What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
Books in opposition to the party in power have historically done well, and I doubt that will change any time soon—anti–Donald Trump books should be successful. What’s more interesting to me would be an increase in “horseshoe” publishing. My guess is that books that find areas of commonality for both the far right and far left, the Trump voters and the Bernie Sanders voters, will make a strong showing. Some of these books will doubtless be toxic, but I suspect others will start profitable conversations about the blind spots of “the elite.
I also expect that books praising restraint and structure will find big audiences. People feel adrift in an atomized society, and they’re looking for, well, rules for life. Some people will take Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, but people searching for something other than “you can be whatever you want” should be able to find other counselors.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’m always interested in economics and sociology, insofar as they’re battlegrounds for realigning political coalitions. Pop stoicism has been big—I’d love to find a kind of pop Confucianism equivalent. And if someone can help me find an anti-porn book with commercial appeal (I know, I know) or a #MeToo book that deals with the places where feminists and social conservatives make common cause, I’d be most grateful.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I’d be fine never seeing another book on Ronald Reagan or praising trickle-down economics.
Also, please no more proposals telling me “the world is different now.” The world is always changing, and usually the “new” change reported in that formulation is old news. I’m much more interested in books that consider the change a given and start from there.
What do you want to change about publishing?
I’m actually trying to complain less about the aspect of publishing that bugs me the most: “platform” publishing and the dumbing down of political ideas. The reality, though, is that pesky things like platform and accessibility are useful measures of quality; people who know how to communicate tend to win followers, aka a platform, and people who really understand their stuff tend to be able to make it seem simple. If a book seems to be an exception, it’s on me to own the risk of acquisition, work hard to win internal buy-in, and help the author package the book so that it has the best chance of success. Ultimately, the “state of publishing” simply provides useful checks and creative constraints—the challenge helps you evaluate how much risk you’re willing to take. You win some and you lose some, and I’m hoping that some really special books I recently acquired prove to be some of the wins next spring.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
Conservative political publishing is a strange corner indeed! It can be a very cynical and frustrating corner, but there’s also so much opportunity here, especially now that no one knows what “conservative” even means. Sure, America is pretty polarized right now, but the poles are shifting, and I think there’s actually more opportunity to publish thought-provoking books than there was 10 years ago.
Bria Sandford is a senior editor at the Portfolio and Sentinel imprints at Penguin Random House. She enjoys editing economic policy, history, and counterintuitive takedowns of conventional wisdom, and she spends too much time tweeting about religion and politics at @blsandford.