Scott Turow has a definite philosophy about money. ”I’m very glad I’ve made a lot of it and I certainly enjoy having it,” he says. ”But for me it has never been the be all and end all.” Which probably explains his loyalty to the old- fashioned, highbrow firm of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the publisher of his first novel, Presumed Innocent, as well as his new one, The Burden of Proof. Nearly everyone in the book business agrees that Turow could have gotten a lot more money by moving to a bigger firm. But that’s not the way this fellow operates. Describing his arrangement with Turow, Roger Straus III, the managing director of Farrar, Straus, says, ”It’s like the old days, when marriages lasted and relationships weren’t transitory. The thing you feel with Scott is a commitment. From the first moment I met him, he’s never done anything but show complete loyalty.”
The Turow-Farrar, Straus alliance is an unlikely one. Turow writes blockbusters — Presumed Innocent sold more than 700,000 copies in hardback and 5 million in paper — while Farrar, Straus is known for publishing such writers as Isaac Bashevis Singer, Czeslaw Milosz, and Carlos Fuentes — literary titans to be sure, but puny presences in the marketplace.
Since Farrar, Straus has prestige but lacks the bucks to offer the giant advances customary for best-selling writers, Turow did what he could to lessen the blow when he offered them The Burden of Proof. He asked only for what the book was worth, based on the sales of Presumed Innocent. (Although those revenues aren’t public, Turow’s agent, Gail Hochman, says they’re ”in the stratosphere.” Most publishing people think the total must be at least $3 million.) And since Farrar, Straus could not pay even that — at least not up front — Turow agreed to take some of his money later, out of The Burden of Proof’s sales.
The reason for Turow’s gentlemanly behavior? ”I’ve never been out for the dough in anything I’ve done,” he says, ”and my affection for Farrar, Straus goes beyond purely commercial considerations.”
In fact, during the seven years he spent writing Presumed Innocent, Turow always hoped to become a Farrar, Straus writer. But even he had second thoughts after he finished the book and found that every major publisher in New York wanted it. The bids exceeded Farrar, Straus’ final offer of $200,000 by $75,000. At home in Wilmette, Ill., Turow didn’t know what to do — go for the class or go for the cash. So he turned to his wife for advice. ”As long as I have known you,” she told him, ”you have had a dream, and now it looks like your dream is coming true. Why not have all of it?”
”It just seemed like unimpeachable logic,” Turow says now. ”What is something like money when dreams are at stake?”
As it turned out, he got the publishing house he coveted and the money too. The film rights went for $1 million, and Warner bought the paperback rights for $3 million, an industry record for a first novel.
Turow gives some of the credit for his book’s success to the people at Farrar, Straus, noting that ”they performed magnificently” in marketing the book. So instead of shopping The Burden of Proof around, Turow and his agent sent it straight to Farrar, Straus. Negotiations for the book lasted two hours, an absurdly short time for a deal of this size. ”It was basically along the lines of…what can you afford to pay for it, how can you afford to pay for it, how are you going to be left in a position where you’re safe and where I’m being fairly compensated,” Turow explains.
Roger Straus now has to make sure Turow doesn’t regret his decision. So far so good. Farrar, Straus sold the paperback rights, again to Warner, for more than $3.2 million, and the firm’s initial marketing budget for the book is $800,000, the largest in its history. As a result, America will soon be saturated with Turow. Ads for The Burden of Proof will be beamed from the huge electronic billboard in Times Square. They will greet commuters on trains in New York and Chicago. They will pop out of the pages of major metropolitan newspapers nationwide. Even airplane passengers won’t escape the campaign. This summer Pan Am will feature a five-minute interview with Turow over audio headsets during 8,000 of its flights.