News | Penguin Random House | New York, 11/13/2018

Penguin Random House: „Becoming“ – Michelle Obama's Memoirs Are Published

Long-awaited highlight of the book year: Michelle Obama's "Becoming"

This week Penguin Random House is publishing former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama’s highly anticipated memoir in all of its markets.  The publication marks one of the most important literary events of the year – worldwide: “Becoming” has an initial hardcover print run of 1.8 million copies, plus e-books, and the audiobook version read by the author herself. What's more, Bertelsmann's book division, which holds the world rights, has also sold the work to a total of 24 other publishers around the globe, 12 of whom are also publishing the book this week. 

This unprecedented literary event, which has been accompanied by enormous media coverage all over the world, was preceded by an equally top-drawer publishing tour de force. It began not in February 2017, when the double-header book contract with Michelle and Barack Obama was announced by Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, but with the complex negotiations that preceded the announcement. “The whole publishing world was trying to snatch the Obamas, with whom we had previously published five books,” recalls Dohle. “The competition was fierce, but our team at Penguin Random House won in the end.”

Securing the year’s most important publication

Dohle says the initiation of the book contract had dragged on over weeks of intensive work for the publishing group's team of experts. The actual negotiations on the world rights for the two books then took place over 48 hours, he says. “That was two days of a negotiation marathon, with numerous offers and detailed conversations with the renowned Washington D.C. lawyer Bob Barnett., who represents the Obamas in this matter,” says Dohle. “Ultimately, this was about securing the worldwide rights for the memoirs of Michelle Obama and President Obama.We enhanced our offer by  proposing to donate one million Penguin Random House books to underprivileged children in the U.S. on behalf of the Obamas.”

“We won the negotiations and the opportunity to publish their memoirs,” says Dohle. According to the publishing group's CEO, “It just would not have been an option for Penguin Random House to lose the Obamas as authors – we had no plan B. Now, our focus is on ensuring that both books will be commercial successes – based on the huge interest in the Obamas and the sociopolitical situation globally, I am very optimistic.” 

Worldwide enthusiasm 

In “Becoming,” Michelle Robinson Obama, the first African-American First Lady of the United States, tells her story for the first time – in her own words and in her very own way. She tells of all the experiences that have made her who she is today. With warmth and candor, she recounts her childhood in the South Side of Chicago, the impact her family has had in shaping her values, her years as a lawyer, her not always easy time as a working mother, and of her life with her husband Barack Obama. And she lets the reader share in the life of her family in the White House, where she lived from 2009 to 2017 and served in a role that  she shaped  unlike any First Lady before her. The result is an exciting and moving book that has inspired publishers all over the world: “Every publisher who was allowed to read the manuscript in advance wanted to do just one thing the next day: increase the print run for the first edition,” says Markus Dohle with a smile. They include the German Goldmann publisher, Grusche Juncker, who says of the book: “I was very impressed with how openly and introspectively Michelle Obama reports on highs and lows, what conclusions she has drawn from her life so far, and how much the reader can take from it personally.”