What’s it all about, Sarah?

May 14, 2009




I’m the guy who told a couple of generations of reporters and journalism students that a good writer can stop any person on the street and write an interesting story about him. So far be it from me to suggest that there isn’t a good story to be told about Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska. As it turns out, Gov. Palin herself – a former journalism student – is going to take on the job herself after signing a book deal with HarperCollins and Zondervan. She anticipates that the  project will take about a year which, if she can stick to that schedule, would get it into Borders in time for the 2010 gubernatorial election. I’ve seen some cynical references to that in what the governor refers to as “the anonymous blogosphere,” but why begrudge her that advantage – or the kind of money she can command while people are still interested in her? If Richard Nixon could appear on “Laugh-In,” why shouldn’t Gov. Palin write a memoir? It could be time consuming, especially because the governor says that, despite the collaborator assigned to the  book, she wants to write most of it herself. 




News of this enterprise naturally evokes questions about the content. The governor is a relatively young woman who has had a relatively short – and dare we say largely inocuous – public career. Ulysses S. Grant put off his memoirs until he had been the general-in-chief of the victorious Union Army and twice president of these United States. And Dwight Eisenhower saved his written reflections until he had been supreme allied commander in Europe, general of the Army, and twice president. What will the governor write to hold a reader’s attention for two or three hundred pages? She did discuss that in a general way with a newspaper reporter as follows: “I just really look forward to being able to relate to people through this book, those who are anxious to hear stories about people who are facing similar challenges perhaps. That’s balancing work and parenting — in my case work does mean running a state, and family involves a large and fun and colorful ordinary family that really has been thrust into maybe some extraordinary circumstances.”  See?

I expect Harper has editors to deal with misplaced “perhapses” and “maybes,” but I hope the book clubs are heavy with folks “anxious to hear stories about people who are facing similar challenges.” Perhaps.


3 Responses to “What’s it all about, Sarah?”

  1. bart Says:

    She (well, let’s be honest, her ghostwriter) will have several themes going for them that they could milk out.

    1. What it’s like to decide to keep and raise a down’s syndrome child.

    2. What it’s like to have your teenage daughter become pregnant, how to deal with that, the repercussions on your family. Ways to support her without smothering her, etc..

    3. Being a woman who has to balance a demanding job with a large number of children.

    4. The emotional challenges of being a woman, but also being the primary breadwinner of the household.

    5. What it’s like to be a mother trying to instill traditional rural values in your children in a world that has become more and more global and transparent.

    6. Being a woman standing up for yourself and what you believe in despite huge adversity.

    If I also had enough material for 75 pages of biographical backdata I could easily ghostwrite a 300 page tome – and it would sell like mad. Not because women like her political views, but because she has faced problems that many women have either gone through or are worried about going through.

  2. charlespaolino Says:

    Well, it will be an interesting experiment. What you say may be true if the governor is a reflective person. She doesn’t seem to be, but that could be because of the way she was vaulted into the public eye. How she communicates when she has weeks and months to formulate her message could be another matter. I know a writer can fill the book; books full of blather are published every day, and they’re soon marked down to $9.99.

  3. bart Says:

    Well, I’ve ghostwritten a lot of books for people who are less than reflective.

    What you do in that situation is work with the publishing house to get some artistic license and pretty much say to the subject “Look, this is what you have to let me say if you want this to sell.”

    Then the publishing house, if they have any sense at all, says to the subject “let the writer do what he wants or we will ask for our advance back.”

    The subject matter I listed in my earlier comment has enough depth to be interesting for a full book, as long as you don’t let the subject get in the way.

    There is history to this. JFK got awards for a book he had ghostwritten for him that he had almost no input on.

    In her case, for the real money I wouldn’t write or market it as a political piece, I’d write and market it to the “self help” and or “chick lit” genre.

    Those genres make more money than political books anyway and her story could be pure gold if phrased as “A woman overcoming….” or “How I did it.”

    If she tries to play it like Obama’s book then, yeah, it will tank.

    But, her publishing house won’t let that happen if they have any financial sense at all.

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