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Hillary Clinton's Unwritten Memoir The Talk Of The Publishing World

As the former secretary of state begins work on her third book, editors brace for a seven- or eight-figure deal. "A historic bidding war," predicts one industry insider.

Posted on February 27, 2013, at 11:51 a.m. ET

Gary Cameron / Reuters

At a "global townterview" in Washington, D.C., former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed that she would begin work on a new memoir.

When Hillary Clinton announced last month that she planned to write another memoir, she started the speculation mill churning in the New York publishing world about the book that members of the industry say could only be topped in anticipation and sales if, as one put it, "Steve Jobs came back from the dead."

During an online town hall interview last month where Clinton fielded questions from international viewers, she was asked if she'd write another memoir to follow her last two books, 1996's It Takes a Village and Living History in 2003.

"Yes, I will write a memoir," Clinton said. "I don't know what I'll say in it yet."

New York publishing types immediately began speculating about what topics might be covered in the book's pages, what publishing house would get the project — and, of course, what kind of monster advance she'd get for it.

Clinton's agent, Bob Barnett — the D.C. super lawyer whose client list includes Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Dick Cheney, Bob Woodward, and Bill Clinton — may give Simon & Schuster the right of first refusal, since it published Clinton's first two books. But if the memoir is optioned to a wider array of houses, there'd be a "historic bidding war," said Jason Boog, the editor of Mediabistro's publishing blog, GalleyCat.

Estimates for Clinton's advance — the amount of money an author is paid before the book goes on the shelves — ranged from $5 million to $14 million. Her husband got $15 million for his 2004 autobiography, My Life, but as the publishing industry adapts to the digital age, seven- and eight-figure advances are hard to come by.

"The '90s especially was a time of crazy-big advances," said Sarah Weinmann, an editor at Publishers Marketplace, a widely read publishing news site and job board. "But some of them still persist."

"Hillary is much more popular now than she ever was, and that will drive the advance up," said Jessica Case, senior editor at Pegasus Books. "If Lena Dunham got $3.7 million, then Hillary should expect at least that. With all the rumors flying around about her 2016 campaign, she can expect something like $5 million from one of the big corporate houses. People can still throw money around."

Boog guessed $6 million. "I don't think it would go much higher than that," he said, "but she's the kind of writer that publishers are looking for: a recognizable name and a track record of solid sales."

And some threw around even higher figures. Ryan Harbage, of the Fischer-Harbage Agency, said $14 million would be "a safe bet" if Clinton decides to "hold nothing back."

"It's definitely an eight-figure advance," said Harbage. "The more intimate she is willing to go, the higher the advance."

Of course, as several industry sources pointed out, no one tells Clinton what to write, and she may ultimately be more interested in using the book to cement her legacy and position her political career than in scoring a giant check.

But what editors would hope for is an account of her bitter primary race against Barack Obama in 2008; about her relationship with her husband; and about the State Department — particularly, her handling of last year's attack in Benghazi, which became the defining scandal of her last several months at Foggy Bottom.

"If you look at Living History," said Boog, "she talked about everything — about the Whitewater scandal, the impeachment campaign. She did not shy away from topics that were tough. I think Benghazi's gonna be big. I think Syria might be bigger."

"She will definitely look at 2008 and use it as a platform to talk about her relationship with Barack Obama. There is some score-settling to be done," he said.

"There's a big landscape there," said Philip Turner, a longtime book editor. "A publisher would probably want to know about life in Chappaqua, about how involved she's been in the Clinton Global Initiative, about Chelsea as a grown woman and her work at NBC — details like that."

What's in the book could give the public some clue about the seriousness with which Clinton is considering a bid for the presidency in three years' time.

"She'll talk about her relationship with Bill Clinton again," Boog said. "If she does have presidential aspirations, she'll have to address that and bring it back to the fore."

But whatever Clinton discusses in the pages of her memoir, it's likely to be the biggest get of the year for whatever editor takes it on.

The only way another book might top Hillary's, Weinmann said, is "if Steve Jobs came back from the dead."

It's more than likely, though, that Clinton hasn't even begun work on a proposal. She's been off the job at the State Department for just three weeks now. When asked the status of the project, Barnett said only, "No comment at this time."