Have Judith Miller and Anderson Cooper made their seven-figure book deals yet? By now, they may well have... although at press time, there was much disagreement, especially about Miller's plans and offers. On her blog, Arianna Huffington stated, then backpedaled, then restated, that Miller has a $1.2 million offer from Simon & Schuster to tell her story, despite continuing denials from Miller's agent, Binky Urban, and from executives at S&S. (As for Cooper, all last week publishing folk were buzzing about a "book idea," which may or may not have involved a written proposal, but which was very definitely on the submission circuit.)
What I find fascinating about all this is not whether Miller and Cooper will get their book deals. I think we've all been around this business long enough to know that if they want them, they will. What's interesting is that anyone thinks they have stories to tell. It used to be that in order to get a book contract, a writer had to have an idea, if not actual printed pages known as a proposal. But these days, who needs a proposal if you've got a platform? Cooper, of course, is the handsome CNN reporter (who also just happens to be the son of Gloria Vanderbilt) who showed emotion—emotion! From a reporter!! Fancy that!—in his coverage of Hurricane Katrina. And Miller, well, she's the out-of-favor-New York Times—reporter-who-went-to-jail-to-protect-a-source-who-told-her-not-to-bother-but-what the-hell?-Incarceration-might-legitimize-her-disrespected-career gal. Now, that's what I call a platform.
There's no question that platforms help, and any publicist or publisher will tell you it's a thousand times easier to sell books, even mediocre books, by people who already are famous or infamous or otherwise have some recognizability in the marketplace. But the scrambling over Cooper and, even more so, Miller is silly, given that we have no idea what it is they're going to say. And the truth is, they probably don't know, either. Miller, after all, never even wrote the story whose source she supposedly went to jail to protect: Is a book from her going to chronicle, in 80,000 words, that decision? Without some advance outline or notes, I fear that what S&S or whoever is going to get is a little sturm und drang and a lot of tales about the 90 days she spent working out and making herself over in jail. (Coincidentally, while publishing buzzes about Miller and Cooper's possible book deals, the George Clooney—directed film about the great Edward R. Murrow is accompanied by a single tie-in—Wiley's reissue of the Bob Edwards bio.)
Everybody knows that books these days are expected to compete with other forms of media, and that they often tend to follow the news instead of making it. But what book publishers seem to forget is that for most people, even book buyers, a book-length story about how this or that journalist did or didn't get her story—unless it's All the President's Men—is not very compelling. And unless Judith Miller is going to come clean about her whole career and explain why she wrote stories "proving" that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there's precious little that makes her book worth a million dollars.
And even if she did, would enough people care? Disgraced journalists are not the stuff of blockbusterish publishing dreams. Anybody who doubts it need only remember two words: Jayson Blair.