Sarah, Palin and All: Editors Lunge for Unbaked Alaska

Rachel Sussman knew there was a book to be written about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as soon as John McCain announced two Fridays ago that she would be his running mate on the Republican ticket. It was soon discovered that one already existed, and that the tiny house that had published it—Epicenter Press in Kenmore, Wash., whose publisher is its only full-time employee and which specializes in books about dog-sled racing—was about to make a killing.

Sure enough, Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment Upside Down—which is 160 pages long, includes 50 color photos, and refers to Ms. Palin by her first name—shot onto the Amazon best-seller list. Still, Ms. Sussman, a literary agent at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, suspected there was room in the market for something a little more rigorous, and after coming up with a list of writers who could potentially take on such a project, she started looking for a publisher that could put it out in time for the election. She talked to editors at four or five houses—including one that is well known for crashing books on short notice—but alas, no one thought the project feasible.    

“There were people who said that even if we had the manuscript and they could edit it and get it printer-ready, getting it into bookstores would be a problem,” Ms. Sussman said in an interview this week. “I think people thought it was a good idea. … But it’s literally that the machinery doesn’t work that fast, unfortunately.”

Ms. Sussman wasn’t the only one who sought to seize on Sarah Palin’s sudden rise. Objective Entertainment agent Jarred Weisfeld called five major houses, too, offering up one of his clients to do a biography. None of them thought they could pull it off in time for Nov. 2. “The idea that I came up with was, if Palin loses, the author would get X amount. But if Palin wins, the author would get three times that amount,” Mr. Weisfeld said. “That’s the formula that I had gone out with, but nobody has been receptive to that because they’re all afraid that if Palin loses, the book is worthless.”

At least one publisher so far—Dudley Delffs of Michigan-based Christian house Zondervan, a subsidiary of HarperCollins—has decided to take the risk.

“Discussion about the possibility of a Palin book started literally an hour after her nomination,” Mr. Delffs said. “Throughout Labor Day weekend there was daily correspondence among our executive leadership team about the timeline—how quickly could we get it out, and could we get it out before the election.”

The following Tuesday, Mr. Delffs found a writer who was already researching a book about Ms. Palin and focusing on her leadership style and faith. The deal was done, an Oct. 10 release date was set, and the author—a former trial lawyer and what Mr. Delffs called a “preacher-teacher” who has recently been writing John Grisham-style legal thrillers—has since been working feverishly and transmitting chapters to his editor as he finishes them. According to Mr. Delffs, the book is devoted to aspects of Ms. Palin’s leadership style such as “fearlessness,” “authenticity,” and “her moral center.”

Mr. Delffs said he expects to have a completed manuscript ready to go within the next week or so. If the Oct. 10 release date can be pushed up, he added, it will be.

“I don’t know exactly what we’re doing differently,” he said, when asked why Zondervan would be able to rush the book in time for November while the houses Ms. Sussman and Mr. Weisfeld talked to could not. “Everyone has basically been going 24/7 to do whatever we need to do to make this happen. … I don’t think it’s an ideal situation for any of us, but there’s such interest and such a demand that we really think we can ensure the same quality product that we produce for any of our books.”

The folks at Collins, meanwhile, having determined that a real biography would not be possible, decided the other day to publish a humor book about Ms. Palin called Terminatrix: The Sarah Palin Chronicles, which will go to the printer Monday and land on shelves by mid-October. Editors at Collins are putting the book together themselves, but crediting the “editors of the Wasilla Iron Dog Gazette,” according to cheeky publisher Bruce Nichols. “They’ll explain in a brief forward that they have come across a cache of family photographs covering her entire life—in some cases, with notes she’s written on them—that show the whole Sarah Palin story for the first time.” He explained: “The book will be a whole bunch of Photoshopped images of her head on all kinds of bodies.”

Sarah, Palin and All: Editors Lunge for Unbaked Alaska