|MICHAEL BESSIE: So now, as Cornelia
said, she takes the manuscript back to New York, and I take it to London, where the person
BESSIE: Lets do some of the in-between.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Yes; do.
CORNELIA BESSIE: Well, whats
interesting is what happened in Russia, then the Soviet Union. Our cover was the Moscow
Book Fair, which meant there were a lot of foreign publishers there -- German, English,
French -- and as our negotiation went on, the book fair ended and people started to leave.
We suddenly realized that the apparatchiks who were going with us for one reason or
another, had put all their eggs in one basket, and we had not yet said yes. That they
were, in a sense, committed to us because they had said, This is our choice.
If we had said no, it could be very difficult for their careers. There were a lot of
things going on at the same time.2 There was a day when we were told, The manuscript has left
the place where he is vacationing.
KM (laughing): It sounds like a code!
MICHAEL BESSIE: The whole thing was
like Le Carré.
CORNELIA BESSIE: It was Le
Carré. Gorbachev had a code name: The Man, as in, The Man has finished
the manuscript -- that sort of thing. And so, we were told, The Man has
finished it, it is in a plane on its way to Moscow. We will put it in translation; you
will have it in five days. Where will you be in five days?
We said, Er, um, in Leningrad. I wanted to see
The Hermitage. They said, You will get it in Leningrad in five days. Now, we
had thought that the time would come when we would get the manuscript, sitting cheerfully
in our office in New York, so that if we said no, we would be there. We had not
thought this would happen. There were these good scenarios we told ourselves -- Taxi
accident on the Nevsky Prospekt. (Laughing) Anyhow, we got the manuscript; the
manuscript came in two copies. We read it; we decided it was certainly good enough to
publish; and the contract got signed. And then came the phone call that said: Do you
have any editorial suggestions? Which we never thought would happen. We had one day
before the plane left. So we did something weve never done with any other book: we
divided it in half, and we each edited half, and sent him those suggestions. We never
thought the day would come when he would say, Do you have any comment? We were
unprepared for that.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Neophyte author.
CB (chuckling): Yes.
MICHAEL BESSIE: To finish with the
Murdochian point: the head for Murdoch of HarperCollins was Ian Chapman, in London, and he
happened to be in London then. I took the manuscript there because it was Sunday, and Ian
and a couple of other of the people who ran things were excited about it. The big thing in
London publishing for a book like that is to sell serial rights, because thats big
money; and so, we had to decide by Monday morning what we were going to do about serials.
Rupert Murdoch owned the London Times. There were four big Sunday newspapers; Ian
had decided we should show it first to the Sunday Times. He had also decided,
knowing his way around those things, that we were going to ask £200,000,
which was a lot of money. So he told the editor of The Times on Monday morning,
Weve got this very exciting manuscript: we want to give it to you on first
offer, not simultaneously with the other papers. So the guy comes over and spends
the day at the office. He read it and was sufficiently impressed to say, as he went back
to his office, Ive got to call Rupert. (Chuckling in the background.)
And Ian said to him, I remind you: you love an exclusive, and were asking £200,000. So the guy goes back, and a little while later, calls
Ian, and says, I am authorized to offer you £75,000.
Ian says, Uh-uh. Well, Rupert thinks youre all out of your minds.
A book by Gorbachev cant possibly be worth any more than that, and Im not
authorized to go beyond £75,000. We say, Well, that
means that, tomorrow morning, well offer it to the other three Sunday
newspapers. Which we did. And got three offers, of which the highest was £175,000, and thats what it was sold for.
2 Gorbachev had
retired to his dacha, apparently to work on the manuscript; rumors circulated
through the capital that he was ill or had been deposed. Mikhail Gorbachev, PERESTROIKA (A
Cornelia and Michael Bessie Book, Harper & Row, Nov. 7, 1987)