Friday, August 31, 2007

Rove's $900-an-Hour Book-Deal Broker Preps Hillary for Debate

Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- When Alan Greenspan, Tony Blair and Karl Rove decided it was time to write a memoir, each turned to the same broker: Robert Barnett, one of the most powerful players in book publishing, though he operates well outside the New York publishing clique.

Barnett, 61, a partner at the Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly, is a rainmaker for high-profile politicians passing from the public to the private sector. Though he's not a headhunter, should you want to land on a corporate board or a university faculty or work as a consultant or a TV talking head, Barnett can help. A particular forte of his is acquiring multimillion-dollar book advances.

Barnett is the man who persuaded Penguin Press to offer Alan Greenspan an $8.5 million advance for ``The Age of Turbulence'' -- one of five books he represents that are likely to land on the September bestseller lists.

The other four are Bill Clinton's ``Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World'' (Knopf); political strategist Mark J. Penn's ``Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes'' (Twelve); novelist James Patterson's ``You've Been Warned'' (Little, Brown); and presidential daughter Jenna Bush's ``Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope'' (HarperCollins).

While Barnett functions on behalf of his book clients much as an agent does -- negotiating contracts, assisting with the editing process, refereeing between writer and publisher -- he firmly rejects the term.

Hourly Rate

``I'm a lawyer and proud of it,'' he insists when reached by phone. ``I bill my clients an hourly rate; I don't agree with taking a percentage for someone's creative output.'' (An agent typically takes a 15 percent to 20 percent commission as payment.)

The bulk of Barnett's legal practice involves corporate clients. Selling books accounts for only 10 percent to 15 percent of his time. An equal amount goes to an A-list of 250 television journalists and producers, including his wife, CBS News correspondent Rita Braver.

At $900 an hour, Barnett's attention doesn't come cheap. Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of the publisher PublicAffairs, notes that Barnett's fee arrangement isn't right for everybody. It's most advantageous to ``the kind of person who wants to write one magnum opus or two for a great deal of money.''

But when it's a question of a multimillion-dollar contract, Barnett's hourly rate can offer a client a massive savings over an agent's commission. In an example Barnett cited, he billed a client $150,000 for negotiating a $3 million book contract -- a substantial discount from the $450,000-$600,000 an agent would customarily charge.

Clinton's Millions

While authors might save money, publishers don't. Sonny Mehta, chairman of the Knopf Publishing Group, a subsidiary of Random House Inc., paid $12 million for the privilege of publishing Bill Clinton's memoir ``My Life,'' which Barnett represented.

Replying to an e-mail query, Mehta -- who has a reputation as one of the most intimidating publishers in New York -- said that the upside of working with Barnett ``is that when he calls about a client, it's always someone you will want to take a meeting with. The downside is that he's an expert on valuation, and as such I can never quite negotiate the deal I'd like.''

Since 1976, Barnett has honed his negotiating skills prepping Democratic presidential candidates for debates. He has role-played George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney (whose wife, Lynne, is also a client) on multiple occasions.

Supporting Hillary

Among the current crop of Democratic front-runners, he can count Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson as clients. But he says it's no secret he's supporting Hillary. He has served as the Clintons' personal attorney since 1992 (except for a short period when his wife was covering the Clinton White House). ``We've been close friends for a long time,'' he says, ``and I'm on her debate prep team.''

Still, Barnett's Democratic politics haven't scared Republicans away. Bush administration officials who have called him just before or after leaving the White House include, in addition to Rove, Andrew Card, Ari Fleischer and Donald Rumsfeld.

``I've always been bipartisan in that regard,'' Barnett says, adding that he's never lost a client over political differences: ``I enjoy discussing politics with my Republican clients -- I might learn something. And, while I'm not above trying to educate them on a point or two every once in a while, I never argue.''

That kind of agreeableness is important to Bush administration officials -- and their families. Earlier this month, Barnett sold an as yet unnamed second book by Jenna Bush to HarperCollins, this one to be co-written with Laura Bush. With that kind of access to the First Family, can it be more than a matter of time before the president himself calls?

Beaufort to Publish O.J. Simpson Book; Goldman Family to Profit

By Edward Nawotka

Aug. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Beaufort Books said late yesterday that it will publish O.J. Simpson's ``If I Did It'' after acquiring the rights to the controversial title.

The book is a supposedly hypothetical account of how Simpson, a former football star, might have murdered his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald L. Goldman in 1994. It was originally backed by editor Judith Regan and scheduled for publication last November by News Corp.'s HarperCollins.

Following a public outcry, publication was canceled, the printed books were destroyed, Regan was fired and her ReganBooks imprint was dropped by HarperCollins.

Beaufort, a small independent publisher in New York, said it expects the book to reach stores by Oct. 3. In the past, it has often operated as a ``vanity'' press, with the author and publisher splitting costs as well as any profit.

Beaufort spokesman Michael Wright said the company had reached a traditional publishing agreement and costs would not be shared. He wouldn't disclose whether or how much money was paid to the Goldmans for the rights.

Both the Goldman and Brown families originally protested publication of ``If I Did It,'' though earlier this year the Goldmans -- frustrated with the slow pace of payment on the $33.5 million owed to both families by Simpson following the 1997 wrongful-death judgment against him in a civil suit -- sued for rights to the book.

On July 30, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Miami awarded most of the potential proceeds from book sales to the Goldmans. The judge added that any publisher of the book ``must promise the court it will maximize the sale of the asset.''

Additional Commentary

Los Angeles literary agent Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management sold the rights to Beaufort on behalf of the Goldmans. The manuscript, according to Wright, will ``remain intact, with some additional commentary of a nature that's yet to be determined.''

Denise Brown, Nicole Brown's sister, issued a statement yesterday that derided the book as a step-by-step manual on how Nicole and her friend Ron were murdered, and she called for a boycott. Denise Brown is scheduled to debate Beaufort President Eric Kampmann today on NBC's ``Today'' show.

For his part, Kampmann said in a statement that the company ``will be working diligently to not only publish this book well, but to honor the memory of the victims of this terrible crime: Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.''

The statement said Beaufort, the Goldmans and Martin will contribute an unspecified portion of the proceeds to the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice.

Booksellers are divided on whether they will carry ``If I Did It.'' McKenna Jordan, manager and book buyer at Murder by the Book in Houston, is put off by the idea.

``To be blunt, it's tacky,'' she said. ``Our customers would not appreciate seeing it in the store and would be offended.''

Yet Steve Bercu, owner of Book People in Austin, Texas, and a board member of the American Booksellers Association, says he would sell it despite personal reservations: ``The public will decide very quickly whether they're interested in it or not.''