Clinton gets record book advance


The Washington Post

Former President Bill Clinton’s memoirs will be published in 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf, the publishing house announced Monday, and a publishing source said Clinton will receive more than US$10 million to write the book. That is the largest advance for a nonfiction book in U.S. publishing history and it beats the US$8 million paid his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., for her memoirs.

“President Clinton is one of the dominant figures on the global stage,” Sonny Mehta, president and editor in chief of Knopf, said in a statement. “He has lived an extraordinary life, and he has a great story to tell. His memoir, one of the most widely anticipated books in memory, will be a thorough and candid telling of his life, with a primary focus on the White House years.”

It is not known how Clinton will deal with various scandals that pocked his presidency, including the travel office debacle, the death of aide and friend Vince Foster and Clinton’s alleged sexual indiscretions, culminating in his admitted affair with Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment.

The agreement was negotiated by attorney Robert B. Barnett of Williams & Connolly, who represents the Clintons in their various literary endeavors.

“He should employ a great writer and tell everything and then it will sell well,” advised agent Esther Newberg, adding, “And I mean everything.”

A publishing source said Clinton plans to write the book himself, with the help of researchers and interviewers. The heart of the work will be Clinton’s presidency, which has been the most important aspect of his public life, Mehta said.

A source close to the project said Clinton and Barnett turned down several eight-figure offers before striking an agreement with Knopf late Friday. Knopf is a division of Random House, which, in turn, is owned by Bertelsmann AG, a German-based media company.

Clinton has never hesitated to remind audiences that he came from humble beginnings. He spent his career in public service, and until he reached the presidency — which paid him US$200,000 a year — he earned only modest salaries. As is the case with other ex-presidents, however, with his departure from office came the potential for earning impressive sums of money.

And Clinton has been capitalizing on that new status. He is one of the highest-paid public speakers in the world. In May alone, ABC News reported, he raked in close to US$1 million for public appearances.

With the speaking fees and the advance for his book, the Clintons may be able to erase several million dollars in legal debts and the mortgages for their two expansive homes — in Washington near Embassy Row, and in Chappaqua, N.Y., a plush suburb.

Clinton’s book will be edited by Robert Gottlieb, a successful book editor and former editor of the New Yorker magazine, who also coached Katharine Graham and Lauren Bacall in the ways of autobiography. Gottlieb — who has also edited Toni Morrison and Robert Caro, among other noted writers — is editor at large at Knopf.

“I am very pleased to be associated with the distinguished publishing house of Alfred A. Knopf,” Clinton said at the time of Monday’s announcement. “I look forward to working with Sonny Mehta and Bob Gottlieb, and the rest of their extraordinary team, as I begin writing my memoirs.”

The former president has received dozens of inquiries from international publishers who hope to buy foreign rights to the book, said a source close to the project. “In all the years I’ve been doing this I’ve never seen more interest in a book,” said Barnett.

The eye-popping advance surpasses the US$8.5 million that Pope John Paul II received from Knopf in 1994. Mehta, who would not comment on the actual amount of the advance, said he felt “comfortable” with the price.

In 1996 Clinton published a political manifesto, “Between Hope and History: Meeting America’s Challenges for the 21st Century.” Monday the book was ranked 176,124 in sales at Amazon.com.