By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Dennis Kucinich has an autobiography out, but very few people know about it.
That's because the Democratic presidential candidate has barely mentioned the book. In fact, he never signed a contract with his publisher. And that has left executives at the small Beverly Hills company frustrated and upset.
"I've been exceptionally disappointed in the man," says Michael Viner, chief executive of Phoenix Books. After printing 20,000 copies and spending more than $100,000 on promotion, he says, he has seen the book sell 500 copies in two months. "It's like we made a campaign contribution," Viner says. "He left us holding a very large bag."
"The Courage to Survive" is not the book the company thought it was getting. Viner says that the Ohio congressman had agreed to write about his career but that the manuscript dealt only with his life through adolescence and college -- "growing up as a sickly, undersized child who suffered from asthma," as the jacket puts it.
Kucinich scoffs at the notion that he is balking at publicizing the autobiography, saying he has held several book signings in New Hampshire and one in North Carolina. What's more, he says, he "wrote every word of it."
"This book is about the first 21 years of my life," Kucinich says. "Of course I want people to know about it. There's a great deal of joy in there and I want to share it with the world."
The problem, he says, is not the demands of the campaign but what he describes as an ongoing contract dispute. While declining to discuss the details, he says several people advised him against signing the deal offered by Phoenix.
Under House rules, Kucinich cannot receive an advance for the book. Viner says he offered a 50-50 split of any profits earned.
Gail Knight, managing partner of the Palladin Group, a management and production company, says she advised her friend Kucinich not to sign with Phoenix after reviewing what she called "the worst literary contract I'd ever seen."
Knight objected to the fact that Kucinich would have been required to give Phoenix the option to publish his next book, an arrangement Viner says is necessary for a small, three-year-old company to hold on to its authors. Knight also objected to an arrangement in which Kucinich would receive no profits until the company had recouped its expenses, although that is hardly unusual in publishing.
Viner says Kucinich submitted a cover designed by his wife, Elizabeth, with a tabloid typeface that he did not deem of publishable quality. Kucinich says he was unaware of that complaint. Viner also says that his company booked Kucinich on several programs but that the congressman made only one appearance, on NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
Karen Ammond, a publicist retained by Phoenix, says Kucinich is a "wonderful" person who recently apologized to her for his lack of effort. Ammond says she told a number of television shows that under federal rules, "these have to be 100 percent book interviews, we can't blend it with the presidential campaign." Otherwise, the publisher could be accused of making an illegal contribution. Ammond says Kucinich had agreed to do five radio interviews last week but had to cancel after his brother died unexpectedly.
After a chance meeting with Kucinich last spring, Viner agreed to crash the book for October publication. "We negotiated with his lawyer for well over a month and reached agreement, but he never approved that agreement," Viner says of Kucinich. Says Los Angeles agent Mike Hamilburg, who represented Kucinich for a time: "I've been in the business a long time, and I just couldn't believe this was the case and why the publisher went ahead without a contract."
Kucinich says he thinks the book could be a bestseller. Viner calls the tale "a sweet childhood reminiscence, but without promotion in a marketplace where 60,000 books come out each year, no one's going to buy it."