The Case of Bill Bradley

Sometimes No Advance Payment Communicates More Than a Large One

In 1969, John Lindsay lost the Republican primary in his bid for mayoral re-election. His senior aides asked Arthur Klebanoff to team up with William Josephson to find out why. The result of our voter study factored heavily into Lindsay’s winning campaign strategy on the Liberal Party line against both Republican and Democratic nominees. Josephson, a New York lawyer, had been the first General Counsel of the Peace Corps and active in Democratic politics ever since. So influential was there analysis of voters, that when Arthur Klebanoff entered Harvard Law School in 1970, he and Josephson formed a political consulting company to sell similar voter studies to other political figures.
Josephson introduced Klebanoff to Bill Bradley in 1971. Bradley was still playing basketball for the New York Knicks but was looking ahead to public office. He hired Josephson and Klebanoff to study the voters of his home state of Missouri. When he retired from the Knicks, he decided not to run for the position of Missouri State Treasurer.

The Pitch

In 1974, Bradley focused instead on his basketball memoir, Life on the Run. Klebanoff had just joined Mort Janklow’s law firm. Although they had limited book experience, Klebanoff felt confident in pitching Bradley to let him handle his book. He let Klebanoff know, politely, that he needed a seasoned player, not a rookie, and hired the veteran lawyer-agent Paul Gitlin. Gitlin represented the novelists Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace and the estates of Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe, and Raymond Chandler among others. Upon its publication, critics called Life on the Run one of the best sports books ever written by an athlete.
Bradley recognized the value of the Missouri voter study. He also realized that running for high office was no more difficult than running for a local one. The efforts for all electoral efforts were enormous and the risks of failure were high. In 1977, Bradley launched a campaign for the 1978 Senate race in New Jersey. Klebanoff volunteered to collaborate on a similar voter study of New Jersey and contributed to his strategy sessions throughout the campaign. On election night, Klebanoff arranged a telephone call between Bradley and Klebanoff’s mentor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whom he had aided in the Nixon White House and assisted in his 1976 Senate race in New York. Klebanoff had introduced the two at a dinner some months before. Bradley had the presence of mind during that call to ask for Moynihan’s support in joining the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Moynihan congratulated him, and then said to Klebanoff, “Well, it looks like you have two Senators now.”
Thereafter, Klebanoff spoke frequently with Bradley about politics. Every year or so, he urged him to write a book while in the Senate. Since he wrote all his own material, those appeals went nowhere; he simply had no time—and was humble enough not to commit to a contract for a book he could not deliver.
Early in 1996, Bradley invited Klebanoff to Washington. He told him that he would not run for re-election in 1996; he would run instead for President of the United States in 2000. Working in secret for a long time, he had nearly finished the memoir of his Senate years, three six-year terms in office. No one had read it. Paul Gitlin had convinced Knopf to offer Bradley a $400,000 advance for it based on the performance of Life on the Run and Bradley’s national visibility.

To Take the Advance or Not

What should he do? The advance presented a political problem. In 1994, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House, had backed away from a $4,500,000 advance from HarperCollins, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Gingrich’s political rivals questioned the integrity of the Speaker’s accepting a large advance from a company with significant business issues before the Federal Government.
Accepting any advance from Knopf would only be counterproductive; the media would scrutinize the deal as they had Gingrich’s. If, during a press conference about his political plans, Bradley confirmed a dollar amount, his book deal would upstage coverage of his likely bid for the Presidency. If there were no advance, his candidacy would get first billing.
The lack of an advance presented a publishing challenge. The size of an advance typically signals the level of the publisher’s commitment to a book because publishers must invest more in marketing and promotion, to sell enough copies to recoup such an advance. Today if there is no advance, an agent can gauge a publisher’s enthusiasm by securing contractual marketing guarantees of, for example, placement in airport stores or development of book-related iPhone apps.
Klebanoff and team did not know what Knopf really thought of the manuscript. He got Bradley’s permission to approach Knopf directly—not through Gitlin—and secure a contractual commitment for “lead treatment” of the book, meaning that Knopf would devote a marketing budget to Bradley commensurate with authors who had received a substantial six-figure advance.
Bradley held a press conference to announce, “Politics was broken,” and that he would not seek re-election to the Senate. He also announced that he would be publishing a book on his views. How big an advance had he received? “One dollar,” he replied. News of the conference mentioned the book’s topic, not money.

The Launch

Knopf fulfilled its promises with co-op advertising and a strong public relations campaign, and Bradley secured placement on 20/20. The high profile launch of Time Present, Time Past assured a New York Times bestseller and significant sales. Ultimately, Bradley earned in royalties an amount comparable to the foregone advance. In the book’s acknowledgments, Bradley wrote, “I thank my agents: Paul Gitlin, who kept getting deals too generous for me to accept, and Art Klebanoff, who knew why I wouldn’t accept them.” Of course, a prominent client’s thanking Klebanoff for talking him out of money up front did not necessary win him new clients.
It certainly did not win over Paul Gitlin. He and Klebanoff had met with Bradley and shaken hands that we would split the commission on the project. Before Klebanoff arrived, Gitlin stood to collect a full commission on $400,000 of guarantees. After Klebanoff’s work, he would get only 50 percent of a contingent commission. When the book started to earn money, Gitlin reneged and offered Klebanoff a flat $5,000, a small fraction of what he could earn under our agreement. He could have fought him, but not without putting Bradley in an uncomfortable position. And so he accepted Gitlin’s offer.

In 1997, Bradley made Klebanoff his sole agent. His first assignment was to leverage a 10,000-word text with photographs into the New York Times bestseller Values of the Game. Bradley became a Managing Director at media investment company Allen & Company in 2001 and invested in Klebanoff’s e-book company RosettaBooks, founded the same year. More recently, Klebanoff represented Bradley’s The New American Story, another New York Times bestseller, and is preparing to place his new book, a real game-changer for the 2012 political season.
Sometimes taking the long view pays dividends.

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