Clinton's Folly: A Lost Opportunity in Publishing

October, 2001

Dear Ex-President Clinton,

Congratulations on the recent record-setting, big-bucks advance for your upcoming memoirs. $10 million, huh? Bet that'll put a few legal bills and hefty Westchester County mortgages behind you. Good for you! Still I must confess that as I read that you'd given Knopf the nod to publish your recollections, I couldn't help but ponder a lost opportunity.

I'm talking about the opportunity to make three or four times the money off your "sure-thing" title. And it comes down to one hyphenated word: self-publishing. Now, before you laugh and say, "My pride and joy needs to be lovingly administered to by professionals every inch of the way," hear me out.

Sure you deserve the royal treatment and all that, but which would you rather have? One big-name publishing company sucking up to you and paying you $10 million? Or the entire wholesaling and retailing segments of the industry sucking up to you and eventually paying you many times that?

I mean, let's get real. You think that you need a big-name publisher to sell your book? You gotta be kidding. You are a publisher's and bookseller's dream. Fascinating people sell books. And regardless of what people think of you, you're the "Ultimate Fascinating Person." Short of not writing the thing, there's no way you could fail to sell millions of copies. I never buy celebrity books. I didn't vote for you either time. Yet I'd buy your book. In your case, Knopf is a very expensive and monumentally unnecessary accessory.

What do you need them for?

To print your book? Please. Give me your fax number - I'll shoot you a list of 20 printers just waiting to beat their price. I've got freelance ghostwriters, photographers, graphic designers, and typesetters out the wazoo who are waiting to lovingly craft a book like yours into something that would make Michelangelo weep tears of joy.

To "ensure comprehensive distribution" of the title? Right. See those lines blinking on your phone? Ingram and Baker & Taylor - the two biggest wholesalers - are on hold on lines 2 and 3, just waiting to cut deals to position the book for placement in every bookstore and library in the country. Barnes & Noble and Borders are on lines 4 and 5, rehearsing their "whatever-they-offer-you-we'll-beat-it" speeches. They've even been burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how to bypass the wholesalers.

For publicity and media relations? I can only imagine the hours they practiced that speech in front of a mirror before they could pull it off without collapsing into paroxysms of laughter. Sheesh. Let me paint you a picture. Right now, every book editor for every major and minor newspaper in the country has cleared off their desk and left a standing order with the mail room to immediately hand-deliver your review copy the second it arrives. Their orders are clear: "Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Peek at the copy, and your head goes on a stake in the lobby as a warning to the others!"

Oprah, Jerry, Geraldo, Katie and Matt, Reg and Kelly, Rosie, Rush, Larry, Jay, David, Conan, The View, Fresh Air, and a zillion others are skittering around drooling, panting, etc., over the prospect of even five minutes with you. They've threatened their minions with hideous agonizing eternal torment if they don't land you first and fast.

What's the book's price gonna be? I'm guessing around $28.95. Even if you figure that production costs, discounts, and whatnot would bring your take down to around $10 a copy, you multiply that by, what - 5-6 million copies, easy. We're talking $50-60 million. I'm telling you, big guy, you're leaving some serious cheese on the table. Put me in coach. Gimme a shot here. I'll do it for a buck a book. Whattayasay?

Sincerely yours,

Peter Bowerman

PMA member Peter Bowerman is the self-published author of "The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less," an award-winning triple-book-club selection. Learn more at www.wellfedwriter.com. Reprinted from the October 2001 issue of PMA News.