The Sporadic Beaver

Lennon: Naked, Flawed, Mean, and Beautiful

November 30, 2015

Tags: Huffington Post, Michael Lee Nirenberg, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Yoko Ono, reviews

There’s nothing more I can add to Michael Nirenberg's essay, "Rock n Roll Watergate," that ran on The Huffington Post last week. Nirenberg, a filmmaker, best known for his Hustler magazine documentary, Back Issues, simply expressed the passion he felt for Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, which was released last month as a 15th anniversary e-book edition.

Nirenberg said that the book made him feel as if he were “inside the Dakota with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” and that Lennon came across as “naked—flawed, mean, and beautiful.”

So, yes, all these years after publication, the book continues to affect people and inspire them to communicate their feelings about what they’ve read. This is what every writer wants his or her books to do.

To me, this is especially satisfying because for 18 years nobody would publish Nowhere Man—editors had deemed it “unpublishable.”

I think it’s now safe to say that they were wrong. Nowhere Man is the book that refused to die. And in this season of thanksgiving I can only give thanks to all the people who’ve read Nowhere Man and made up their own minds about it.

The Woodward and Bernstein of Rock?

November 2, 2015

Tags: Hollywood Scandals, Reelz, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, reviews, e-books, Beatles, Robert Christgau

If you missed my previous appearances on the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, the Reelz channel will re-broadcast the show, coast-to-coast, on the dates and times below:

Saturday, November 7: 3 P.M. ET, 2 P.M. CT, 1 P.M. MT, 12 P.M. PT

Sunday, November 8: 12 P.M. ET, 11 A.M. CT, 10 A.M. MT, 9 A.M. PT

Reelz is not available on demand, so set your DVR if you can’t tune in at the appointed times. (In New York City, Hollywood Scandals is on Time Warner Cable 128 and Fios 233 .) Click here to find the show on your local cable or satellite system.

If you’re wondering why Hollywood Scandals asked me to talk about Lennon and my bio Nowhere Man (which has just been re-released as an e-book), there are a lot of good reasons. You can find the latest one in a just-published book titled The Beatles: Having Read the Book, by Greg Sterlace. In this volume, the author, using Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” format, reviews “the best and worst of the Beatle tomes.” In his Nowhere Man critique, he calls me “the Woodward and Bernstein of rock” and gives me an “A.”

That’s a title and a grade I can live with.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

October 22, 2015

Tags: Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, e-books, Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords, reviews

For those of you not fluent in Latin or legalese, res ipsa loquitur means "the thing speaks for itself." And the following review of Nowhere Man, which I found today on Goodreads, does just that.

I received a copy of the galley to this book several years ago, before it was published. I could not put it down! Robert Rosen effectively delves into John Lennon’s dark side, but from a wholly analytical, non-judgmental perspective. Rather, Rosen affords an in-depth exploration of the complexities of Lennon's often-tortured psyche, with the insight and precision that only a seasoned journalist can provide. His writing is stark, intelligent and authoritative. I highly recommend this book. —Alissa Wolf

Having just released an updated 15th anniversary e-book edition of Nowhere Man, now available on Amazon (for the unbeatable “matchbook” price of 99 cents) and Smashwords, this review, to say the least, reminded me why the book has endured for those 15 years.

Thank you, Alissa Wolf!

Let Us Now Praise Passionate Amateurs

May 6, 2015

Tags: Pulp Informer, Beaver Street, Headpress, Swank, reviews

It's not coverage in The New York Times that keeps books like Beaver Street alive and vital four years after publication. It's the passionate amateurs, writing about what they love, who spread the word. One such writer recently posted about Swank magazine on his site, Pulp Informer, and raised a number of questions about Beaver Street.

I contacted the writer, suggested he read the book, and told him that he was well qualified to receive a review copy. He reached out to Headpress and they sent him one.

His unabashed review, illustrated with a number of photos I’d never seen (like the two above), expresses his profound appreciation of Beaver Street.

If the publishing industry is to survive as a viable, profit-making institution, it’s the multitude of sites like Pulp Informer that they can thank.

The Brown-Paper Curtain

August 20, 2014

Tags: Fleshbot, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, reviews, Goodreads, Peter Landau

You know that Beaver Street review, by Peter Landau, on Goodreads, that I posted about yesterday? Well, today it's migrated to Fleshbot. So, if you neglected to read it yesterday, please read it today on Fleshbot. They have much better pictures than Goodreads, just in case you need a little more incentive to click here now.

Call Me Virgil

August 19, 2014

Tags: Beaver Street, reviews, Goodreads, Fleshbot, Peter Landau, Observation Post, City College of New York, 1970s

I should pay more attention to Goodreads because people often post reviews of my books on the site, and I'm one of those authors who not only reads his reviews, but also likes to engage with his critics.

Last night I found two positive Beaver Street reviews. The first one, by Peter Landau, the writer who conducted the epic interview with me that ran last month on Fleshbot, describes me "as a Virgil to the reader's Dante on tour of a business that grew to define pop culture in America." In his thoughtful analysis, Landau calls the book "a fun and informative trek through a lost world," meaning that the profitable and dynamic magazine world that I depict in Beaver Street has long ago ceased to exist. He gives the book five out of five stars.

Thank you, Peter.

The other review, by Mike McPadden, is notable because the writer “vividly” remembers “the naked nun photo scandal of 1979,” which I describe in an early Beaver Street chapter about editing Observation Post, an underground newspaper at the City College of New York. (Actually, the “nun” went well beyond being naked, but I suspect that Goodreads is subject to censorship, and McPadden prudently restrained his language.) Overall, McPadden calls the book “breezy” and “funny” and recommends Beaver Street “skinthusiastically.”

Thank you, Mike. And keep those reviews coming.

On the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles in America…

February 10, 2014

Tags: John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Beatles, reviews, Steve Hoffman Music Forums, May Pang

February 9, 1964, left to right, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney.
The Internet is filled with thousands of Beatles forums--online communities where people can log in and discuss the Fab Four. DM's Beatles Forums, Steve Hoffman Music Forums, BeatleLinks, and rec.music.beatles are among the multitude of sites I've browsed over the decades.

If John Lennon were alive today, I think he'd enjoy posting anonymously on some of these forums, and I'm certain that whatever he said would be greeted with comments far less generous than, "You don't know shit about the Beatles!"

That's because Beatles forums tend to be vipers’ nests of ignorance and hostility, with the most vicious comments coming from the people who know the least. May Pang, for example, used to post in rec.music.beatles, but was driven off the site by malicious attacks on virtually everything she said.

