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Will Simpson Frenzy Survive 3 Instant Books?

July 01, 1994|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday

Surely there are book buyers hungry for goods on the O.J. Simpson case, but will they still care next year? Beyond three new instant paperbacks just out, publishing insiders suspect the media frenzy in Los Angeles might exhaust the public's interest in any thoughtful hardcover that would follow later. As Simon & Schuster President Carolyn K. Reidy put it: "We may O.D. on O.J."

Nevertheless, an array of writers and literary agents has been sounding out publishers. Prominent among them is Joe McGinniss, whose bestsellers include 1983's "Fatal Vision" about the Jeffrey MacDonald case. The writer's agent, Morton L. Janklow, says the book would explore the Simpson case and the notion of hero worship in the style of Norman Mailer's "The Executioner's Song," which offered a wide-angle view of the troubled world of convicted killer Gary Gilmore.

In the meantime, the publishers of the three paperbacks say advance orders for their books from retailers and wholesalers have swelled print runs into the six figures.

The first to reach stores is "O.J. Simpson: American Hero, American Tragedy" by Marc Cerasini, a New York writer and co-author of "The Tom Clancy Companion." Pinnacle Books, which announced a printing of 450,000 copies, started shipping copies to stores last Friday, only 11 days after the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and a friend were found outside her Brentwood home. Initial enthusiasm from booksellers prompted Pinnacle to produce an additional 50,000 copies of what is essentially a biography that draws on previously published material and culminates in a day-by-day chronology of the case.

Coming out of the pipeline today will be "Fallen Hero: The Shocking True Story Behind the O.J. Simpson Tragedy," written by former UPI reporter Don Davis and published by St. Martin's Press. The publisher, which counts Maria Eftimiades' best-selling "Lethal Lolita" (about Amy Fisher) among its true-crime quickies, says an initial printing of 500,000 copies will make "Fallen Hero" its biggest book of this type.

Instabook No. 3 comes from the senior editors of a supermarket tabloid that offers a sympathetic slant. "Juice: The O.J. Simpson Tragedy" was written by Larry Browne and Paul Francis of the Globe, whose current front page screams: "O.J. WAS FRAMED!" Globe Communications Corp., in a distribution deal with Carol Publishing Group, is planning to move 200,000 copies Tuesday. Globe Vice President Terry Raskyn says the writers will update their text if sales prompt the publisher to print additional copies.

Not everyone favors jumping into print on the sensational case. "Overall, I personally would not be interested in quickie books on O.J. Simpson, but in books about the underlying current of domestic violence and the battered-wife syndrome," says Robert Gottlieb, a high-powered literary agent who is executive vice president of the William Morris Agency.

Another influential agent, Esther Newberg of International Creative Management, says three clients approached her with book ideas on the case and she advised them all to back off. "For the most part, it feels old to me," Newberg says, adding that if media saturation does not sour interest in the story, the daily disclosure of details about the killings could outpace a book writer's ability to produce a timely manuscript.

As for McGinniss, discussions about his latest enthusiasm invariably return to the fallout from "The Last Brother," his biographical look at Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. The book was savaged by the critics last summer mainly because of the author's questionable sourcing and freewheeling attempt at a psychological profile.

Simon & Schuster, which published "The Last Brother," does not want McGinniss' next book. "I think we felt it was probably time for him to try another publisher," Reidy says.

Janklow, who argues that S & S "manhandled the book," adds: "All of that controversy has to be overcome, but the main thing is that Joe will be back to one of his greatest strengths, serious nonfiction. This book will be about America and race relations and coming out of the ghetto. There's a lot of meat to this story."

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On the Racks: Rebelle, a glossy fashion and lifestyle magazine designed to celebrate multiculturalism, has officially premiered on newsstands following two test issues. Founded and produced by Ralph Clermont and Philippe Gelin, two Haitian-born photographers who have come together as Clerlin Inc., Rebelle bows with a report on black models, 50 pages of fashion statements from Puerto Rico and assessments of American music written by Senegalese singer Youssou N' Dour and other performers.

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Afterwords: The Ballantine Publishing Group plans to put three of its authors on a group tour next month to promote their mysteries, which feature gay and lesbian protagonists. The writers are Michael Nava, the pen behind gay Los Angeles attorney Henry Rios ("How Town"); Sandra Scoppettone, creator of lesbian sleuth Lauren Laurano ("I'll Be Leaving You Always") and Ellen Hart, author of the Jane Lawless series, including the new "Stage Fright." Among their stops is a July 12 panel and autographing session at A Different Light in Los Angeles. . . .

His column is published Fridays.

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