Black Market Publishing

A New Independent Publisher
Brings the Lives of Hard Rock Artists to Print

Interviewed by Keith McDonald

Black Market Publishing is a new and different publishing company that will deliver authorized and unauthorized books from legendary rock stars that include such heavy metal heavyweights in the likes of Nikki Sixx, Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne. These releases are not "tell all" books that we have become so familiar with, yet writings that tells the truth behind the artists. These releases are expected to hit bookshelves in stores near you in early 2002. I had the opportunity to speak with founder/biographer Jake "Editor in Black" who filled me in on his new company. You can access their website at www.blackmarketpublishing.com.


How did you get started in the publishing business?
By default really. I am a biographer, and some of the books I've written were getting quality offers, like the Marion "Suge" Knight biography, which I finished this summer and will be out in November via Amber Books. But others, my agent and I were shopping around and getting only weak indie offers on, or commercial publishing companies who wanted to talk and talk and talk but never get anything on paper, and my rational suddenly became why not try to circumvent the red tape of majors who want to do development deals but tie up the book's release for a year too long, and start an independent publishing company which deals exclusively in hard rock/heavy metal, hip hop, and alternative film star biographies.

 

How difficult was it to get your books into stores?
We are currently in negotiations with a handful of what we feel are the most qualified and energetic indie distributors in the industry, all of whom have a commonality in that they all are fans of the genre we are representing. That has to be there, otherwise it doesn't translate when they are selling buyers on the idea of taking a chance on stocking our titles. We will have that process wrapped up in a couple weeks, but the response has been fantastic so far, well beyond what I had initially envisioned in the shopping process. As far as getting our titles into Tower Books or Virgin Megastore, those types of record/book outlets, is a no-brainer. The stakes are somewhat higher with chains like Barnes and Nobles and Borders, but those are the two biggest chains in the country, and they both have very healthy music biography sections, so we are very optimistic toward their willingness to carry our titles. Beyond that, for example with Mom and Pop outfits, its just a lot of legwork selling them on the title's potential for sales, and most importantly, and this applies to all of the above, the publisher has to be able to guarantee the demand will be there, not through words, but through monetary actions, booking ads in the conventional rock and metal publications like Metal Edge, securing reviews in those types of magazines, online, keeping the newswires up on what is happening, targeting the band's official websites, fan sites, and of
course mailing lists, which are invaluable tools of promotion for new titles. Certain bands have rabid fans, like Kiss, who will buy anything affiliated with the band.

 

What new releases do you have coming out? Where can we find them?
In terms of current titles slated for 2002, we have "An Education in Rebellion: The Biography of Nikki Sixx", "Diary of a Mad Man: The Unauthorized Biography of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne", "The King of New York: The Biography of Notorious BIG", "American Badass: The Unauthorized Biography of Kid Rock", and possibly an authorized title from Lita Ford. For 2003, we are looking to release titles on Pam Grier, the Beastie Boys and Run DMC (jointly, as part of one biography), John Mellencamp, Too Short, Scarface, Tom Waits, and possibly the Brat Pack, focusing on the life of John Hughes, and potentially featuring interviews with Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, and the rest of the gang.

 

How did you get the information about these artists? Was it difficult?
It really depends on the project. If a biography is authorized, it is typically much easier to secure interviews from other celebrities, as well as the subject themselves. In a situation where you are dealing with an unauthorized biography, you have to rely largely on interview material. In terms of securing interviews from peer artists, it really is an individual situation, some are more willing than others, a lot of musicians for instance are on tour much of the year, so it becomes more logistical than anything else, in securing their participation. Usually e-mailing questions is the most preferred method, but phone interviews are best because you have a record of the entire conversation. Of course meeting in person is the most ideal, but rare most times. There is a lot of trust involved. We try to assure everyone we interview for biographies, authorized or otherwise, that we have honest intentions when we sit down with them. Some are very eager, some aren't. Sometimes you get someone who the subject really pissed off sometime in the past, and they are eager to talk all day. But because I don't allow unnamed sources for our books, typically, the latter type are harder to come by because they don't want to talk trash on record about, say, Suge Knight for example, or the Notorious BIG.

 

