U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy’s recently announced deal to publish his life story did more than give the Pennsylvania freshman a sorely needed $100,000 advance. It made him one of the most successful authors in Congress.
And Murphy is yet to publish a single page.
Recent history shows books authored by members of Congress, while profitable, rarely earn six figures, no matter how compelling the story. Take, for example, U.S. Senator John Kerry.
Kerry, 63, served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts. He was a national figure in the anti-war movement, becoming the first Vietnam War veteran to testify before Congress.
In 1984, Kerry was first elected to the United States Senate, and twenty years later, was the Democrat party’s candidate for President of the United States. During that campaign, Kerry released "A Call To Service," an autobiographical look at the issues that shaped his life.
According to Kerry’s personal financial disclosures filed with the United States Senate, the book earned him $89,200 from Penguin Books. He earned another $5,175 from Easton Press for a special leather-bound edition — a total of $94,375 — and still less than Murphy’s $100,000 advance.
Murphy’s book, "Taking the Hill," “follows his childhood in Northeast Philadelphia, his time in the Army, including his deployments to Iraq and Bosnia, his heated campaign for Congress and his early days on Capitol Hill,” according to an article in the Bucks County Times, Murphy’s hometown newspaper. Murphy said he hopes to “inspire people to get involved in public service.”
Murphy’s resume is a shadow of Kerry’s. He joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) while attending King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, was commissioned a Second Lieutenant following graduation, and went on to earn his J.D. from Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, PA
Before his deployments, Murphy, 33, was a law professor at West Point. While serving in Iraq, Murphy earned both a Presidential Unit Citation and a Bronze Star for “the implementation of the (Rules of Engagement), law of war, administrative law, claims, legal assistance, government support, and military justice in a timely, professional and inspirational manner.” In 2006, he became the first, and only, Iraq War veteran elected to Congress.
Not long after that election, he won a lucrative book contract.
Members of Congress have penned runaway best sellers, most recently Sen. Barrack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope,” and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “Living History.” But as John Kerry proved, even a Presidential campaign and a top-five publishing house are no guarantee of success.
“With more than 150,000 new books being published and marketed to bookstores annually,” notes Writer’s Digest, “it’s becoming more and more difficult to gain attention for any book that doesn’t already have instant recognition in the marketplace — through a celebrity author, an established brand name, or a television/movie tie-in.”
The New York Times reported recently that Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott’s “Herding Cats,” sold only 11,000 copies, and Roll Call said former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the longest serving Republican Speaker in U.S. history “made an inconsequential sum in royalties” for his 2004 autobiography. Other recent authors, such as U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) haven’t earned a penny.
Murphy’s Pennsylvania colleague, Sen. Arlen Specter, wrote his memoir in 2001, "Passion for Truth: From Finding JFK’s Single Bullet to Questioning Anita Hill to Impeaching Clinton." Specter’s book looked at his decades of service, beginning with his “prosecution of the Philadelphia Teamsters during Robert Kennedy’s anticorruption investigations and ending with his role in President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings.”
Specter’s book covered popular and controversial topics, including the Single Bullet Theory, which Specter penned as a member of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
According to Senate financial records, Specter earned only $24,507.11.
That Murphy’s autobiography is worth, or can earn, $100,000 is debatable; but he has something that few others did— a top flight literary agent.
International Creative Management’s (ICM) Esther Newberg has a stable of best-selling authors that include Caroline Kennedy, crime-writer Patricia Cromwell, and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Friedman.
One literary blogger observed “if you have Esther Newberg, you probably have a 100 percent chance of getting a deal, although I’m sure there’s a selection factor here — she gets to pick winners.”
Even though ICM states they “do not accept unsolicited submissions,” Murphy managed to secure Newberg’s services. After paying Murphy a $100,000 advance in December, 2006, it was reported in May, 2007, that Newberg sold his story to Holt Publishing.
Newberg is a onetime associate of Ari Emanuel, the brother of former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chair Rahm Emanuel. She is a longtime party activist, and began her career as an aide to Senators Robert F. Kennedy, and Congresswoman Bella Abzug, among others.
She is also a longtime financial contributor to Democrat candidates and causes, most recently contributing a reported $5,350.00 to Murphy’s campaign committee, $750 more than the legal limit.
Murphy’s own personal finances show that Newberg’s help came at an opportune time. Murphy and his wife amassed between $55,000 to $165,000 in credit card and student loan debt by the end of 2006. He reported two mortgages on his primary residence at the end of 2005, owing between $300,000 to $600,000, and bringing his total debt to as high as $765,000.
In addition to massive personal debt, Murphy needed to act quickly to ink a deal, because House rules specifically prohibit advance royalty payments. Had Murphy been unable to complete a deal before January, 2007, he would have been barred from accepting the $100,000 he received from Newberg.
Despite playing beat the clock to broker a deal, garnering an unusually hefty advance, and receiving only “informal guidance” from the House ethics committee, Murphy claims his deal is all perfectly legal.
The outstanding issue is whether it was at all ethical.