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But we know how it ends; Story: Some bookstore owners are still betting Lewinsky's book will sell.


On the fence. That's where Baltimore area bookstore owners are when it comes to guessing public demand for "Monica's Story," the account by Monica Lewinsky of her dalliance with the president. The book will be in bookstores nationwide March 4.

They cite the "all-right already" factor. The public is tired.

The sick factor. As the president himself noted, "She's a troubled girl."

The price factor. Why buy a $24.95 hardcover when special prosecutor Ken Starr tells the story in a $5 paperback?

Monica's "been pretty exposed in public throughout the process and I don't know how much more she can tell that people are interested in reading," says Brian Weese, president of Bibelot of Baltimore, which ordered a modest 75 copies for each of its three stores.

Book sales could be where Starr wins in this morality play. His report, with 1.5 million-plus copies in print, was possibly the most sought-after secret government document since the Pentagon Papers. Have Americans changed so dramatically in 25 years that they will exhibit the same demand for information about sex they once did for war?

St. Martin's Press acquired North American rights to "Monica's Story" for around $600,000 from Michael O'Mara Books of London. With an initial hardcover printing of 400,000 -- the largest ever for any book by St. Martin -- publicity is expected to be grand. For starters, there's Lewinsky's 90-minute television interview with ABC's Barbara Walters on the eve of publication. A national book tour by either or both of the co-authors is being discussed this week, says a St. Martin's publicist.

The idea of anyone lining up for Monica's signature makes some book dealers shudder.

"You go to book signings of people you respect, authors you love," sniffs Parissa Snider, head of community affairs for Barnes & Noble at the Power Plant at the Inner Harbor. On the other hand, "everybody has an audience."

What about the princess factor? Isn't it worth something that Monica's co-author is Andrew Morton, whose authorized biography of "Princess Diana: Her True Story" was the best-selling book in England last year? Current figures are unavailable, but the original version sold more than 5 million copies.

"It was a different atmosphere," says Steven Baum, president of Greetings & Readings Bookstore in Towson. Even so, he predicts Monica's book will sell.

On Monday Baum ordered 100 copies of Monica's first printing, and another 100 for the second wave, if there is one.

"It's not a phenomenally positive thing that everybody wants to get," Baum says. "It's not like the best thing that ever happened to the country," he says.

Weese calls the St. Martin's run a "gross overprinting."

Besides being tired of the topic, the public may perceive Lewinsky to be "gold-digging" and react negatively, Weese says. "Do people really want to support this?"

St. Martin's is known for its quick hits -- books that win big sales swiftly and fade. Book dealers say after the excitement of the first week, sales will depend on what the media say about the book and how much detail is excerpted.

But Regina Traynham, 60, a Baltimore personal-care aide, says buying the book would be the equivalent of giving money to an unworthy cause -- whether it is O.J. Simpson's cause or Mike Tyson's, or Monica's. Why do that for already wealthy people? she asked. "I'm the one who doesn't have any money."

Others lunching at the Inner Harbor yesterday seemed similarly unwilling to spend money to hear Monica's story -- after being inundated by it in news accounts.

"It offends me to think my grandchildren have to know about this," said Fay Gruber, 59, a Baltimore saleswoman. "This was something personal and it shouldn't have been brought out."

According to co-author Morton, it will paint a picture of someone far different from the public Monica.

"The Monica I discovered is a bright, lively and witty young woman who bears the scars of her continuing public shaming, but remains undefeated," he wrote in information available on Amazon .com, the online book retailer.

Last week the book ranked 25th among 100 most popular titles purchased or orders placed in advance with Amazon.com.

Nora Rawlinson, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly, told Newsday she sees a stronger sale for "Monica's Story" than seemed likely when the book was announced in November. "The videotapes of her testimony made her look more serious than people thought she was, whereas the [earlier] audiotapes of her talking with Linda Tripp had reinforced the whole bimbo aspect," Rawlinson said.

Bottom line: Serious or bimbo, do people care enough about "Monica's Story" to make her a best seller?

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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