Random House Pays North of $1 Million For Oren’s Book on Israel, But Ambassadorship Means They Have to Wait

The historian Michael Oren didn’t know he would soon become Israel’s new ambassador to the United States when he and

The historian Michael Oren didn’t know he would soon become Israel’s new ambassador to the United States when he and his literary agent at ICM, Jennifer Joel, started working on the proposal for his new book earlier this year. The book, according to editors who saw the proposal when Ms. Joel sent it out in early April, would tell the story of Israel’s founding. The project drew a lot of interest, thanks in part to Mr. Oren’s publishing track record—two of his previous books, 2002’s Six Days of War and Power and 2007’s Power, Faith and Fantasy, were big best sellers—and to the fact that he is a prominent commentator on the Middle East with backing from the Jerusalem-based neoconservative think tank the Shalem Center, where he is a senior fellow.

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According to publishing sources, the timetable for Mr. Oren’s book originally set his delivery date for 2013, giving him four years to do his research and writing. His appointment to the Israeli ambassadorship, which was reportedly finalized in the first days of May, means the project will take a lot longer.

On April 21, days after the historian and his agent met with editors, the Israeli newspaper Maariv reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering him the front-runner for the ambassadorship. Stateside, the news was picked up by The New Republic, where Mr. Oren is a contributing editor, as well as the Politico, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere.

“When we started working on the book and started the process of talking to publishers, no one was talking about it yet,” Ms. Joel said on Monday. “Mid-process, people started talking about it. We were of course completely transparent about the whole process.”

A relatively drawn-out auction for the book came down to Ann Godoff at The Penguin Press and Tim Bartlett at the flagship imprint of Random House, and concluded at the end of April with Mr. Bartlett prevailing with a bid just north of $1 million.

“By the time we were concluding negotiations, there was a possibility that he would be going to work for the government,” Ms. Joel said. “It wasn’t until after the deal was finished that that appointment became a reality.”

Ms. Joel said the contract with Random House has already been signed, but that Mr. Oren would not begin working on the book until after his diplomatic service was over.

Carol Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Random House publishing group, confirmed that Random is going ahead with the book.

When might they expect a manuscript? According to this list on Wikipedia, no ambassador appointed after 1979 has stayed in the post longer than about four years. Israel’s previous ambassador to Washington, Sallai Meridor, held the position for three years; his predecessor, Daniel Ayalon, held it for four.

Random House Pays North of $1 Million For Oren’s Book on Israel, But Ambassadorship Means They Have to Wait