The most scathing reviews of Nowhere Man that I’ve seen anywhere have been posted by people who proudly declare, “I’ve never read the book. I don’t have to. I know what’s in it.”

Last night, inspired by the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was browsing one of the more civilized forums, Beatles Bible, when I came across a comment that shocked me. Going against the usual party line of “Nowhere Man bad!” somebody who uses the moniker “10centwings” indulged in a bit of independent thought. Softening his or her post with the standard caveat about reading it “with one eyebrow raised,” 10centwings said, “I’m 1/3 through the Rosen book…. This one’s a page turner. I actually lunched in today just so that I could sneak in an extra hour of reading.”

A comment like this, from a “real” reader, in a forum that’s usually hostile to the book reminds me yet again why Nowhere Man endures 14 years after publication. And though the controversy will probably never cease, more people are beginning to see the book for what it is.

I can hardly wait till Nowhere Man’s 50th anniversary.

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?

This Is Cool

July 15, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Amazon, reviews, John Mozzer, Alan Adrian, Carl Ruderman, Traci Lords, Annie Sprinkle, Bill Bottiggi

John Mozzer was an information technology specialist who'd received security clearance from the National Security Agency. But in his secret life, one that he lived from 1978 to 1995, he was Alan Adrian, a pornographic actor who appeared in 67 XXX-rated movies, including such classics as A Taste of Money, Inside Little Oral Annie, Maid in Manhattan, Babylon Blue, Oriental Techniques in Pain and Pleasure, Centerfold Fever, and The Devil in Miss Jones II.

Now retired and living in L.A., Mozzer tends to an extensive archive of material related to the porn industry. He also knows many of the characters from Beaver Street, and he recently posted a review of the book on Amazon. I think the review serves as a perfect example of the kind of dialogue that I'd hoped Beaver Street would spark, and which I'd encourage people to continue.

This is what Mozzer had to say:


A Fascinating Read

My original reason for reading Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is that my world overlapped with author Robert Rosen’s world during the 1980s. I worked as an adult film actor (under the name Alan Adrian or Spike), a representative for magazine distributing and printing companies that profited by serving the porn industry, and a freelance writer and photographer for some of Rosen’s colleagues.

It’s a shame that names have to be changed in non-fiction books like Beaver Street. I was hoping to recognize the colleagues whose names were changed by Rosen. But that didn’t happen. I suspect this means it will be all the more difficult for future writers on this topic to figure out who’s who.

To my surprise, in Chapter 4, Rosen describes Carl Ruderman, the person with the money behind High Society, as very involved with its day-to-day operation. Furthermore, his anecdotes about working for High Society came across as very credible. I found myself feeling, “I’m sure these things really happened.” Nevertheless, I think caution is in order, because Rosen’s stint at High Society is a small fraction of the magazine’s life, and the situation may have changed over time. After finishing Chapter 4, I decided the extent to which Ruderman involved himself with the day-to-day operation of High Society, over the long run, remains an open question.

Years ago, I heard about the murder of editor Bill Bottiggi. But I never knew about the circumstances leading up to the murder, as Rosen describes it. I find Rosen’s account very disconcerting. After all these years, I have to reconsider placing Bottiggi in the “all good” and “nice guy” category in my head. Initially, I believed Rosen’s account. Later, I found myself not wanting to believe it, and longing for accounts by other people who knew Bottiggi.

Rosen presents strong arguments against society for allowing Traci Lords to get away with hoodwinking the porn industry. In fact, his arguments made me very, very pissed off at her.

Beaver Street was truly a book that I couldn’t put down. I learned tons of stuff that I didn’t know. You don’t need to have been involved with the porn industry, like myself, in order to enjoy the book. You don’t even have to be involved with researching the subject. Beaver Street is a fascinating book to read.

Blurb of the Day

May 23, 2013

Tags: Amazon, reviews, Beaver Street

Only two days after I posted a piece about Amazon's efforts to clarify their book review guidelines, a review of Beaver Street has popped up that's so clearly in compliance with those guidelines, it's breathtaking.

Nobody, I think, will suggest that the critic, aspiring novelist Blaine E. Crowther, is a family member, a close friend, or somebody I have a personal relationship with. I can attest that I've never met the fellow and was previously unaware of his existence, though I do look forward to reading the novel, set in the Golden Age of Porn, that he says he's writing. (He read Beaver Street, he explains, for "background research.")

Though certain lines in Crowther’s grudging four-star review elicited gasps of shock from my wife as I read them out loud, I thought they were hilarious. In Internet parlance, they made me LOL. The takeaway, which I’ll never use as a cover blurb no matter how famous Crowther becomes, says of me, “He's not much in the looks department, but he’s a decent writer.” (I’m also, he notes, not a “total loser.”)

Well, that might be high praise from a tough critic like Crowther, but it does leave me wondering what he looks like, and how many novels set in the Golden Age of Porn his mug is going to sell. His Amazon profile page, I noticed, lacks a photograph, though I’m sure he’s beautiful, as all aspiring novelists are required to be these days.

Amazon Acknowledges Review Problem, Offers Clarifications

May 21, 2013

Tags: Amazon, reviews

I've often written about the wide assortment of problems concerning Amazon reviews, and how these problems had gotten so out of control, that Amazon reviews had lost virtually all credibility. Among these posts are:

· A story about how Amazon allowed Michael Jackson fans to use social media to destroy a Jackson biography with a flood of anonymous one-star reviews.

· A story about how Amazon was deleting reviews posted by authors because the company saw all authors as direct competitors with other authors, and they do not allow reviews of products from direct competitors.

· In a story about book promotion, I’d mentioned how Amazon had been flooded with bogus five-star reviews written by critics who don’t read the books they’re reviewing and which authors are paying for: one review for $99, 50 for $999.

· A story about how an Amazon computer was automatically deleting reviews of Beaver Street because they contained “sexually explicit” keywords.

Amazon has finally acknowledged that there is “some confusion around the guidelines Amazon uses to evaluate Customer Reviews,” and, in an e-mail to authors, they’ve made an effort to clarify matters. Here are some of the highlights of that e-mail:

· Authors are allowed to review another author’s book as long as the author doesn’t have a “personal relationship” with the author of the book being reviewed. (Amazon does not define “personal relationship” or explain how they determine if the authors have one.)

· Authors cannot review their own books.

· Authors’ family members and “close friends” may not post reviews. (Again, Amazon doesn’t explain how they determine this.)

· Authors may not pay someone with money or merchandise to write a review, though giving a reviewer a free copy of the book to be reviewed is permitted.

