A new book – yours for the taking
An established author finds a novel way to distribute his new book.
Not so long ago, Ed Medina was studying in the library of Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., when he noticed a peculiar package on a nearby table. It appeared at first to be the pieces of a abandoned essay, but when Mr. Medina peered more closely, he saw two lines of thick black printing: "Please Read!!! Do Not Discard."Skip to next paragraph
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"I was mostly suspicious," Medina explained later. "Like, is this for real? But the concept was too intriguing for me to ignore it completely."
In 2002, Mr. Heppner was catapulted into the limelight when his debut novel, "Egg's Code," was nominated by both The Washington Post and Publisher's Weekly as one of the best books of the year. A second novel, "Pike's Folly," also fared well – Esquire magazine gushed over it – and Heppner seemed poised for a successful literary career.
But by 2007, Heppner, who now teaches at Emerson College in Boston, was having trouble placing his work, and his output had slowed to a trickle of short stories. "I was frustrated," he remembers. "No one was biting anymore. I felt out of the scene. I wondered for a while there if I should just give up."
Part of the problem, he knew, was the shrinking demand for literary fiction. Sales across the country were slumping, independent bookstores were shuttering, and most publishers had not yet discovered how to best reach a Web audience. Still, Heppner had been a writer for 15 years, "and if you've been doing something for 15 years," he says with a laugh, "it's hard to stop."
Eventually, he finished "Man Talking," a first-person novella. The themes were simple and ageless: Why do we tell each other stories? And what do those stories mean?
Heppner thought about shipping the book off to publishers, but he worried that it might not be marketable. "It was a fairly substantial amount of work that I had put in – maybe eight months in all," he estimates. "I thought, 'Might as well put it up online.' Readers could get it for free, and at the same time, I might get a little bit of attention."
Some 4,000 readers did eventually click through the site, and Heppner garnered some blog buzz, enough to get him thinking big. A few months afterward, Heppner contacted his friend Jen Hyde, the founder of Brooklyn's Small Anchor Press.