Their jackets might be similar and their titles identical but for a single pair of transposed letters (and different subtitles), but no one in bookstores is likely to confuse HarperCollins's Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin with OR Books' Going Rouge: Sarah Palin An American Nightmare. That’s because, by design, publishing vets Colin Robinson and John Oakes won’t have their book in the bookstores, as much as they profess to love them. Instead, the pair behind OR Books are publishing their instant book of essays on the rogue and rouged ex-governor of Alaska directly to consumers.
“This is our first book,” said Robinson, cofounder of the six-month-old house, with “daytime offices in the Eros Café and nighttime in El Quijote, the bar next to the Chelsea Hotel.” According to Robinson, who spent 17 years at Verso Books, OR’s mission is to publish politically progressive and literary books “with sufficient money to promote them,” which means making books available only as e-books or as POD. “We’ve reached the point of no returns,” quipped Robinson, “right out of the gate.”
HarperCollins will no doubt be making a huge promotional effort with their book surrounding its November 17 pub date, including an appearance on Oprah. Many marveled and many mocked Palin’s quick composition of her life story, but OR’s book was even faster and timed to piggyback on all the publicity that the much-touted HarperCollins book will attract.
“The book was Deirdre Mullane’s idea,” said Robinson, speaking of the Brooklyn-based literary agent. “She presented the idea a month or so ago. I doubt that many publishers felt they could get it out in time to match the Harper pub date, but we knew we could.” The book, which is edited by two editors at the Nation, Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, will include essays by two dozen writers, including Tom Frank, Joe Conason, Jim Hightower, Katha Pollitt, Naomi Klein and Nation editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Huevel.
Asked how OR intends to promote a title with no bookstore outreach, Robinson explained: “We have a video made by documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who has made videos savaging Fox News, I would add. This we will send around virally leading up to the November 17 date. People will have only two choices, really—order the book as a download from us at $10 or order print-on-demand for $16.” It is the low production costs involved that will allow OR to promote the book heavily on the Internet, said Robinson, with perhaps a little print advertising as well. After which, Robinson hopes to be entertaining offers from reprint houses looking to buy the paperback rights.
Robinson said this is the model—e-book and POD only—that OR Books will pursue for subsequent titles. “In January we are publishing a book by Norman Finkelstein about the Israeli invasion of Gaza, coming out on the anniversary of the invasion, and in the spring we have a book on novel writing, called The Process, which will include original pieces by Monica Ali, Joseph O’Neill, Zoe Heller and many others.
“Under the traditional print publishing model,” he added, “there would be no money left to promote books like this. With so many books out there, it is hard to make a book stand out. This way, we can shift our resources into promotion and hope we make a big enough splash to get a paperback deal. Neither John nor I are against bookstores. They are nothing other than a good thing, but we can’t afford to be sending books there and watching them come back, at this point, to our apartments.”
If things work out, Robinson hopes to take up real offices in the near future, but for the moment, is content with cafes and bars.