Though this is a belated step in the right direction from a company that has systematically ignored these problems in the past, it’s hardly a complete solution. Since Amazon now has an ever-tightening stranglehold on the book business, authors can only hope that they will continue to seek even better solutions. Because before they were utterly corrupted, Amazon reviews were a good thing.

The complete FAQ on Amazon book reviewing guidelines is available here.

From Another Carl Ruderman Fan

May 14, 2013

Tags: Carl Ruderman, High Society, Amazon, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, reviews

The following review, written by "Another Former Porn Worker," appeared on Amazon yesterday. It speaks for itself.

Your book was amazing! I downloaded it to my Kindle and could NOT put it down last night. You perfectly capture the atmosphere of the office, that slight paranoia, tinged with smarminess, with the forced insistence that everything around here is perfectly normal. I too worked in the industry, though far more recently, but it seems nothing has changed.

Your assessment of Carl Ruderman is priceless. I, too, have sat in front of that exquisite Victorian desk, surrounded by his priceless artifacts that invariably feature naked women or abstract genitalia, patiently waiting my turn for him to say, “...And Ms. XXXX, what good news do you have for me today?” From your description of him, I could hear his voice leap from the page. I could see him as I saw him in his office at 801 Second Avenue, a bit more shriveled version than the one you saw, but in that same beautifully cut, tasteful gray pinstripe suit, pocket square, and genteel sneer.

Also, in the short time I was there, I know the company was sued multiple times. Weirdly, it was never mentioned at the meetings. It was simply like it didn’t matter. Also, by the time I got there, the porn down on the lower floor was never mentioned. Ever. People on the 19th floor did NOT speak to any of the people down there. I only knew about them because I had skills he needed for both floors.

I loved the part about “the founder.” After he lost the lease on the 19th floor and we were moved to the far less glamorous 11th floor, that bust was placed directly outside my door, so it would stare at me day in, day out. It was rumored that there was a camera in it, but that was probably just conjecture.

He was elderly by the time I worked for him, yet he was insistent on never dying. He kept a personal chef with him at the office, a woman he paid far less than she was worth, peanuts really. She would prepare his daily vitamins and medications, dozens in all, and his breakfast and lunch in the office’s formal dining room. All upper management was expected to attend, but as a woman and a low-level techie I was fortunately denied that privilege.

I liked your Maria. It explains his current secretary while I was there. She was a mid-fiftyish battleaxe of a hag who would agree with him if he said the sky was green, and spent much of her time repeating back anything he said in different words as if she had just thought of that. She, and the other woman before her, trained themselves to expect and indulge his every whim. The woman before at least seemed to see the humor in the situation, as Maria seemed to. I would have been stoned all the time, too.

There was a whole host of crazy characters there who, like me, had no other options at the time, and those of us who got out sometimes get together and talk about it, because no one else would ever believe us. They are a crazy bunch, but those who survived, many are people I really like, cause as you and Maria were, we were witness to a legend being written. Like you, I walked out of that office with no job but that “incredible lightness of being.”

All in all, you reminded me that despite everything, Carl Ruderman has charisma. A sly, slithering sort of charisma, but charisma just the same. I can’t even say I dislike him. He is the sort of man who will do anything for money, and it seems that he did.

In the end, those of us that got tangled up in it have one hell of a story to tell at cocktail parties.

Marvelous work!

One Year of U.S. Beaver

March 28, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Byron Nilsson, reviews, Amazon, Bloomsday

Maybe you're celebrating Maundy Thursday, but I'm celebrating the first anniversary of the U.S. publication of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, an event marked by a responsive reading of a review by Byron Nilsson, on a site called Words and Music, which ran one year ago today.

And quite a year it's been! The good news about Beaver Street, one year down the road, is that it's sold out on Amazon. Again. The bad news about Beaver Street, one year down the road, is that it's sold out on Amazon. Again.

I’m not about to complain about a book selling out repeatedly. I will only say that when the book does sell out, as it’s been doing the past two months, I’d be happier if Amazon got it back in stock more quickly or kept more copies in stock so it didn’t sell out as often.

And I will express gratitude for the fact that one year after its U.S. publication (and two years after its U.K. publication) critics continue to write about Beaver Street and people continue to buy it.

And finally, I will extend an open invitation to all readers to come to the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street on June 16 for the Second Annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street celebration. The Very Reverend Byron Nilsson will be presiding, and he thinks I know how to “make words dance.” He said so in his review. I will be doing my best to make those words dance in public.

Folks Like Shu

March 4, 2013

Tags: Shu-Izmz, Nowhere Man, John Lennon, Beaver Street, reviews

Sometimes things happen as they should, even in the world of book publishing. What I'm referring to is the idea that if somebody reads one of your books and likes it, they might seek out another one of your books. Though I'm sure this has happened to me on numerous occasions, I rarely hear about it, as the average reader tends not to communicate with the authors he reads.

But this time I heard about it. Bryan "Shu" Schuessler, who runs the culture site Shu-izmz, read Beaver Street, ran a rave review, interviewed me on his radio show, and then read my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, not because he had any interest in Lennon or the Beatles, but because he liked my writing style and Nowhere Man has a number of true crime elements, which fascinate him. Up went another rave review, and last night we recorded another radio interview, which Shu will post sometimes this week and which will be available for download as a podcast.

For the most part, we talked about the background of Nowhere Man—how I came into possession of Lennon’s diaries, how I transcribed them, how they were stolen from me, how I recreated them from memory, and how it took me 18 years to find a publisher for a book that’s now considered an underground classic.

In the course of our conversation, Shu said something about Nowhere Man that I’d never heard before—that’s it’s a good book for people with attention deficit disorder because it has short chapters. To which I say, “Hey, ADD people, welcome aboard. Hope you like my book.”

And as our conversation ended, I said to Shu, “Thank you. It’s folks like you who keep folks like me going.”

“We’ve got to support those whose talents and endeavors we enjoy,” Shu replied.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Why I Like Joan Didion

February 20, 2013

Tags: Joan Didion, politics, reviews

Joan Didion in 2008. Photo by David Shankbone.
Variations on "What writers have most influenced you?" is a question I often get during interviews. The unsurprising short answer is Hunter Thompson, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth. (Click here for more detail.) But the list goes on to include George Orwell, Joseph Heller, and one woman, Joan Didion, now the only writer on the list who's both alive and active.

It was Heller who brought Didion to my attention, back in 1972. For a fiction writing class at City College, he put Play It As It Lays on a list of the greatest novels of the 20th century. (The list also included Catch-22.) Though I didn't enjoy it when I read it then, a recent rereading of this story of a woman's life in Hollywood proved Heller correct: Play It As It Lays is a great book.

