"You can either suck up the system and get a few little sinecures, or you can put it all down there in honest format and see how you go" -- Mark LathamGreg Combet's memoir, The Fights of My Life, comes out in late July, commissioned by Louise Adler from Melbourne University Publishing (MUP). Adler says it focusses on his time pre-politics, as a union leader etc, although it includes his parliamentary career. While Combet writes on the Rudd/ Gillard fuss, he's trying to lift politics and Labor culture in the book, Adler says. But the reality is most books by politicians do not sell well. Liberal frontbencher Kevin Andrews' marriage tract is called Maybe 'I do', but it turned out the readers didn't. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has written several books. New balance-of-power Senator Bob Day has a self-help business book out next month via boutique Catholic publisher Connor Court. Kim Carr's A Letter To Generation Next has sold fewer than 500 copies. Chris Bowen's Hearts and Minds has sold 700. These books are in the bargain bin or on special online. "Only a small number of them will succeed," said Richard Walsh, consultant publisher at Allen and Unwin. "People no longer find politicians very interesting people." Walsh said readers might buy a book by a person they strongly support, to "join their club" and make a statement, so Gillard's book should sell well. Books in which a pollie "shat on the political process" (like Latham and, to an extent, Bob Carr) were also attractive. An author had to write a good and honest story, with a voice of their own and human interest and drama thrown in. If it comes across as party PR, readers would not buy it, Walsh says. Shona Martyn from HarperCollins explained Howard's Lazarus-selling strategy to Crikey. Howard treated it like an election campaign and went to many book-related events, leaving signed copies in his wake. If he visited a regional airport, the bookshop would announce over the PA that he was signing copies. Howard kept in weekly contact with his publisher about sales, and if they dropped it was addressed. "Basically he worked it," Martyn said. Martyn added that people wanted to buy books by politicians they "actually cared about", or who were provocative. Writing to cement one's place in political history was less interesting. While some other publishers grumble about MUP's strategy of publishing more obscure works by politicians like Kim Carr and Bowen (it's subsidised by Melbourne University so can afford to), CEO Adler is unapologetic. She says the field is "endlessly fascinating" and can't be too crowded. "I'll do books that I know have modest expectations because I think they add to the debate about politics," she told Crikey. (And MUP has published some big-selling titles too.) Adler said the public read "with relish" ripping yarns from "the problem offspring" of politics like Latham. But politicians who wrote sober tomes on their reform agendas could sell too (like Costello). Latham has an explanation for the paradox mentioned above, that Labor politicians write more books but Liberal authors sell better. "Conservatives have got nothing else to read. In the last 20 years there's only been three books -- its not exactly a competitive market," he told Crikey. "On the Labor side we all flood the market. The literate Labor side is up and running." Latham's ninth book, The Political Bubble: why Australians distrust politics, examines the loss of faith in democracy and "the feral right-wing element in Australian politics". It's out in late July from Pan Macmillan. The author said there was a resurgence of books by politicians because fewer journalists were writing them, and because politicians wanted to set out their ideas in a coherent, long-form format, away from the 24 hour news cycle. Latham welcomed the trend, although he criticised "those self-serving, 'I was wonderful' type books in memoir format ... I think we can safely predict Kevin [Rudd] will go into the self-serving category". Latham said some politician-authors wanted to get on government boards or be ambassadors, "so they don't want to tell too much of the truth, do they ... unlike The Latham Diaries, which guarantee I will never be an ambassador or on a board". "You can either suck up the system and get a few little sinecures, or you can put it all down there in honest format and see how you go," Latham observed. He was unexcited about Howard's book on Menzies; "I'll wait for the movie version of that, it'll be a real blockbuster."
Books by politicians: how to avoid the bargain bin
A flood of pollies have books coming out, from Julia Gillard to John Howard and Bob Day. We look at what makes for a good read in this tricky genre.