- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

One of the keys for success when pitching potential books to publishers in person is having "three great stories to tell," Robert Barnett told a full house at Chapters Literary Bookstore Tuesday evening at a workshop on "Law for Writers."
What happens then when two famous writer clients refuse to speak at such a meeting even to each other?
Such was the case on a day when Mr. Barnett, one of Washington's most successful lawyer-agents, took Democratic political firebrand James Carville and his wife, Mary Matalin, an equally fiery Republican spokesperson, to pitch a proposed book before some high-powered New York literary folk. Often in these encounters "the pair would fight, stop talking, then make up," Mr. Barnett related. This time they sat sulking in silence throughout, leaving Mr. Barnett to do the talking for them.
"I love reminding them that that was the time a publisher offered the highest bid," he recalled, laughing. The book appeared in 1994 with the title "All's Fair."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and former first lady, on the other hand, "would produce three different stories for each publisher we met with" when Mr. Barnett arranged for her to meet those interested in her $8 million memoirs, due out in the middle of next year.
The event was co-sponsored by Washington Independent Writers and the Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, and it allowed Mr. Barnett to tell discreetly, as lawyers will some tales out of school.
For instance, there was the time when the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in her job as a Doubleday editor, asked to meet with Mr. Carville and "she and James immediately bonded over a dislike of the press." Mr. Barnett said he came away from the meeting "enormously impressed" by Mrs. Onassis' skill. "She asked the best questions of anyone," he said. Mr. Carville's book, however, ended up going to another house that made a higher bid.
Mr. Barnett, who takes pride in being a nonpartisan literary advocate, also has represented Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wife of Vice President Richard B. Cheney. He praised an upcoming children's book she has written as "an alphabet book on patriotism, with all the money going to charity." He emphasized that it was planned before the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The friendly, soft-spoken lawyer said he also "represents 350 television correspondents," (including his wife, "CBS News Sunday Morning" senior correspondent Rita Braver). His advice ranged from how to find an agent's name "check the acknowledgements in books you see on the shelves of a store such as Chapters" to how to write a book proposal "it's a sales document" to warnings, such as "never give a publisher rights to anything not text-based."
Mr. Barnett has handled such nonfiction best sellers as the memoir of the late Katharine Graham of The Washington Post, whose book he called "the best autobiography ever written in modern times." He spoke of playing different roles for clients, even including help with editing in some cases, but his wisdom came couched with reminders that "only one out of 6,000 first novels gets published" and that only 110 out of 50,000 books published each year "sell over 100,000 copies."

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