Pope works multimillion-dollar deal to have his essays published

July 14, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- Pope John Paul II, in a previously secret transaction that surprised the book world, has arranged a multimillion-dollar deal with Alfred A. Knopf to publish a group of his essays late in the fall.

The book, called "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," is a discussion of Roman Catholicism and how it relates to the modern era, and will be published as a trade book in the United States, said Sonny Mehta, the publisher and editor in chief at Knopf.

Mr. Mehta and his boss, Alberto Vitale, chairman of Random House, obtained the book Tuesday in a deal with Morton L. Janklow, the literary agent who represents the pope's Italian publisher, Mondadori, in the United States.

"This is an extremely important book, and we will publish it with all the vigor and the expertise that we have," Mr. Mehta said yesterday.

The news of the work by the pope surprised booksellers, who said that acquiring such a book by an incumbent pope was unusual enough to be a major coup indeed.

"I haven't heard about it yet," said Robert Wietrak, a director of merchandising at Barnes & Noble, whose job is to keep track of the literary marketplace.

He considered the salability of a papal book.

"He's a very active figure, not just religiously but also socially, and he's very prominent for everyone, not just for Catholics," Mr. Wietrak said. "I'm sure it could sell very well. I'm very curious, and when I hang up the phone I'm going to call Knopf."

Popes have published their work before -- Pope John Paul's published material includes a treatise in moral philosophy, catechisms, plays written in his youth in Krakow, Poland, and a collection of poetry -- but what makes this book so unusual is that it is to be marketed as a general-interest book to the widest possible audience, through regular bookselling channels as well as through, presumably, religious bookstores and other outlets.

"I think there are many millions of people who aren't regarded as traditional book buyers who would want to buy this book," said Mr. Janklow, who added that for the world publishing rights in English, Random House had agreed to pay Mondadori a sum "in the very large seven figures."

He wouldn't elaborate, but the International Herald Tribune estimated today that the figure was between $6 million and $7 million.

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