26th September 2020

In_pictures David Cameron: How is his autobiography selling?

In_pictures David Cameron: How is his autobiography selling?


in_pictures David Cameron autobiography

David Cameron’s critics have had a field day on social media sharing pictures of his autobiography, For The Record, in a bookshop reduced from £25 to £3.

The former primer minister’s book was released last year and has recently come out in paperback.

Broadcaster Iain Dale, who has published more political memoirs than most, when he ran the Biteback imprint, and who once unsuccessfully stood as a Tory election candidate, says such price reductions are “absolutely standard” and not an indication of poor sales.

So how does Mr Cameron’s book sales really compare to other prime ministers’ memoirs?

Nielsen Book Research has been gathering the data since 1998 – since when four prime ministers have published accounts of their time in office.

Way out in the lead is Tony Blair, Labour prime minister from 1997 – 2007, who sold 349,901 copies of A Journey.

In a distant second is Conservative Sir John Major – whose book came out in 1999 – with 91,513 sales, followed by Mr Cameron on 63,513.

In last place we have Gordon Brown. His My Life, Our Times sold 28,298.

They were all outstripped however by ex-US President Barack Obama, whose early memoir Dreams From My Father has sold 755,000.

In terms of first week sales, Tony Blair clocked up 92,060; David Cameron, 20,792; John Major, 5,415 and Gordon Brown 3,309.

Mr Dale – whose own book, Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less. Listen More, has recently been published – says it is very difficult for a politician to write a bestselling memoir.

In_pictures ‘A work of fiction about one side’

“You have to be a prime minister or someone of real notoriety,” he says “and even then the sales aren’t as big as football players or major league celebrities”.

“I think prime ministers’ books are quite difficult ones to get right.

“Political autobiographies are described as works of fiction about one side – that is a trite comment but anybody who writes an autobiography is inevitably going to present their side of their story.”

However, he argues the better books usually include acknowledgements of where the politicians went wrong. David Cameron and Gordon Brown’s books did this well, he says, Margaret Thatcher’s less so.

Sometimes the more interesting books can come, not from the most powerful people in the room, but those in shadows.

Mr Dale points to Power Trip by Damien McBride, a former spin doctor of Mr Brown’s, whose book sold 40,000 copies.

“That is the best book I have ever published,” he says adding: “He is completely honest about what he did.”

He also predicts that an upcoming book The Secret Life of Spads about ministers’ special advisers has the potential to do well.

James Stephens, from Biteback publishing, also points out that power is not a perquisite for writing a good memoir.

“Alan Clark [Conservative MP] and Sasha Swire [wife of a Conservative minister] are both outsiders in a way, but with surprising angles on events of the day,” he says.

“I think everyone is fascinated by what goes on behind-the-scenes in Westminster,” he adds.

“At its most basic level it’s soap opera and people want to know what’s happening off screen.

“We want to know what was happening when key decisions were made, who were the personalities involved, what were they thinking (maybe even what they were wearing!).”

In_pictures ‘Very clean novel’

Image caption

Ann Widdecombe has written several books since leaving government

One hot spot for flogging former leader’s tomes used to be the annual political party conferences.

But this year coronavirus has restricted the gatherings to virtual-only affairs meaning no physical book stalls and no passing trade.

But even if conferences were going ahead this year it is unlikely any politician would match the salesmanship of one-time Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe.

Her book was being sold at the same time as the diaries of another former Conservative minister – Edwina Currie who had revealed her affair with John Major.

Mr Dale recalls her at a party conference shouting at passers-by in the style of a market stall trader: “Very clean novel” pointing to her own book and then, gesturing to Ms Currie’s, “very dirty diary”.

Perhaps not the sales tactic Mr Cameron is likely to pick if he wants to boost his own sales.


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