Sometime in 1969, I walked into the office of my agent, Henry Morrison, and announced that I had a million-dollar idea. “I’m going to tell you the title and the subtitle,” I said. “Tricks of the Trade: a Hooker’s Handbook of Sexual Technique.”
Henry reached for the phone and, as Archie Goodwin might put it, dialed a number he didn’t need to look up. I don’t remember the conversation, and indeed I was only hearing one side of it, but within moments he’d cradled the phone and informed me that Nina Finkelstein of New American Library was having contracts prepared, and that my advance would be $7500.
I’d been writing sex-oriented nonfiction as John Warren Wells for a few years. Lancer had been paying me $1500 advances, and Dell had doubled that for one book, but the NAL deal represented a nice step up for JWW. Now all that remained was the research and the writing.
In point of fact, I’d already done the bulk of the research, albeit without realizing that’s what it was. I was in my early thirties, awash in testosterone and apparently untroubled by that clause in the marriage contract about forsaking all others. Omar Khayyam wondered “what the vintners buy / one half so precious as the goods they sell,” and that’s how I felt about the enterprising young women I encountered in the course of my unwitting research.
Still, NAL was paying me a lot of money. So I got hold of a tape recorder, renewed my acquaintance with some of those working girls, and made some new business friends in the bargain.
The book was an enormous success. It went into thirteen paperback printings that I know of, and a mail-order publisher, Information Inc., brought out a hardcover edition as well. In the ordinary course of things there would have been a sequel, and I’d have had to force myself to do some more research, but that never happened; by the time it occurred to me to propose it, there’d been a change of personnel at NAL, and the last thing the new woman wanted to do was order up a plate of leftovers. If a sequel performed superbly, it would show what a genius Nina had been; if it fizzled, the failure would be all her own.
Still, Tricks of the Trade was good to me. It raised JWW’s price at Dell and Lancer to $7500, and led to a monthly column at Swank Magazine. For a couple of years being John Warren Wells was perilously close to being a full-time job, and I barely wrote anything else. I had to make a conscious decision to give it up, and by the time I did, the wily Mr. Wells had produced close to two dozen books.
For many years I was happy for JWW and all his works to be forgotten; I felt much the same way about the pseudonymous erotic novels that had constituted my writing apprenticeship, and was encouraged by the fact that much of that early work had not been printed on acid-free paper. “God speed the acid,” I was apt to say.
Well, that was then and this is now. As my late mother famously observed, the one thing to be said for growing old is that every year there are a few more things I don’t have to give a rat’s ass about. The Wells books are, after all, my work, and they were as good as I could make them, and I’m not much inclined to apologize for them.
And there’s even an economic incentive to own up to them. The ebook revolution has made it remarkably easy for me to republish virtually all of my early work. It is, as I’ve remarked elsewhere, a slow way to get rich—but I’ve never found a fast way, so I’ll settle for what’s at hand.
Through the miracle of Kindle Countdown, Tricks of the Trade is available today for 99¢. That’s about what you pay for an extra shot of espresso in your latte, but it won’t be available at that price for long. Sometime tomorrow the price edges up to $1.99, and the rest of the week will see further upward steps, until it’s back at the not-so-unreasonable price of $4.99. That’s how the Kindle Countdown program works, and you might contend that it really ought to be called Kindle Countup, but never mind.
I wouldn’t argue for a moment that John Warren Wells is everyone’s cup of tea, but neither is my old friend Lapsang Souchong. At this price, you can afford to find out for yourself. And, if you get the merest fraction of the pleasure out of reading this book that I got from researching it…