Accessibility links

Breaking News

Clinton Memoirs Fetch $10 Million - 2001-08-07

Former President Bill Clinton will receive an advance of more than $10 million for the worldwide rights to his memoirs. It is the largest advance ever paid for the rights to a non-fiction book.

Political analysts and publishing insiders have been speculating for weeks about when Bill Clinton would write his memoirs, which publishing company would win the intense competition for the book, and how much the former U.S. leader would receive. So it was not a particular surprise when word leaked that Mr. Clinton is receiving the largest advance in history for a non-fiction book.

Nora Rawlinson is the editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly, the trade magazine of the publishing industry. She says the record-breaking deal is what she expected. "Consider that 10 years ago Ronald Reagan's memoirs came out and that deal was a $6 million deal. So these kinds of deals are pretty big deals," she says.

The book will be published in 2003 by the prestigious Alfred A. Knopf publishing house. Knopf is owned by Random House, which, in turn is owned by international media giant Bertelsmann. The book's editor, Robert Gottlieb, is one of the most respected editors in the book publishing world.

"This is a publishing house that obviously has the money to spend on a big deal like this, and also has the experience it takes to deal with a big name person and market the book the way it needs to be markets," Ms. Rawlinson says.

Mr. Clinton's wife, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, received an $8 million advance for the rights to her book from rival publisher Simon and Schuster. But before Mr.Clinton's advance announcement, the non-fiction record was held by Pope John Paul II who received $8.5 million in 1994.

According to John Fund, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal newspaper, so-called prestige books rarely make money for publishers, especially ones written by politicians. "I can not remember the last political book that made back its advance. Certainly Ronald Reagan did not. Certainly Richard Nixon did not. Certainly Jimmy Carter did not. Almost all of these books seem to fall flat. I think they really are done for prestige purposes rather than monetary advantage," he says.

But Publisher's Weekly editor Nora Rawlinson says a number of presidential memoirs have been best sellers. And she thinks the Clinton deal provides lots of money-making opportunities for Knopf. "They have already announced that a year after it will go to paperback, that they have the rights to sell it in any language in other countries, to sell to another publisher to translate. They have the audio rights. The audio rights can be very lucrative as well," she says.

If the book is a big enough seller to earn back the huge advance, Mr. Clinton also will receive royalties. But that will not happen, John Fund says, unless Bill Clinton writes about the scandals that rocked his Administration, particularly his affair with a White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"I think the winner here is going to be Bill Clinton and we certainly are not going to get anything close to the truth about what happened during his Administration," he says.

No one will know whether or not Mr. Clinton will deal with those issues until the book is written. The head of Knopf, Sonny Mehta, says he expects Mr. Clinton's book to be a "comprehensive and candid book about his life, with particular emphasis on the White House years."

Supporters and detractors agree on one thing - Mr. Clinton will stay in the news, making headlines as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party and causes close to his heart, like AIDS and poverty eradication. And headlines sell books.