Of all the headaches of her current book tour — the declining sales, the constant travel, the interviews that generated unkind headlines about her family’s wealth — this one may sting Hillary Rodham Clinton the most: Her memoir, “Hard Choices,’’ has just been toppled from its spot on the best-seller list by a sensational Clinton account by her longtime antagonist Edward Klein.
It is a powerful statement about today’s publishing realities that Klein’s book, a 320-page unauthorized and barely sourced account full of implausible passages, including one about a physical altercation between Clinton and President Barack Obama, has landed atop the New York Times best-seller list, knocking “Hard Choices’’ to No. 2.
Despite criticism from some right-leaning commentators, Klein is capitalizing on the confluence of two potent market forces: the conservative book-buying public, which has continued to generate sales despite the industry’s overall slump, and the seemingly insatiable appetite for intimate details about the Clintons’ family lives, even when the details themselves are factually suspect. (In one section in Klein’s book, former President Bill Clinton demands that his wife get a face-lift. When she refuses, he gets one instead.)
In the week that ended July 5, Klein’s book, “Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas,’’ had sold 20,105 copies, an 18 percent increase from the previous week, compared with 16,646 copies sold of Clinton’s book, a 36 percent decrease from the previous week. On Thursday, “Blood Feud’’ held the No. 11 spot on Amazon’s best-seller list, while “Hard Choices’’ came in at 103. “Hard Choices’’ was released June 10 and is still leading in overall sales over “Blood Feud,’’ which came out June 23.
While conservative readers may form the foundation of Klein’s sales, some publishing industry insiders say liberals — and readers who are simply looking for irresistible entertainment — are picking up the book, too.
The suspenseful page-turner paints a Shakespearean (if unbelievable) portrait of power, lust and clashes between and within the two first families. In one passage, Bill Clinton says: “I hate that man Obama more than any man I’ve ever met, more than any man who ever lived.’’ In another, Michelle Obama refers to Hillary Clinton as “Hildebeest.’’ Other stretches of Klein’s writing are devoted to marital tensions. Klein quotes an anonymous friend of Barack Obama as saying: “Barack gets so fed up with her behavior that he actually encourages Michelle to take separate planes when they go on vacation, so he doesn’t have to fly with her.’’
Of “Blood Feud,’’ Rush Limbaugh, the popular conservative radio talk-show host, said he wasn’t “alleging it doesn’t exist, it isn’t true,’’ but he added that “some of the quotes strike me as odd, in the sense that I don’t know people who speak this way.’’
In a telephone interview Thursday, Klein said he stood by his reporting and likened his reporting techniques to those of the Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.
“I don’t make this stuff up,’’ Klein said on a break from a media blitz to promote the book. “The quotes come from sources who were present when the statements were made or who were told about the statements shortly after they were made.’’
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, disagreed.
“Let’s strap Ed Klein to a polygraph machine and let the needle do the talking,’’ Merrill said.
Conservative books have been a booming category in publishing, tracing back to the rise of conservative talk radio and cable channels in the 1980s. Mainstream publishers have embraced the trend and introduced imprints aimed at conservative audiences. Simon & Schuster’s Threshold Editions, which was created in 2005, publishes books by Glenn Beck and Limbaugh. Penguin Random House has two imprints dedicated to conservative books. And in 2011, HarperCollins started Broadside Books, which has published works by Donald Rumsfeld and Sarah Palin.
“Blood Feud’’ was originally acquired by HarperCollins’ William Morrow imprint, but this past spring, Klein broke with HarperCollins and moved to Regnery Publishing, a conservative imprint that published Klein’s 2012 anti-Obama book, “The Amateur.’’ Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. controls HarperCollins, is quoted on the back of “Blood Feud’’ as saying “every voter should read’’ “The Amateur.’’
Publishing industry sources say that the legal department at HarperCollins was uncomfortable with the material and wary of inviting a lawsuit, but Klein said he broke with the publisher over “editorial differences’’ that arose from his book on Obama.
“I felt they didn’t understand how to market the book properly, so I decided to move to Regnery,’’ he said.
Regnery has a history of publishing books critical of the Clintons, and it timed the publishing of Klein’s latest book to coincide with the release of Hillary Clinton’s memoir.
“We thought, what better way to take advantage of the fact that Hillary and the Clintons would be in the national conversation than to come in right afterwards and say, ‘That’s one point of view; here’s another side of the story,’’’ said Marji Ross, Regnery’s president and publisher.
To date, Regnery has printed 225,000 copies of “Blood Feud’’ and has shipped more than 200,000. Sales are strong in a range of retail outlets, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart and Costco.
While the work of Klein, a former editor at Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine, continues to rise, some Clinton allies have become sensitive about falling sales for “Hard Choices.’’
By normal nonfiction standards, “Hard Choices’’ has sold extremely well. But Clinton’s multimillion-dollar advance and status as a probable 2016 Democratic presidential candidate have put added pressure on the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
Current sales figures of 177,234 copies not including e-books, according to Nielsen BookScan, mean that Simon & Schuster is unlikely to recoup Clinton’s advance and could fall far short of the 1 million copies shipped to bookstores, industry executives said. Cary Goldstein, a Simon & Schuster spokesman, said the publisher was delighted by the sales of “Hard Choices’’ and expected it to sell for years to come.
Clinton’s supporters, concerned that soft sales would be interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm for her potential presidential candidacy, have tried to position “Hard Choices’’ as a hit.
At a meeting with supporters of Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that supports Clinton, Harold M. Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton, told potential donors that, despite reports to the contrary, “Hard Choices’’ was a success, said one person who attended the event. A spokesman for Ready for Hillary declined to comment.