But it was Didion’s essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem which I first read in grad school and have reread countless times since then, that proved influential. The essays are textbook examples of first-person journalism at its best—a perfect fusion of style, emotion, and information. And the title essay, about Haight-Ashbury in 1967, is one of those rare pieces of writing that I read and thought, “This is what I should be doing.” I also love the simple truth she expresses in the preface: “Writers are always selling somebody out.” Every serious writer should have that embroidered in needlepoint and hung on their wall. Because if you’re not selling somebody out, what you’re doing is PR.

I’m writing about Didion now because the other week, I finally picked up her 2001 essay collection, Political Fictions, a series of devastating takedowns of the democratic process, the journalists who cover politics, the politicians themselves, and the books that some of these politicians have written. What I like most about the essays is that Didion tells the truth as she sees it and, unlike the journalists she’s writing about, she doesn’t care who never speaks to her again. She sells out everybody.

For example, perhaps the kindest thing she says in “Newt Gingrich, Superstar,” about the literary output of the former speaker of the house is: “To Renew America shows evidence of professional copy-editing.”

And in “Political Pornography,” she says of the oeuvre of Bob Woodward, stenographer to the Washington power elite: “These are books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent.”

Much of what Didion writes is truer now than it was 12 years ago. Which is why nobody mentioned in these 322 pages has ever used one word of Didion’s as a blurb on a book cover.

Personal Faves: Volume III

February 15, 2013

Tags: BEA, Bloomsday, Beaver Street, Bernhard Goetz, reviews, 9-11, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Google, monopolies

A final look back at some of my favorite posts, selected at random, from The Daily Beaver on its third anniversary. Then, on new blogging frontiers.

Godfather of Grunge Meets Godmother of Punk (June 7, 2012)
A report from the BEA.

Bernie on Beaver Street (June 19, 2012)
This is what happens when a celebrity vigilante shows up at a book launch party.

My Book Promotion Philosophy (Sept. 6, 2012)
Why I’ll talk to anyone who wants to talk to me about my books.

Distinguishing Characteristics (Sept. 11, 2012)
A guest post from Mary Lyn Maiscott on the anniversary of 9/11.

Google Is God (Oct. 18, 2012)
What do you do when you don’t like the way a powerful monopoly is treating you? Nothing you can do.

AVN Reviews Beaver Street… and they like it!

February 5, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, Adult Video News, reviews, Lou Perretta, Scott Garrett, Swank, High Society, Larry Flynt, Carl Ruderman

One of the odd things about the Beaver Street promotional campaign, which has been ongoing for two years, is that despite the coverage the book has garnered all over the cultural spectrum, in such places as Vanity Fair, Bizarre magazine, an academic site called H-Net, The Village Voice, Erotic Review, and Little Shoppe of Horrors (to name but a few), there hasn't been one review in any of the men's magazines that I write about in Beaver Street.

I suppose the primary reason for this lack of coverage is that Lou Perretta, who now owns two of the titles at the heart of the book, Swank and High Society, as well as every other porn mag except for Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, is upset that I've blogged about the abysmal working conditions at his company and his campaign contributions to Scott Garrett, the Tea Party icon who represents New Jersey’s 5th congressional district. Perretta, apparently, has forbidden his merry staff, under penalty of termination, to so much as mention Beaver Street in or out of the office.

And I suppose that Playboy and Penthouse are not especially interested in books of any kind, and that Hustler doesn’t write about books unless Larry Flynt wrote them—though I’d think that Flynt would have gotten a kick out of my stories about his former rival, ex-High Society publisher Carl Ruderman.

Well, I’m pleased to report that a magazine read by everybody who’s anybody in adult entertainment has published a brilliant Beaver Street review in their February issue, which features a cover story about the “30 must-read books on the history of X.”

Adult Video News (AVN) has been called “the Billboard magazine of the porn industry.” It’s the mag that the mainstream media turn to when they need reliable information about smut. The review, “Walk on the Wild Side,” written by AVN editor Sharan Street, calls Beaver Street “brutally honest,” “compelling,” and says that it’s “a fascinating exploration of the common ground shared by [comic books] and pornographic magazines.” Street (Sharan, not Beaver) also does an excellent job of pulling out just the right quotes to give the reader a good sense of the book’s overall flavor.

I’d urge you all to read AVN’s review of Beaver Street. It made my day.

How to Kill a Book

January 22, 2013

Tags: Amazon, The New York Times, reviews, Twitter, Facebook

I feel for Randall Sullivan, author of Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson (Grove Press). What's happening to him could have happened to me--had my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, been published now rather than 13 years ago, before the age of social media and before Amazon completely took over the book biz.

In yet another demonstration that the mega-conglomerate is a company out of control, a company that feels no need to treat fairly or responsibly the authors whose books they sell, a company that feels no need to answer to anybody about anything, they have allowed Michael Jackson fans to destroy sales of Sullivan's book with a barrage of anonymous negative reviews.

According to an article published on the front page of The New York Times yesterday, “Swarming a Book Online,” Jackson fans have used Twitter and Facebook to solicit scores of one-star takedowns of Untouchable; to have numerous positive reviews deleted; and even to have Amazon briefly remove the book from their site by falsely claiming that copies were “defective.”

Untouchable, like Nowhere Man, is a largely sympathetic portrait of its subject that also includes certain negative assessments. In particular, information about Jackson’s plastic surgery and his two marriages enraged his fans. According to Sullivan, many of the one-star reviews were factually false and clearly written by people who hadn’t read the book—as I can attest is also the case with most of Nowhere Man’s one-star reviews.

Amazon, however, doesn’t consider this a problem, saying that the reviews don’t violate their ever-shifting guidelines. Amazon has also said that it’s unnecessary for a reviewer to “experience” a product before reviewing it.

In the past, the Times has written about authors paying reviewers to flood Amazon with five-star reviews, and of authors anonymously trashing competing books.

There’s no question that Amazon’s review system is broken, possibly beyond repair, and that it’s relatively easy to game the system. Nor is there a question that it’s almost impossible to police phony reviews on a site like Amazon. But the real injustice here is Amazon’s refusal to work with authors and publishers to solve any kind of problem or to make any effort to adequately explain why they do what they do.

Fortunately, Amazon is sensitive to negative publicity, and the fact that the Times put this story on the front page is a good thing.

The Making of an Underground Classic, 2013

January 16, 2013

Tags: Shu-Izmz, Nowhere Man, John Lennon, reviews

This wouldn't be the first time I've pointed out that most books have the shelf life of yogurt, and anytime people are still talking about a book that's been out for nearly 13 years, it's nothing short of miraculous. Well, that, happily, is the case with my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, which at this stage of the game appears to have established itself as an underground classic.

