Fri 3 Aug 2007
To answer your questions:
I wrote the book because in the 70′s, I was a big Raymond Chandler fan and also an habitué of the nascent Punk Rock scene (although we referred to it at the time as “New Wave”) in the Lower East Side of NYC. I used to hang out at CBGB’s in the early days to hear yet-to-be-signed bands like Television, The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie, and many other less famous ones. I simply decided to create a kind of fat, bald, failed Marlowe and drop him into the craziness of that scene.
One band I went to see a lot was The Mumps, whose lead singer was Lance Loud of An American Family fame. I got to know his minor-celebrity mother, Pat Loud, who at the time worked at a literary agency. I mentioned to her that I’d written about 40 pages of a trashy detective novel set in the New Wave scene and she said, to my genuine surprise, to send it to her at the agency. She read it and told me that if I finished it, her agency would represent me. I was flabbergasted because I had been writing it simply to entertain myself; I had NO idea of getting it published or even of TRYING to get it published.
Shortly after I finished it, Ann Patty, a young editor at Pocket Books (who is now executive editor at Harcourt), bought it. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or, put another way, it sank like a stone. There were pockets of high volume sales, which not-so-coincidentally were located in the only places in the US at the time where New Wave Rock was popular: NYC of course, LA & SF, but also Cleveland, Boston, Athens, GA, and Seattle. I got a lot of fan mail from those towns.
Foreign rights were sold to Germany (where it went through two printings as Tod eines Punk with the worst cover ever; I’ve never been able to collect royalties) and France, as you found. I sold the movie rights three times because certain producers smelled an album tie-in, and I was paid by one to write a screenplay adaptation, but nothing ever came of it. Is this more than you want to know?
Why has the price skyrocketed? Well, I started buying up copies on the Internet in the early 90′s. I refused to pay more than five bucks per copy and very few cost more than that. Gradually the prices started to climb. I think it was in 1995 that I was astonished to see that a store in Minneapolis wanted $29.95 for it. I even wrote the guy and asked what was up with that. He wrote back that he was buying up all the cheapo copies he could find because they sold for his price as fast as he could list them. In the next few years, the cheapos pretty much disappeared. Soon the average price had risen to about $50. I couldn’t believe it.
I started getting fan mail again because, like you, readers were able to find me. Then, around 5 years ago, I saw one on abe.com for more than $100. I wrote to the vendor in San Diego and asked him why he was charging such an outlandish sum for it. He responded that every copy he listed sold immediately no matter what the price and that the $100 one had also just sold. He told me he was going to raise the price again if he came across more copies. Prices started to climb into three figures and stayed there.
About two years ago, they started selling for lower four figures; I think the post on your blog about those prices must be correct. I can’t believe anyone would actually pay that much in any case. You can get Hemingway first editions for less. As for WHY it’s selling for so much… I think it’s because it’s set in that now-famous time and place, and many of the peripheral characters seem to be based on now-famous people, although I vehemently deny that vicious canard; any resemblance to persons living, dead, or otherwise is purely coincidental and exists wholly in the fevered imaginations of certain wacky readers. Judging from the fan mail, people seem to find it funny and entertaining too.
Why is it scarce? When it came out, it had no advertising budget. Pocket Books was putting all their chips on the paperback edition of The World According to Garp, releasing it with six different covers and a huge promotional budget. The pleasant middle-aged ladies in the publicity department didn’t know what to make of D.o.a.P. (I even had a glowing blurb from Debbie Harry that they refused to use because they hadn’t really heard of her) and advised me to go to bookstores and buy copies to extend its shelf-life.
They set up a few radio interviews but I did most of the promoting myself through my connections in the music world. I did manage to steal a box of promo copies from the PR office, which I distributed as judiciously as I could to media types. While it got rave reviews in hip-but-little-read places like Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, the few reviewers in the mainstream press who wrote about it were a bit nonplussed; the Denver Post paired its review of it with an alternate-history novel about World War III by an ex-general . The reviewer segued into the D.o.a.P. portion thusly: “Going from the globe to the gutter…”
I liked that very much. If D.o.a.P. is ever re-published, I want the cover copy to read: “It Goes From the Globe To the Gutter!”
What’s up with Who Killed the Snowman?: After an editorial meeting at Pocket Books, it was decided to change the title to W.K.t.S.? When they told me about the change, they also showed me a mockup of the cover. Basically they wanted to take a book that had to do with the edgy part of the pop music world (which they didn’t understand) and change it to the generic part of the drug culture (which they did understand).
While no expert in marketing, I didn’t think it took much brainpower to understand that marketing a book as though it’s about one thing when it actually isn’t, pretty much guaranteed failure. I went into Ann Patty’s office, stamped my feet, flailed my arms, and pouted until she agreed to try to get it changed back to Death of a Punk. In the end, we prevailed but not before they’d registered the ISBN as Who Killed the Snowman? That’s why one can still find mention of Snowman in hoary medieval databases.
One side story: The cover with “The Punk” was painted by the best Pocket Books house artist, whose name escapes me now. He’d done many classic paperback covers in the 60′s and 70′s. The reason the Punk’s left hand is in that goofy position is that in the original painting he was holding a cigarette.
The same marketing geniuses who’d come up with W.K.t.S? decided that potential buyers who didn’t smoke or who wanted to quit might subconsciously be deterred from buying the book by the presence of the cigarette. As you can imagine, I stamped, flailed, and pouted again, but to no avail. They had STATISTICS, and a marketing person with stats is as immovable as a large stone and just as smart.
Anyway, I’m sure this is much more than you wanted to know, but in the event that you would like more D.o.a.P. (or Dope, as I call it) info, don’t hesitate. And if you or one of your fellow bloggers actually READS the book, I’d love to know whether it was enjoyed or if it induced sleep…
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