BEGINNING WITH Off the Wall Street Journal, which came out--appropriately--last April 1, Tony Hendra and assorted colleagues have produced four attention-getting satires, including Meet Mr. Bomb and The Irrational Enquirer, within the space of a year. (Of the latter title, there are 1.6 million copies in print.) However, according to publicist Leigh Haber, the latest, Not the Bible (Ballantine) has been getting hands-off response in some quarters. The Ballantine sales force found unexpected resistance on the part of some booksellers and wholesalers, Haber told "Book Report." What's more, various scheduled interviews, especially on morning television shows, were cancelled. This, despite the fact that Not the Bible, whose title page lists the author as "The Reverend Oral McJorrity, D.D" (along with Hendra and Sean Kelly) comes with a quote from one "M. Luther, Chaplain--Federal Republic of Germany" ("The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn").
Hendra, an Englishman who was for a time a Benedictine monk, himself doesn't mind scorn at all--dishing it out, that is. But it's satire that's dearest to his heart. At Cambridge at the same time as the Monty Python troupe's Cantabridgians, Hendra briefly performed in a comedy team with Graham Chapman, one of the Monty Pythons. He even made it on to the Ed Sullivan Show before joining up with The National Lampoon in New York in the early '70s. In 1978 Hendra was a leader of the ad-hoc group that cooked up Not the New York Times, and the following year The '80s: A Look Back at the Tumultuous Decade was a best-selling exercise in parodic futurethink. He put that together with Christopher Cerf, another Lampoon veteran.
Hendra says he'd always wanted "a little imprint that did nothing but satire" and so, with Larry Durocher, once the publisher of Rolling Stone, he last year founded Hendra- Durocher (their distribution is by Warner Communications to bookstores and newsstands) after the success of the Wall Street Journal spoof. How do the four full-time creative members of the firm--three editors and an art director-- spend their office hours? (Competitive wisecracking, after all, is an entertaining way to pass the time, but it can cause early burn-out.) "Satire is a highly social activity," Hendra agrees. "We all have fun, but then it comes down to the less enjoyable and much soberer job of sorting it all out." Meet Mr. Bomb, the "charter publication of the Futile Preparedness Agency" (and of Hendra-Durocher), is a parody of civil defense pamphlets, for which they attempted to hold a press conference in the Pentagon. Yes, the Pentagon. But, since they were planning to arrive with an actor dressed in a 71/2-foot ("mostly warhead") bomb costume, permission to use a Department of Defense briefing room was denied. "We booked it and they confirmed it, but 48 hours before, they started backing off."
What's coming next? At tax time, April 15, there will be a sequel to Off the Wall Street Journal. But, Hendra confesses, he's "not looking ahead much," for there aren't any periodicals left that are ''big and bad enough." Well, Reader's Digest, he mentions, is a teeny bit tempting, but for a comedy sharpshooter like Hendra, it's a bit too easy a target to hit. "Still," he muses, relishing the possibilities, "we're more likely to be hit by lightning for doing that than the Bible."
TRAINING FOR FUN AND PROFIT
ANOTHER BOOK that came out about a year ago--in December of '81, to be exact--is All Aboard! The Story of Joshua Lionel Cowen & His Lionel Train Company (Workman). The author, Ron Hollander, by all accounts a tireless promoter, approached the folks at Workman with an idea for reviving interest in his project after 12 months had gone by. Did they give him the brush-off and decline to cooperate? Amazingly, no, even though publishers are usually less than eager to lay out even a little money for postage, to hustle a book, when other titles have come along to take its place. All Aboard!, it should be added, is a trade paperback and had a very respectable first printing of 40,000 copies and a second of 20,000 last May.
What Hollander proposed was a press release which would offer his services in evaluating the "hundreds or even thousands of dollars" worth of toy trains "sitting ignored and forgotten in peoples' homes." According to him, such train-mad celebs as Frank Sinatra and Tom Snyder know what their little cars are worth, so why not you? For those interested, he specified that various data on the toys themselves be itemized in a letter (photos were helpful but not mandatory) and mailed to him along with a stamped, self- addressed envelope. Says Workman's Maureen Kelly, admiring her author's thoroughness, "He wrote the evaluation that he returned to his correspondents on the back of a flyer for the book."
Workman mailed out about 300 of these releases to newspapers around the country and a number of them simply ran it in its entirety. Oddly, Workman doesn't have a clipping service, as most publishers do ("we'd rather see it reflected in sales"), so Workman doesn't know exactly how many papers used the Hollander item. Though Hollander, Kelly thinks, has gotten about 200 requests for appraisals; it's a novel ploy for a writer of any kind to make himself so available to his readers. Meanwhile, if you have a caboose you're curious about, write Hollander at 562 West End Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10024.
IN TERMS OF VIEWERS, the television production of Herman Wouk's The Winds of War was a national hurricane; people by the millions stayed in their houses and battened down the hatches. Now, word comes from Pocket Books that the Monday after the series ended, a quarter of a million orders for the sequel, War and Remembrance, blew into their warehouse. As sales gusts go, that's the biggest Pocket has experienced to date; they have almost 6 million of the original title in print, with the total for the follow-up (whose first chapter is called "Where's Natalie?") nearly 2.5 million. We're winded, just thinking of the movement of all those books . . . A number of publishers, it seems, will be involved in the entry of Esquire magazine into the book business. Next fall, in conjunction with Viking, the brand- new Esquire Press intends to publish a 50th anniversary collection of stories that ran in Esquire, and with Ballantine it is planning a book-length version of a popular recent cover story, "How a Man Ages." Esquire Press will have at least one true-blue publishing type on hand, senior editor Gene Stone, formerly of Bantam and Harcourt Brace, but, historically, most presses sprang from the heads of magazines (Saturday Review Press, etc.) have been short-lived or chronically anemic ventures . . . In the February 18 issue of Publishers Weekly, writing a guest column, Times Books president and publisher Joe Consolino discusses how stores discounting books can increase competition in a favorable way: "It would be refreshing to see an ad reading 'ABC Bookstore is selling this book for $10, so I decided to sell it for $8.75.' " Hasn't someone already thought of that? Gee, it really sounds familiar.