A new book – yours for the taking
An established author finds a novel way to distribute his new book.
(Page 2 of 2)
The idea was relatively simple: Publish a limited-edition run of a second novella, "Talking Man," which was loosely related to "Man Talking." Then release a third novella, "Man," to random locations across the United States, with the help of a network of friends and acquaintances.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Heppner, in other words, hoped to explore three avenues of distribution: online, with "Man Talking"; through a small press, with "Talking Man"; and haphazardly, with "Man."
"I was very curious about how stories get into the world," he says. "Man Talking," and "Man," for instance, are both largely concerned with matters of communication – among peers, family members, friends, and strangers. "What is the relationship between readers and writers, and consumers and producers?" he adds. "I wanted the way I presented these novellas to be another layer of commentary."
Ms. Hyde was enthusiastic. "I was fascinated," she says. "It became this great experiment. With 'Man,' we said, 'Let's send these out into the world, and let's have absolutely no expectations for it,' which is kind of awesome, when you think about it, because it's something Mike's worked on, and something close and personal. And by virtue of making these copies, you're almost giving it no monetary value."
In the end, Hyde and Heppner settled on 500 copies of "Man" and sent stacks out scattershot to college campuses, coffee shops, gyms, offices, and airports. Each edition was bundled with a one-page cover letter, which informed readers of the "Man" project and asked that readers send comments and questions to Heppner. (The book has never been distributed to bookstores, and Heppner says he has no plans to release it that way.)
"You hold in your hands a copy of 'Man,' the third in a series of four novellas," the letter read. "Please do one of the following: (a) read it, (b) leave it where you found it, or (c) give it to a friend."
Among the recipients of "Man" was Gina Hoch-Stall, a student of dance and psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. "I found the story quite touching," Ms. Hoch-Stall wrote to Heppner. "As a choreographer I am often trying to use gestures, memories, and intimate details to bring people into my dances; I feel like this is what made 'Man' successful."
Meanwhile, Heppner and Hyde had released "Man Talking" in September, to a good deal of acclaim. ("Talking Man" will be released this month in a trade edition.) A fourth installment, "Talking," is planned for a March release, although Heppner is keeping mum on the plot and distribution details. He will say only that he's "extremely excited."
"I've learned that no one is ever going to say thank you," Heppner says of the writing life. "You have to do what you want to do, and you'll get compensation or you won't. It's worth doing, or it's not."
In this case, he adds, "it has been worth doing."