Public may have had enough of books on O.J. trial principals

July 03, 1995|By Paul D. Colford | Paul D. Colford,Newsday

For months after the O. J. Simpson case burst into the national consciousness, the public's curiosity remained hot enough to drive sales of three instant paperbacks about the slayings, a friend's memoir about the late Nicole Brown Simpson and a book by the defendant himself. As the Simpson trial now drones on, the books keep coming, but their retail fates illustrate the pitfalls of being tied to a media-saturated story.

Case in point: Marc Eliot's "Kato Kaelin: The Whole Truth." Only a month after Harper Paperbacks broke format to bring out the book about Mr. Simpson's houseguest as a hardcover, the publisher has implemented steep discounting to help recoup its $500,000 outlay for the manuscript and to move its supremely confident printing of 800,000 copies. Harper is urging stores to sell the $20 book at half price. Yes, the book made the New York Times' national best-seller list, but a price cut that deep suggests the publisher printed far too many copies.

"The trial has recently gone through a long period of dry and scientific information," said Geoff Hannell, the publisher of Harper Paperbacks. "We feel it is about to take a more interesting turn and the discount is a proactive move toward maintaining the success of the book."

Pinnacle Books, which published a quickie paperback about the murder case last summer that went on to sell around 600,000 copies, reports a slower response to Clifford L. Lindecker's more recent "Marcia Clark: Her Private Trials and Public Triumphs." Paperback copies in print: 300,000.

"There was interest in the custody battle [with her ex-husband], but that shut down real fast," said Paul Dinas, Pinnacle's executive editor. "Unfortunately what also happened is that the book came out when the trial was at its most boring."

The latest entry in the Simpson genre, Michael Knox's "The Private Diary of an O. J. Juror," is given a six-page launch in this week's People, and its tales from inside and outside the jury box have been mined by newspapers and broadcasters around the country. Dove Books is betting that Mr. Knox will have more than 15 minutes of fame by distributing a whopping 400,000 copies.

Bucking the trial doldrums is "O. J.'s Legal Pad," a spoof fabricated on lined yellow paper by Henry Beard, John Boswell and Ron Barrett. It purports to show Mr. Simpson's courtroom jottings ("My name is O. J. and I'm here to say/I never went to Bundy on that Sunday"). Rush Limbaugh is among those who have laughed out loud at the $8.95 gimmick, published early last month by Villard, which has 275,000 copies in circulation and has spent five weeks on the Times' best-seller list.

"The stuff coming out now is all quirky," said Mr. Dinas, the Pinnacle editor, who cited "O. J.'s Legal Pad" as the start of a trend away from serious interest in the case. Meanwhile Mr. Dinas is turning down fringe ideas, including a proposed guide to the sidebar discussions held at Judge Lance Ito's bench (for the real fanatic) and the memoir of someone who knew Mr. Simpson in college.

According to Mr. Dinas, who specializes in true-crime and news-related nonfiction, it's much easier to market such a book when it has a first-person hook. "People want the story from the horse's mouth," he said. This publishing wisdom would bode well for the new juror's diary, or any account that might be written by Ms. Clark or other members of the legal teams.

At the same time, the need for a first-person angle may explain why sales of "Kato Kaelin" have slowed. Although the book is based on Mr. Eliot's extensive interviews with Mr. Kaelin, the shaggy-haired subject later denied on the witness stand that he had a publishing deal or even wanted to do a book. As a result of Mr. Kaelin's apparent exit from the project, the book became Mr. Eliot's own tale of his strange "collaboration" and left the publisher one star player short in its promotional effort.

Still to be heard from is the ex-wife of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. In one of the odder pairings in publishing, Barbara Cochran Berry's "Life After Johnnie Cochran" will be brought out in October by Basic Books, a brainy imprint of HarperCollins whose other fall offerings touch on Freud, foreign policy and multiculturalism.

"We looked at it, debated it and decided there were interesting issues here," said Kermit Hummel, the president and publisher of Basic Books. "In the aftermath of the O. J. Simpson trial, the question will be: What's the fate of women in all this?"

Meanwhile, with an announced first printing of 75,000 copies on the line and a 10-city author tour planned, a recent trade ad put a tabloid spin on the goods: "The ex-wife . . . reveals why she put up with philandering, physical abuse, mind games, put-downs and even a long-term white mistress before finally walking away from fame and fortune to find herself."

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