It's 8 a.m. on Saturday, and a giant ballroom in Washington's new convention center is packed, full of booksellers and publishers here for their annual big book expo.
Sen. Barack Obama, on stage with author John Updike and writer Amy Sedaris, gets a standing ovation before he says a word.
Obama, wearing his author's hat, is talking to his base, the foot soldiers of buzz. He's here to jazz up the audience in advance of the October publication of his second book, the still-uncompleted The Audacity of Hope: Reclaiming the American Dream.
Obama, mentioned as a potential presidential candidate at some point, tells the crowd that he's been in politics only since 1995 (when he ran for the Illinois state Senate) and he is not the sort of person who "from the age of 7 wanted to be president some day."
Though the marketing plan is not complete, I gather Obama is committed to a heck of a national barnstorming effort for the book, which follows his best-selling Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.
The fall publication hype comes after Obama makes his first visit to Africa since becoming a senator -- including a late August stop in his father's native Kenya -- and weeks before the November elections.
The "leisurely pace" of a 20-city book tour blitz is nothing compared to the stumping he did back in 2004, he says, covering 39 Illinois cities in five days.
Excerpts from the book were released Friday in a pamphlet to entice booksellers at this American Booksellers Association industry show. Obama also posted the 18-page slice on his political Web site and sent out an e-mail alert for his supporters.
'I have a month and a half'
But before anyone can buy the $25 edition, whose title is taken from the speech Obama delivered at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston that catapulted him to fame, he needs to finish it.
"The copy editor needs it at the end of June," Obama tells the two Chicago reporters who were tailing him Saturday. "So I'm good. I have a month and a half to tool around with it and make changes."
Obama told me last Thursday when we discussed the book that he did not expect it to contain news, if by that I meant revelations.
I suspect that Obama, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will have some provocative things to say when he writes about international affairs.
I surmise Obama will not be penning a how-to-fix-the-broken-system volume. He's leaving that to Rep. Rahm Emanuel.
"Rahm is writing a book with Bruce Reed, which is sort of 'here is where we need to go,'" Obama says.
Clinton White House veteran Emanuel, along with Reed, a Clinton domestic policy adviser, are writing a book titled The Plan, due out in August.
Obama signed a $1.9 million three-book deal in December 2004. The contract, a public record Obama filed as part of required disclosures, shows Obama has every incentive to help the booksellers.
Obama will get 15 percent of hardcover sales; 7 percent of paperback sales; 10 percent of audio book sales, and 15 percent of digitally delivered sales.
The book has been the homework assignment that never ends for Obama, who has had it hanging over him for his entire freshman year.
'The drawing power that he has'
His deal was negotiated by attorney Robert Barnett, the Waukegan native who represents the 'A' list of bookwriting Washington media and political elite.
After Obama talked, he ran off to catch a chartered plane for Springfield (paid for by his campaign fund) where he had a date in a few hours to speak at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine commencement.
I ran into Barnett at the expo and asked him how he thought the book would do.
Says Barnett, "The reception that we just witnessed at the booksellers convention -- more than 2,000 people for a breakfast at 8 a.m. -- is indicative of the drawing power that he has, and the interest that there will be in the book."
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