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The Jury Is Still Out on Who Will Win Best Book Deal

The pop singer and his lead attorney may be in the top position to reap profits in publishing.

June 14, 2005|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

Let the bidding begin.

Pop star Michael Jackson's acquittal Monday on child molestation charges established the trial's winners and losers -- and also the likely pecking order for any book deals.

Publishing experts believe it is too soon to guess whose stories will be the most compelling, but the fact that Jackson was found not guilty swings the spotlight toward the defense -- Jackson's own story, should he want to tell it, and perhaps a book from lead defense attorney Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. Of less interest: the story of how Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon lost the case.

And although representatives of several jurors have reportedly been sounding out book deals, past trials have spun off few successful books from jurors, leading publishing experts to question whether Jackson's jury can find publishing gold at the end of their long deliberations.

"I'm not sure that ever really works," said Charles Spicer, executive editor of St. Martin's Press, adding that a single juror's view is too small a window and an ensemble by the entire jury too unwieldy.

That doesn't mean the jurors won't try. Spicer said he passed on two books by Scott Peterson jurors. And overtures are already being made in the Jackson trial, even though a disputed state law bars jurors from profiting from their service for 90 days.

"I know of one [book proposal] by a juror that's being circulated and another case where I've been asked by a representative whether there would be interest," said Los Angeles publisher Michael Viner, who said he declined to get involved in the projects.

Viner, who published Faye D. Resnick's memoir of her friend Nicole Brown Simpson after the O.J. Simpson murder trial, said determining what kinds of trial books will hit with readers is an inexact art.

"I've got to say that one of the things that shocked me was that the girlfriend in the Scott Peterson trial had a bestselling book -- I would have never guessed it," Viner said. "But there are stories to be told if someone tells them well. The problem with most of these things is they are fast-buck clip-and-paste jobs.... I have a hunch that 90% of what will come will be of absolutely no consequence."

Judith Regan of HarperCollins imprint Regan Books doubted there would be much interest in jurors' books either.

"The jurors always seem to think they're going to cash in. I find that repulsive," Regan said. "The only way there could be a book is if they all got together and some incredibly compelling thing happened behind the scenes."

Regan said the Peterson jurors tried.

"There were really interesting things that happened behind the scenes, but they couldn't agree and they all wanted a million dollars," Regan said. "Jurors have a completely distorted view of their own value."

The most compelling story from the Jackson trial, she said, is the one that would be the toughest to get: the singer's saga of growing up as the object of exploitation, now surrounded in adulthood by a new generation of exploited children.

"If he could come clean about his problems and really deal with it, it could be pretty interesting," Regan said. "I view the whole thing as tragic. All of this is horrific, and it is the story, in a nutshell, of American culture right now -- exploitation."

Regan estimated that a book by Jackson could fetch a six-figure advance, although an advance would be much less for any other principals in the case.

One factor in developing a successful book is the nature of the trial itself. The Simpson and Peterson trials centered on murders that had intrinsic dramas about them -- "Law & Order"-style whodunits. The Jackson trial was ultimately about unproved allegations of sexual acts with children, in which the tawdry overwhelmed the dramatic.

And the news cycle can spin too fast for book publishing.

"There's interest in the story in today's media," Viner said. "It will be very hard to have anything that will last until a book came out. We're going to be off next week to Phil Spector."

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