Making Faux Martyrdom Pay: Judy Miller Lands a Book Deal

See update ("Judy Miller’s Book Deal: Crunching the Numbers") below.

Sources tell me that Judy Miller is telling friends that she has made a $1.2 million book deal with Simon & Schuster. I’ve heard from senior editors at the publishing house that the deal is still so hush-hush that word of it has not appeared in the memos that circulate among the editorial staff, keeping them updated on pending deals and acquisitions.

The new book will be edited by Alice Mayhew, the editor of Miller’s previous two books, “God Has Ninety Nine Names” and “Germs”. Mayhew was also among those who visited Miller during her stay at the Alexandria Detention Center. Wonder if they talked shop: “Would 45 days be enough or should I try and stretch it to 85?” “Yeah, 85 would be great… and let’s see if you can get Scooter to give you a blurb; I love his tree metaphors”.

Among other projects, Mayhew is currently editing Robert Sam Anson’s warts-and-all biography of Vice President Cheney (somehow I don’t think Scooter will be blurbing that one), and a book by Paul Bremer, who parlayed his botched efforts in Iraq into a Medal of Freedom. It’s interesting to note the relative value of failure on the open market: Miller’s miserable reporting on Iraq WMD put her on the road to a seven-figure deal; Bremer’s misbegotten time in Baghdad landed him a deal in what publishing insiders termed “the low end of the significant deal territory”.

Maybe he should have arranged for a little time behind bars before pitching his memoir.

UPDATE: Judy Miller’s Book Deal: Crunching the Numbers

I just talked to Carolyn Reidy, president of Simon & Shuster, who told me, “There is no signed deal for the book -- and no projected P & L.” (For those not steeped in publishing lingo, that’s short for profit and loss statement, the financial bottom line on a book). So if the $1.2 million figure is the amount that Judy Miller has asked for (and is telling friends she got), let me help Simon & Schuster crunch the numbers. My advice, as I wrote back in July is: Don’t do it. Smells like remainder to me.

That seems like an awful lot of money to pay a journalist with an iffy reputation whose cause never really became very celebre. A publishing insider crunched the numbers for me: “In order to recoup that kind of advance,” the insider told me, “they’d have to sell 300,000 copies at $27 a book. Ain’t gonna happen. I can see the thinking: Simon & Schuster is a Viacom company, so they could line up the big “60 Minutes” push. It worked for Richard Clarke and Paul O’Neill, right? But, in both those cases, those guys could be portrayed as heroic -- or at least good guys taking on the powers-that-be to expose the truth. What would Miller’s angle be? I helped the bad guys sell a bogus war that led to tens of thousands of deaths, then went to jail to protect my neocon pals?"

Still doing unpaid due diligence for Simon and Schuster (after all, they did a great job publishing my biographies of Callas and Picasso), I called a high-powered New York book agent and asked what would happen if, by the time the book comes out, Miller’s attempted transformation from discredited neocon shill to journalistic martyr has had its Cinderella midnight moment -- poof! “Hmm,” he said, after thinking for a moment. “She could always turn it into a confessional. Confessionals sell well.”

A Judy confessional? I can’t wait to see the chapter headings:

WMD? Boy, Did I Screw That One Up
How I Turned the Paper of Record Into a Laughingstock
About Those Aluminum Tubes…
Chalabi, Cheney, and Me: We Had a Three-Way, You Got Screwed
I Hate To Make John Bolton Mad But…
Scooter & Pinch: My Thing for Men With Silly Nicknames