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Stephen King, Unhappy With the Scenario, Rewrites Payday

INK / PUBLISHING

November 13, 1997|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A week after Stephen King ended a busy guessing game by picking a new publisher from a group of suitors, a lingering question is whether he also has introduced a new way for top authors and their publishers to do business.

In leaving Viking after nearly 20 years and joining Simon & Schuster, the horror writer agreed to a highly unusual deal that will pay him less upfront than he has commanded in the past while offering him the prospect of far greater riches through a profit-sharing arrangement.

King, who had wanted to top his previous per-book advance (of more than $15 million) and also sought an especially lofty royalty rate (26% of gross sales), accepted a much smaller advance (possibly $2 million) and an undisclosed cut of the net profits from books sold.

"Normally, for big names such as Stephen King, the advances reflect what a publisher can expect to earn back from sales, but this advance is a fraction of that," explained Carolyn K. Reidy, president of Simon & Schuster's trade division. "Instead, expenses are deducted and there will be a split of the profits."

Jonathan Newcomb, president and chief executive officer of Simon & Schuster, went so far as to say that the company and King had created "what may be an important new model for S&S and potentially the entire industry."

Indeed, trimming the advance, or guarantee, paid to an author lowers a publisher's financial risk in an era of static book sales. But can a smaller advance also cool the incentive to go out and sell a book like crazy?

"I'm not inside Stephen King's camp, so I don't know the logic behind his deal," said Robert Gottlieb, the influential William Morris Agency executive whose literary clients include Dean Koontz and Tom Clancy. "But I prefer to get as much money as possible upfront and a royalty rate based on gross sales. It guarantees performance on the part of the publisher, financial security for the writer and, hopefully, the success of the book."

Echoing the view of other agents and writers, Gottlieb added, "It's important to get as much money as possible upfront because publishers can be very inefficient."

King, who expressed regret in the media that his initial hunt for a fatter advance had turned into such a spectacle, now can focus on his next novel. "Bag of Bones," which Simon & Schuster's Scribner division plans to publish in late summer or early fall of next year, features a child in trouble, a haunted house, an April-October romance and what King says is "everything I know about marriage."

Andy Rooney, Woodworker: Andy Rooney comes out from behind that "60 Minutes" desk of his and shows where he made it. He has the cover of American Woodworker magazine, whose December issue offers a visit with the CBS curmudgeon in the wood shop of his home in upstate New York (along with stories on dust-free sanding and contractors' table saws).

Those who have ever wearied at the prospect of sorting out their own wood shops will take comfort in knowing that Rooney's "is filled with the familiar clutter that would make any serious woodworker feel right at home: clamps, hand tools, encroaching lumber, coffee cans full of small stuff and objects whose purpose can no longer be determined."

In an accompanying piece, Rooney writes that his wife, seeing him coming home time and again with pieces from sawmills, barns and lumberyards, invariably asks him if he has enough already. "I'll have enough wood when Imelda Marcos has all the shoes she wants," he tells her.

American Woodworker is published seven times a year by Rodale Press.

Afterwords: The literary enthusiasm of Oprah Winfrey has propelled two novels by a little-known Southern writer on to the New York Times' national bestseller list--belatedly. Kaye Gibbons' "Ellen Foster" and "A Virtuous Woman" were selected by Winfrey for discussion on her on-air book club, and sales have soared since then.

"Ellen Foster," Gibbons' first novel and published in 1987, is a story of survival as told by the 11-year-old title character.

"A Virtuous Woman," a love story between a young widow and an older farmer that shares a few characters from the earlier work, also was originally published by Algonquin.

The Vintage trade-paperback editions of the books will debut at Nos. 6 and 7, respectively, on Sunday.

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* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His e-mail address is paul.colford@newsday.com. His column is published Thursdays.

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