Who Could Cash in From Michael Jackson's Death?

Family and friends of the late pop star could make money if offered a book deal.

June 29, 2009, 5:14 PM

July 1, 2009— -- Fans of Michael Jackson spent the weekend playing his greatest hits, but they might soon be turning the pages of new tell-all books about his personal life.

Publishers, agents and authors are in a race to profit off Jackson's life and untimely death. While there will be plenty of biographies, expect the big splash to come from some kind of explosive tell-all book.

"The question is what is there to say that we don't know," said Peter Osnos, founder and editor at large of publishing company PublicAffairs. "The role of Jackson as a musical figure is what people are -- for the moment -- most moved by rather than the details of his private life.

"Is there anybody that really, truly can write from the inside about his life in the last couple of years? That would certainly be a story," added Osnos, who has published or edited authors, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, columnist Molly Ivins, former U.S. Rep. Tip O'Neill, Nancy Reagan and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Osnos said that looking at the slew of books published after the early deaths of both Elvis Presley and John Lennon, he expects a large number for Jackson.

"I think everybody has been surprised at the breadth and depth of the reaction to Jackson's death," he said. "It turned out to be more of an event than anybody would have imagined."

So, who would be the author of that hit tell-all book?

After working for 17 years for Jackson, most recently as a nanny to his three children, Grace Rwaramba is now speaking out about Jackson's long battle with prescription drugs.

"There's no doubt in my mind: The book to get is that of Grace Rwaramba," said Diane Dimond, a reporter who first broke the allegations of child molestation against Jackson in 1993. "All the others are liars. I don't mean to sound harsh, but you can't trust a thing the Jackson family says."

Dimond, who wrote the book "Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case," estimated that Rwaramba might be paid "in the millions, or a million at least," for a tell-all book.

"Are we talking Dick Cheney money, probably not?" she said. "But we're talking big money."

Other Tell-All Michael Jackson Books

Dimond was skeptical about the prospects for other books.

"I would say the only book that could command any money would be Grace's," she said. "A choreographer, a songwriter -- who cares what they think? That's not of interest. The interest is what type of life did he lead? What led to his decline?"

If past tell-all books are any indicator, Rwaramba, or anybody else with a good story, could stand to profit handsomely.

Don't expect the $12 million that Bill Clinton got in 2001 for his presidential memoirs, the $8.5 million paid for Pope John Paul II's memoirs or the $8.1 million Hillary Rodham Clinton got for her book.

But plenty of people who have witnessed celebrities and their lives have sold -- or tried to sell -- their stories.

Madonna's former nanny Melissa Dumas was offered a tell-all book deal worth a reported $5 million in 2007, but the deal was later cancelled. Paul Burrell, former butler to the late Princess Diana, wrote about his former employer and was paid about $500,000 by The Daily Mail for new details of her life.

Diane Nine, president of Nine Speakers, a literary, speaking and film agency, said that book deals would depend on somebody's "relationship with Michael Jackson personally, and what they are willing to say."

"If somebody had a personal relationship and is willing to talk about things that nobody knows … there could be some good money in that," Nine said, adding that the payday could be from the low six figures to seven figures. "I think that if the nanny got a writer and was actually willing to do a tell-all, there could be a seven-figure advance in that."

It is hard to say where in the, say, $500,000 to $5 million range Rwaramba would fall. But any unseen photos or videos would certainly sweeten the payday.

Others might also try to profit off their stories.

"The tell-all book would, in hardcover, go right to the top of the best-seller list, because it would be promoting the scandal," said Richard Pine, an agent with InkWell Management, whose authors include James Patterson, Susan Orlean and Arianna Huffington.

Pine said such a tell-all book would have a hot week or two and almost no life as a paperback.

The real money, he said, would be to have a serious biographer tell the story of the pop legend. It wouldn't rocket to the top of the best-seller list, he said, but, "It would be enormous because it would be a combination of a top biographer who has the credibility of telling a good, fun story with the great subject matter."

He suggested that authors like Kitty Kelley or Tina Brown would be able to run away with a hot summer hit if they chose to write about Jackson.

In the immediate future, though, the big money is to be made by the republication of old books.

J. Randy Taraborrelli, who first published "Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness" in May 1991, just got a bump when his publisher, Macmillan, decided to reprint 85,000 copies of his book.

"He's probably working feverishly on a new forward and perhaps an epilogue to get that book out in a new edition as quickly as possible," Pine said. "I think publishers are going to be combing through their libraries to see what Michael Jackson books they have and see if it's going to make good economic sense to get them to republish."

Fans, So Far, Want Music and Not Books

Taraborrelli's book has sold out in the United Kingdom. But, up until now, fans have not really been rushing to their bookstores. The push has been for Jackson's music, which has topped the sales charts at both iTunes and Amazon.com.

"There hasn't been a rush on books about Jackson, the way there has been with his memorabilia," said Rachel Deahl, news editor at Publishers Weekly. "You have to wonder what people want. ... It seems like a lot of people are celebrating his life through his music."

It will take a couple of weeks to see what kind of market a tell-all about Jackson would look like, she said.

"The tricky thing is getting stuff out in a timely manner," she said. "If someone signs a book up now, but it doesn't come out until 2010, it is going to be harder to capitalize off of the interest in his death."

It would be more difficult for a family member to publish a book quickly than an outside writer or music journalist, Deahl said.

Much of the immediate interest in Jackson's life -- and death -- revolves around the unusual circumstances in which he died. Questions surrounding the details of Jackson's death or a custody battle over his kids could either be answered in the next few weeks or take months to resolve. A long battle might lead to some new discoveries.

"The things that really draw money are books that sort of promise to reveal something that hasn't been revealed anywhere else," Deahl said. "With any biography or unauthorized biography, it's all about having new information."

But the details of Jackson's life, from his record-breaking music sales to the sexual abuse charges against him, are already very public.

"He's unlike a lot of other celebrities," Deahl said. "He's been covered exhaustively by the tabloids. As bizarre as he was, so much of that has already been exposed."

Deahl said she did not know how much a book deal with a family member could be worth, but added that a tell-all about the pop star could go either way.

In the end, the biggest winner might be Ian Halperin, who has spent five years on a book now called "The Final Years of Michael Jackson." The book is being rushed into production and has already grabbed a lot of media interest.

Ian Halperin Ahead of the Pack

In January, Halperin told celebrity magazine In Touch that Jackson was deathly ill and had less than six months to live.

Noah Levy, senior editor at In Touch, edited the story and called Halperin "an amazing investigative reporter" who has "really immersed himself in Michael Jackson's world.

"It takes a lot of dedication, celebrities are very private and they have many reasons to be so," Levy said, adding that books can only tell a great story if an author commits time to do the research.

"We're not talking about a month here," Levy said. "We're talking about a couple of years. So you really have to give up your life to immerse your life in someone else's."

Given Jackson's history of secrecy, any author who can really get new information out would likely have a hit, he said.

"I don't think I've ever really heard of anyone who is so private and have more controversy than I think anyone else and to keep a lid on it," Levy said.

"Everybody's been talking about Michael Jackson for over 20 years. I think what people are going to be fascinated by -- especially by this book -- is the things that people haven't been talking about," he said. "There's so many things that people just don't know and all the secrets are going to be uncovered."

With reports from ABC News' Nathalie Tadena.