Ben Carson: The Logic Behind Book Signings
Having just overtaken Donald Trump in the latest Iowa Poll, neurosurgeon Ben Carson must have been having a pretty good week. Despite the level of hype surrounding Carson, I was still shocked to see the amount of people who turned up for his book signing at the West Des Moines Barnes & Noble.
The crowd was the most diverse I had seen at any candidate event. A young group of African-Americans passed out Carson yard signs. Old white women praised Carson’s commitments to Christian values. One man had driven all the way from Missouri to see him; others were just shopping for books and stumbled across him. I tried to imagine that, walking in to simply purchase the next generic Nicholas Sparks novel and instead encountering hundreds of die-hard Carson fans, along with several cops ensuring his safety.
The line to see Carson snaked its way through the book aisles, the topics of the books covering everything from money management and law to coloring books. The line itself moved like a machine. The Barnes & Noble employees were used to high-profile events and knew how to manage the crowd. In the past few years, the store has accommodated the book signings of Slipknot’s Cory Taylor and Graham Nash from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. And as recently as last summer, Ted Cruz had visited the same store promoting his book.
Barnes & Noble employee Becca Nichols compared the setup of the book signing to that of a rock concert, laying out the floor plan for the bookshelves days in advance to allow for the best flow while still allowing the regular business to continue as usual. That struck me as humorous. Who would come into Barnes & Noble and bypass the opportunity to meet the man who could possibly be the next president of the United States? Books are great, but you have to stop and see Ben Carson.
Now in the music section, I rounded the corner past Hall and Oates’ Greatest Hits and approached Carson, who smiled and shook my hand. I was handed my signed book and told to keep moving, the whole interaction lasting fewer than 10 seconds. As I left the store, I was excited to have gotten my first picture with a presidential candidate. The event, in its ordinary bizarreness, was exhilarating for the average Iowan, but I couldn’t help but wonder why Carson would want to sign so many books. The signing was a complicated process, and it must have been exhausting for him.
However, these days, it seems that writing a book is a must if you intend to be president. Everyone is doing it, and Carson has to keep up with his rivals. Despite having written six bestselling novels, he is still another six behind Gov. Mike Huckabee. Books, especially autobiographical ones, give readers insight to the “human side” of politicians. A book is the perfect platform for Carson to describe his childhood influences and upbringing. Carson moved millions of Americans when he said he would put his mother on the 10-dollar bill if he was president. With special regard for his mother, his book is the best opportunity for him to show his compassion for others and market himself as a family man. Indeed, the cover of the book prominently displays that his wife Candy helped write it. It is simply undeniable that Carson is not the strongest candidate in terms of foreign policy or having a strong track record in Congress, having never held public office. If he is going to win this race, he needs to play to his strengths by showcasing his likeability and humble attitude.
Furthermore, Carson must hope that his novel inspires others. After Barack Obama’s exhilarating 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, his biographical memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” was republished to critical and financial success. “Dreams” differs from your typical story from an aspiring political authors because of its original story, and many speculate the book’s heartfelt message was instrumental in establishing Obama’s passionate support base. If Carson is able to strike a similar chord with even just a few of the people he signed books for today, he may very well create the most adoring voter base of all the candidates. This passion would certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
Lastly, Carson probably has financial motivations as well. Even though I’m not a Carson supporter, I still spent $20 on his book just so I could have the opportunity to meet him. Carson must have signed more than a thousand books just today. At $20 a pop and more than 40 book signings scheduled on his tour, that amounts to a significant amount of money for his campaign. In the past, Hillary Clinton made an $8 million book deal for “Living History” and chalked up over $1 million in royalties in the years following. Likewise, Huckabee has made hundreds of thousands from his book deals and has established himself as a legitimate author and opinion leader, publishing everything from his views on public policy, a collection of Christmas stories and a weight-loss book. Even if the presidency does not pan out for Carson, it may serve him well in the future to establish himself as a legitimate writer. One certainly does not need to be the president to influence others.
Although exhausting for Carson, a book signing is good for him personally and allows average people to connect with a presidential candidate. The candidate who can connect the most with voters in intimate moments like these may well win the Iowa caucuses. And so far, Carson shows no sign of stopping.
Feldman is a political science and data analytics double major from Clarendon Hills, Illinois. He loves Bruce Springsteen and poorly attempting his songs on guitar. Follow him on Twitter.