Is There a (Tell-All) Book in Him?

By Sridhar Pappu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

He's the man that Democrats blame for everything from Hurricane Katrina to the breakup of Britney and K-Fed. He's the supposed puppet master of the 43rd president's administration; Bush's brain, he's been called. And now, with his departure from the White House, Karl Rove has set imaginations ablaze with his recent comments that he plans to teach and write a book.

Would Rove, the nation's man of mystery who is legendary for his loyalty, actually write a book that revealed life behind the White House's wrought-iron fence? That's the question publishers are asking themselves and eager to take a chance on.

The White House's deputy chief of staff actually hadn't done anything about a book other than "what everybody does, and that is talk to Bob Barnett," he told a group of reporters on Air Force One on Monday. That's the Bob Barnett, the Washington attorney-turned-super-powered book agent who brokered deals for everyone from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Jenna Bush. Barnett declined to comment.

This wasn't the first time that Rove declared his literary aspirations. Last month, according to the owner of a Colorado lodge where Rove stopped on his way to Aspen, the presidential adviser told him he planned to write books after leaving the White House.

But the very prospect of a Rove tome on his tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., is serious business and would most certainly be highly anticipated. While it might not draw Harry Potter-like crowds when -- and if -- it debuts (though we'd love to see midnight lines at your local Barnes & Noble with men and women donning bald caps), the book certainly would earn Rove a considerable sum.

"He's not going to have the slightest trouble selling the book," says Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly. "The advance I imagine would be in the seven figures, but it's not going to be a $10 million advance."

"Would I take his call?" asks Paul Bogaards, senior vice-president at Alfred A. Knopf -- the Random House imprint that published Bill Clinton's "My Life." "Absolutely. In a heartbeat."

"There isn't a publisher worth his salt that wouldn't take a meeting with Mr. Rove," Bogaards says. "You don't have to be a president to write a bestseller. Proximity can dictate a lot, and certainly there's been no person in better proximity to the inner workings of this administration than Karl Rove."

However, the dusty stacks of the Strand Bookstore in New York are choked with highly anticipated books that faded quickly from cocktail-party chatter. The few that last are noteworthy because of a frankness that displays a self-awareness about the failures and triumphs of the writer and former colleagues as well. If Rove wants any book to be memorable, he would need to emotionally dig down as George Stephanopoulos did in "All Too Human: A Political Education" or Colin Powell in "My American Journey."

"It has the potential to be a book of real historical value," says Jonathan Karp, publisher of the Hachette imprint Twelve, which recently issued "Hard Call" -- John McCain's latest collaboration with Mark Salter. "But only if he talks."

"Any publisher would be concerned that this would be a partisan, boilerplate, self-serving book," Karp says, "and that's a risk with any book from a former administration official. The question is whether he'll write a candid, forthcoming, interesting book. And if he does, he's very well-suited to write a useful first-draft of history."

But doing that would seem contrary to the mythological Rove we've come not to know. You couldn't blame anyone for questioning the veracity of Rove's accounts. It's unlikely that his book would have the same angry tone as former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's. Still, would he be willing to betray decades-old friendships for the sake of his readers?

"Karl Rove is loyal and there's a way to tell the story and be loyal," says Rove's friend Mary Matalin, who worked with him in the White House and currently runs the Simon & Schuster conservative imprint Threshold Editions. "Readers just want a look behind the scenes, and with Karl they'll get it from a vantage they've never had. He's been in situation's no one's ever been in and never will be again. He'll use his intellect to tell those stories that'll be evocative and interesting.

"The book will be its own genre," Matalin says. "It will be the 'Rove genre,' and nobody's ever going to be able to fill it."

Staff researcher Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.

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