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Kellerman Thrills, Bills Random House

October 10, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thousands of readers scoop up Jonathan Kellerman's psychological thrillers, including President Clinton, who read "The Web" during his August vacation in Wyoming. Fans probably don't care which publisher brings the writer's goodies to market.

But among publishers, it matters a great deal to have on board a writer who routinely turns out one bestseller a year involving a character long established with his audience.

So it was with newfound pride of "ownership" that Random House announced last week it had signed Kellerman to a five-book deal, which will extend into the next century the novelist's series about Alex Delaware, a Southern California child psychologist and detective. Not mentioned in his new publisher's press release was that Bantam Books, which has published 10 of Kellerman's books, has another to bring out in 1997 and a 12th in 1998 before Random House takes over.

Although the terms of Kellerman's new agreement were not disclosed, the defection invites us to think big--probably up to $20 million for the five books in hardcover and paperback.

The $4 million advance per book from Random House doesn't put Kellerman in the stratosphere occupied by mystery maven Mary Higgins Clark and romance writer Danielle Steel, who are now pulling in advances of $12 million per book, Clark from Simon & Schuster, Steel from Delacorte. And $4 million per book is still south of the $6-million-a-pop contract that triggered the last big publishing segue--Patricia Cornwell's move from Scribner to G. P. Putnam's Sons, which earlier this year re-signed the creator of forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta to a deal that pays $8 million per title.

But Kellerman's $4 million advance per book is still huge.

The word is that Bantam balked at such a high figure, based on its projection of growth in Kellerman's sales.

Random House, however, sees this as a chance to bring Kellerman to an even larger audience. "Sometimes we get to reinvent the wheel and to think about it in a different way," editorial director Ann Godoff said. She suggested that the packaging of Kellerman's books and the timing of their release would be among the elements reconsidered by Random House.

She cited Kellerman's age (47) and what she called "the upward trajectory" in his sales from book to book as factors that contributed to Random House's enthusiasm. There are an estimated 15 million copies of the Alex Delaware novels in print.

Godoff, who declined to comment on the money involved, said of Kellerman, "I do think he felt that, at this particular juncture in his career, a change to this particular house would make a difference."

One of the ironies of the book business is that the marketing muscle expended by the new publisher also benefits the house that holds title to the author's previous works. When Random House starts to promote Kellerman, Bantam will continue to sell a backlist of 12 titles.

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Double the Pleasure: The special double issues of the New Yorker that have come out during Tina Brown's four years as editor in chief--focusing on fiction, women, African Americans and other topics--rank among the biggest sellers in the magazine's history. So said Publisher Diane M. Silberstein, at one in a recent series of breakfasts heralding next week's special pre-election issue.

Mark Ulricksen's cover illustration shows Bill Clinton and Bob Dole dancing like Fred and Ginger. Articles include a profile of senior presidential advisor George Stephanopoulos by David Remnick and Marshall Frady's look at San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Playwrights Arthur Miller and Wendy Wasserstein and the father and son Buckleys (William and Christopher) also supply amusement.

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Afterwords: Further evidence of TV's limitless power to spawn literary merchandise: "David Letterman's New Book of Top Ten Lists and Wedding Dress Patterns for the Husky Bride," which collects still more of his show's nightly rundowns (as well as actual dress patterns), arrived last week from Bantam Books. . . .

Mary Engelbreit? If her name is unfamiliar, chances are her work is not. The artist's greeting cards, bookmarks, calendars, stationery and furnishings, which typically feature floral prints and rosy-cheeked youngsters in Norman Rockwellian harmony, are widely available in gift shops and bookstores. Now, besides a new book, "Mary Engelbreit: The Art and the Artist" (Andrews and McMeel), there comes a new quarterly magazine, Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion, $4.95 a copy on newsstands. The mag showcases home designs, decorations and interiors, including the residences of children's author William Joyce and cartoonist Cathy Guisewite of "Cathy" fame. . . .

"Santa Evita," Tomas Eloy Martinez's comic novel about the life (and afterlife) of Eva Peron just out in hardcover from Knopf, has also been published in the original Spanish by Vintage Books in a $14 oversize-paperback edition.

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Thursdays.

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