The Washington Post incorrectly attributed to Time magazine editorial director Ralph Graves the statement that former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger "drove the best bargain ever without a manuscript or even an outline." The statement was made by another publishing executive who dealt with Kissinger.

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger's memoirs, probably the most sought-after manuscript of the decade, will bring the former Nixon administration official as much as $5 million.

The memoirs, which formally go on sale in bookstores Tuesday, represent one of the most lucrative properties in publishing history.

To the giant media conglomerate Time Inc., however, the venture represents one of the largest amounts risked by an American publisher. Three Time subsidiaries -- Time magazine, publisher Little, Brown & Co. and Book-of-the-Month Club -- bought up all important North American rights. All told, sources estimate, the three Time subsidiaries spent close to $3 million.

Kissinger owns the worldwide book and serialization rights -- the memoirs will appear in 17 languages. Foreign publication will bring the former secretary of state another $2 million or more, it is estimated.

All contracts in the United States were signed before Kissinger had put so much as a word on paper, according to his agent, Marvin Josephson. Neither Josephson, nor any other principals, will confirm exactly the amounts Kissinger is getting.

They decline also to say how advance sales to bookstores are going. Little, Brown has printed 225,000 copies, although executive vice president Joseph Consolino refused to confirm the figure. The Book-of-the-Month club has printed 200,000 copies. Officials there said early returns are encouraging but that it is too soon to get a firm fix.

The recoup their investments, both Book-of-the-Month and Little, Brown are putting high price tags on the 1,-521-page volume, which must become a huge best seller to make money. Publishing sources said that at the very least, all of the books now in print would have to be sold for there to be a profit.

Little, Brown has priced the volume at $22.50.

Book-of-the-Month, which acquired rights to the book before the club was bought by Time in late 1977, will charge its 1.75 million members $17.95 for the book, the highest price it has ever set for a single-volume main selection.

The club far exceeded the $85,000 it usually guarantees an author and publisher for a main selection, but it is not known by how much.

More than a dozen publishers wanted the Kissinger book. Both Newsweek and Time sought serialization rights and Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild wanted the volumne.

"Let's face it," said one publishing source. "Kissinger is charming, controversial and brilliant and was at the center of one of the most controversial administrations in American history. It was a seller's market from the start."

Josephson, who heads up one of the largest talent agencies in the nation, personally handels only two clients: Steve McQueen, the actor, and Kissinger.

And "he drove the best bargain ever without a manuscript or even an outline," said Ralph Graves, editorial director of Time magazine, which bought the right to serialize 35,000 words of the 750,000-word book, for an estimated $450,000 to $500,000.

Time ran the excerpts in three consecutive issues, starting Oct. 1.

Kissinger caused a stir late last year, when he decided he could not contain his memoirs in one volume and decided to write two books -- one covering his years as Nixon's national security affaris adviser, the other his tenure as secretary of state.

Both Little, Brown and Book-of-the-Month Club -- which operate at arm's length as independent subsidiaries -- renegotiated with little problem, says Josephson.

"It was November 1978 when his publisher accepted the fact that there would be two books," recalled Book-of-the-Month-Club president Edward Fitzergald. "I changed the contract from one book to two books and improved the terms, but they were nowhere near as much as double the original contract." t

Time magazine held off, waiting to see whether it wanted to use its rights to reprint 35,000 words from one or both books.

"Once we saw the first volumne, we decided to take them all from Volume I," said Graves. Graves said he expects to sit down with Josephson in the next few weeks to discuss serialization of the second volume -- which probably won't be published until mid-1981.

Time will also benefit from a corporate point of view, at least -- from the serialization in the magazine.

"Time could never have hoped to recoup its investment in serialization rights from street sales. But it is a hell of a lot of advertising for Little, Brown and Book-of-the-Month Club," one publishing industry offical said.

Book-of-the-Month Club's Fitzgerald said, "We're waiting on the response to print more" than the 200,000 copies already in print. The biggest seller the club has had in recent times was Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "gulag Archipelago," which sold 350,000 copies.

Little, Brown has printed 225,000 copies of the Kissinger memoirs, although executive vice president Consolino refused to confirm that figure.

The Times of London is counting on Kissinger as well.

Great Britian's largest and most influential paper has been on strike for nearly a year. It finally settled with its printers Sunday.

One of the first features it will ballyhoo when it resumes publication next month is the memoirs of Henry Kissinger.