This column is being written on the eve of BookExpo America in New York, and as so often happens, there was a flurry of last-minute big buys, designed to cash in on the media attention that is always turned on the business just before, and at, the show.
Most prominent was the news that IBM chairman Louis V. Gerstner was writing another of those big-turnaround company stories, and that he had quietly approached HarperCollins, which preempted. It was Cathy Hemming, president of the general books group, who signed the deal for world English rights, with agent Eric Simonoff at Janklow & Nesbit. The deal, on which no one was talking money but which the industry guessed to be around $3—$4 million, calls for publication as early as the coming fall, under the Harper Business imprint. Harper president Jane Friedman was among the group from the publisher who talked to Gerstner about the book, and she said later that his success with IBM was "strikingly relevant and vital to a worldwide business community." Gerstner, who retired in March after a nine-year run at IBM, had previously headed RJR Nabisco and American Express. Unlike most industry leaders with books, he is writing it himself, and already had nearly half of it ready to show Harper.
Another very big book, of a very different kind, was signed by author/editor Dave Eggers for his McSweeney's. It's a massive examination of human violence through the ages by novelist William T. Vollmann, and Eggers bought U.S. hardcover rights only from agent Susan Golomb. The book, said the agent, has been 17 years in the writing and will be issued as a six-volume illustrated boxed set next January. It's called Rising Up and Rising Down: A Moral Calculus of Violence, and is based on the author's extensive travels to most of the world's hot spots in the past two decades. His quest, on these trips and throughout his examination of history, has been to seek when and under what conditions violence is justified.
Two women unjustly sent to jail, who became famous as a result, are telling their stories in books just bought. Vanessa Leggett, a freelance journalist covering a murder in Houston who was jailed for an unprecedented six months for refusing to turn over her reporting materials to a grand jury, will tell her tale for Crown. Her book, tentatively titled The Murder of the Bookie's Wife, was signed by Annik LaFarge from agent Suzanne Gluck at William Morris; she bought North American rights, audio and first serial. The case is that of the murder of Doris Angleton, whose husband, Bob, was accused of paying his brother Roger to kill her. Roger gave Leggett a taped confession implicating Bob, then killed himself. The author will continue to be involved with the case during the new, Federal trial, and will tell the whole story of the case, her involvement and the issues it raises. Publication is expected in 2004.
Meanwhile, Susan MacDougal, who spent nearly two years in jail for refusing to testify in grand jury investigations instigated by prosecutor Ken Starr during the Clinton scandals, will tell her story in a book won at auction by Philip Turner at Carroll & Graf. He bought world English rights, plus Germany and Japan, first serial and audio, from agent Deborah Grosvenor and plans to publish in winter 2003. MacDougal will have a co-writer, Pat Harris, and will describe how she became involved, and how her 21 months in jail have led to a passionate enthusiasm for prison reform, especially for female inmates. Despite the efforts of Starr's prosecutors, contempt charges against her were eventually dismissed and President Clinton pardoned her.