Written Off

The inside story of LeAnn Rimes’s $2 million book deal that wasn’t.

If LeAnn Rimes were going to sing a song about her recent foray into book publishing, it would have to be “Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used to Do).” Only last fall, the fifteen-year-old country star was the darling of the literary world, the recipient of a $1 million contract from Doubleday Books for her first novel, Holiday in Your Heart , which was co-written by Nashville scribe Tom Carter . Expectations for Holiday’s sales were so high that before it was even in stores, Doubleday dangled a deal for two more books at $1 million apiece. So why, a scant four months later, did the New York publisher show the Garland resident the door?

The answer has less to do with Rimes than with the vagaries of today’s book business. Or at least that’s the way the story is being spun by Rimes’s literary agent, Al Lowman . As Lowman tells it, Doubleday made its offer on the follow-up books in writing last September, a month before Holiday’s publication date, and it was accepted. Then he and his co-agent on the deal, Creative Artists Agency , and Rimes’s manager, Lyle Walker , marked up the long-form contract with various changes—“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Lowman insists. By the time those changes were sent over to Doubleday, it was November, Holiday’s “performance period,” when it was clear how well it would sell (according to various reports, sales ranged anywhere from 85,000 to 150,000). Suddenly, Lowman couldn’t get anyone to return his calls. The reason, he explains, was that “Doubleday was having a bad year . . . and was trying to cut their losses. They were acting out of fear.” Having banked too heavily on the book being a New York Times best-seller, he believes, they grew wary of doing future business with Rimes. And, indeed, on January 6, Lowman received a memo from Pat Mulcahy , Doubleday’s editor in chief, stating that the changes constituted a rejection of the original offer; the deal was off. “I went ballistic,” says Lowman, who criticizes a “short-term bottom-line mindset.”

“We would dispute those facts,” growls Stuart Applebaum , Doubleday’s spokesperson. While it’s true that a written offer was tendered to Rimes last September, “she never signed a contract,” he says, “and if Mr. Lowman thinks otherwise, he’s wishin’ and hopin’ and not dealin’ in reality.” The deal was never consummated, Applebaum contends, because the Rimes team “had serious disagreements with some of the terms we offered,” not because of any disappointment over Holiday’s sales, which he characterizes as “modest.” As for published reports suggesting that Doubleday’s print run was the real problem, he retorts, “When a book is a success, you can never print enough copies, and when a book is not successful, you always wish there were fewer copies. All hindsight is irrelevant. At this point, all parties are agreeable to resolving our differences—if not amicably, then civilly. Hopefully Miss Rimes will find a worthy publisher for her efforts.”

Indeed, Lowman says that in the last week of March, he shook hands on a settlement agreement with Doubleday; how big a settlement he won’t reveal beyond saying, “I’m an expensive agent.” And what about Rimes’s future as an author? Are other publishers interested in signing her up? “You bet,” Lowman says. “The tribal drums are beating.”

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