Jenna Bush Hager, descendant of Presidents, is now a kingmaker in publishing

There’s a crazy notion in Jenna Bush Hager’s morning routine.

Coffee spills from her mug, occasionally threatening her Today show uniform. Lipstick stains a tooth or two until professionals step in. Unconventional strands of hair are stuck to her mouth at a staff meeting, where she hints that no true Texan would embrace the kind of “cowboy cation” the show envisions. (“Hair in your mouth, you’re like my daughter,” her co-host Hoda Kotb, who was wrongly scolded on camera, teased her.)

In her dressing room, Hager sits amid well-curated trinkets that trace her long, odd public arc: a picture of her father, George W. Bush, cradling her and Barbara, her fraternal twin sister, as newborns; a handwritten note from Andy Cohen, one of many celebrity friends she has amassed, pinned to her mirror; a framed painting of a dozen books by a dozen authors, you Authors neatly lined up.

And once a month, Hager rises from that corner, steps over her bunny-adorned “Hop on In” welcome mat, walks out onto Rockefeller Plaza, and waves to a live audience to hold up the freebie literature they’ve just received.

History dictates that this book is very likely to become a bestseller, regardless of the previous notoriety of its creator. It could well be a TV series, produced by Jenna Bush Hager. At least for the mere fact that Hager said his name in front of an audience that trusts her like a doggedly persuasive aunt, it will seep into the culture — on shelves, in stockings, in the Amazon rankings.

“I just had a love affair with reading because of the women who came before me,” Hager, a librarian’s daughter, said in an inter-recording interview. “And so did my father, although people thought he couldn’t read.”

Since 2019, Hager, 41, has featured 49 books as part of her Read With Jenna book club, which is promoted on Today. Many were by first-time authors without literary success, such as Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers and Katy Hays’ The Cloisters. Most became chart-toppers almost immediately, selling over 1 million copies in print combined. As of fall 2021, Hager’s selections have outperformed the overall adult literature market by nearly 60%, according to an analysis of top-selling adult titles by market research firm NPD Group.

The result is a heady reversal: Hager, once known for her surname, has become just as famous for her first, the five letters that glow in ‘Today’ feature orange on the signature purple sticker that novelists are feverishly planning glue their book covers.

It’s also a special kind of thumbs-on-the-scale success. Born into her family’s history — for better and for worse throughout her life — she has maximized the opportunities that fate offered her and amassed the professional capital to put her own thumb on the scale for those worthy of her support were found to be a kind of virtuous cycle of favoritism.

Hager’s inbox and Instagram fill up daily with communications from agents, authors, friends, and strangers trying to submit her material.

While overall print book sales lagged for much of 2022, adult fiction often fared better, backed by prominent book clubs like Hager’s and Reese Witherspoon’s — a confidence that doesn’t necessarily bode well for the health of the industry.

Sometimes the search for Hager’s imprimatur can be something of a cloak-and-dagger affair.

Publishers have changed the books’ release dates without explanation to meet Hager’s desired announcement schedule, and industry watchers are scrambling to decipher their wishes.

“Like finding out who the College of Cardinals is going to choose,” said Rumaan Alam, whose “Leave the World Behind” was the October 2020 selection.

If no white smoke was seen rising from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the NBCUniversal High Council saw fit to increase Hager’s herd anyway. Earlier this year, she announced the formation of a production company and a “first look” deal with Universal Studio Group, with plans to develop her favorite books for the big screen. Eight have been selected so far. Among them is The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford, who spoke about his book during a Northwest Passages Book Club broadcast in Spokane in September.

The arrangement is atypical if not unprecedented for the network, a signal of its unusual investment in it.

Hager’s father, a mystery fan, is among those who consult with her informally about what projects to pursue. Her sister has also taken on an unofficial advisory role. “I can secretly read books that she’s considering,” Barbara Bush said.

When asked if the Thousand Voices production company’s name was a homage to “Thousand Points of Light” — a cherished saying of her paternal grandfather, former President George HW Bush, who inspired his nonprofit’s name — Hager randomly replied Hommage when im Noticeable in hindsight.

“Later, my husband said, ‘Do you kind of see that?'” she said of the crossover. (Her husband, Henry Hager, who works in private equity, is a former assistant to her father.)

The most popular one-time first child of modern times — and by far the most prominent to have strayed from the family business — Hager has gone from being the nation’s most vetted underage drinker to her media personality who will most likely tell a mass audience she’s gone Commande to a dinner with Prince Charles earlier this year before ascending the throne.

She is the daughter of a man who once described himself as “underrated” and is now recognized as one of the most powerful figures in literature.

When her father aspired to the White House and won, she was featured as “George W.’s Wild Daughter” in the National Enquirer in December 2000, photographed as a freshman at the University of Texas, cigarette in hand, about a friend stumbled upon Austin.

She was subpoenaed twice for underage drinking, the second time with Barbara in tow.

While Hager took on a sometimes puckish stand-in role in her father’s re-election in 2004 — punctuated by a congressional speech in which she joked that her grandmother, the former first lady, “thinks ‘sex in the city’ is something that married people do.” do but never talk about it” – her relationship with the press could still be uncomfortable.

At the same time, Hager displayed a postgraduate appetite for media ventures on their terms. She had first worked as a teacher at a Washington charter school for mostly low-income families. But after a UNICEF internship in Latin America, in 2007, with the support of Washington super-lawyer Robert Barnett, she began buying a book about an HIV-stricken Panamanian teenage mother she had met.

The publicity tour, unusual for a young author, changed the course of her life.

“Did I have a few doors open?” Hager said. “I’m sure. I mean, I wrote a book and I was on the ‘Today’ show.”

“If I probably hadn’t had my last name, I don’t know if I would have gotten a prime interview spot on the ‘Today’ show, which eventually got me a job.”

Although she avoids public partisanship, Hager has reached for seriousness when the moment calls for it. The morning after the Jan. 6 riot in the Capitol, she sounded something of an official when she insisted “these pictures are not our America.”

“I kissed my grandfather goodbye in that rotunda,” she said, breaking down in tears. “I felt the majesty of our country within these walls.”

When asked if her popularity and platform might have at least helped soften some Americans’ feelings about her father’s presidency, Hager laughed. “Time is a really great type of diffuser,” she said. “I’m not sure I have that kind of power.”

It’s a gift, Hager said, to help someone tell their story the way they want it to be.

Their authors know something about this.

“That’s American life, isn’t it?” Alam said of her. “You can have that second act.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. Jenna Bush Hager, descendant of Presidents, is now a kingmaker in publishing

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