Publisher's Letter

UPDATED 05/15/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/15/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

Arranging a book excerpt for publication in the pages of PEOPLE is a little like arms-control negotiations—a delicate task requiring diplomacy, hard-headedness, stamina and meticulous attention to detail. Fortunately, the PEOPLE staffers who pull off this task four to six times a year possess all those qualities, along with the ability to keep a secret.

That's important in the high-stakes business of buying first North American serial rights, which often entails as much behind-the-scenes intrigue as a John Le Carré novel. "Many deals involve clandestine meetings and conference calls," says associate editor Andrea Chambers, who has been the guiding force behind every book excerpt published in PEOPLE—from Rosalynn Carter's memoirs to Elizabeth Taylor's diet book—since the feature was introduced in 1980.

There's a reason for the cloak-and-dagger dramatics: The excerpts Chambers stalks for PEOPLE, like the two-part Andy Warhol diaries that conclude in this week's issue (page 106), often contain explosive revelations. Their contents, needless to say, aren't intended to be divulged prematurely. "I have to sign a 'nondisclosure' agreement just to see the book," Chambers says. "I'm invited into the office of the agent or publisher, given a manuscript and a cup of coffee and asked not to take notes."

While reading the 807-page Warhol diaries, Chambers spent three days in the offices of Warner Books. She then asked PEOPLE managing editor James R. Gaines to come over and look at some passages, and he approved the project on the spot. The diaries, he says, "seemed like a wonderful summary of the years PEOPLE has been publishing."

With that, the work was just beginning. It took six months to hammer out a contract satisfactory to all sides—not an unusually long time, explains Chambers, who handles most of the wrangling. "Everyone wants as much control over the project as possible," she explains. "Often it's a game of high-stakes poker: One side threatens to break the deal, and the other has to decide whether the threat is serious."

When the Warhol rights were finally obtained, Chambers began cutting the mammoth manuscript down to magazine length, while photo researcher Mary Fanette launched an all-out search for pictures that would capture the spirit of the book. Fanette sifted through some 2,000 photographs before she was done. "I marveled at the access photographers had to these celebrities in the days of Studio 54," she says. "The stars now are so protective of their images, and pictures are all posed. But to Warhol and his friends, the photographers were part of the party."

Finally it fell to senior editor Mark Donovan to make the final cuts. He winnowed 500 photos down to 49 and trimmed a 25,000-word excerpt to 14,000—without any rewriting. "You can't change someone's book," he says.

Chambers, meanwhile, was off to other secret reading sessions and happily anticipating new contract battles. "I love the deal-making," says Chambers, who is also looking forward to the great autobiographies yet to be written. "Brando, Garbo or Jackie O," she says. "If any of them told their own story, that would be a book I'd kill for."

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