January 25, 2011 / 6:09 PM / in 7 years

Using anonymity to peek in White House, sell books

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Simon & Schuster makes no pretense about “O,” a political novel imagining Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. The publisher is hiding the author’s identity in order to sell books.

<p>President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota October 23, 2010. Obama is on a four-day, five-state swing to support Democrats in the upcoming election. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque</p>

“We plead guilty to marketing the book, but it’s more than just a ploy. There’s a rationale behind it,” said Jonathan Karp, executive vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, part of CBS Corp.

The story follows the re-election of a president referred to as O, who obviously is Obama, and a cast of characters based either directly or indirectly on contemporary political and media figures.

The web blogger and aggregator Bianca Stefani of the eponymous “Stefani Report” is obviously drawn from Arianna Huffington and her “Huffington Post,” and O longs to run against a female Republican called “The Barracuda” -- unmistakably Sarah Palin.

Other characters are complete fiction, but all are meant to shed light on what is expected to be a bruising presidential campaign next year.

The publisher bills the author as someone who has “been in the room” with Obama in order to build his or her political credentials. But in one of the more unkind early reviews, a New York Times reviewer wonders if that room was a convention hall, calling the book “trite, implausible and decidedly unfunny.”

The Washington Post was more positive, calling the inside scheming described in the book “a blueprint that’s probably pretty close to the mark.”

The author requested anonymity to avoid prejudicing readers with a political bias to the work before opening it, granting the writer an extra degree of creative freedom, Karp said.

As people speculate about of who the author might be, prognosticators are attempting to narrow the field by determining if the author is a Democrat or a Republican. Simon & Schuster is fueling the discussion with an online poll asking that question.

The poll also asks whether reading the novel made Obama more likable and whether knowing the author’s identity would change the reader’s opinion of the book. About 100 people had responded on Tuesday, the first official day of publication.

Karp expects the author’s identity will be discovered eventually, as it was for “Primary Colors,” a 1996 novel based on the 1992 Democratic presidential campaign. After much speculation, author Joe Klein admitted he wrote it.

“I hope the author’s anonymity will last but there are a lot of good reporters out there who seem intent on finding this out,” Karp said. “A really good writer has a distinctive voice so I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody figured it out at some point, but we’re not talking.”

Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Mark Egan and Stacey Joyce

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