Editor's fate still unwritten

The books have been printed and shipped, but their eventual fate is a mystery — which is also true of Judith Regan, the editor behind the mega-deal.

According to publisher HarperCollins, O.J. Simpson’s “If I Did It” is under an official recall. Retailers are being asked to ship boxes back unopened, and the publisher said it would destroy all copies.

However, since thousands of books have already been sent via the U.S. postal system, it will be hard to stop the sale of black-market copies via Internet sellers and retailers.

For Simpson, the payday is already at hand. Though the book is being spiked, it is far enough along that insiders said Simpson — or at least the mysterious third-party rep Regan has said she is paying — will get the advance in full.

Meanwhile, there’s the question of what Rupert Murdoch’s move means for Regan, who had positioned the TV spec-book combo as her first major Hollywood move.

The public wrist-slapping from Murdoch deepens what has already been an uneasy relationship between her and News Corp.

In the years that ReganBooks — a quasi-autonomous imprint within HarperCollins — has been housed at News Corp., the partnership has been undeniably profitable. Regan has paid comparatively little money to acquire what has turned into a steady stream of blockbusters by the likes of Jenna Jameson, Michael Moore, Jose Canseco and James McGreevey.

But she occasionally had reported flareups with HarperCollins topper Jane Friedman.

When her contract was set to expire several years ago, entertainment lawyer Bert Fields met with publishers around Gotham to suss out whether someone else might pick up her contract. In the end, she reupped with HarperCollins. But not long afterward, she declared a move to Hollywood in what the industry saw as a chance to create a separation between her imprint and HarperCollins as well as to further a News Corp. vision of synergy.

Since settling into her Century City office earlier this year, however, she has been relatively quiet. The O.J. project, which insiders said was close to her heart and for which she helped persuade Simpson, could have turned into a classic Regan success story: a high-profile get and blockbuster that nobody saw coming.

But there was too much heat in the backlash from pundits and even News Corp.’s own ranks.Regan didn’t help her cause by issuing a 2,000-plus-word statement defending the Simpson deal that was alternately rambling and misguided. In it she spoke of having been a victim of domestic abuse herself and cited Katie Couric’s news interview two years ago with Simpson; some pundits noted that Couric opting for a news piece was different from Regan conducting an interview to promote a tie-in book with him.

On Monday, Regan maintained silence, with her office forwarding all calls to a ReganBooks publicist, who did not return a call seeking comment.

As for the books, other tomes have been destroyed in the warehouse before, but industryites said they couldn’t recall an incident when a title had been recalled this late in the process.

“This is what happens when you keep something secret for so long,” said one person in the book biz. Book was not listed in HarperCollins’ fall catalog and major retailers were told only about a week before the announcement was made that a title was even due.

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