Recently, news broke that the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman would square off on Oprah Winfrey's syndicated talk show to argue over whether a book that describes in vivid detail how O.J. Simpson might have slain the two victims should ever really see the light of day.
In agreeing to argue their case on the Supreme Sofa of Daytime Justice, the families seem to have agreed that the only opinion that matters on their case is the only opinion that ever really matters in the marketing of popular American literature: Oprah's.
Fred Goldman is in the bizarre position of having to promote the book, titled "If I Did It," of the man he believes murdered his son. How do you market that?
Sit back and relax
"You do nothing at all," said Michael Viner, president-publisher of Phoenix Books, who ought to know.
Mr. Viner's made a mint off the Hollywood scandal genre in general and O.J. in particular. He's published Faye Resnick's "Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted," which sold about a million copies in book and audio form, as well as the unauthorized Anna Nicole Smith biography, "Trainwreck" (inopportunely delivered to him on the day she died, hurting sales), as well as the Heidi Fleiss call-girl memoir, "You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again."
Is doing nothing really a viable plan? In this case, yes, Mr. Viner said.
"You leave it to the press," he said, adding, "It's like blood in the water; the sharks will come. You spend nothing on it. You're catering to the train-wreck crowd."
Then again: "Having said all that, this is not a book that should be published," said Mr. Viner. "It's gross exploitation, and the Goldmans are soiling their public image."
Predictably, Team Goldman believes otherwise.
"This isn't about the Goldmans making money off of O.J.," said Sharlene Martin, head of Martin Literary Management and an agent to Mr. Goldman. "It's about the Goldmans taking money from O.J. It's the only asset they've been able to seize."
How things came to be this way is truly a first in the history of publishing: The father of Ron Goldman, the man who was murdered alongside Nicole Brown Simpson, plans to publish the manuscript next month to collect on a so-far fruitless $33.5 million civil judgment awarded to the surviving families in the 1997 wrongful-death lawsuit against Mr. Simpson. Mr. Simpson had filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying Mr. Goldman and the family of Nicole Simpson.
In a stunning reversal, however, Mr. Goldman was awarded the right to sell the book by a bankruptcy-court judge after its initial publisher, HarperCollins, abandoned it after much public outcry, and the company that controlled its rights went bankrupt.
One Hollywood heavyweight literary agent sums up the paradox this way: "The whole story is such a disgusting, rotten, crummy enterprise. And yet, it's also the main source of income for the judgment."
No promotion from big retailers
Ms. Martin declined to speak to Ad Age about the specifics of the marketing plan for the book, as did its publisher, calling such talk "premature." But clearly, both have their work cut out for them: While both Barnes & Noble and Borders will stock the book, neither will promote it in any way.
Ms. Martin is unfazed. Just two weeks ago, "If I Did It" didn't even show up in Barnes & Noble's website order counter, but by Aug. 29 it was ranked its 17th-best-selling book. She adds that its publisher, New York-based Beaufort Books, plans to recast the book as a confession, possibly by adding commentaries by key participants in the trial whom she declined to name.
Mr. Viner dismisses such spikes as entirely driven by the media, noting, "You can become the No. 1-selling book on Amazon.com just by selling 100 books in one day. Likely, most of those numbers are [driven] by members of the media." (As of Aug. 29, it was No. 71 on Amazon.com.)
"And the one thing nobody's mentioned is the quality of the writing," said Mr. Viner, who's read the manuscript. "Because it makes no difference; it's become immaterial to the discussion. That's troubling, because it's completely mediocre."
Another top literary agent is even more succinct: "This isn't literature," he laughed. "It's toe jam."