Two covers for Two Presidents?

NYU Press takes a different path to publishing a book on the political gridlock in Washington DC

When NYU Press decided to publish a provocative new book, Two Presidents Are Better Than One: The Case for a Bipartisan Executive Branch, by David Orentlicher, arguing in favor of two Presidents, rather than one, it had a number of major challenges, according to Steve Maikowski, Director of NYU Press. “First, we had to ensure that the final manuscript made a very convincing and well-grounded case for such a controversial idea, and the author, a Professor of Law at Indiana University, did indeed ground his argument forcefully in both law and American history. Otherwise, we feared the book would be dismissed out of hand as implausible by pundits and the review media.”

The Press saw the book, which advances this idea of a bipartisan executive branch, as a way to break the political gridlock between the Republicans and Democrats—and especially timely and worthy of serious review attention, given the endless budget impasses and the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington.

A far-fetched argument? Not according to the author, or to the early reviewers of the book, including Sanford Levinson, an acknowledged expert on constitutional law and professor of government at the University of Texas School of Law. Levinson wrote, “Can Orentlicher be serious in calling for a plural executive? The answer is yes, and he presents thoughtful and challenging arguments responding to likely criticisms. Any readers who are other than completely complacent about the current state of American politics will have to admire Orentlicher’s distinctive audacity and to respond themselves to his well-argued points.”

The Press was further encouraged by the very favorable pre-publication buzz the book (or rather, the idea behind the book) received from the Washington Post and Boston Globe. What seemed to be an implausible argument of a plural executive branch was called by the Globe, “a fresh lens on a problem we all complain about—and may offer useful guidance for how we should go about trying to reform our government.” Orentlichter went on to appear on ‘Fox and Friends,’ where he was met with just a twinge of cynicism, but also a whole lot of encouragement.

The book also received several excellent pre-publication reviews, including the following praise from Publishers Weekly: “As unlikely as the thought may sound, Orentlicher makes a surprisingly persuasive case for this radical change. Orentlicher delivers a compelling explanation of how such a system would better align with the framers’ original conception of the executive branch… the author has an incisive eye for the problems of contemporary government.”

With the very positive buzz circulating the book, the next challenge was how best to package and market the book to draw attention to the author’s controversial proposal. The NYU Press design and marketing team met the challenge head on, and immediately found a way to encapsulate the author’s argument in an innovative and exciting design.

In a launch meeting for the book, the discussion turned to how best to evoke visually such a two-headed being. Adam Bohannon, a designer at the Press, and Mary Beth Jarrad, marketing and sales director, decided to publish the book with two different covers—one to appeal to Democrats, and another to appeal to fans of the GOP. The Press then commissioned an illustration that would show the pairing of the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant. The result: two covers that look very much the same, but each features one of the iconic partisan images, the donkey or the elephant.

The book was released to the trade in February, with an equal number of copies of each edition in each carton shipped to wholesalers and retailers. The Press decided it would be too burdensome to track sale of each book, which would have required separate ISBNs and increased management of two titles rather than one. “We’ll probably never know which of the two editions sells the best, and as long as we sell them all, we probably will not care to know,” said Jarrad. “The next big question is, when we publish the paperback in 2014, which of the two covers should we use then.”