Are these authorized or unauthorized books?
A bit of both really. With the Nikki Sixx biography, for example, the title is technically unauthorized, but I have interviewed so many people who at some point played a fundamental role in his life, that I am telling much of his story through their words, rather than solely via previously published interviews, etc. We have talked to Lita Ford, who was Nikki's girlfriend for 4 years in the early 80s, Tom Werman, who produced three of the band's biggest records, John Corabi, who was Motley's front man after Vince Neil left the band for 5 years, Lizzie Grey, who was Nikki's songwriting partner and band mate in London, his group preceding Motley Crue. So I have tried to chronicle his life story as true to life as possible. There is too much crap out there in the way of unauthorized, tell all biographies. I try to really only tell the truth with the stories we put out through Black Market, so for example, we break one of the key rules in journalism in that I rarely if ever rely on "unnamed or anonymous" sources, which could be any nutball off the street, like Matthew Tripp for example with Nikki's bio, the clown who tried to sue Motley in the 1980s claiming he was Nikki for like 4 years. I have had a load of those types come crawling out of the woodwork in the course of researching the Sixx book, all with a million stories I cannot verify, and many of whom aren't willing to be quoted on record. I won't do it. The biggest challenge to securing an authorized biography with most rock personalities is that the whole process is usually a big pissing contest. Your typical band won't commit to let you shop a title to publishers as a green-lighted, authorized title until they have a guarantee of some kind of obnoxiously large advance from the publisher. The publisher, in turn, won't agree to volunteer any potential advance numbers until they have the band's committal that the title is authorized. You make no headway that way, because no one wants to trust each other. The band's lawyers don't make things much easier either, because they have so many provisions in any agreement that it becomes nearly impossible to tell an honest story. That was what was so unique about Motley Crue's authorized biography The Dirt, in that the band told a no-holds barred story, and that is rare. Also, the book sold 100,000 in 2 months, and was a New York Times top 20 seller for three weeks. It demonstrated that there is a proven selling demographic for that niche, which gave me the idea in the first place to start a publishing house that catered exclusively to that audience. I know, for instance, that an authorized Poison biography would sell fantastically well because I would market it solely to their proven fan base, which you could map out based on their summer tour. VH1 would eat up a promotional special, and the band could promote the book on the road. Also, you could sell the book on tour at concession stands, along with T-shirts, and if their was a major publisher behind it, just reserve a portion of proceeds from the tour sales and kick it back upstairs. As far as our other titles coming in the immediate future, we will have a healthy mix of authorized titles, as well as those titles where we will have to proceed on an unauthorized basis careful to preserve the integrity of the title via impeccable research, insightful interviews, and skillful storytelling.

 

What is the idea behind these books?
Our philosophy is that we don't seek to tell all, rather to tell the truth. So, for example, as I mentioned earlier, we tend to try to steer clear of these unnamed sources, who can say anything they want about someone and not have to be identified. I don't have a single interview in the Suge Knight title that isn't cited, and that is harder to secure, especially with Knight where people were afraid in many cases at first to talk on record. We managed to get around that hurdle. That speaks more to the point of your question, that the essence of our approach is that we circumvent as much red tape bureaucratic bullshit as possible. People, namely a lot of the larger publishers, have these review boards that have to vote titles up or down for publication, and they most times are made up of people who because of their age and other cultural considerations have no idea how a Poison title will fair in the market, so they vote it down. They won't take a chance on a band who has a proven hundred thousand-plus sales demographic. What does a 50 year old man really know about how an Ozzy Osbourne title will sell? Our role is to try to bypass all that crap in favor of putting our money where our mouth is, putting the books out to retail in modest pressings, 2500 to 5000, and let the fans speak for themselves. People think hard rock and metal fans are all burn-outs, and that is total bullshit. 'Dude, you bang your head so you can't read.' That is the reception we have gotten from a lot of major publishers, so I am not pulling that impression out of the air. Let these bands and their fans have a chance to connect in a totally new medium, that is what Black Market is about.

 

Will you do only hard rock and heavy metal stars, or others as well?
We are focused principally on hard rock and heavy metal stars, but also will be venturing into hip hop's arena with the Notorious BIG title, as well as potentially with a Too Short biography I would love to personally co-author. We are also beginning work on a Pam Grier biography, but the priority of that title's release will depend largely on whether we can secure her participation for an authorized biography. But coming out of the gate, we are seeking to establish our reputation as a hard rock/heavy metal publisher principally.

 

How many books do you plan on releasing per year?
We plan to start out slowly, the point of this venture is quality over quantity. I would rather sell a healthy 5000 copies of the Sixx title at retail, and press based on reorders, rather than put out 10,000 and get half those back in returns a year later. We will begin with approximately 4 to 5 titles in 2002, and expand in 2003 ideally to between 6 and 10 titles annually. Again, we are not interested in flooding the market. Black Market is designed to carve out a niche for those readers who are principally interested in reading about hard rock, metal and hip hop stars, so where you might only have 10,000 fans who would buy a Lita Ford authorized biography, that meets our sales criteria, and is actually a fairly good showing for an indie title.

 

Will your books be available around the world or just here in the U.S.?
We are in the process of exploring distribution offers vs. a straight licensing deal. We would prefer to lean toward a licensing situation because we aren't large enough to handle a full-scale European release, in terms of relationships with buyers, etc., but I would like to work something out along those lines, i.e. distribution, with a solid Canadian distributor. The books will be out around the world though yes, principally in Europe, and possibly, in some cases, in Japan and Australia.

 

What's the future for Black Market Publishing?
Ideally, we will within two to three years have established a niche for ourselves as the premier independent publisher of hard rock, heavy metal, and hip hop biographies in the new millennium, provided some fantastic opportunities for alternative writers/ biographers to have some real shots at getting new product out there, and please a lot of music fans who want this material but can't usually get their hands on it because of all the corporate red tape. There is a healthy sales demographic for this market, it just has to be developed commercially, which we hope to do. Feel free to visit us online at www.blackmarketpublishing.com to receive regular updates about our releases, or to learn more about the company. Anyone who wishes to inquire about submissions can e-mail us at hardrockbooks@hotmail.com as well. Thanks again for the opportunity.


Web: www.blackmarketpublishing.com
E-mail: hardrockbooks@hotmail.com

Black Market Publishing
Attn: J. Brown
168 Second Ave, Ste 372
New York, NY 10003


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Saturday, November 17, 2001