Readers Have Been Eagerly Waiting for Barack Obama’s New Memoir. Struggling Booksellers Have, Too.


“President Obama is very aware, as he will be out there talking about his book, that he’s not the leader of the Democratic party,” Ms. Hill said. “He does not want to be out there in any way overshadowing Joe Biden.”

Of course, the biggest obstacle to any plan in 2020 is the coronavirus. As the virus continued to spread through the summer and early fall, it became clear that Mr. Obama would not be able to conduct a book tour with appearances in front of large audiences, like Mrs. Obama’s nationwide tour for “Becoming,” which involved events in major sports arenas. Mr. Obama isn’t holding any in-person events, except for select interviews. Instead, he will rely on reaching readers through his large social media following — he has more than 125 million Twitter followers, and around 90 million followers on Facebook and Instagram combined — and interviews with traditional outlets like “60 Minutes,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” Oprah Winfrey’s Apple TV show and The Atlantic magazine, as well as on podcasts and youth-focused media outlets. He may also hold some live virtual events, Ms. Hill said.

There’s a long literary tradition of former presidents publishing reflections of their time in office, tracing back to works by James Buchanan and Theodore Roosevelt. While some became best sellers, including George W. Bush’s “Decision Points” and Bill Clinton’s “My Life,” former presidents’ accounts can often be dutiful and plodding marches through recent history.

Expectations are considerably higher for “A Promised Land,” which has been highly anticipated ever since the Obamas jointly signed a record-breaking multibook deal for $65 million with Penguin Random House in 2017. Mrs. Obama’s book has sold 14 million copies worldwide, including more than 8 million in the U.S. and Canada. Mr. Obama’s previous books have also been commercial and critical hits. “Dreams From My Father,” originally published in 1995, became a best seller after Mr. Obama rose to political prominence. That memoir has sold more than 3.3 million copies in the U.S. and Canada, while his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” which was more policy-oriented, has sold nearly 4.3 million copies, according to Crown.

Rachel Klayman, Mr. Obama’s longtime editor at Crown, said “A Promised Land” was more challenging for him to write than his previous two books. While he had some assistance with the research, and sought editorial feedback from former members of his administration, he wrote the book himself.

The first time Mr. Obama met with Ms. Klayman to discuss it, she said, he had several chapters outlined on a yellow legal pad. He planned to begin the book with a scene on the night he won the Iowa Caucus in 2008, a pivotal moment on his path to the White House. When he handed in the first draft, Ms. Klayman was surprised to see that he opened instead with a brief scene at the White House’s West Colonnade, and then a flashback to his time as a young adult in Hawaii.

Initially, Mr. Obama planned to cover his eight years as president in a single volume, but it became clear as he was writing that such a book would have been too vast and unwieldy. “A Promised Land” covers Mr. Obama’s youth and his political awakening, and ends with him meeting the Navy SEAL team involved in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.


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