SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry had a great start: a publishing contract and a $7,000 advance from Zebra Books. Maybe all those people in that writing class were right when they told me I would make a lot of money with this book. And why not? After all, SKINFLICKS chronicled a revolution in the porn movie business in which yuppies replaced gangsters, porn queens became corporations, porn became suburbanized, and the U.S Government declared a massive “War on Porn” that threatened even R-rated movies with prosecution. I was qualified to describe this revolution because I helped lead it. After learning the business as a filmmaker for “the biggest Mafia porn outfit on the West Coast (FBI quote),” I launched Superior Video, Inc. and pioneered the first full-length X-rated movies shot entirely on videotape. My story entwined with that of the porn video industry. As the documentary filmmaker Alberto Cavalcante wrote, “To make a film about the post office, make a film about a letter.” In SKINFLICKS, I became the letter.
When I entered the porn business, I began an audio cassette journal with the goal of someday writing about my experiences. By the time I sold the rights to Superior Video’s movies, after 12 years in the industry, my audio journal had reached 347 cassettes. I put my money into high-interest investments that would support me while I wrote.
After I sent out book proposals to those who had responded to my query letters, things happened fast. Within a couple of months, I had an agent who almost immediately landed the book contract. I bought a Mac Quadra (1993 version) and happily plunged into stories of fast-track superstars, porno stage mothers, porn-addicted vice cops, burnt-out studs, obsessed fans, pompous porn barons and other denizens of this twilight world.
With experiences from over a hundred porn shoots, I wanted to answer the most frequent question asked about porn: What are these performers really like? My answers came from casting them, bargaining with them and directing them. In describing the sex action, I tried to avoid wallowing in graphic details, some of which—of course—were unavoidable. Above all, I reminded myself that SKINFLICKS was not a pornographic book; it was a book about pornography. I thought I did a good job of making the distinction. So did the editor at Zebra Books, who examined every word. She agreed that the book would be fun to read.
When the galleys (review copies) came out, one went to Paul Fishbein, publisher of Adult Video News, the “bible of the porn video business.” Fishbein called SKINFLICKS “…the best and most realistic depiction of the modern world of pornography written in book form to date…” (This was before the Internet created a whole new “modern world.”) Adult superstar Nina Hartley also read the manuscript and made suggestions.
Just as I was anticipating book tours, readings, book signings and maybe even an appearance on Oprah, the publisher dropped the book. Why? The reason—I learned—was a storm of bad publicity following the publication of Madonna’s book, Sex. Publishers were afraid of anything even suggestive of pornography. Was this true? I didn’t know for sure. But my agent, who had so quickly found Zebra Books, spent many months trying again to sell SKINFLICKS with no success.
About this time I began having a series of medical issues. Without going into detail, let me just say that at one point I couldn’t coordinate my hands enough to make a sandwich. I couldn’t finish sentences. I was talking about the President and forgot his name. (I’d like to forget Bush again.) During these travails, I put the promotion of SKINFLICKS on hold. Then came an offer from a brand new company called 1st Books Library. 1st Books was pioneering a new technology called POD—print on demand. Books would be printed in response to orders, without the mass printings that risked the possibility of remainders. 1st Books was hungry to sign authors and was offering deals. For much lower up-front charges than other vanity presses, 1st Books would manufacture, advertise and distribute SKINFLICKS, paying me a royalty that was roughly half the wholesale price of each printed book.
With SKINFLICKS in 1st Books’ able hands, I turned my attention to more basic needs, such as making a living and negotiating America’s so-called “health care” system. Royalty checks from 1st Books came in quarterly dribbles: $40 here, $75 there, just enough to remind me that—yes—I had a book in publication. I hadn’t the energy, money or desire to pursue the hassles of promoting it. Medical costs, a business failure and investments gone sour proceeded to decimate my savings. Fortunately, Social Security kicked in before my landlord could kick me out. Something else began kicking in—and kicking hard. 1st Books Library had become Authorhouse and had built an aggressive sales staff. Authorhouse reps began peppering me with calls: Dave, we can promote your book at such-and-such where thousands of potential readers will see SKINFLICKS! Sign up now for our special! You’ll save hundreds off our regular rates! Sure. Save hundreds, while spending thousands. Oh, to be rich enough to afford the indulgences of authorship!
Authorhouse made one offer I couldn’t refuse. For a couple hundred dollars the company would post SKINFLICKS on the new eBook websites being offered by Amazon, Apple and other Internet companies. But when the dates arrived for SKINFLICKS to appear on these sites, the book wasn’t there. I called Authorhouse to complain, and my “account rep” blithely told me that the company had received so many requests for this service that they had cut it off—without notice to their paying clients. After my angry calls bounced around in their phone maze, I finally found someone who could “authorize” my refund. I was relieved when Authorhouse replaced their sales calls with sales emails.
As vestiges of mental acuity returned, along with attendant energies, I decided to have one last go at doing something with SKINFLICKS. Friends had told me it was too good a book to neglect (frequent comment: “well-written”). I replaced my trusty but obsolete Mac Quadra with a new Dell and took to that PC like a duck takes to an oil slick. New technology and old brain: bad combo. A local college kid set up a website through a URL provider with the jazzy name of Go Daddy. Www.skinflicksbook.com attracted little notice outside of spammers offering “SEO optimization.” (Some day I’ll learn how to work that website. In the meantime, there is a detailed description of the book, plus sample chapters on that website, accessible through Google search. But Kindle orders still need to be made through the Amazon Kindle site. Bear with me, I’m learning)
Through a referral, I lucked into a wonderful eBook expert named Barb Elliott, who patiently walked me through putting SKINFLICKS on Kindle. (I highly recommend the services of ebooksbybarb.biz.) So, now I’m learning how to use Twitter and later (I hope), Facebook. And then…? I tend to move with all the speed of those turtles in the Comcast Xfinity commercials. Like the narrator says, “Fast isn’t for everyone.” But I’m working on it.