Independent publishers do the durnedest things, like calling their house Goofy Foot Press and expecting people to take the place seriously.

But what can you do, says psychoanalyst-turned-publisher Paul Joannides: if you think that existing sex-education books are so boring they put people to sleep instead of that other thing they might do in bed, why not write a humorous sex book that takes clinical terms out of sex and puts the oomph back in for all to share?

The question plagued Joannides until the mid-'90s, when he decided to write a book that would use the colorful slang of sex ("OK, so here we have Dick, more functional than a Sidewinder Missile . . . "), tell women things they might not know about men ("you wouldn't believe how often the human male experiences a jolt of pain in his testicles") and men about women ("if wanting orgasms were the sole reason for doing a particular sex act, not many women would bother with intercourse").

Joannides drew from hundreds of resources and questionnaires, used explicit yet playful illustrations by Daerick Gross and brought a chatty and conversational tone ("[after childbirth] it might take the vagina a couple of weeks to heal after it's been stretched from here to China") to a topic about which he feels no subject is taboo.

The result is The Guide to Getting It On!: America's Coolest & Most Informative Book About Sex (670 pages; $19.95 paperback; distributed by Publishers Group West), one of the funniest yet erudite how-to books about sex ever to hit general bookstores÷or sex-ed classes (it's required reading in 25 colleges), or offices of clinical psychologists and psychotherapists (hundreds use it).

You've probably guessed that during the two years Joannides submitted the book to "all of the major American publishers," he got no takers. The few editors interested asked him to "soften the tone" or take the fun out of it because "our people in marketing have no idea how they can sell it. Is it sex÷is it humor?"

So Joannides took the name Goofy Foot (a surfing name), published the first edition of the book in 1994 and has since sold about 75,000 copies. Sales have begun to plateau even as he plans the third edition. In large part he owes the sale so far to a mock-serious cover reminiscent of a Lichtenstein painting in which two cartoon faces are kissing romantically and a half-nude couple is facing each other with more than gardening on their minds.

However, the unorthodox cover seems to scare off the conventional press. Not one review of the book has appeared, Joannides says, and many top-rated print and broadcast media have canceled features for fear of offending readers and viewers. Nevertheless, independent booksellers have sold the book steadily, especially around college campuses, and special sales have been brisk.

I wanted to write about The Guide to Getting It On! because the discovery of any well-made nonfiction book, especially one that's written with such conviction and authority and that fulfills its intention perfectly, is always a thrill, whether it's about retaining walls or flower arranging or in this case, sex. The fact that it comes out of left field and takes a different approach than usual, one wants to think, shouldn't stop it from reaching an audience that will value it.

Yet the pratfalls are many for independent publishers of books like this one. For example, Joannides says, a regional chain was selling the book quite well, simply by leaving it on the New Releases table, until the chain itself was sold to a new owner. Then Joannides was informed he would have to pay for "product placement" on the same table. When he couldn't afford to pay up front, the book was moved, sales fell and inventory was returned.

from HOLT UNCENSORED #79, 7/27/99
Holt Uncensored is an online column about books and the book industry distributed free twice weekly to subscribers' email. Sponsored by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, it can be found at and Pat Holt at .

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