The Sporadic Beaver

(Just Like) Starting Over

October 8, 2015

Tags: Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Soft Skull Press, e-books, Amazon

The new introduction to the 15th anniversary e-book edition of Nowhere Man, on sale tomorrow, in commemoration of John Lennon's 75th birthday, is titled "(Just Like) Starting Over." It's one of the many updated and revised sections of the book, which Amazon is offering for 99 cents to anybody who's bought the print edition on the site.

In the intro, I look back over the past 15 years, to the multitude of things that have changed in the world, in book publishing, and in my own life since Soft Skull Press released the original hardcover.

I also address the book’s critics, some of whom were driven into what I describe as “a state of spluttering apoplexy” by my “controversial” author’s note: “Nowhere Man is a work of investigative journalism and imagination.” I go into more detail about what, exactly, that sentence means.

Tomorrow, you can read the complete intro on Amazon. It begins like this:

What you’re now reading on your “device” is the latest incarnation of a book that was rejected by everybody before Soft Skull Press, a tiny independent operating out of a tenement basement on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, published it in July 2000.

New York that summer was a place where it was still possible for an underground entity like Soft Skull to exist. The city itself had not yet become a real-estate playpen for anonymous oligarchs who sheltered their fortunes in $100 million apartments in thousand-foot-tall glass towers. The Twin Towers and the economy had not yet collapsed. George W. Bush was not yet president. The U.S. had not yet invaded Iraq. People did not yet assume that every word they launched into the electronic ether was stored and possibly analyzed by the NSA. And the publishing industry had not yet been turned upside-down by e-books, piracy, and the Internet. There was no Twitter, no Facebook; there were no smartphones. I didn’t know what a blog was. It was, in short, the final moment before the Old World gave way to iWorld—and an obscure, middle-aged writer could publish a book exclusively as hardcover with a gritty indie who, through a combination of old-fashioned PR skills and relentless audacity, could ignite a conflagration of media attention that would send that book rocketing up best-seller lists in multiple countries and in multiple languages.

The Censored Cover

October 7, 2015

Tags: Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Soft Skull Press, Yoko Ono, e-books

Book publishers can be a timid lot. The mere threat of a lawsuit, even a baseless one, is often enough to get them to cancel a book contract. Deep-pocketed entities with tightly held secrets (like Yoko Ono and the Church of Scientology) understand this all too well and employ the tactic routinely.

Soft Skull Press, Nowhere Man's original publisher, was a notable exception. In 2000, a young man with a George W. Bush "Bring it on!" complex was running the company, and he was fearless when it came to lawsuits. That's why Soft Skull published Nowhere Man when virtually every other publisher had turned it down.

Soft Skull acted as though lawsuits were a good way to get publicity and sell books, an attitude that almost destroyed them, as the documentary Horns and Halos—about Fortunate Son, a George W. Bush biography they published that detailed Bush’s cocaine habit—vividly demonstrates.

For Nowhere Man, Soft Skull used the back cover photo from Lennon and Ono’s Two Virgins LP for the cover of the galley, which they sent out to the media for review. The cover served one purpose only: to provoke Ono.

“You’re crazy!” I told the publisher. “It’s her photo! She’s going to sue you!”

Sure enough, within hours of Soft Skull’s releasing the galley, Ono’s attorneys demanded that they cease and desist, and in an uncharacteristic act of sanity, they withdrew the galley and reprinted it with a plain white cover.

Now, more than 15 years later, as I prepare to launch the Nowhere Man e-book, its cover an homage to the cover Soft Skull ultimately used for the best-selling hardback, the galley—there might be about a hundred in circulation—has become a newsworthy artifact, though I’d never sell it on eBay.

Instead, I should hang it on my wall as a symbol of all the insanity Nowhere Man has survived.