A month ago the Wall Street Journal, previewing the Nov. 15 release of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign memoir “Our Revolution,” noted the risk of a planned 300,000-copy print run.
“There’s never a guarantee,” a Kansas bookstore owner told the newspaper. “Once the election is over, people might say, ‘I’m so done with this!’”
Then Donald Trump won, sending people who didn’t vote for him in search of direction. Just after Election Day yet before the book’s official release, Sanders’ 464-page hardcover cracked Amazon.com’s top 100 best-sellers list, then climbed to No. 3 the next day and No. 1 on its publication date.
“People had a mental breakdown,” one Democratic voter who waited nearly 12 hours in a bookstore meet-and-greet line told The Washington Post. “Seeing Bernie again gives us hope.”
Publishers echo that sentiment. Several books by or about the U.S. senator from Vermont are selling fast in the wake of this month’s presidential results.
White River Junction’s Chelsea Green Publishing, for example, is still shipping the first 30,000 copies of “Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything,” by Sanders advisers Becky Bond and Zack Exley, but Amazon.com already is trumpeting the title as its “#1 New Release in Political Leadership.”
Chelsea Green co-founder Margo Baldwin says Bond contacted her a couple of months ago seeking advice on how to put into print the campaign’s experience of melding grass-roots movement tactics with new technology.
“My gut instinct was this is the right book for the right time, so I said, ‘Can we publish it?’” Baldwin recalls. “We set out this insane schedule where they wrote it in a month and we manufactured it in little less than that. We felt it was important to get out right after the election no matter who won.”
Chelsea Green has experience with such turnaround. In 2004, University of California at Berkeley professor George Lakoff offered the publisher “Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate,” which aimed to help progressives articulate their arguments against conservatives.
“It was almost an instant best-seller,” Baldwin says of the book, which has sold more than a half million copies.
Chelsea Green sought similar success with 2008’s “Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency” and last fall’s “The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America.”
The latter title joined several other related best-sellers this primary season, including former Vermonter Harry Jaffe’s “Why Bernie Sanders Matters” and the candidate’s revision of his own 1997 autobiography, “Outsider in the House,” revised and reprinted under the new name “Outsider in the White House.”
Publishers were encouraged when Sanders, remaining in the presidential race until the Democratic National Convention, generated month upon month of sales. Even so, they’re surprised by the meteoric rise of his new memoir, which is outselling what was supposed to be this month’s chart topper, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s tell-all “Settle for More.”
“If Hillary Clinton had won, you would not have seen this,” Baldwin says. “I think it reflects where we are. People are resonating with his message.”
Sanders, in the midst of a cross-country book tour, has sold out Tuesday stops in Burlington and Manchester (he’s also set to appear at Montpelier’s Bear Pond Books). Bond and Exley, for their part, are expected to travel with their title next year.
“The authors felt they wanted their book to come out at the same time as Bernie’s, as there is a certain synergy,” Baldwin says. “We’re not sending out millions — at least not yet. But in some funny way, I think this book is more important now.”