As Vulture reported earlier this month, the staff of Publishers Weekly had an especially contentious debate this year about whom to anoint their annual Person of the Year. They had, in short, the same difficulty many earthlings have reckoned with in 2018: Donald Trump. No single figure had generated more book sales, and yet, as PW’s editorial director Jim Milliot explained, they couldn’t collectively agree to effectively endorse the president. Instead, as they announced this week, they settled on a somewhat milquetoast compromise: to honor six different publishers who made a lot of money off books about Trump.
One of the picks* is Eric Nelson, a conservative publisher who did not produce any of the top three best-selling Trump books (that honor belongs to Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Bob Woodward’s Fear, and James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty). Nelson published the top-selling conservative book on Trump, The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump, by Gregg Jarrett, which sold 400,000 copies in all formats. Another conservative PW pick, Rolf Zettersten, put out Jeanine Pirro’s jeremiad, Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy, which has sold 350,000 copies since July. And of course we get the three major sellers: Holt’s Steve Rubin, who published Fire and Fury (2.8 million copies across all formats); Simon & Schuster’s Jonathan Karp, who put out Fear (approaching 2 million copies); and a duel entry on Bob Miller and Amy Einhorn, the president and publisher of Flatiron Books, respectively. They published Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, which has sold about a million copies in all formats. Einhorn feels a little tacked on—the only second publisher of the same book—maybe in a gesture toward gender balance. The gesture toward political balance is more explicit. As Milliot explains: “Though all three of this year’s top-selling Trump books were critical of the president, Trump has a loyal base who supported books that defended him and cast doubt on his attackers.”
So far, Book Twitter seems less than enchanted by PW’s selections. “Imagine thinking that praising the book The Russia Hoax above all else was a good thing to do right now,” mused fellow Vulture contributor Maris Kreizman. YA Novelist L.L. McKinney was similarly dismayed: “Did @PublishersWkly really just name the publishing people of the year and they’re all white dudes? In 2018?? Please tell me I’m wrong…” There is one white woman on the list, but besides that, L.L., you are not wrong.
PW seems to have made these picks out of a concern for the optics of putting Trump on yet another magazine cover. But the current optics aren’t so great, either. An argument could have been made for an avowedly value-neutral Trump cover, in the tradition of person-of-the-year pioneer Time, whose focus on newsmakers good and bad has resulted in covers featuring Hitler and Stalin. Then again, Time went another way this year, celebrating “the guardians” of journalism in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s state-sponsored murder. Instead, PW is now being criticized for rewarding cynicism and ignoring the consequences. Well, maybe next year.
*The second paragraph of this story has been updated to reflect reports that Publishers Weekly’s listing of the conservative Trump publishers first was an error. It was corrected hours later to reflect the proper order of the print feature, in which the publishers of the top sellers are listed first, followed by Nelson and Zettersten.