NEW YORK — Bill Clinton’s debut novel had the year’s biggest opening so far for a work of fiction.
“The President is Missing,” the thriller he co-wrote with James Patterson, sold 250,000 copies its first week. Alfred A. Knopf and Little, Brown and Co., the book’s co-publishers, announced Wednesday that the number includes hardcover, e-book and audio sales. NPD BookScan, which tracks around 85 percent of print sales, reported sales of 152,000 copies. That’s BookScan’s top-selling fiction debut since the latest “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” which came out last fall, and biggest first week for adult fiction since Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” sold more than 700,000 hardcover copies in 2015.
“The President is Missing” was published June 4 and spent much of last week at No. 1 on Amazon.com and elsewhere despite some awkward and contentious moments in interviews with the former president. Clinton responded defensively to questions from NBC’s Craig Melvin about the #MeToo movement and whether he owes an apology to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky helped lead to his impeachment.
The novel begins with a president facing impeachment, for supporting terrorism, and tells of his efforts to thwart a potentially apocalyptic cyberattack.
“By any measure, this was a terrific opening week of sales, one that exceeded even our own optimistic projections,” Michael Pietsch, CEO of Little Brown’s parent company, Hachette Book Group, said in a statement. “Sales continue apace this week, with Father’s Day on the horizon.”
“We are heartened by the response to the work, especially among readers,” said Knopf chairman Sonny Mehta.
The novel has been billed as combining Patterson’s long background in thrillers and Clinton’s unique perspective as a former president. Reviews ranged from mocking (“Reveals as many secrets about the U.S. government as ‘The Pink Panther’ reveals about the French government,” wrote The Washington Post’s Ron Charles) to admiring. Nicolle Wallace, the political analyst and former White House aide, praised the novel as “ambitious and wildly readable” in a review for The New York Times. In The Wall Street Journal, Barton Swaim called the book “beach reading of a high order.”
Patterson, one of the world’s busiest and most popular authors, has released numerous No. 1 best-sellers. Clinton also has topped the lists before, as author of the million-selling memoir “My Life.” The Clinton-Patterson novel is a likely blockbuster at a time when adult fiction sales have struggled. The year’s biggest works have been nonfiction, whether Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” or James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” both of which offered highly critical portraits of President Trump. “The President is Missing” doesn’t mention Trump by name, but does refer favorably to immigrants and expanded voting rights and warns against the “drift into tribalism, extremism and seething resentments.”