NEW YORK -- After a hotly contested auction, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf has sold the world rights of his planned book to Bantam Books for a sum estimated at more than $5 million.
In a statement yesterday, Bantam said the four-star general, who commanded the allied forces in the Persian Gulf war, would begin work on his autobiography immediately after his retirement from the Army on Aug. 31.
The writer who will work with him on the book, which has no title yet, has not been chosen.
Marvin Josephson, the general's agent, said that competition among publishers for the book had been intense but that the final choice had been between Bantam and Random House Inc. A senior editor at Random House said the company had bid $5 million, suggesting that Bantam paid more.
"Random House was very keen, and I would say it was a very close thing," Mr. Josephson said. "But in the end, Bantam's was the best overall deal."
Linda Grey, the president and publisher of Bantam, declined to disclose terms of the agreement. "That is a matter between Bantam, the general, his agent and the IRS," she said.
Whether the Schwarzkopf advance is a record for an autobiography is not known, but if it is not No. 1, it is certainly near the top. Random House recently purchased Marlon Brando's autobiography for a high sum; Alfred A. Knopf was said to have paid more than $4 million for Katharine Hepburn's; and Simon & Schuster reportedly paid more than $6 million to former President Reagan for a two-book contract, including his autobiography.
Bantam said the book, a complete autobiography, would be published in the fall of next year. But Mr. Josephson said that while it was the "desire, hope and determination" of the author to complete the book by then, General Schwarzkopf had not committed himself contractually to that date.
"If the general needs more time, he will give it more time," Mr. Josephson said. A fall 1992 publication would mean that General Schwarzkopf and his co-writer would have to complete the book in less than a year.
Ms. Grey said, "We expect that the book will reflect the author's extraordinary persona: straight-talking, uniquely informed and definitively authoritative."
Bantam's statement reported the general as saying: "I very much look forward to the opportunity to tell the in-depth story of Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm as I lived it, and to reflect on the emotions, the people and the events that led to our victory. I'm delighted to be working with Bantam Books, whose confidence in me I hope to reward with a book of high interest and enduring value."
Apart from this reported statement, the general was not available for comment.
For Bantam, the acquisition represents a multimillion-dollar gamble that the general's appeal as a hero will be enduring and that the American public will not become surfeited with tales of him.
Stuart Applebaum, a vice president, said he expected the work to attract readers from "Wall Street to Main Street." As well as offering revelations on the gulf war, the book is expected to offer many insights to those attracted by what some have termed "the Schwarzkopf school of management," a reference to the general's style of leading through personal inspiration.
Bantam already has published an instant paperback biography of the general called "Schwarzkopf: An Insider's View of the Commander and His Victory" by Lt. Col. Robert D. Parrish, retired, and Col. N. A. Andreacchio. The book did not sell well.
Several other books about the general have been, or are about to be, published.