Wading through the sea of Print-on-Demand titles, one overpriced paperback at a time--and giving you the buried treasure.
Friday, March 25, 2005
RATED F, by Todd C. Noker (iUniverse)
When you think about how difficult it is to hit an agent on the right day and an editor at the right moment in order to get a book deal, the odds of some books ever finding traditional print are near zero. Consider the book FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk. Excellent book--but seriously, what were the odds?
Such might have been the fate for RATED F by Todd C. Noker (whose book, by the way, distinctly resembles the style of the aforementioned Palahniuk.) Compelling writing, but I can't imagine how he might have explained the story in a brief query.
Consider the first sentence:
"What you're gonna do," he says, leaning over the counter, shoving the barrel of the gun under my chin, "is put my clothes on."
Before I read anymore, I made sure I had a place to sit.
RATED F is (as simply as I can state it) about the place/struggle of media censorship. The protagonist develops a rather clever (though challening) idea: edit R-rated moves down so they can be viewed by a general audience. As the story progresses, his talent for editing provokes more invasive and creative requirements (like the guy who dumps his home movies on the counter and requests that his wife be removed from the tapes) that ultimately makes things spiral out of control.
The novel is brief (again, like FIGHT CLUB) at a mere 165 pages, but it's tightly packed full of humor and sarcastic wit. As the book moves forward, the action becomes more absurd and some of the characters that make an appearance will surprise you--but don't let that scare you off. ANIMAL FARM is quite engrossing, though I've yet to see a pig speak, eh?
It is overall, I suppose, a primer on censorship. But whether you care about it or not, you will love this book. It'll keep you laughing and the pages with turn themselves. The book is quite like another POD book I mentioned in my very first post: LORD VISHNU'S LOVE HANDLES by Will Clarke--and that one is being re-released in hardcover by Simon & Schuster this summer. Who knows--maybe the stars will align that magical way more than once.
RATED F is clever, witty and engrossing. Pick it up; there's that huge gap between the NCAA tourney and May Sweeps.
A few folks have suggested that I review some bad POD titles as well, to use my caustic tongue to make the point that people need to edit their work and so on.
Here's why I don't: Frankly, I wouldn't know where to begin; there are so many titles to choose from. But mostly, there is no value in it, other than a good laugh at some poor writer's expense. And I'm not about that. It is easy to stand under the apple tree, reach to the ground and pick up a mushy mess and say, "Look--a rotten apple." Greater is the pursuit (and success) of finding the gleaming red fruit shining high up in the tree, finding a way to climb the branches and bringing the perfect, sweet apple back to the ground to share with those around you.
Oh, man--did I just write that? _______________________
Here's an advantage to buying the occasional POD. For every POD title I have in my library (only those I enjoyed), I keep them in mint condition. Because you never know. I have the original POD paperbacks for LORD VISHNU'S LOVE HANDLES, LEGALLY BLONDE and a host of others. What I'm getting at is this: I have a mint copy of Grisham's A TIME TO KILL when it was released by Wynwood Press before he had sold 2500 copies (and way before THE FIRM was ever released.) I was offered $2700 for it last month.
And if my book stays in the midlist you may see it on eBay.
But there is nothing better than having the original of a book that someday breaks out--and in POD, the odds of anyone selling more than a few hundred copies is slight, so you would probably own 1% of all the original paperbacks.
I've been getting a great deal of email lately (with greatly varying topics.) But two questions are coming up repeatedly, so I figured I would answer them here so everyone would be in the know:
(1) How? How do I find POD books, especially since we all know they aren't available in bookstores? Well, it hasn't been easy. This all started when my favorite used bookstore bought a box of POD titles by mistake and put them out on the sidewalk by the sale items. My friends and I noticed how all of the books in the box had horrible covers. I asked the sales rep if they had some common thread, like worst books they could find in the store. He said no, but that if I spent $25 on other books, I could take the entire box with me at no charge.
So I spent $24 on five books and walked out with 116.
Lately, I have been surprised at how many POD titles I see in used bookstores. Not overwhelming, mind you--but they are there. Let's say you have a POD with the topic of the Civil War. A used bookstore owner may flip through it and if it seems decent, he'll buy it (probably for, like, a quarter) and stick it in the War section. So--good exposure for the author, but no revenue. This is what makes used bookstores so great (for customers, that is; it's a drag for authors.)
Anyway . . . my friends and I grabbed a couple bottles of Pino Grigio and went to town on that box of books. I'm not sure what brought more giggles, the wine or the subject matter. In any case, we were breathless with laughter by the second bottle.
Since then, I have been tipped off to PODs--both good and bad--by friends, reading groups, the Internet and so forth. And I have two books stores that hold them aside for me if they ever come in (used, that is.) And on very rare occasions, I have seen some in book stores. How they got there I will never know.
(2) Why? Why bother? Why spend countless hours skimming through the skimmings? Let me answer with a story:
My uncle was a successful insurance exec. He made six figures back when six figures was more like seven figures. He could've had pretty much anything he wanted. He never had to buy a used car, never settled for the smaller house, never questioned how his kids would get through college. All that considered, you know how he and his wife spent every Saturday afternoon?
Auctions. Skanky, trash-filled, avocado-colored appliance-laden auctions. He spent countless hours in un-air conditioned, smelly auction halls. Waiting. Waiting for some buried treasure that only a trained eye could detect--that, in fact, the bowl being held up by the auctioneer was not a beat-up mixing bowl but an artifact deemed one of the earliest pieces ever created by the Wedgwood folks. He got it for $2.50; to this day it sits in his china cabinet and at last appraisal it was worth $2730.00.
