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When Jackie Onassis Worked In Book Publishing By Sterling Lord (EXCERPT)

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JACKIE ONASSIS PUBLISHING
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Excerpt from LORD OF PUBLISHING by Sterling Lord ($16.99, Open Road Media)

It was during the Doubleday phase of her life that I met her. My relationship with Jackie continued for a number of years.

One of my long-time clients, David Wise, an expert on the Central Intelligence Agency and one of the most trusted reporters in Washington, had had a very good relationship with JFK and Jackie when they were in the White House. I say very good, and it was, but David was one of the few journalists I knew who never dined with the notables. He never mixed business with pleasure, and any potential news source was business. David had done an unusual non-political favor for the Kennedys that Jackie never forgot. David was in Palm Beach on assignment on November 25, 1960, waiting with other reporters for Kennedy to land. Just as his plane arrived, the President learned that Jackie—who was pregnant—had been rushed to Georgetown Hospital.

Kennedy ordered the plane to return to Washington. David stayed in Palm Beach and was in the control tower at West Palm Beach Airport when he received the news from his paper The Herald Tribune that Jackie had given birth. He immediately was on the phone to the President's plane to give him the news. Pierre Salinger was with the President and took the call. After telling the President, he immediately called back to ask David if it was a boy or a girl (it was John Jr.). He called again as JFK wanted to know the color of his hair (brown).

Now, with Jackie in publishing and presumably not as covetous of her privacy, David wanted very much to write her biography or to help her write her autobiography. He mentioned this to me the moment she went to work for Doubleday.

The word around the publishing community was that Jackie would never write an autobiography. When I called her to set up the appointment for David, I only said he wanted to talk about nonfiction book ideas; he was under option to another publisher for his fiction, I added. If I had told her David's precise purpose for the meeting I knew she would turn me down.

She was delighted to be meeting with David, and they did get together shortly thereafter at Jackie’s mother’s home in Georgetown.

They each subsequently reported it had been a good meeting and that they both were trying to come up with a good non-fiction book idea. Nothing was said to me in the days that followed about Jackie’s autobiography. I found out later that, when they met at the house of Mrs. Bouvier, on Volta Place, Jackie began by handing David a gin and tonic, and had one for herself.

David asked her if she would ever think of writing an autobiography. She promptly remarked, “Maybe when I’m 90,” to which David said, “We may neither of us be around then” and that was it for the autobiography. Jackie, David and I did talk twice about a nonfiction idea for David without success.

Finally, Jackie called me with a new thought: “Let’s have some fun, Sterling. Let’s get David going on a novel!”

She had forgotten that he was under option elsewhere for his fiction, and I was not about to remind her. I plunged ahead on the assumption that if we had an acceptable offer from Jackie and Doubleday, I could find a way to make it happen.

“I want to be sure Doubleday can afford David as a novelist,” I told Jackie. While I was impressed by her I was never so awed that I would squander a chance to make a good writer more money. The truth was that David had written two novels that were both very well reviewed but hadn’t sold well. I thought the combination of Jackie and Doubleday might give him a chance to break out. So I quoted a price that was double the advance David had received on his last novel.

A few days later, knowing nothing about the contents of the novel David would write, Jackie came back with a firm offer that wasn’t what I asked, but was still considerably higher than any advance David had previously received for a novel. “But,” Jackie said, “We’ll have to have a title for the novel before I can start the contractual process.”

Up to this point, we’d never discussed the content of the novel-to-be, nor had I kept David informed about my latest conversations with Jackie.

I called David immediately. It was almost noon, and I wanted to get back to Jackie before she left for lunch, since I knew she was not going to be available that afternoon, and I wanted to button this one up as soon as possible. I gave David ten minutes to come up with a title.

David had already been thinking about a story he wanted to write, and a few minutes later he called me back. And that was the beginning of The Samarkand Dimension, a novel about a mythical Russian school that taught intelligence operatives how to read the minds of foreign leaders. (The real Samarkand was part of the Soviet Union and now is the second largest city in Uzbekistan.)

Getting David released from the option-holding publisher was not as easy as I had expected. I knew St. Martin's wouldn’t match the offer I had as his last novel with them had not earned out his advance, but they decided they wouldn’t make a decision until they had seen an outline. Two weeks later I had a very strong 15 page outline from David. They failed to make a counter offer, freeing us to accept Doubleday's offer.

As Jackie and I were working out the details of the contract, Christmas was approaching.

She announced that she would be on the job right through the holidays, but would be gone the first two weeks of January.

When I asked where she was going, and was it business or pleasure, she said: “Oh, I’m going to India. I have two books on Indian art I’m editing and I have to attend to them. And then, of course, my son is in India.” Attaching a personal aspect to a business trip made her sound like almost anyone else in publishing.

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