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Michelle Obama is becoming the first lady of memoirs

The former first lady’s new book hits the shelves on Nov. 15.
Becoming a bestseller
Becoming a bestseller
Photo: Scott Olson (Getty Images)
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Four years after the roaring success of her memoir Becoming, Michelle Obama is back with her second book since leaving the White House.

In The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, released tomorrow (Nov. 15), the former first lady merges the memoir and self-help genres to offer advice and strategies to deal with life’s challenges, including issues connected to race, gender, and visibility.

Coming out just in time for the holiday season, the book is clearly being marketed to be a blockbuster success in a year that has seen the publishing industry struggling on both the demand and the supply side of the business.

Book sales were down 6.6% in the first six months of 2022 compared to the year prior, with adult non-fiction and memoirs seeing double-digits fall in sales, as the effect of pandemic-induced lockdowns on readership waned, and supply chain issues created a shortage of paper and increased its cost.

But there’s hope for Obama’s next oeuvre—search interest for The Light We Carry is indexing at a solid 75, according to Google Trends. Fame remains a book sales driver, with the top spots of the New York Times’ best-selling list in the non-fiction category presently occupied by five celebrities—actor Matthew Perry, singers Bono and Bob Dylan, filmmaker Jennette McCurdy, and director Quentin Tarantino. Obama doesn’t just generate immense public interest, but her book’s spirit of cautious optimism is also meeting the need of the hour.

The Light We Carry, in Michelle Obama’s words

“I think of The Light We Carry as a toolbox of sorts. It’s a collection of practices and perspectives that I draw on when I need to stay balanced and confident, especially in times of anxiety and stress. Some of these tools are habits. Some are actual physical objects. Others are attitudes and beliefs from my ongoing journey of becoming. I poured a lot into this book, and my hope is that it might give you some ideas for your own journey. Because even when the world feels dark and uncertain, we always have the ability to kindle our own light by looking inside ourselves and then sharing it with others.” —Michelle Obama in a social media post promoting the book.

By the digits: Michelle Obama’s publishing power

17 million: copies Becoming sold globally—more than any other memoirs from a first lady or president, including her husband

5: Where Becoming ranks on audiobook retailer’s bestseller list

50: languages Becoming was translated in

3: consecutive years from 2018 to 2020 Michelle Obama was voted “most admired woman” in Gallup’s poll

2.75 million: copies of The Light We Carry being printed in the initial run

14: languages in which The Light We Carry is set to be published, across 27 countries

$1,300, $2,500, $4,200: Becoming book tour prices for prime seats, meet-and-greet and suite-level ducat in 2019

$199 to $350: The six-city book tour for The Light We Carry, featuring celebrity moderators like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, and David Letterman, seems to be priced more modestly in the post-covid world. The tour runs from Nov. 15 to Dec. 13.

$32.50: suggested list price in the US. It’s a whopping $42.00 in Canada. Rafi Mohammed, a pricing-strategy consultant, warned publishers about breaching traditional pricing thresholds—around $30. “Books are non-staple items, and there is strong competition for entertainment spending,” he told the Wall Street Journal. The digital version is cheaper at $16.99 in the US and $18.99 in Canada.

One more thing: Mike Pence’s memoir is also out tomorrow

So Help Me God, will also be released tomorrow. Publisher Simon & Schuster is promoting it as “the inside story of the Trump Administration by its second-highest ranking official.” Some 200-odd employees at the publisher had petitioned to cancel Pence’s two-book deal but to little avail. Among other things, includes a narration of what went down between Donald Trump and him five days after the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill incursion.

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