The Sporadic Beaver

An Ice-Cold Bath of Publishing Reality

January 31, 2014

Tags: An Insider’s Guide to Publishing, David Comfort, writing, reviews

According to David Comfort, author of The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead and The Reborn Bible 2.0, most writers share the following personality traits: They're hateful, envious, suicidal, masochistic, and megalomaniacal. In a word, they're assholes. But they are capable of producing pithy quotes about the writing biz, and such quotes are scattered throughout Comfort's latest book, An Insider’s Guide to Publishing (Writer’s Digest Books, $19.99). Here's one of my favorites, from Jean Cocteau: "Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work the critics don't like--then cultivate it."

An Insider’s Guide also contains a wealth of eye-opening statistics, like this one: There's a .0000416 percent chance that The New Yorker magazine will publish an unsolicited short story.

For aspiring writers looking to save time and postage, this is useful information that you won’t easily find elsewhere. And though I’ve never submitted a short story to The New Yorker—and swore off submitting unsolicited manuscripts to anybody 20 years ago—I can attest to the general accuracy of Comfort’s calculation.

I was afraid that the well-earned and corrosive cynicism that suffuses An Insider’s Guide would remind me all too vividly of what I already know: The writing biz is fucked. Only a fool would go into it. Therefore I must be a fool.

Instead, I found it to be an entertaining rejoinder to the rising tide of fantasyland pep talks about how to make $1 million self-publishing e-books.

Rich with anecdotes about the hard-won wisdom of distinguished authors who survived (or didn’t survive) careers spent slinging words, much to my surprise, An Insider’s Guide left me feeling better about some of the life choices I’ve made.

I’m happy to say, at this late date, that the writing biz has not yet driven me to suicide (as it did Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Hunter Thompson), alcoholism (as it did Jack Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald), drug addiction (as it did Edgar Allan Poe and William Burroughs), murder (as it did Burroughs), attempted murder (as it did Norman Mailer), insanity (as it did Hemingway before he blew off his head with a shotgun), a duel (as it did Marcel Proust), or fraud (as it did James Frey).

Literary talent has little to do with success, Comfort suggests, and in many cases it can be a hindrance, because if there’s one thing publishers hate, it’s originality. According to Comfort, “Luck, Suck & Pluck” are what it takes to succeed, and he returns to this theme throughout the book. Again, I can personally attest to the inherent validity of this formula.

The fact that John Lennon’s diaries fell into my hands was extraordinary luck, for example. But I couldn’t have done anything with them if it wasn’t for pluck. That publishers rejected Nowhere Man for 18 years, usually for the most ridiculous reasons—Not enough interest in John Lennon!—and that the book then become a bestseller and a cult classic is a monument to pluck. The thing that’s held me back, however, is that I suck at sucking, by which Comfort means “sucking up.” I’ve never developed a strong enough stomach to frequently and with feeling kiss the assorted body parts of the people who are in a position to further my ambitions. But as Meatloaf might say, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

People who become real writers—like Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and Jane Austen—can’t help themselves. There’s no rational decision involved. For people like this, it’s the only path to take. You hear the voice in your head and you need to get it down on paper (or on a computer screen). An Insider’s Guide will not save people like this from themselves—though they may be able to glean a few nuggets of practical advice from it.

An Insider’s Guide is a great book for people who think that writing might be a good career move, but can’t quite decide if they should be a writer, get an MBA, be a supermodel, or join the navy. For those people, An Insider’s Guide will serve as an ice-cold bath of publishing reality. I recommend it strongly.

Let me leave you with one last thing aspiring authors should keep in mind: Even the most successful writers, like Fitzgerald, and even those who’ve won the Nobel Prize, like William Faulkner, considered themselves failures and died penniless.

Need I say more?

A Good Book

May 17, 2013

Tags: David Comfort

Before I go into complete and obsessive Bloomsday on Beaver Street mode (as opposed to the quasi-obsessive mode I'm currently in), I want to get in a good word about a book that I just finished reading. It's one of those books that in a just world would be getting some high-profile media attention--because it's not only a work of genuine religious insanity, but it's funny as hell, which is where, according to a certain strain of thought, its author might end up.

The Reborn Bible 2.0: The 2nd Coming Gospel of the American Rapture, by David Comfort, is a pitch-perfect re-imagining of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, that takes us from the Garden of Eden, where George Bush Sr. and Barbara Bush are Adam and Eve, climaxes in a pay-per-view David (Geffen) and Goliath (Arnold Schwarzenegger) battle, and ends with Moses (Holy Joe Lieberman) returning to Jerusalem to reclaim the Promised Land.

Or something like that.

I can’t say that I understood everything I read (especially that one sentence in Arabic) or that I got all the Biblical references or even that I understood all the Yiddish expressions, which is a language I’m not unfamiliar with. But page after page, the book did leave me wondering: How did Comfort, who’s probably best known for The Rock And Roll Book Of The Dead, do it? I kept picturing him, confined to a monk-like cell, a 21st century prophet writing on papyrus, as he absorbed and transformed every word of the real Bible into his deranged contemporary vision of all the usual suspects who have so befouled our political discourse.

