It turned out that he very last person we saw at Chicon 2000, as we were heading out
from the Hyatt Regency Chicago on the long drive home, was Mike Resnick, who left
just ahead of us on his own long drive home. For this issue, Mike takes a break
from his "Worldcon Memories" series to describe his early days as a professional
writer, but in a somewhat different genre than science fiction.
There has always been a field where a writer who was fast, facile, and willing to work under a pseudonym could make a quick buck or two. In the 1930s, it was the hero pulp field, where various diverse hands became Maxwell Grant to write The Shadow and Kenneth Robeson to write Doc Savage and The Avenger.
By the 1960s the money was to be found in the adult book field, where Bob Silverberg, Barry Malzberg, Marion Zimmer Bradley, myself, and a number of other future science fiction writers learned our trade while paying our bills.
I wrote a lot of sex books under more than 150 pseudonyms. But early on it occurred to me that I could make even more money by building a little creative factory of writers who were just as fast as I was, and even hungrier.
It worked like this: I'd find a new sex book publisher, and write two or three books for him. (It was always a him... and given a choice between good and Thursday, he always wanted it Thursday.)
He'd pay about $1,000 for the book -- royalties were never mentioned, and certainly never received -- and after I'd sold him a few to prove I could give him what he wanted and make my deadlines, we'd usually come to an understanding: he would guarantee to buy a book every four (or six, or eight) weeks from me if I would guarantee to deliver the proper number of pages on time.
Then I would find (and, usually, train) writers who were hungrier than me to write these 200-page masterpieces for $500. After I edited the first couple, I'd pay a trusted assistant $50 to edit all future books, and then I'd pay a typist $50 (a quarter a page, the going rate for a book back then) to type the edited manuscript -- and I'd make $400 for setting it up.
I'd pocket that $400 two or three times a week, in addition to what I was making with my own writing and editing, which wouldn't be too bad today and was incredibly lucrative for a kid in his mid-20s back in the late 1960s.
It was a nice set-up. I had maybe three guys writing full-time, another one editing part-time, and we kept two work-at-home typists busy. There was only one fly in the ointment: Greenleaf Classics.
Greenleaf was the biggest publisher of dirty books around. (And when I say 'dirty', I mean soft-core. All this stuff pre-dates Linda Lovelace, Larry Flynt, Screw, and that whole crowd.) They published close to 500 new titles a year. Their publisher, Bill Hamling, was the former publisher of Amazing and Other Worlds. Their editor, Earl Kemp, had won a Best Fanzine Hugo for Who Killed Science Fiction?, and also chaired the 1962 Worldcon in Chicago. I knew Earl, having joined Chicago fandom just before he left to edit sex books in California.
So what was the problem?
Greenleaf only paid $600 a book. Once I farmed a book out for $500, paid $50 for the editor, and $50 for the typist, I had broken even -- and after I paid for postage, I was in the hole.
It drove me crazy. There had to be a way to get Earl to come up with $1,000 a book or more. I had the manpower to supply him with 50, even 100 titles a year, but at his prices I simply couldn't afford to do so.
Now, while I was doing all this free-lancing, I was also editing a weekly tabloid called The National Insider, which was second only to The National Inquirer in circulation. And one of the things I did as editor was to buy photos of 'nudie' movies (not the Deep Throat kind, which hadn't captured the public yet and was confined to stag smokers, but rather the Russ Meyer kind, with lots of nudity but no legally actionable obscenity).
The guy I bought them from was a fellow named Marv Lincoln, who took publicity photos for about half the nudie movies that were made in California. After I'd been dealing with him for awhile, I thought I saw a way to give Earl something so special that he couldn't get it anywhere else and would have to fork over four beautiful digits for it. I asked Marv to find out how much it would cost me to buy 100 black-and-white photos from a nudie movie, plus the rights to novelize the script. (Well, actually, I never saw a script; I was happy to novelize it from the publicity brochure, which probably had more words than the script anyway.)
He came back to me a couple of weeks later with a price: $400.
Okay. I would pay Mark $400. But now, with 100 8x10 photos, I only needed a 100-page book rather than 200 pages, so I could pay my hungry writers $250 instead of $500. And my editor and typist would each get $25 instead of $50. So my total expenses would be $700.
I called Earl and hit him with the idea. He offered $1,200 a book and we were in business.
I delivered about 20 books to him in two months. It felt like stealing.
Then the first couple came out. I had a couple of science fiction paperbacks on the stands back then; they sold for 50 cents apiece. Sex books were going for $1.95. Earl charged $3.95 for the sex books with the 100 photos in them -- and they sold like hotcakes.
I always wondered who took the publicity photos for the other half of the nudie industry, the half Marv Lincoln didn't take.
I soon found out. It was none other than Bill Rotsler, long-time fan and perhaps the greatest cartoonist in the history of fanzines.
And pretty soon Bill was selling Earl just about as many of these illustrated novelizations as I was. (I have no idea if he wrote them himself or farmed them out -- but farming out was a pretty common practice back then.)
Title after title sold out. And of course there had to come a day when Earl and Bill Hamling asked themselves The Question: if we can charge $3.95 for a book with some text and 100 photos and sell out, what can we charge for a book with 200 photos and no bothersome text at all?
They printed up a handful of such books and sold out at $7.95 apiece. Their next step was to explain to me that they no longer needed any novelizations, and then they contacted all the photographers directly.
Publisher after publisher followed suit. After all, why sell 50% of your print run at $1.95 when you can sell all of it at $7.95 and not have to pay any writers for the privilege?
And that was that. No writer could sell a sex novel in the field for the next five years.
Oh, eventually they began publishing hardcore photos and one by one they were busted and shut down, and a few years later adult novels ("the kind Frenchmen like") made their reappearance, but by then I had stockpiled enough money to quit the field -- thank Ghod! -- and was preparing for a full-time career as a science fiction writer.
And that's the story. Except that, almost 30 years later, I'm still waiting for my commendation from Jerry Falwell and my medal from the Legion of Decency.
All illustrations by Charlie Williams