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All the president's money
With a $12 million book deal and speaking fees of $9.5 million, Bill Clinton's rolling in it.
June 21, 2004: 10:38 AM EDT
By Les Christie, CNN/Money contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Bubba's book blitz has begun.

Bill Clinton started promoting his autobiography with an interview on Sunday's "60 Minutes" that ran the entire length of the show. The former president chose "My Life" as the title of the 900-page work. He might have called it "My Wallet."

Clinton will continue to flog the book, due to go on sale in bookstores on Tuesday, with book signings and appearances across the country.

With a retail price of $35, publisher Alfred A. Knopf has enormous hopes for the book. The company has ordered a first printing of 1.5 million copies, and paid Clinton an advance of $10 to $12 million, according to Publisher's Weekly, the largest ever for a non-fiction title. For Knopf to turn a profit, "My Life" must sell like hot cakes.

Thomas McCormack, a playwright and former CEO of St. Martin's Press, estimated Knopf's break-even point for the book is probably about 800,000 hardcover copies. "If they sell out the first printing," he says, "they'll make millions."

Clinton -- this week's Time cover boy -- can, at least potentially, earn additional royalties beyond the advance.

Royalties for big-name authors vary greatly, according to a spokesman for literary agent International Creative Management. But if you figure the industry norm of 15 percent of the cover price, Clinton's book would have to sell nearly 2 million copies to cover his advance. After that, he would collect an additional $5.25 for every book sold.

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Former President Clinton's memoir is already a best seller based on advance orders. CNNfn's Chris Huntington takes a look at the marketing behind the book.

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For Clinton, the streets leading out of the White House are paved with gold, thanks to the book deal and a lucrative sideline: public speaking.

He may be the highest paid speaker in the world right now, although that's a "tough call," said Mark Castel, CEO of Boston-based AEI Speakers Bureau.

"He's certainly up there among the highest paid," said Castel, noting it depends how it's measured: highest average fee, total annual fees or the biggest one-shot engagement.

According to Hillary Clinton's 2003 Senate financial-disclosure form covering 2002, her husband had 60 paid speaking engagements that year, earning about $159,000 for each speech, on average, or $9.5 million in total.

Road to riches

Just to get an idea of how a former president keeps himself busy on the lecture circuit, here's one month from Clinton's 2002 schedule.

  • Feb. 7. Speech to the Women's International Zionist Organization in Miami. Fee: $125,000.
  • Feb. 11: Speech to Group Vivendi/Universal in Sundance, Utah. Fee: $150,000.
  • Feb. 15: Speech to the Long Island Association in Woodbury, N.Y. Fee: $125,000.
  • Feb. 18: Speech to ORT, a Jewish charity in Montreal. Fee: $125,000.

Then, Clinton made a quick pop Down Under to make presentations in Sydney (Feb. 22, for a whopping $300,000), Perth (Feb. 23, $125,000), Adelaide (Feb. 25 and 26, $125,000 and $250,000), and Melbourne (Feb. 27, $125,000).

All told, his words of wisdom generated $1.45 million in fees in one month.

Agents usually take 20 to 30 percent of a speaker's fees. But according to Castel, bookers often settle for as little as 10 percent to capture the business of high-profile speakers.

Castel noted that Clinton benefits since he's a scarce commodity on the speaking circuit: an ex-president.

"Gerald Ford is pretty much retired," said Castel. "Jimmy Carter does some engagements, but is very selective, speaking mostly to humanitarian groups. And George H.W. Bush has cut back a lot."

For organizations willing to pay through the nose for a presidential presence, that leaves Clinton.

Hillary's recently released financial disclosure form for 2003 showed her husband slashed his paid speaking schedule last year, with just 22 engagements, down from 60 in 2002. Bill earned $3.5 million in speaking fees, or about $161,000 an average that was a bit higher than in 2002.

Working wife

In addition to speaking fees and book advances, Clinton collects some incidental income.

His presidential pension totals $171,900 a year. The government picks up the $354,000 annual rent on his 8,300-square-foot office in Harlem, and pays his office staff to a maximum of $160,000 a year. The Feds reimburse travel, postage, telephone and printing expenses, not to mention providing a Secret Service detail.

Then there's what Hillary brings in. Her Senate financial disclosure form showed book royalties of $1.15 million in 2002 from "Living History," for which she's guaranteed to reap at least $8 million in total, according to news reports. She donates other literary proceeds to charity (from "It Takes a Village" and "Dear Socks, Dear Buddy").

Hillary's Senate salary is $150,000, and she earned at least $56,000 in dividends and interest from investments in 2002.

But she earned more than $2 million in book royalties for Living History last year alone, her filing showed.

The 2003 disclosure form also revealed that the couple's investments had climbed to between $2 million and $10 million and they had income from those investments of between $120,000 and $1,060,000.

Best of all, the couple has paid off most of their legal debts; between $1 million and $5 million of the fees owed to Williams & Connolly and $100,000 to $250,000 to Wright, Lindsey & Jennings had been retired by year's end. They now only owe Skadden Arps, between $500,000 and $1 million.

A legal defense fund had paid off the lion's share of the legal debts. The fund's executive director, Anthony Essaye, says it has covered $8 million of the $11.3 million in legal expenses the Clintons incurred at the White House.

Bill Clinton

The ultimate political power couple bought two houses after leaving the White House; they hadn't owned even one home of their own since 1983.

The one they bought in the bucolic New York suburb of Chappaqua cost $1.7 million. Their Georgetown digs went for $2.85 million. Neither would have been affordable if not for post-presidential earning power.

As long as the Clintons can keep talking and writing, they should have few real financial worries. But that doesn't mean the famously sensitive ex-president can't still feel your pain.  Top of page

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