The crucifixion of Obama, which the “learned lawyer, Geraldo” is covering for Fox News, serves as a good example of Comfort’s sense of humor. “‘Does ObamaCare cover crucifixion?’” Geraldo asks, reporting from the scene. “‘Is being the messiah a pre-existing condition? Would righteous infliction of emotional distress warrant punitive damages?’”

Somehow, in an act of biblical fortitude, Comfort keeps this sort of thing up for 309 pages. Somebody had to do it.

The Profanity Problem on Amazon US

July 7, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, reviews, Amazon, David Comfort

Yesterday I wrote about the problems readers were having posting Beaver Street reviews on Amazon UK—a computer was flagging sexually explicit keywords, and rejecting the reviews. But when a fellow author and professional critic, David Comfort, wrote to Amazon UK to ask why his review wasn’t posted, a human being read the computer-rejected review and posted it exactly as Comfort had originally written it.

After his review was posted in the UK, Comfort then contacted Amazon US to ask the same question: Why wasn’t my Beaver Street review posted?

Here is Amazon’s response:

Hello David,
I read your recent review of “Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography” and found it violated our guidelines. I did notice that it has been approved on the Amazon UK site, but we don’t allow profanity in our US Customer Reviews.
Your review couldn’t be posted on Amazon.com as written. I would recommend revising your review and submitting it again. Specifically, the following parts cannot be posted on Amazon.com:
”cocksmen,” “blowjob,” and “newcummer”
Please take a look at our Review Guidelines for information about acceptable review content.


Comfort censored his review and Amazon US posted it. Cocksmen became studs. Blowjob became fellatio. Newcummer became freshman.

Dear readers, keep in mind that Amazon reviews are vital to the success of Beaver Street. If you’ve read the book and have something to say about it, please post a review—but watch your language, especially in the US. If Amazon doesn’t post it, ask them why and they will tell you, just as they told Comfort.

Though Beaver Street has not yet been published here, it is available through marketplace sellers on Amazon US, or through me. (Click on “Contact,” above, and send me an e-mail. I’ll send you the details.)

And thanks for reading (and writing)!

A Note to My Readers About Amazon UK Reviews

July 6, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, reviews, Amazon, David Comfort, The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, obscenity

Fortunately, I’m not the only person who’s been wondering why, up to a few days ago, no reader reviews of Beaver Street had appeared on Amazon UK, where the book is readily available.

David Comfort, author of The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead, and a professional critic, looked into the matter after he submitted a review to Amazon UK—similar to his review that ran on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website—which was not posted. He wrote to Amazon to ask what was going on and received the following response:

Hello Mr. Comfort,
We encourage all feedback on the Amazon.co.uk website, both positive and negative.
However, it has come to our attention that your review of “Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography” does not comply with our customer reviews guidelines as:
We don’t allow obscene or distasteful content including sexually explicit or sexually gratuitous comments in Customer Reviews.
It is focused on the author and their life rather than reviewing the book itself.


Comfort then sent the following letter to Amazon UK:

Amazon UK Editors:
Are you still in the Victorian Age, or the 21st Century? If the latter, you should find nothing sexually explicit or gratuitous in my review of “Beaver Street.” Please point out the four letter words.
As for your objection that the piece is focused on the author, not the book itself—if you READ the book, rather than blindly pontificate, you will discover that it is AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL and all about the author and his experiences.
If you fancy yourselves as a moral police—not a Free Speech protective bookseller as your customers imagine—please let us know so we can take our business and reviews elsewhere.
David Comfort


The result: Comfort’s review was read by a human, rather than scanned by a computer for objectionable language, and posted exactly as he’d originally written it.

So, a word of warning to future readers of Beaver Street who will be submitting reviews to Amazon UK: Be careful with your language. Read the Amazon customer review guidelines. And if you submit a review that’s not posted, then write to Amazon to find out why. You may get an Amazon human to read it and post it.

Tomorrow: David Comfort corresponds with the good people at Amazon US.

We interrupt this correspondence to bring you a special seal of approval…

May 26, 2011

Tags: Erotic Review, Beaver Street, Vanity Fair, Village Voice, Michael Musto, David Comfort, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jamie Maclean, pornography

Yesterday I noticed that the Erotic Review, the “posh” and literate British magazine that had already given Beaver Street an outstanding review had also slapped on their “Hot Pick” seal of approval. I guess this is kind of like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval… but different. In any case, this seemed like a good time to reflect upon a few of the encouraging signs that have shown themselves to Beaver Street over the past few months.

1. Beaver Street was a “Hot Type” selection in Vanity Fair UK, which is a pretty classy seal of approval, too.

2. Village Voice columnist Michael Musto called Beaver Street “Entertaining, insightful, and hot.” And he was amused by one of the promo videos, too.

3. David Comfort, writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, called Beaver Street “riveting” and said that I’d invented a new genre, “a confessional for-adults-only romantic comedy with a rare, thoughtful twist.”

4. Jamie Maclean, editor of the Erotic Review, said, “Beaver Street captures the aroma of pornography, bottles it, and gives it so much class you could put it up there with Dior or Chanel.”

Tomorrow we shall return to our regularly scheduled correspondence.