WASHINGTON — THERE may be a cease-fire coming on Gulf war books this year, but there's still no sign of it on the horizon. The "instant books" which publishers prefer to call them, or "quickies" as the public knows them, continue to appear with tracer-like speed on paperback best-seller lists.
Four of the 11 nonfiction best sellers on the most recent paperback list in The New York Times are books devoted to the Gulf war or related subjects: "From Beirut to Jerusalem" by Thomas L. Friedman (Anchor/Doubleday); "Not Without My Daughter," by Betty Mahmoody with William Hoffer (St. Martin's); "A Peace to End All Peace" by David Fromkin (Avon); and "Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf" by Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie (Times Books/Random House).
Daniel Yergin's oil opus "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power" (Simon & Schuster) hovered close to the top of the Times nonfiction best-seller list for several weeks.
Several major publishing houses say that these profitable instant paperbacks will continue to be published. The war is over, but the books go on. They are real gushers that publishing houses are reluctant to cap.
A spokesman for Random House says it's bringing out "Triumph in the Desert" in May. It's described as a "pictorial," a volume of 150 color photos selected and edited by Ray Cave, who was managing editor of Time, and his wife Pat Ryan, former managing editor of Life and People.
Such instant books "spring up rather quickly," says the spokesman.
Times Books/Random House also has "The Gulf War Reader" compiling some of the best writing on the subject by Anna Quindlen, Edward Said, Ellen Goodman, Walter Cronkite, and others.
Pocket Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) on April 1 published "Desert Warriors: The Men and Women Who Won the Gulf War," by the staff of USA Today. Pocket Books president and publisher Irwyn Applebaum characterized it as a book "that highlights the many unknown acts of heroism by our brave soldiers, both in battle and out...."
Signet has just published "Schwarzkopf: the Man, the Mission, the Triumph," written by Richard Pile, Associated Press senior war correspondent for the Middle East. It's based on interviews with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Some publishing houses are as secretive as the early Desert Storm briefings about their publishing plans.
Leonida Karpik, publications director for Penguin USA says, "They keep it close to the vest, everyone tries to cover themselves so they're not misquoted.... [I believe] the more said the better. We do need heroes, and Schwarzkopf is definitely a hero. In mass marketing we can respond quickly to an event and give people what they want. That's the beauty [of it] we can work much quicker, need less time to get books out."
Ms. Karpik attributes the success of these books to the subject: "It's something positive, a positive war, not like Vietnam...."
One publishing house spokesman who wishes to remain anonymous says, "These are all obviously quickie books that don't have the impact of 'A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Viet Nam' [Neil Sheehan's book about his Vietnam war experience that took nearly 20 years to write, and won the Pulitzer Prize when it was published]."
Karpic says, "There are a whole bunch of instant books, and then there will be a second wave of more serious books."
Among the more serious books already hitting the publishing beaches is "The Commanders," by Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor for investigations at the Washington Post.
Mr. Woodward was halfway through a book on the Pentagon that focused on policies in the brief war in Panama, when the Gulf war broke out. He changed the book, reportedly devoting more than half of it to the Gulf war, including exclusive material on the Pentagon's role in the Gulf. Secrecy has swathed the book.
No one at Simon & Schuster would comment, but the publishing house is reportedly doing a 500,000 first printing of "The Commanders" for sale May 13.
David Gernert, editor-in-chief of Doubleday, says Woodward "saw an opportunity to put a hot spin on [the book] and direct it toward information on the war."
Woodward's book is not the first serious book about the war, asserts Gernert. "The first real book on the Persian Gulf war [was] written by Robert Weiner, CNN's producer in Baghdad.... Weiner was in effect the man who orchestrated the [CNN] coverage, who had a breadth of vision."
Gernert is concerned about the perishability of instant books. "I don't know if publishing interest runs that high today; a number of instant books were conceived and contracted ... weeks ago, and the picture has changed so fast."
Gernert says, "With Vietnam it took a long time to come to terms with what we've been through. That will not be the case with the Gulf war."