The latest review appeared today on Bryan Schuessler’s site, Shu-Izmz. Schuessler, as regular readers of this blog will recall, is a fan of porn, death metal, gore, and true crime who writes from the perspective of regular guy whose mind is in the gutter. So taken was he with Beaver Street, he felt compelled to read Nowhere Man, too.

And, yes, Schuessler enjoyed the book, despite the fact that he’s not a fan of the Beatles or Lennon. This, of course, is what’s kept Nowhere Man alive all these years—it takes people by surprise, transcending the genre of rock ’n’ roll bio.

Here’s a blub from the review: “The manuscript is so personal that one would think John Lennon himself was telling Rosen exactly what to write.”

I urge you all to read his entire critique. And then get your own copy of Nowhere Man. See for yourself why it’s an underground classic. Hell, you don’t even have to buy it. You can get it at the library. Someday, somebody might even make it available as an e-book.

Top 5 Blurbs of the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive

December 21, 2012

Tags: reviews, Little Shoppe of Horrors, Bloodsprayer, Shu-Izmz, Neil A. Chesanow, Review 31

Just in case the world ends today, on this first day of winter in the northern hemisphere, I'm going out with the "Top 5 Blurbs of the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive."

In the event that the world doesn't end today, the Autumn Offensive will be followed by the Winter Assault and Spring Siege, the latter climaxing, of course, with the Second Annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street. (Make your plans today!)

Optimist that I am, I'm planning on taking off for St. Louis for the holidays, which is where the Beaver Street Spring Offensive of 2012 began in April. So, this will probably be my last posting of the year (if not forever). Here's wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Hope to see you in 2013!

And here are my fave blurbs and the reasons I chose them:

5. “Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely from his history. I suspect he was too caught up in his own juvenile dabbling to notice their existence.” —Kate Gould, Review 31
What does a review look like when it’s written by a reviewer who’s made up her mind that she’s going to trash a book before reading the first word? It looks like this. I include this classic hatchet job because of the backlash it inspired, which ended up bringing more attention to Beaver Street than if the reviewer had read the entire book and written an honest critique.

4. “Tender and tawdry all at once.” —Neil A. Chesanow, Review 31
This eloquent point-by-point takedown of the above hatchet job does what Gould’s review should have done in the first place: It provides an accurate and insightful picture of what Beaver Street is about.

3. “A fascinating peek inside a world of sex, indulgence, and exhibitionism.” —Shu-Izmz
Horror mags love Beaver Street, and Shu-Izmz, a site overseen by Bryan Schuessler, is one of three such sites that gave the book a rave review. Schuessler writes from the perspective of a regular guy whose mind is in the gutter; he loves porn, death metal, and gore. Also, this review led to a very cool interview on Core of Destruction Radio.

2. “Incredibly thoughtful, engaging and entertaining.” —The Bloodsprayer
Written by a chubby chaser who also happens to be a trained historian, the critic “J. D. Malinger” (as he calls himself) offers an intellectual lowbrow take on Beaver Street. The review resulted in an epic two-part interview, which allowed me to elaborate on a number of themes I touched upon in the book, such as the contempt with which many porn publishers treat their employees.

1. “A gem of a read… You will find yourself fascinated by the cast of characters.” — Richard Klemensen, Little Shoppe of Horrors
Even if LSoH editor and publisher Richard Klemensen hadn’t said in a comment on this blog that Beaver Street was one of his “favorite reads,” I’d still have chosen the above blurb as my favorite of the Autumn Offensive. Klemensen, who’s celebrating the 40th anniversary of his venerable publication, gets to the heart of the matter in his critique, which serves as yet another direct repudiation of the Review 31 hatchet job. Beaver Street is indeed a character-driven page-turner, whose vibrant cast will defy your expectations of what kind of people work behind the scenes in pornography. Since LSoH is only available in a print edition, if you’d like to read the entire review (and a whole bunch of stories about Dr. Phibes), you’ll have to buy a copy. Happy anniversary, Richard, and here’s to many more!

Amazon Absurd

December 5, 2012

Tags: Amazon, reviews

Though I've had my issues with Amazon in the past, I want to make it clear that what I'm about to say has not affected me personally. Amazon has not deleted any reviews of my books and they have not deleted any reviews that I've written about other people's books. However, an article, "Amazon Tackles Review Problem, Deletes Wrong Reviews," by Suw Charman-Anderson, that ran last month on Forbes.com, is both disturbing and sounds typical of the way that Amazon does business.

Here are the main points of the piece:

· Amazon has changed its customer reviews guidelines.

· According to customers who posted reviews for a book by Michelle Gagnon, either the reviews never appeared or they were deleted.

· When these customers complained, Amazon told them that they “do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product,” and they “will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter.”

· When one of the customers told Amazon that they had no “relationship or financial interest in the book,” Amazon then told Gagnon, the author of the book in question, that they’d remove her book from the site if the customer complained again.

· Another author, Steve Weddle, received a similar e-mail from Amazon when he attempted to post a review for a book by Chad Rohrbacher, whom he knows personally.

· This is apparently happening on a wide scale.

· Bottom line: Amazon now appears to be forbidding authors from posting reviews because it sees all authors as direct competitors with other authors. In the meantime, Amazon has done nothing about fake reviews, written by reviewers for hire, that have flooded the site.

One can only hope that Amazon recognizes the absurdity of their review policy and corrects it promptly.

A New York Shopping Story

November 16, 2012

Tags: Little Shoppe of Horrors, reviews

One reason I've lived in New York City virtually my entire life, and in Manhattan since I graduated from college--the last 22 years downtown, in Soho--is because of the incredible convenience of not having to own a car. Everything I want or need, be it freshly made, hand-cut buckwheat pappardelle or an obscure book that's been out of print for a decade, can be found at a store, like Raffetto's or The Strand, that's within walking distance of my house. At least that's the way it used to be.

Manhattan in particular has been undergoing dramatic changes for some time. The quirky specialty shops and dusty book and magazine stores that used to line so many streets have given way to upscale boutiques, chain stores, and nail salons. Thanks to our mayor, Michael Bloomberg, New York has been transformed into a generic megacity—a gilded ghetto stripped of all funkiness, and designed to cater to tourists. A lot has been lost and very little had been gained.

This was driven home to me the other day when I went out to look for what I thought wouldn’t be especially hard to find: the latest issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, “the journal of classic British horror films,” as publisher Richard Klemensen calls it. The magazine has been around for 40 years, and in that time I’d seen it in numerous stores, like Kim’s, which used to be the place to go for offbeat publications of all kinds. (Kim’s still exists, but in a different location and has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.)

