BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. This week the New York publisher Knopf announced a long-awaited deal for the memoir of former President Bill Clinton. The advance was reported to exceed a record-breaking ten million dollars. At the same time former first lady Senator Hillary Clinton is reported to have an eight million dollar plus deal for her own memoir. Joining us now to discuss the economics and the delicious gossip of the matter is Washington literary agent Rafe Sagalyn. Rafe, welcome to the show!
RAFE SAGALYN: Oh, my pleasure Bob!
BOB GARFIELD: Bill Clinton gets ten million dollars plus for this contract. How many books does this publisher, Knopf, have to sell in order to get its money back.
RAFE SAGALYN: Well, that's the ten plus million dollar question in publishing today. The chances are pretty good. It's got to sell at least half a million copies, and probably closer to 7 or 8 hundred thousand copies in order to get a return on that investment.
BOB GARFIELD: Which is a mega-ultra best seller.
RAFE SAGALYN: There's no doubt. No doubt about that.
BOB GARFIELD:There's this history -- the president leaves office; within a year and a half or so we read about these enormous advances for the political memoirs. The political memoirs come out; they get a lot of publicity; they sell a lot of books -- but it's hard for me to imagine that in the argot of the trade these books ever earn out.
RAFE SAGALYN: Well, the truth is most books in publishing do not earn out. Michael Korda [sp?] was President Reagan's editor, and that was I believe a 5, 6 or 7 million dollar deal, and I think Michael Korda has been quoted as saying that President Reagan's memoir sold less than 50,000 copies! Jimmy Carter's memoir I think was a best seller but certainly didn't sell anywhere near the kinds of numbers that we're talking about now. But we're talking about a very different personality.
BOB GARFIELD:Right, and when the book comes out, it, it would probably have some interest for those who just want to see how in the world he's going to spin this one. Knopf said that they promised a candid account of the Clinton administration but as we have seen Bill Clinton's notion of candid is not always in accordance with everybody else's notion of candid. It depends on what "candid" is.
RAFE SAGALYN: It does depend on what "candid" is. When President Reagan delivered his autobiography, there was great consternation at Simon & Schuster because the president noticeably failed to even mention his first wife, Jane Wyman. So the chief executive of Simon & Schuster sent Michael Korda on an express mission to California to urge President Reagan to mention Jane Wyman. I think the sense was that Nancy Reagan probably didn't look too kindly on much mention being made of her. And so at the 11th hour, he persuaded President Reagan to include four lines of text about Jane Wyman. It'll be very interesting to see if Bill Clinton's editor has any similar kind of dilemma.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] The mind reels with the possibilities. Part of the hysteria that I presume will occur over this book is just to see in fact how cleverly he lies!
RAFE SAGALYN: Well this president is known as a master storyteller. We know he's a voracious reader of history, of biography and of contemporary fiction. I for one and most people that I know that I've been talking to in the last few days would absolutely rush to the bookstore and find out if not what he did write about; what he didn't write about.
BOB GARFIELD:One of the intriguing aspects of this situation is that Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton are writing books approximately simultaneously, presumably with, you know, some overlap in the account of the events of the Clinton administration. There was a piece in the Washington Post on Wednesday by Linton Weeks [sp?] imagining how Bill and Hillary would handle accounts of the same events.
RAFE SAGALYN: I think from a media and publishing perspective, having these two books coming out in the same calendar year is going to be hugely interesting. Which book comes first? What will be the he-said, she-said element of it? So we will have much to look forward to in the year 2003.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well thank you very much!
RAFE SAGALYN: You bet!
BOB GARFIELD: Rafe Sagalyn is a literary agent with the Sagalyn Agency in Washington, DC.