By David Streitfeld
Monica Lewinsky is putting herself up for sale. The trouble is, no one seems too interested.
Five publishers said yesterday that they had been approached by Lewinsky's representative Judy Smith about a possible deal for a kiss-and-tell memoir.
One publisher said he had already turned the book down. "I'm as big a whore as anyone, but I'd rather die first," said the executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "This whole situation is so unseemly, why make it worse?"
Said another: "The more I read about her, the less I like her. I don't mean to sound snotty, but this whole thing has gotten so offensive."
Even the one publisher whose interest was on record, Judith Regan of ReganBooks, sounded lukewarm. "I haven't met with her; I haven't bought the book," she said. But was she still interested?
"It depends," she said, adding that the former intern's story of love, sex and betrayal with the president was no longer as valuable as it was before independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report because "so many details have come out."
Smith didn't return a call for comment.
Publishing big-ticket political items is a dicey business, a point that was underscored yesterday when Little, Brown announced it was postponing at nearly the last possible moment George Stephanopoulos's account of his years working for President Clinton. "All Too Human," which was already overdue, had been scheduled for November.
Stephanopoulos received an extraordinary $2.75 million advance for the book, which Little, Brown had been touting as the ultimate insider account of "the famous debacles and triumphs of an administration that constantly went over the top."
Now that the administration has sunk to the bottom, the book clearly needs a different spin. It has been delayed until spring to give the author plenty of time to "integrate these momentous events into his story," Little, Brown said via news release. The publisher declined to return a call for comment.
At least Stephanopoulos has a book deal. Lewinsky will likewise probably end up with some sort of contract. But her onetime lawyer, William Ginsburg, seems to be having trouble getting anyone to pay attention a hard fate for a guy who was saying only months ago, "I'm the most famous person in the world."
"He feels it's a public service to tell people how the independent counsel law is a disaster," said one publisher. Unfortunately, there are many things Ginsburg can't say because of attorney-client confidentiality, and how much do people really want to pay to hear about the evil of Starr's operation?
Two publishers said they declined to meet with Ginsburg. "I had to be reminded of who he was," explained one. A third said he felt sorry for the lawyer: "I think he misses that people aren't talking about him anymore." Ginsburg's agent declined to return a call for comment.
The release of the Starr report seems to have brought the moribund political publishing scene to life again. Just a few months ago, publishers were swearing they were never going to do another topical political book. Then "The Death of Outrage," William Bennett's screed against Clinton, made the bestseller list.
While it's too early to tell for sure, the Starr report itself available in three competing editions also seems to be a big hit, with a total of more than 1 million copies in print.
Amazon.com reported that the Pocket version was No. 77 on its bestseller list, while Prima's entry was No. 5 and PublicAffairs' was No. 3 although it may not be a good sign for the long term that the only two readers to post reviews on the Web site gave it only one star, the lowest possible rating. "People get a LIFE!" wrote one.
Perhaps those two readers will be more eager for James Carville's ". . . And the Horse He Rode in On: The People v. Ken Starr," Washington Post staff writer David Maraniss's "The Clinton Enigma: A Four-and-a-Half-Minute Speech Reveals the President's Entire Life," or "Dear Socks, Dear Buddy," a collection edited by Hillary Rodham Clinton of actual letters sent in by children to the first pets.
All three books will be published by Simon and Schuster in the next two months. "Washington it offers something for everyone," said S&S Publisher David Rosenthal. The first printing of "Dear Socks" is 500,000 copies, a number that hasn't shifted in recent weeks.
That's about the number of copies a Lewinsky book would have to sell to make it worthwhile for a publisher to pay her real money, hire a writer and crash it through the publication process.
"The biggest problem is that Monica is not likable to the general American public," said one publisher. "That would have to be dealt with. Timeliness is another major factor. As each day goes on, and more is revealed, the book is less valuable. She can't wait another year."
As for reports that Lewinsky had gotten a $6‚million offer about what Colin Powell got for his memoirs none of the publishers interviewed yesterday said they believed it. "I think it's all hype to drive up the price of a deal," said one executive.
One publisher who knows the scandal market well, Steve Schragis of Carol Publishing, was willing to go on the record as a believer in Lewinsky. He was sure that if someone could be found to pony up "a few million for world rights, they'll show a big profit."
After all, Schragis pointed out, O.J. Simpson wasn't the most sympathetic guy in the world, but he wrote a No. 1 bestseller, "I Want to Tell You," while awaiting trial for the murder of his ex-wife.
Schragis said he hadn't been approached by Lewinsky's representative and that his relatively small operation couldn't do such an expensive book anyway. He's contenting himself with feeding off the edges of the scandal. Two of his titles, "Presidential Sex: From the Founding Fathers to Bill Clinton" and "The Dysfunctional President: Understanding the Compulsions of Bill Clinton" are doing very nicely.
"I've sold about 10,000 copies in the last few weeks, and ordered another 19,500 of each," Schragis said happily. He expects to be ordering more soon. "This is going to be around for a while."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company