23 November 2010

The Of Thee I Sing Sign-Off

Back in March 2009, the news media was a flutter with remarks on “President Obama’s New Book Deal.” I wrote an analysis of those news articles and what I thought was the truth about Obama’s publishing contract with Random House. The day after that posting, I received an email from one attorney involved in the negotiations which said simply, “Thanks for getting the Obama deal right.”

Having established my bona fides for you, I can now comment on a significant discrepancy between the news reports then and the recent publication of Of Thee I Sing, a classic celebrity picture book from the President and illustrator Loren Long.

By “classic celebrity picture book,” I mean that it has top-class production values, a big print run and matching marketing budget, and cover-to-cover didacticism. (See Kirkus.)

This book is not a quickie project; it’s been in the works for half a decade. The New York Times reported that after his career-making 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, Obama “agreed to write another nonfiction book and a children’s book” for Random House. In its press release about Of Thee I Sing, Random House stated: “The book was acquired and the manuscript completed prior to the President’s taking office in January 2009.”

However, in March 2009 the Times also reported that incoming-President Obama’s financial disclosure form—the source for the news about a revamped book deal—stated “that he intended to delay both books [under contract] until he left office.” And that’s what I see as a “significant discrepancy.”

Did Random House press the President to let it move ahead with his Of Thee I Sing picture-book text during his first term? Presumably the firm promised that the project wouldn’t interfere with his, you know, job.

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