Herman Rosenblat is the Holocaust survivor whose Oprah-endorsed story of meeting his wife while in a concentration camp turned out to be fake. When his publisher found out, they demanded their advance back. We've got the documents.
Most of the letters and contracts in the package a tipster forwarded to us (see them all by clicking here) are pretty standard-issue for publishing. But a few things—for anyone who's planning on selling a fake memoir, say—stand out.
Penguin demanded their $30,000 advance back. This seems low, doesn't it, even assuming that he only received two installments of his advance. That assumption is based on copies of the checks that were sent to us—one dated February 14, 2008, for $15,000; and one dated April 18, 2008, again for $15,000. Presumably he would have been paid another $15,000 on publication. Interesting, since a $45,000 advance isn't very much for someone who'd been championed on Oprah. In this section of a letter to Rosenblat sent by his agent's lawyers, they advise him that Penguin is "demanding" the return of the $30,000—but that they're not going to enforce it.
Why's that, you wonder? Well, they're entitled to keep their portion of it. So they don't have a dog in this race. Rosenblat's ghostwriter is entitled to her share, too.
Speaking of the ghostwriter, perhaps you were wondering how much ghostwriters get paid these days? Well, to write fake Holocaust memoirs, they apparently get $17,000. After Rosenblat earned back his advance, the ghostwriter, Susanna Margolis, was entitled to 10 percent of his royalties, up to a cap of $100,000 (which includes the $17,000 advance).
But based on the scans of the checks that were sent to us, Rosenblat probably didn't have much left of the advance to send back to Penguin. Scrawled on the check dated April 18 are the notes: "8500 Susanna, 4,250 Herman, 2,250 Andrea"—Hurst, his agent. So out of the $30,000 advance Rosenblat got, he'd actually only received $8,500.
The other noteworthy money bit in the contract is what Rosenblat would earn if his book made the New York Times bestseller list. These types of bonuses are pretty common; they're often either pegged to the bestseller list or earning out one's advance within a certain amount of time. So, for example, each week that Rosenblat's book made the hardcover list in positions one through five, he'd get $5,000, with diminishing payouts for the rest of the spots. For the paperback, he'd get $10,000 a week if he made it to number one on the list, down to $1,500 for spots 16 through 20.
The whole story was sad and pathetic, but it somehow makes it sadder that a RELATIVELY small amount of money was at stake here. For a book that was supposed to be a nearly 80-year-old man's life's work, he was getting just enough money that maybe he could play a few extra rounds of shuffleboard down in Miami Beach during the winter and put something away for the grandkids. But he sold his soul, and tarnished his reputation, his publisher's and his agent's, for what in the publishing world amounts to bubkis.
[Photo of Herman and his wife before everyone found out he was a fraud, via AP.]