Incoming House speaker Newt Gingrich's $4.5 million book deal was attacked yesterday from several Democratic quarters as unseemly and worthy of investigation. Gingrich dismissed the criticisms, saying: "Conservative books sell. I can't help it if liberal books don't sell."

White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said, "I think that it raises some very important questions. I think it needs to be looked at." She cited "the size of the advance, the timing of the advance."

President Clinton, dropping by a farewell press briefing by Myers, who has resigned her White House post, said, "I made $35,000 a year for 12 years {as Arkansas governor} and I was glad of it."

HarperCollins Publishers formally announced yesterday that it had agreed to publish two books by Gingrich. The first, a nonfiction text outlining his social and political philosophy, will be called "To Renew America." It will be issued next fall in an edition of 750,000 copies, HarperCollins said. The second book will be an anthology of writings about democracy, with commentary by Gingrich.

HarperCollins is part of Australian-born publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also publishes a number of newspapers around the world and owns Fox Broadcasting Co. House Majority Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.) yesterday drew a connection between what he called Murdoch's "$4 million Christmas gift" to Gingrich, and pending Murdoch business before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress.

Fox executive Preston Padden said yesterday there was "absolutely no connection between anything to do with Fox or any of the government affairs of the company, on the one hand, and this book deal on the other hand. This book deal is about HarperCollins making money, and nothing else."

Earlier, Bonior called for an outside counsel to investigate the financing of a course Gingrich teaches at a private college in Georgia and distributes around the country via videotape.

"This is an arrogant act for a man who's about to assume one of the most powerful positions and offices in our land," Bonior said of the book deal. "Before he gets to the public business, he's taking care of his own private profits."

Gingrich, who was speaking yesterday at the eastern Ohio high school his wife, Marianne, attended, brushed off the attacks.

"The spokeswoman {Myers} who has defended a presidential defense fund is attacking me for a book advance?" he asked. "That's silly." He was referring to the fund established for legal expenses of the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton related to the Whitewater controversy and a sexual harassment charge dating to Clinton's governorship.

HarperCollins senior vice president Jack McKeown said only representatives of the publishing house were involved. "There was absolutely no involvement whatsoever from Mr. Murdoch personally or anyone representing him," McKeown said.

Murdoch spokesman Howard Rubenstein said last night that the media baron, reached in Beijing, said: "This is the first I've heard of this deal. I had absolutely no knowledge of it, nor had I spoken to anyone about it until now."

HarperCollins initially negotiated to buy just one Gingrich book on a preemptive basis, meaning it would pay enough to prevent the agent from showing the material to anyone else, McKeown said yesterday.

By Dec. 9, the publisher was so sure it had wrapped up a deal for about $2 million that McKeown made an announcement at the company's sales conference. "I suggested we were farther along than we were," he said yesterday. "It was a mistake."

McKeown attributed the fact that the price paid Gingrich more than doubled over the subsequent 10 days to the presence of other bidders. "There was more than one bid over $4 million," said one source familiar with the negotiations.

The second book, tentatively titled "The Democracy Reader," is to be published no earlier than 1996.

Common Cause, a group that lobbies on government reform, also criticized the book deal. Fred Wertheimer, the group's president, wrote Gingrich that "the extraordinary dollar amount of your book deal may well require the ethics committee to determine" whether the $4.5 million advance meets House ethics standard of "usual and customary" contract terms. Common Cause had joined Gingrich in 1988 in pressing for an ethics investigation of a book deal by then-House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), charging that Wright had received more money for the book than was customary for authors. The investigation led to Wright's resignation in 1989.

Gingrich's $4.5 million advance is the second-highest ever for a politician, publishing sources said. In 1989, former president Ronald Reagan received $7 million for his autobiography and a book of speeches. Desert Storm commander H. Norman Schwarzkopf got $5 million upfront for an autobiography that proved very successful; and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin L. Powell got $6 million for a book to be published next fall.

Most politicians receive far, far less for their novels and political tomes, especially if the work is in any way connected to a campaign. "They have to beg people to publish those," one editor said.

The Gingrich deal was done on the basis of a 17-page proposal, a document conspicuously lacking the "pouting sex kitten" that made Gingrich's forthcoming novel, "1945," such a sensation in the media last month. Two publishing sources who had seen the proposal said it was an effective presentation of the futurist vision of conservative America.

"Had this thing circulated even before he was speaker, people would have looked at it with interest," the first source said. But the second said: "If {retiring House Minority Leader} Robert Michel had written this book, he would have gotten $5,000 for it. {Current House Speaker} Tom Foley was a little more visible. He might have gotten $10,000."

New York publishers yesterday differed on the value of Gingrich as a publishing proposition.

"If they can make him into Rush Limbaugh, then $4.5 million is cheap," said Warner Books president Laurence Kirshbaum. "It's a very high risk, but if there's any public personality you're going to go for today, he's the guy. The only quibble I would have is, why two books? Making two books work is more than twice as hard as making one work."

Harold Evans of Random House, who declined to bid on the books, said: "I thought the price was absurd. You'd have to sell close to a million copies."

"To Renew America" will follow the outline of the course Gingrich teaches without pay at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Ga., Gingrich spokesman Tony Blankley said, but it won't be a transcription of the course videotapes. "He has instructed on the topic of renewing American civilization. Now he's writing on that subject."

Staff researcher Margot Williams contributed to this report.