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For Little, Brown, Some Fall Challenges
Judy Quinn -- 10/6/97
Barbieri starts slow, 'Camelot' in controversy, Eagles, 'City of Light' face hurdles
It's a moment that must have made Little, Brown publisher Sarah Crichton cringe: Sitting in the audience at an already glum discussion, Book Publishing: Dead or Alive?, sponsored by the New Yorker Sept. 29, she watched Barnes &Noble chief Len Riggio hold up The Other Woman, Little, Brown's just-out book by O.J. girlfriend Paula Barbieri and heard him say disparagingly that this wasn't the kind of big commercial book that would pay for overhead and the development of more serious fiction. "Must you give astronomical advances to O.J.'s girlfriend?" asked another panelist, author Cynthia Ozick.

Indeed, booksellers are already reporting that Barbieri's book, one of the first and most controversial acquisitions under Crichton's now year-and-a-half regime, isn't performing. "Even compared to the lowest-selling O.J. books, it's soft," said Advanced Marketing Services' Sandra Dear. Ingram buyer Susie Russenberger and Bookazine marketing director Jay Henry also told PW that there was little activity on the book.

Barbieri had the unfortunate timing of being published on Sept. 17, the same day Kitty Kelley's The Royals, from sister division Warner Books, was pushed out a week early in response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. "I think the book has definitely been overshadowed by The Royals," said Crichton, who nevertheless believes the book has an audience, particularly among Christian markets, that is still being tapped. Little, Brown publicity director Beth Davey reported that the book is making some movement, with it reaching #28 on the New York Times bestseller list.

With its reported $3 million advance and 750,000 first printing, the Barbieri book is one of Little, Brown's biggest investments on the fall list. But starting with a Sept. 25 Washington Post article, the house also began facing some heat about one of its other big embarg d fall books: Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh's history of the Kennedys, The Dark Side of Camelot, signed up over four years ago for what in these times seems a fairly frugal $1.25 million advance. The Washington Post article tipped readers off that a segment on ABC's 20/20 that very night would expose as forgeries documents Hersh uncovered in his research that were supposed to prove such incendiary theories that JFK annulled a first marriage, had ties to mobster Sam Giancana and, sexiest of all, had agreed to pay Marilyn Monr money to keep quite about their alleged affair. According to the Post, ABC is now hedging about whether it will air its own two-part documentary based on the Hersh book, which is being developed by an independent production company under a rights deal with Hersh reportedly worth more than $2 million. At press time, ABC spokesperson Martin Blair told PW that it will await receiving the completed documentary before making a final decision to air it. Little, Brown's $500,000 marketing campaign for the book made a great deal of the planned ABC documentary.Hersh told PW that before using the documents in the book he always planned to authenticate them, an expensive process financed by ABC -- and that NBC, previous rights holder to the documentary, hadn't told him they had concerns over the documents, as a recent New York Times article implied. Hersh's rewriting based on the discovery that these documents were fake affects only one chapter of the book, and did not involve "extensive revisions," as the Post reported, Hersh said.

But reporters continue to probe "how much did he [Hersh] know and when did he know it?" as Robert Sam Anson, author of this week's Vanity Fair piece, "Secret &Lies," told PW. "Hersh has been showing these papers since July 1995 and was put on notice about them by people, but he didn't stop believing in them. I've known him for 30 years -- he's one of my her s, but he stubbed his t on this one. The New Yorker is also rumored to be planning a piece on Hersh, this one expected to be less scathing.

But will the negative reporting hurt the book? Crichton, who points out that ABC was confident enough to proceed with filming the documentary even after doubts about the documents surfaced last summer, said, "I think it's going to be great for the book. There's a fascination now about what's in it." She told PW that Little, Brown signed up the book before Hersh even had the questionable documents. "There is so much that is new, so much never reported before," she said. Booksellers also told PW they were not pitched the book on the basis of any Monr bombshell alone. (BOMC, which paid a rumored $500,000 to acquire the book as a Main Selection, refused to comment.) Greenwich, Conn.-based Just Books owner Warren Cassell told PW that he hasn't cut his order for the book and respects Hersh's reputation, noting only perhaps that Hersh got temporarily "blindsided" by the documents. "But I don't understand what the fuss is about, because these documents won't be in the book," he said.

Indeed, Crichton said she has no plans to scale back the planned 350,000 first printing of The Dark Side of Camelot and that she will stick to its mid-November pub date. Two other pub dates for originally scheduled fall books, however, are being postponed. Marc Eliot's To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles, listed in the first spread of Little, Brown's fall catalogue, was already delayed, said Crichton, before Eagles member Don Henley was sent a manuscript and objected to some of the material. A recent report in New York magazine hinted that Henley, who had just signed a multimillion recording deal with Time Warner, tried to get Time Warner officials to put pressure on Little, Brown to drop the book. Crichton would not comment on that implication, and noted that "we're going ahead with the book." She said the manuscript is being legally vetted, as is usual, and the house will consider only factual changes suggested by Henley.

Another fall book that is being delayed is Jacob D'Ancona's The City of Light: An Authentic Traveler's Tale, reputed to be a 13th-century Jewish merchant's document, edited and translated by British scholar David Selbourne, about travel to and from Italy and China two years before Marco Polo. The book was originally scheduled to be published November 3 but is being delayed after the house learned that Chinese scholar Jonathan Spence, scheduled to write a review of the book in the New York Times Book Review on October 12, raised doubts over its authenticity. (PW 's review, Sept. 1, perhaps unwittingly called the portrait of the Chinese "city of light" Zaitun, "joltingly contemporary.")

"We are not doing this to sidestep a bad review. Other academics we respect very much are raising concerns," Crichton told the Times. She'll await further findings from other scholars, some of whom were recently sent galleys of the book for quotes, before making a final decision about the book. Little, Brown U.K., from which the U.S house acquired the book,was at press time going ahead as planned to publish the book in October. "They're content with the authentication they've received," Crichton told PW.
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