From Porn Pioneer to POD Pioneer: When Authorhouse was Just a Baby

 After months of frustration trying to find a new publisher after Zebra Books dropped SKINFLICKS, I heard about a brand new company called 1st Books Library.  1st Books was pioneering a new technology called POD—print on demand.  Books would be manufactured 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   Royalty checks from 1st Books came in quarterly dribbles,  just enough to remind me that—yes—I had a book in publication.  I put all my time into pursuing more potentially lucrative ventures, some successful, some not.  Book royalties afforded me quarterly haute cuisine treats tastier than  Burger King (literally “gravy money”).

Then 1st Books Library became Authorhouse and  built an aggressive sales staff.  Authorhouse reps began peppering me with calls: Dave, we can promote your book 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 gave up on calling me and began sending emails instead.

Next: “Kindling” for Fun and Profit

 

“You’re Going to Make a Lot of Money with This Book” Yeah, right…

People who read early drafts of SKINFLICKS told me I was going to make a lot of money with the book. And at first it looked like they were right.

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 this was the start of something big.  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 first 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.  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.

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…”  (Later, 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 in the wake of Madonna’s book, Sex.  Publishers were afraid of anything remotely suggestive of pornography.  My agent, who had so quickly landed the Zebra Books contract, spent many months trying again to sell SKINFLICKS with no success.

At least I got to keep the advance.

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