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All the president's money
With a $12 million book deal and speaking fees of $9.5 million, Bill Clinton's rolling in it.
June 16, 2004: 9:27 AM EDT
By Les Christie, CNN/Money contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Bill Clinton has begun promoting his autobiography, which hits the bookstores on June 22. The former president chose "My Life" as the title of the 900-page work. He might have called it "My Wallet."

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Former President Bill Clinton's memoir entitled "My Life" is already a best seller based on advance orders. CNNfn's Chris Huntington takes a look at the marketing campaign behind it.

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With a retail price of $35, publisher Alfred A. Knopf has enormous hopes for the book. The company has ordered a first printing of 1.5 million. It also paid Clinton an advance of $10 to $12 million, according to Publisher's Weekly, the largest ever for a non-fiction title. For Knopf to turn a profit, "My Life" must sell like hotcakes.

Thomas McCormack, a playwright and former CEO of St. Martin's Press, estimates Knopf's break-even point for the book is probably about 800,000 hardcover copies. "If they sell out the first printing," he says, "they'll make millions."

Clinton can, at least potentially, earn additional royalties beyond the advance.

Royalties for big-name authors can vary greatly, according to a spokesman for literary agent International Creative Management. But if you figure the industry norm of 15 percent of the cover price, Clinton's book would have to sell nearly 2 million copies to cover his advance. After that, he would collect an additional $5.25 for every book sold.

For Clinton, the streets leading out of the White House are paved with gold, thanks to the book deal and a lucrative sideline: public speaking.

He may be the highest paid speaker in the world right now, although that's a "tough call," says Mark Castel, CEO of Boston-based AEI Speakers Bureau. "He's certainly up there among the highest paid." (It depends whether you base it on the highest average fee, the biggest annual total, or the largest one-shot deal.)

According to Hillary Clinton's 2003 Senate financial-disclosure form (the latest available), husband Bill had 60 paid speaking engagements during 2002. From them, he earned an average of more than $159,000 per speech, or $9,542,500 in total.

Road to riches

To give an idea of how a former president keeps himself busy on the lecture circuit, here's one month of Clinton's schedule.

  • Feb. 7. Speech to the Women's International Zionist Organization in Miami. Fee: $125,000.
  • Feb. 11: Speech to Group Vivendi/Universal in Sundance, Utah. Fee: $150,000.
  • Feb. 15: Speech to the Long Island Association in Woodbury, N.Y. Fee: $125,000.
  • Feb. 18: Speech to ORT, a Jewish charity in Montreal. Fee: $125,000.

Then, Clinton made a quick pop Down Under to make presentations in Sydney (Feb. 22, for a whopping $300,000), Perth (Feb. 23, $125,000), Adelaide (Feb. 25 and 26, $125,000 and $250,000), and Melbourne (Feb. 27, $125,000).

All told, his words of wisdom generated $1.45 million in fees in a single short month.

Agents usually take between 20 and 30 percent of a speaker's fees. But according to Castel, bookers often settle for as little as 10 percent to capture the business of high-profile speakers.

Castel points out that Clinton benefits from being a scarce commodity on the speaking circuit: an ex-president.

"Gerald Ford is pretty much retired," he says. "Jimmy Carter does some engagements, but is very selective, speaking mostly to humanitarian groups. And George H.W. Bush has cut back a lot."

For organizations willing to pay through the nose for a presidential presence, that leaves Clinton.

Working wife

In addition to speaking fees and book advances, Clinton collects some incidental income.

His presidential pension now totals $171,900. The government picks up the $354,000 annual rent on his 8,300-square-foot office in Harlem, and pays his office staff to a maximum of $160,000. The Feds reimburse travel, postage, telephone, and printing expenses, not to mention providing a Secret Service detail.

Then there's what Hillary brings in. Her Senate financial disclosure form showed book royalties of $1.15 million in 2002 from "Living History," for which she's guaranteed to reap a total of at least $8 million. She donates other literary proceeds to charity (from "It Takes a Village" and "Dear Socks, Dear Buddy").

Hillary's Senate salary is $150,000, and she earned at least $56,000 in dividends and interest from investments in 2002.

The Clintons can use the money. The 42nd president never accumulated a big bank account, as a career politician. And the last years battling special prosecutor Kenneth Starr left the family with massive legal bills.

A legal defense fund has paid off the lion's share of his fees. The fund's executive director, Anthony Essaye, says it has covered $8 million of the $11.3 million in legal expenses the Clintons incurred at the White House. But Clinton still owed Washington law firm Williams and Connolly between $1 million and $5 million, more than 500,000 to Skadden Arps, and over $100,000 each to two Arkansas firms, according to the 2003 financial disclosure forms.

Then too, the ultimate political power couple bought two houses; they hadn't owned even one home of their own since 1983.

The one they bought in the bucolic New York suburb of Chappaqua, cost $1.7 million. The Georgetown digs went for $2.85 million. Neither would have been affordable if not for post-presidential earning power.

As long as the Clintons can keep talking and writing, they should have few real financial worries. But that doesn't mean the famously sensitive ex-president can't still feel your pain.

News Flash: On Monday, June 14, the Senate released its members financial disclosure forms. Hillary's reveals that Bill has cut way back on his speaking schedule in 2003, having just 22 paid engagements for the year, down from 60 in 2002.

Bill earned $3,540,000 in speaking fees, an average of nearly $161,000 per speech, a bit higher than in 2002.

Hillary earned more than $2 million in book royalties for Living History in 2003.

The disclosure form revelead that the couple's investments had climbed to between $2 million and $10 million and they had income from those investments of between $120,000 and $1,060,000.

Best of all, the couple paid off most of their legal debts; between $1 million and $5 million of that owed to Williams & Connolly and $100,000 to $250,000 to Wright, Lindsey & Jennings had been retired by year's end. They now only owe Skadden Arps, between $500,000 and $1 million.  Top of page

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