If there's scandal, books will follow

Publishers: About 20 titles devoted to Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky and impeachment will flood stores.

February 25, 1999|By Michael Pakenham | Michael Pakenham,SUN BOOK EDITOR

As jackals tracked Hemingway's safaris, books follow historic disasters. Whether one considers her a disaster, a victim, a jackal or all three, Monica Lewinsky occupied an enormous number of column inches and broadcast minutes in 1998.

Now that President Clinton has been impeached and acquitted, the book-publishing world is in full pursuit of the subject.

The hottest title, "Monica's Story," comes to shops from St. Martin's Press a week from today, but 20 or more other titles devoted or significantly related to the Lewinsky and impeachment affair are in print, near publication or under contract.

And there is suspense in the book industry over the key question: Will she or won't she? (Sell books, of course.)

An informal survey of industry leaders suggests that nobody is writing off the possibility of major sales and substantial profits for some of the contending titles.

"Monica is a curious American Rorschach," said Peter Osnos, publisher of PublicAffairs.

"She is emerging as a sort of weird national icon," says Osnos, whose relatively new New York publishing house does not have a new book in contention, though it did publish the Starr report. "She has become a young woman a great many people, especially young people, can identify with."

Osnos says that the two-hour Lewinsky interview with Barbara Walters on ABC Wednesday night will affect the sale of "Monica's Story," written by Andrew Morton, author of the successful biography" Princess Diana: Her True Story."

If that interview presents an engaging personality, Osnos and others say, sales of the Morton book are likely to be strong.

Nora Rawlinson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, the book business' bible, expects stronger sales of "Monica's Story" than had seemed likely. "The videotapes of her testimony made her look more serious than people thought she was, whereas the [earlier] audiotapes of her talking with Linda Tripp had reinforced the whole bimbo aspect," Rawlinson has said.

Here is part of author Morton's take on Lewinsky from Internet bookseller Amazon.com's listing for the book:

"The Monica I discovered is a bright, lively and witty young woman who bears the scars of her continuing public shaming, but remains undefeated. This moving human story compelled me to look again at the woman whose name is known around the world but whose life is still a mystery."

The last surge of post-trauma publishing came after the O.J. Simpson arrest and trial, with vast advances paid and huge orders shipped. The Simpson book orgy is considered in the trade to have been a disaster.

Watergate produced a huge library, and sales of many of the books were successful. But that scandal was far more complex and historically consequential.

The New Yorker, in its issue dated Feb. 8, had a copy of the "Mona Lisa" on its cover, with Lewinsky's face substituted for Leonardo da Vinci's enigmatic lady. Inside was a short piece by David Remnick, the magazine's new top editor.

"In the iconography of the Madonna," Remnick wrote, "an enigmatic smile hinted at the greatest of all secrets (`I am pregnant by God'); less clear is the meaning of the same enigmatic expression on a secular face. Monica is the woman of secrets who no longer has any. Her eyes are not windows but mirrors, and what we see in them is awful. Yet we go on staring."

It is not all about Lewinsky.

No publisher is known to have signed Hillary Rodham Clinton to do a book, though there is widespread acceptance that such a volume could be a best-seller if it were candid and detailed enough. The bidding would be very hot for whatever she offers.

Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward's partner at the Washington Post in the Watergate saga, has contracted with Knopf, reportedly for about $750,000, for a biography of Hillary Clinton. He has said it will not be about the scandal, though it is hard to imagine the scandal could be ignored.

Gail Sheehy is said to be working on a Hillary Clinton book proposal, too.

Vernon Jordan was said to be trying to sell a memoir, with no success, before the scandal broke. He surely has a shot now, but there is no word out on a deal.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who admonished Clinton last fall, is negotiating with Simon and Schuster.

List of books

An inventory of books born of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in the works includes: "Monica's Story," as told to Andrew Morton (St. Martin's Press). A first printing of 400,000 copies is scheduled to hit book shops and reviewers' desks on March 4.

"All Too Human," by George Stephanopoulos (Little, Brown and Co.). On sale March 11, after publication of excerpts in Newsweek. Little, Brown advanced Stephanopoulos about $2.75 million for it.

"Uncovering Clinton," by Michael Isikoff (Crown Publishers). On sale on March 17, its initial print order is 90,000 copies. Isikoff is the Newsweek reporter who broke much fresh ground in the Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey stories.

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