Bill Clinton offered an exhaustive look at his life. George H.W. Bush authored a foreign-policy tome with his national-security adviser, and followed with a collection of his letters. Now George W. Bush is mulling his own book, according to one senior aide and one former administration official (both declined to be named about a subject that the White House has not discussed in public).
Nothing is on paper, and President Bush has yet to decide who will physically write his book, but he has discussed his ideas with a handful of aides in casual conversations over the last few years. It remains unclear whether the book will stretch beyond Bush's presidency to encompass his life story. Bush's aides take a dim view of the few biographies of him that have appeared to date, and are under no illusions about the sketchy nature of Bush's 1999 book, "A Charge to Keep." That slim volume, written by Karen Hughes (at the time Bush's communications director, and later his White House counselor), was rushed into print for the 2000 election after he parted company with his first coauthor, sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz of the Houston Chronicle. Hughes is expected to play a role in the president's new book, along with Mike Gerson, his former chief speechwriter, who crafted Bush's public voice in his first term. The one book already preparing to pose a challenge to Bush's official story is by Robert Draper, a staff writer at GQ magazine who first covered Bush for Texas Monthly. Draper's book, covering Bush's entire political career, is being published by the Free Press in November 2007, just before the presidential primaries kick into high gear.
Presidential biographies and autobiographies are big business. Clinton's "My Life" sold 2.1 million hardcover copies and is available in 40 countries worldwide. Exactly how much money President Clinton made has never been disclosed, although it's widely estimated to be more than $10 million. Publishing experts suggest there is no way to know what kind of advance President Bush will get because it depends on the nature of the book he writes. "A good book tells readers what they don't already know," says one publishing source, who didn't want to be named for fear of being excluded from the selling process. In order to command an advance like Clinton's (or even Hillary Clinton's; she was paid a reported $8 million), President Bush--averse to second-guessing himself--would have to show publishers a willingness to be candid about his time in office, according to the publishing source. Bush will also need some raw materials. His father wrote letters and kept a diary; Clinton taped conversations about his life with former speechwriter Ted Widmer. But President Bush does not write e-mail, unlike his father and brother Jeb. He scribbles thank-you notes and greeting cards with a black Sharpie marker, but that's a long way from making a historic--and best-selling--tome.