LSoH had run a rave review of Beaver Street, and though I had a scan of the review, I’m a completist when it comes to my own stuff, and I wanted a printed copy for my files. Thus began a shopping odyssey that included trips to more than a dozen stores, all within walking distance of my house: McNally Jackson, Bluestockings, St. Marks Books, Kim’s, Bleecker Bob’s, Barnes & Noble (ha!), Dashwood Books, Generation Records, Forbidden Planet, a comic book store on St. Mark’s Place, and I don’t know how many well-stocked magazine shops that seemed to carry everything but LSoH.

The result: Nada, nada, and nada.

So I ordered it online, directly from Richard Klemensen, who I imagined sitting in his house in Iowa, stuffing magazines into envelopes, addressing them by hand, and licking and sealing the flaps—an image that Richard confirmed is not far from the truth. “On the shipping end of things,” he said, “I am, indeed, a one-man-band!”

I anxiously await delivery.

Little Shoppe of Beaver

November 14, 2012

Tags: reviews, Little Shoppe of Horrors, The Bloodsprayer, Shu-Izmz, Review 31, Beaver Street

It's interesting that a number of sites primarily devoted to horror, like The Bloodsprayer and Shu-Izmz, have taken such a liking to Beaver Street. Now you can add Little Shoppe of Horrors to that group. The venerable film mag--they've been around for 40 years--has run a delightful review of my investigative memoir in their latest issue, #29. It almost sounds as if it could be yet another rebuke to the hatchet job posted on Review 31 last month. That rather unpleasant critique put forth the opinion that, though Beaver Street was basically an anti-feminist piece of shit, certain low-minded individuals might find it "titillating."

Since the LSoH review is not available online, I'll take the liberty of quoting the last paragraph in full:

“If you are looking for some titillation, this isn’t the book for you. If you want to read about people, situations, a time and place in an industry that was looked down upon by many people (while many secretly gobbled up the magazines), this is a gem of a read. You won’t find yourself embarrassed reading it. You will find yourself fascinated by the cast of characters. This is a book both men and women would enjoy (even if the women were only trying to find out why men would even have been interested in that crap!)”

Well said, LSoH! Now I’ve got to go out and track down a copy.

A Well-Targeted Review

November 12, 2012

Tags: reviews, Beaver Street, Fifty Shades of Grey

If you happen to run a sex shop or "intimate apparel" store, then you're probably familiar with the trade magazine StorErotica. This is a serious publication that gets into nuts-and-bolts retailing issues like maximizing profits, store security, and hot new products. Well, I'm tickled pink to report that in the magazine's Hot Products section, among the James Deen endorsed dildos, they've listed Beaver Street, describing it as "an interesting and witty look at pornography from the early '70s through late '90s."

Considering chains like Barnes & Nobel have been less than eager to stock Beaver Street in their remaining brick-and-mortar stores, I couldn't think of a better place for my "intriguing" (as StorErotica calls it) investigative memoir to be sold. I mean why should Fifty Shades of Grey, which I noticed is in the window of my local Pleasure Chest, have all the fun? Isn't it possible that people who buy Doc Johnson vibrators are also interested in quality, thought-provoking literature?

So, I’d encourage all erotic products entrepreneurs to take StorErotica’s advice and order Beaver Street today. It’s the book that carries both the Vanity Fair and Erotic Review seal of approval. How can you go wrong?

Back to Business

November 8, 2012

Tags: Review 31, reviews, book promotion, Beaver Street

Before Hurricane Sandy plunged me into 104 hours of pre-industrial living, and a certain election restored the tiniest glimmer of hope in American democracy's ability to function, I was, as I recall, writing about the vagaries of the book business.

On the British site Review 31, a critic that one of my more eloquent defenders described as "a tyro reviewer with a political ax to grind" had subjected Beaver Street to its first hatchet job. What I never got around to talking about is the upside of having your book trashed in an inaccurate and inherently dishonest manner: It sparked an online debate that ended up bringing more attention to Beaver Street than another rave review would have. It's the kind of debate that you just don’t see often enough these days--one that demonstrates the passion for books that still exists in this age of social media.

Also, the day the power came back on, a far more friendly British site, Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog, posted an essay I wrote a few months ago titled “My Book Promotion Philosophy.” The gist of that philosophy can be boiled down to one sentence: “Talk to anybody who wants to talk to you about your book for as long as they want to talk about it, and go anywhere people are interested in your work.”

In other words, I’m happy to report that the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive, though suspended for a week due to inclement weather, remains an ongoing operation.

On the Responsibility of the Critic

October 24, 2012

Tags: Review 31, reviews, Beaver Street, Neil A. Chesanow

The other day I responded to a review of Beaver Street, by Kate Gould, posted on a British site, Review 31. I took Gould to task for what was essentially a dishonest review, but limited my criticism to the review's most blatant and verifiable misstatement: "Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely from his history." Female pornographers, I said, are one of the book's main subjects.

Another critic, Neil Chesanow, has now taken this one step further, posting on the Review 31 site a detailed deconstruction of the review's inherent dishonesty. Chesanow's critique, in my opinion, is far more interesting and informative than the review itself. In fact, it does what Gould's review should have done in the first place: It provides an accurate picture of what
Beaver Street is about.

Since Chesanow's piece might get lost among the other comments, I'm posting it here in its entirety.


By Neil Chesanow
It is a pity that a tyro reviewer with a political ax to grind saw fit to trash a funny, witty, engaging, informative history/memoir of the modern pornography industry because it wasn’t the feminist screed she had absolutely no right to hope it would be. As a result, her review is much more about her than it is about the book: a mark of rank amateurism.

Ms. Gould announces her misgivings about the porno industry early on. That alone should have disqualified her from reviewing the book; she lacks the objectivity necessary to write a bona fide review. She writes, for example, that she had hoped “Rosen’s account of the industry might engage intelligently with such issues” as “consent and the way in which porn teaches boys to view and treat women.”

If Ms. Gould knew a little bit more about feminist history, however, she would know that such a book—in fact, a whole flock of them—has already been written, primarily by feminists in the 1970s and 1980s, by women (and some men) who were mainly members of the radical feminist group Women Against Pornography. They included Susan Brownmiller, Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Gloria Steinham, Shere Hite, Lois Gould, Robin Morgan, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and the incomparable Andrea Dworkin, who maintained, among other bizarre notions, that all sex is rape.

