be a whopping publishing success, a whopping publishing success," Matalin said. "Why would you want to buy some second-hand account when you get her real version?"

But for the first book out, "Sarah from Alaska," the timing of its release was coincidental, said Lisa Kaufman, marketing director and senior editor of PublicAffairs, the book's publisher. The publisher had already established a release date when Palin's publishers announced her book would be coming out this fall, and not in the spring, as had been expected. Initially, they worried about it, Kaufman said.

"There was some, 'Is this a good thing or a bad thing?' " Kaufman said. "The stores responded kind of the same way. Some were, 'Uh oh.' But our biggest accounts stayed steady."

One chain, Books-a-Million, is offering a coupon for a combo purchase of "Sarah from Alaska" and "Going Rogue," Kaufman said.

Ultimately, PublicAffairs thinks the timing will benefit their authors, who get two weeks to promote their own book, and then will likely be sought on cable television to comment and interpret Palin's own book -- giving them another opportunity to plug "Sarah from Alaska."

Continetti's publisher has a similar hope for his book, "The Persecution of Sarah Palin." He'll be one of the few right-wing voices out there when people are looking for someone to talk about Palin's book, said Will Weisser, associate publisher of Sentinel books.

"There's going to be huge speculation and debate all across the political spectrum," Weisser said. "From our perspective, we want Matthew Continetti right in the middle of that discussion."

Because "Going Rouge" is an Internet-only book, the similar cover won't trick people looking for Palin's book into a purchase. It's merely "an attempt to poke fun at her own cover," said John Oakes, co-publisher of OR Books. Their online strategy targets potential readers on political Web sites like Politico and Wonkette, and so far Oakes said, the Palin book has been so popular that brisk sales actually crashed their Web site.

"We're selling straight to the consumer, using the Internet," Oakes said. "I think it can enable us for the first time to reach lots of people directly. My focus is to get to people who are interested in the book."

For the duo behind the "Going Rouge" coloring book, they just hope funny sells. "Sarah didn't write this book either," they say on the Web site, referring to Palin's use of collaborator Lynn Vincent.

Palin's publicist, Tina Andreadis of HarperCollins, would say little about the company's promotional strategy for "Going Rogue," other than to confirm it plans the kind of book tour reserved these days for only the biggest name authors. Both HarperCollins and Harpo Productions, Winfrey's production company, are mum on whether the Oprah show approached Palin or whether Palin approached them.

But her appearance on Oprah is unlikely to hurt sales, said Howard Yoon, vice president and editorial director of the Gail Ross Literary Agency in Washington. Palin's appeal as an author -- while on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Winfrey -- is comparable to the interest in the autobiography written by former first lady and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he said.

"She's a phenomenon, not just a political figure," Yoon said of Palin.

No matter how people feel about her, Palin fascinates them, said Sarah Thomas, a publicist with Palgrave Macmillan who currently is promoting a book by a fellow conservative, CNN commentator Leslie Sanchez. The book -- "You've Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary, and the Shaping of the New American Woman" -- features a Palin reference in the subtitle.

"She's beautiful, she's charismatic, she's captivating," Thomas said of Palin last week. "And that's what sells."

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