Book Sales Boom Continues … Bruce On A Budget

The market for screen rights to books looks likely to pick up where it left off last year, what with Tom Clancy and his William Morris agent Robert Gottlieb surprising many by agreeing to sell his book “Cardinal of the Kremlin” to Paramount, and agents Richard Green and Howie Sanders getting Fox’s Tom Jacobson to pony up $1.5 million in less than 24 hours for Joseph Finder’s novel “Prince of Darkness”

In ’94, a new feature rights record was established when New Regency bought John Grisham’s debut novel, “A Time to Kill,” for $6 million; Disney and Robert Redford paid an astounding $3 million for first-time novelist Nicholas Evans’ “The Horse Whisperer”; and three of the top 10 movies of the year were book adaptations. Those films, “Forrest Gump,” “Clear and Present Danger” and “Interview With the Vampire,” grossed a combined $521 million.

The first major author out of the gate is John Le Carre, whose last book, “The Night Manager,” was bought by Paramount for Sydney Pollack. His agent, Michael Siegel, is now showing his newest novel, the post-Cold War drama “Our Time.” United Artists topper John Calley, through an old relationship with the author, has first crack at the material, with others waiting.

Perhaps the two most eagerly awaited books to be shopped this winter are Grisham’s new novel, “The Rainmaker,” and Pat Conroy’s “Beach Music.” Sources said that agents Jay Garon and Writers & Artists’ Marti Blumenthal will auction Grisham’s nearly finished novel in late February, although a rumor is building that buyers could get an early peek if a donation of $10,000 is made to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital – the “Time to Kill” buy also included a donation. In any event, buyers will have to be well financed, because Grisham’s out to top his $6 million mark, which would mean he’s pulling down more green for a film than most lead actors.

Conroy, who finished “Beach Music” last week, also is looking for a big payday. Buyers will see it through producer Alan Brown, after editing by Nan Talese.

The pending sale of the book ignited controversy when Conroy dropped CAA, which packaged his last novel, “The Prince of Tides.” Conroy tried to sell the new book last fall, sight unseen, for $4 million, in a combo sale with “Ex,” a 1989 script Conroy wrote with Doug Marlette, for which he wanted $1 million. A deal was close with Fox, but Conroy decided to wait until he was done and let the book sell itself. The books will still be sold as a package, but the price will be higher.

Houghton Mifflin sold about 250,000 hardcover copies of “Prince of Tides,” and the “Beach Music” publisher, Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, plans a first printing of hardcover books of around 750,000 copies, according to Marley Rusoff, veep and associate publisher, who said the book will be out this summer. Its screen rights should be gone by March.

A positive residual effect of the booming book biz is that it has stopped the trend of closing offices in New York, where many of the best book discoveries are made. Laura Ziskin, head of Fox film division Wildwood Prods., is looking to open an office, and Danny DeVito and Robert De Niro recently pooled resources to jointly hire Matthew Specktor, based in New York.

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