There is no need for yet another of these books, and Mr. Rosen’s publisher, Headpress, would surely have rejected a manuscript along the lines that Ms. Gould would have liked to see because it has been done (and done, and done), and the desire for such a book today, even among the pathetically small number of women left who still consider themselves card-carrying feminists, is next to nil.

The subtitle of Mr. Rosen’s book, A History of Modern Pornography, Ms. Gould insists on taking literally in order to score her own points. In fact, Beaver Street is a memoir through which history is interwoven, and this is evident on the very first page. Ms. Gould writes that Mr. Rosen is “heavily biased” and “unable or unwilling to consider the existence or validity of any opinion other than his own.” Well, yes, because, you see, that is what a memoir is. Ironically, the same could be said of Ms. Gould’s review.

Ms. Gould unfairly takes Mr. Rosen to task for asserting that porn actress Traci Lords transformed “the ‘young girl’ into an object of such intense fascination, it’s now the single most profitable sector of the porno-industrial complex.” Mr. Rosen has scapegoated Ms. Lords, Ms. Gould contends, because “paedophilia is as old as time.” Yes, yes, but the porno-industrial complex, about which Mr. Rosen writes, is not as old as time, it is a recent invention, and its emergence roughly coincides with Mr. Rosen’s entry into it, which is precisely what makes his perspective on that industry valuable. It would be lovely to have a reviewer who could get such basic facts straight.

Ms. Gould snarkily sums up that “if you're looking for a dude’s take on smut mags, Beaver Street might be quite titillating.” Unfortunately, though, it seems she does not understand what the word titillating means: pleasantly stimulating, exciting, and erotic. Beaver Street is none of these things. Mr. Rosen’s deep ambivalence and frequent disgust with what he was doing during his porno years precludes that. Yes, the book mentions gangbangs and all manner of sexual acts, but none of these are lovingly described in salacious detail, not even Mr. Rosen’s account of his brief romantic relationship with a porno actress, which is tender and tawdry all at once—fascinating, yes, but erotic, no.

Ms. Gould is free to dislike Mr. Rosen’s book, but when one reviews a book for a public audience, one has a responsibility to review the work fairly on its own terms, not on a completely different set of purely solipsistic and irrelevant terms idiosyncratic to the reviewer. Ms. Gould fails to live up to this responsibility. Instead of serving us, the readers, she uses her review as opportunity to serve herself. Her review is titled “Masturbation Fodder.” And that is exactly what it is: not the book, the review.

Intellectual Masturbation Fodder

October 22, 2012

Tags: Review 31, reviews

It was inevitable. After 18 months of positive reviews, including some of the best reviews I’ve ever received for anything I’ve ever written, a critic has come along and trashed Beaver Street.

As a rule, I don’t argue with critics, because there’s no winning. Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. However, in my opinion, if you’re going to trash a book, then stick to the facts. Do not make up shit that’s demonstrably false, and then base your opinion on these misrepresentations. Because, inevitably, somebody’s going to call you on it. And when your misrepresentations or “lies,” as some might describe them, are brought to light, it’s going to undercut the credibility of the review, the publication it ran in, and you, the critic. This is especially true if you’re writing for a publication that’s generally perceived as “credible.”

The review in question, “Masturbation Fodder,” was posted this weekend on a British site called Review 31, which describes itself as a provider of “intelligent, nuanced reviews of the most interesting new books,” and describes its contributors as “a diverse mix of accomplished intellectuals.”

The intellectual in question, Kate Gould, of Edinburgh, Scotland, is the author of a book on flashers. This is what she said about Beaver Street: “Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely from his history. I suspect he was too caught up in his own juvenile dabbling to notice their existence.”

That’s quite a blurb! But anybody who has read Beaver Street in its entirety (rather than, say, select portions of two or three chapters) is aware that “female pornographers” are one of the book’s main subjects. I pointed this out on the Review 31 site, where another critic, Rich Flannagan, agreed that Gould “could have gotten her facts right” and suggested that she should have read the book thoroughly. But he also said that, in his opinion, the subtitle, A History of Modern Pornography, was “a little misleading.” He thought Beaver Street was more of a memoir.

“That’s why I called it ‘A History’ rather than ‘The History,’” I told Flannagan.

This was Gould’s response to the above comments: “I did read the book thoroughly. A very small number of female pornographers were listed in the index and a few made brief appearances in the book. That doesn’t come close to a representation of the work done by female pornographers even for ‘A’ history.”

To which I said: “Kate, you wrote that ‘Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely.’ Now you’re saying ‘a very small number of female pornographers were listed in the index.’ There are approximately a dozen female pornographers listed in the index, both by real name and pseudonym. In the High Society chapters, I describe in detail both Gloria Leonard’s and ‘Maria Belanari’s’ work. In the Swank chapters I talk about Dian Hanson and describe in detail the work of ‘Pam Katz’ (real name Joyce Snyder), who wrote and produced 4 classic X-rated films, and ‘Georgina Kelly.’ I could go on, but my point is that in your review you misrepresented an important aspect of the book.”

And that is where the first international Beaver Street literary dustup stands as of this morning. May I encourage you to go to Review 31, and weigh in with your opinion. In my opinion, the critic in question is crying out for attention.

On Vicious Hacks and Conspiracy Theorists

September 7, 2012

Tags: reviews, Amazon, Nowhere Man, John Lennon, Beaver Street, Fifty Shades of Grey, conspiracy theories

Even more common than the practice of authors paying for rave reviews, which I discussed yesterday, is the practice of authors anonymously trashing competitors' books. My John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, seems to be a magnet for such attacks, probably because, for the most part, I'm competing with a collection of vicious hacks.

One such review, titled "Worst Book Ever!" was posted on Amazon U.K. soon after Nowhere Man was published. "This book is just a bunch of lies," the anonymous critic (whose identity is transparent) wrote. "If I could rate this book 0 stars I would, but the computer makes you rate it 1 star and up. I think Robert Rosen should read [name redacted]'s books. Maybe he will get some sense knoked (sic) into him." He then posted a similar review on Amazon U.S., this time referring to his own book as "masterful."

I learned a long time ago that such critiques can help sell a book, provided that there are enough positive reviews to balance them out. Hatchet jobs make books seem interesting and controversial. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, has 3,800 one-star reviews to go along with its 4,700 five-star reviews.

Yesterday, I also said that I never have and never will pay for a review. On one occasion, though, I have gone over to the dark side and anonymously trashed another author’s book. But it wasn’t a competing author and it was a special case, the first of its kind: A high-profile conspiracy theorist published a book implicating me in a CIA-backed plot to murder John Lennon.