Back to me: When Michiko Kakutani says a book is good (or more likely, bad) I expect it to be so, and, frankly, I'll be rightly annoyed if it is not. I've made an investment now--based not only on what Kakutani says, but the fact that Random House also thinks it's good, as well as the author's editor and agent, and the imprint's committee and marketing folks, and the publicists and editor of the magazine who chose to serialize it
It better be damn good.
With POD? I expect nothing. And, in fact, I get nothing the far majority of the time. But every now and then I stumble across a winner, a book so compelling and well-written that I feel the need to immediately call my friends and share. And the fruit, my friends, is that much sweeter.
Random House and Writer's House do not need my approving words. But the guy who labored for six years on his novel and never found an agent (but should have) and never landed a book deal (but should have) and paid several hundred dollars so he could sell only a few hundred copies of his work? Yeah, that's why I'm here.
Joe Kozenczak, who was the Chief of Detectives of the Des Plaines, Illinois Police Department, managed the investigation of the disappearance of a guy named Robert Piest back in 1978, a case which led detectives down a grisly path—and resulted in the arrest and conviction of psycho-serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Now granted, Gacy has not been the rage in some time. Even among true crime buffs, he may have been pushed aside for the Dahmers, the Bernardos/Homolkas and the DC Snipers.
But what makes THE CHICAGO KILLER worth a read (and the $21.99 outlay for paperback) is the “from the street” account that you rarely get from a reporter who compiled a book from extensive research (not to discount them, by the way; there are plenty of good ones.)
KILLER is partly narrative and certainly well-edited—and an intriguing page-turner to boot. Proof: I picked it up in used book store and read a good 15 pages before throwing it in my basket to purchase. For lovers of true crime, this will make an excellent addition to your library, and perhaps bring a slightly different perspective to the Gacy murders.
Well, the biggest question I am getting these days is "do you know of any books that were published as POD titles, but were later sold to a traditional publisher?"
Answer: a few.
There are many books that have "crossed over" to New York--certainly more than I can remember. I've heard things here are there over the years, but I cannot remember them all.
I did, however, put together a quick list of 20 titles that I know made the jump, including some I've mentioned on this blog before. But, for ease of reading/finding, I added them to this list as well. If anyone knows of any others, please let me know and I will keep a running tab here. In the mean time, I'll see if I can find more titles worth getting that golden publishing contract and bring you the reviews.
Note: these are POD titles that crossed over (not simply self-published.)
LEARNING TO FALL, by Philip Simmons: Published through Xlibris, sold to Bantam
DADA: A GUY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING PREGNANCY, CHILDBIRTH AND THE FIRST YEAR OF FATHERHOOD, By Michael Crider: Publisher through iUniverse, sold to Da Capo
LIFE LESSONS FOR MY BLACK GIRLS and SPIRITUAL LESSON FOR MY BLACK GIRLS, by Natasha Munson: Published through iUniverse, sold to Hyperion
PIPSQUEAK, by Brian Wiprud: Published through iUniverse, sold to Dell. Subsequent novels also to Dell.
CAPITAL OFFENSE, by Kathleen Antrim: Published through Authorhouse, sold to Simon & Schuster
IN FOR A PENNY, by Kathryn Wall: Published through iUniverse, sold to Coastal Villages Press, then subsequent novels in series sold to St. Martins
THUNDERLAND, by Brandon Massey: Published through iUniverse, sold to Kensington (Dafina)
LORD VISHNU’S LOVE HANDLES, by Will Clarke: Published through Authorhouse, sold to Simon & Schuster
THE ANGER HABIT (and related titles), by Carl Semmelroth: Published through iUniverse, sold to Sourcebooks
LEGALLY BLONDE, by Amanda Brown: Published through Authorhouse, sold to Dutton
THE IDIOT GIRLS’ ACTION ADVENTURE CLUB, by Laurie Notaro: Published through iUniverse, sold to Random House
MUSIC BUSINESS MADE SIMPLE, by J. Scott Rudsenske: Published through iUniverse, sold to Schirmer Trade
RUBY ANN’S DOWN HOME TRAILER PARK COOKBOOK, Ruby Ann Boxcar: Published through iUniverse, sold to Kensington (Citadel)
MEDIC!: THE STORY OF A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR IN THE VIETNAM WAR, by Ben Sherman, published through iUniverse, sold to Random House (Presidio)
THE MARRIAGE PLAN: HOW TO MARRY YOUR SOUL MATE IN ONE YEAR, by Aggie Jordan: Published through Xlibris, sold to Random House (Broadway)
PUSH NOT THE RIVER, by James Conroyd Martin: Published by Xlibris, sold to St. Martins (Thomas Dunne)
THE BUTCHER OF BEVERLY HILLS (and two other titles), by Jennifer Colt: Published through iUniverse, sold to Random House (Broadway)
THE TUCKER MAX STORIES, by Tucker Max: Published through Lulu, sold to Kensington
THE TIES THAT BIND (and two other titles), by Electa Rome Parks: Published through Xlibris, sold to Penguin Putnam (NAL)
ILLEGAL AFFAIRS, by Sheila Harvey: Published by iUniverse, sold to Kensington
I am an author and instructor, in that order (for now.) My debut novel (which debuted in the midlist) was released by Penguin Putnam in 2004 and my second novel was released early 2006.
As for this blog, it has been profiled in many online magazines, blogs and news stories, including the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, the LA Times and Publishers Lunch.
To answer the deluge of questions I have been receiving from publicists: I'll review pretty much anything that is good--but it better be good, or I'll never look at another one of your books again. Then I'll hunt you down. Fiction preferred (no fantasy or young adult, go easy on the science fiction.) Non-fiction should be memoir, humor, self-help. Definite no-nos: cookbooks, textbooks, porn, books without verbs. And it must be POD (no small presses.) Otherwise, email with pitch first.