Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The How and Why of Me

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.