I remember standing in a bookstore in Chicago, the week that Nowhere Man was scheduled to be published, reading this book in a state of shock and horror, and wondering how anybody who called himself a journalist could a) believe such a thing, and b) publish it without speaking to me first.

A few months later I got the brilliant idea to post an anonymous one-star review of this book on Amazon. What I wrote, though, was completely true: “Not only is this book so murkily written that it borders on unreadable, but the author offers not a shred of concrete evidence to support his paranoid fantasy—that the CIA was behind the death of every one of the [10 rock stars mentioned in the subtitle]. This is trash fiction masquerading as investigative journalism.”

Naturally, the author guessed who was behind this review and accused me on his blog of viciously attacking and ridiculing him.

Beaver Street has yet to be anonymously trashed by a competing author. Perhaps that’s because it’s usually porn stars who write books about pornography, and your average porn star has more integrity than your average conspiracy theorist or Beatles biographer. Or maybe porn stars just have better things to do.

My Book Promotion Philosophy

September 6, 2012

Tags: reviews, Amazon, Nowhere Man, Beaver Street, Talk Story TV, Book House

It happens to the best of them. Herman Melville, for example. Moby Dick, published to mixed reviews in 1851, didn't find a lot of readers in Melville's lifetime and wasn't recognized as a great book till long after Melville was dead. I've heard writers say (though not recently) that they're writing for future generations.

I was never much into the idea of "making it big" after I was dead. I mean really, what's the point in spending years writing a book that nobody reads when you're alive? Yes, I write for money, but the thing that keeps me going day after day, especially during those long stretches between fat (and not so fat) paychecks, is a primal need to communicate, which I'm not counting on being able to do from beyond the grave.

That's why I've always done everything possible to bring my books to the attention of people who might enjoy reading them while I’m still here. My philosophy has always been: Talk to anybody who wants to talk to you about your book for as long as they want to talk about it, and go anywhere people are interested in your work. I’m the only American writer I know who’s traveled to Chile to do book promotion, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself.

Since 2000, when my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, was published, I’ve done more than 300 interviews, treating journalists from the most obscure websites as if they were Oprah. Cause you just never know. In fact, I’ve turned down only one interview request ever—from a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist who believes I’m the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who gave the order to whack Lennon.

But there’s one thing I’ve never done and never will do to sell books: Pay for a positive review. A recent article in The New York Times pointed out that Amazon has been flooded with bogus five-star reviews written by critics who don’t read the books they’re reviewing and which authors are paying for: one review for $99, 50 for $999.

I wouldn’t do it because fake reviews sound fake; few people believe the reviews they read on Amazon; and even real five-star reviews (or rave reviews anywhere) don’t help much when it comes to selling books. (If they did, Beaver Street would be selling a lot better than it is.)

Which is to say, if I’m going to get more people to read Beaver Street while I’m alive, then I’m going to continue doing it the old fashion way—speak to anybody who wants to speak to me and go anywhere I’m invited.

So, I hope to see you next week on Talk Story TV and in the Book House in Albany, NY.

On Raves and Hatchet Jobs

September 23, 2011

Tags: Nowhere Man, John Lennon, reviews, Paolo Palmieri, Oscar Wilde

The best lesson I've learned about reviews since the publication of Nowhere Man in 2000 is that a vicious review will sell as many books as a rave review. And, God knows, I've gotten enough of both to speak with authority on the subject. In fact, since Nowhere Man was published in Italy this week, two more reviews of the book have been posted--a five-star rave on Amazon Italy (in Italian) and a one-star hatchet job on Amazon Germany (in English). These critiques serve as a microcosm of what Nowhere Man has been subjected to for the past 11 years.

What I find fascinating about such divergent opinions is that the reviewers appear to be talking about two entirely different books. It’s a perfect illustration of the Oscar Wilde quote from the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.”

Antony, the Italian reviewer, described Nowhere Man as an “excellent” book, and a narrative that “portrays a rock star as very sensitive and vulnerable.” He also said that the author and Paolo Palmieri, the translator, “have made John Lennon one of us,” and that it’s “a book to always have on hand, and occasionally to open and read a few lines to understand the simplicity” of life.

Dulce Erdt, the German reviewer, however, said that Nowhere Man is “confusing” and “revolting,” lacks “sensitivity” and “respect,” paints a “too negative” portrait of Lennon, and then insists, “We all know that John Lennon was not a ‘nowhere’ man, why is this author trying to tell the world the contrary?”

The other good lesson I learned about reviews is to never argue with critics, especially ignorant ones, like Dulce Erdt. But sometimes their ignorance is just too overwhelming to ignore. Which is why I will take this opportunity to point out to Fraulein Erdt that some of us are aware that Lennon’s song “Nowhere Man” is autobiographical. In other words, I didn’t have to tell the world about Lennon’s “Nowhere Man” status. He beat me to it by 34 years.

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.

The Pornography Explained

June 28, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, reviews, pornography, X-Men, Spider-Man, content farm, sweat shop

It’s not in my nature to complain about any publicity that I get for Beaver Street. As I’ve found out time and again, a vicious review can sell as many books as a good one. What’s important is that people are reading my books, and care enough to write something about them.

But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon: A series of Beaver Street reviews has gone viral, and they’re all mash-ups of blurbs, press material, and previously published reviews, with an occasional dash of original thought thrown in for good measure. And they’re all written in a weird kind of subliterate English that sounds as if it were partially computer-translated, perhaps from Bengali.

In one review, titled “Beaver Street: The Pornography Explained,” the writer says, “The real actors behind the scene had to sweat for long hours to fetch something ever new so that the consumers could satisfy their ‘affluent’ needs.”

That’s the strangest metaphor for masturbation I’ve ever heard.

In a microblog titled “Beaver Street By Robert Rosen: Entertaining and Insightful,” the author refers to “X-male” and “Spider-Male.” (X-Men and Spider-Man, if you haven’t figured it out.)

I pictured a guy in India, who speaks English, but not well enough to express complex thoughts, and who doesn’t quite understand American pop culture, writing these reviews for 25 cents each.

Other people have pointed out that you don’t have to go to India to find writers willing to crank out articles for 25 cents, or less. You can find them here, in America, working on content farms, like Demand Media—21st-century digital sweatshops where, in some cases, writers are required to produce an “article” every 25 minutes over the course of a 70-hour workweek.

The purpose of these articles is to generate page views and advertising revenue by placing “high demand” search terms in their headlines. And they’ve changed the classic rules of publicity. No longer is it all good, even if they do spell your name right. In some cases, publicity is just bizarre. Though I suppose it is good that “Beaver Street” has been identified as a high-demand search term.