Nine to five, Ronda Wanderman worked the phones as a telephone sales rep on the rebound in New York. Charlie Young was also a loser at love, the manager of Crown Books in Manassas, Va., who pined for the kind of All-American woman he found between the covers of steamy romance novels. Last November, he phoned in a book order and heard her voice. Soft. Silky.
They talked for over an hour. It was free. (Ronda had a WATS line.) It was fun. "I liked her sense of humor," said Young.
It was, well, "love at first sound," sighed Claude D. Shaw, 71, the whitehaired circuit judge recruited to marry them here Monday in a publicity-stunt wedding designed to launch a new line of paperback romance novels.
Young's voice did it for Wanderman, too, the judge recounted. She "imagined that if she were talking to Prince Charming, that's how he'd sound."
Then, in the next breath, before he tied their troth, the judge plugged Jove Publishing's $1.75 formula pulps, "Second Chance at Love." "She'd had her first chance at love before," he cooed, "but on the telephone she found her second chance at love."
Herbert Wanderman, a men's apparel-maker from Philadelphia and the bride's proud father, beamed from the front row. It hadn't cost him a cent, he said. Paul Young, a retired ex-Marine and Charlie's dad, smiled from across the aisle. The crowd giggled. The couple kissed. TV cameras whirred. Publishers clucked with delight, insisting the hype was at least "tasteful."
Other publishers weren't so sure. But they were just "jealous" they hadn't thought up the idea, sniffed Kathy Aria, Jove's promotion director.
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, to the 81st annual convention of the American Booksellers Association, a four-day extravaganza of hype and hoopla that wound up yesterday and drew some 15,000 people to a convention center longer than four football fields.
Book buyers, authors, agents and readers browsed among promotion displays touting sure-fire best sellers, while publishers vied for their attention with free ice-cream cones, buttons, tote bags and posters; a mime whose body was anatomically subtitled to push a book on anatomy; a bird-costumed character decked out in Mardi Gras regalia (mirrors and turquoise feathers) and a woman in red satin, dripping spangles and rope snakes, and shouting, "Mardi Gras! A Celebration!" (It was Mitchell Osborne, a New Orleans photographer and founder of tiny Picayune Press, and his wife pushing his collection of photographs.)
In a lackluster year for the bottom line of many publishing houses, the annual ABA convention was especially critical for publishers yearning to extract the biggest "Gee Whiz" from browsing bookstore buyers whose thumbs-up might launch their products into Bestsellerland. Tessa Merritt, promotion manager for Putnam's waltzed between poster-sized color slides of its upcoming paperbacks, stopped before the seductive smile of a woman on the cover of "The Sensual Dresser" and took a deep breath.
"lit's about how to be the new '80s woman," she said. "How to dress sensually and be attractive. . . Women are getting into silks."
At Putnam's, the hot giveaway was a calendar titled Buns," whose cover featured the derriere of a man in skintight wet pants. Inside, Steve and Dave, two surfers, lay naked on their boards. "Some women are embarrassed to ask for it, so we just give them out to anyone who appears interested," she said. It's tasteful porno. Now you can have a full moon every month."
Others were drawn to the display area for the fully clothed presence of author and columnist Art Buchwald, who pumped hands and puffed on his cigar to push "Laid Back in Washington."
There were fun-runs and tennis tournaments, panels and book-and-author breakfasts starring the likes of Garry Trudeau and Gay Talese.
"This is a show, pure and simple," said David Goehring, national sales manager for Simon & Schuster. "We do very little business here. We have 30 sales reps who'll do the selling later. And only a very small percentage of the buyers we sell to attend the convention. Many of them can't afford to come, so a lot of the people we see here are buyers from the big chains who we see once a month anyway.We're here because every other publisher is here."
And everyone was here to hype.
But the highest form of courtly hype was practiced at the invitation-only private parties. Putnam's hired ex-senator's wife and southern hostess Betty Talmadge to feed 100 in a lawn supper at her farm in Lovejoy. It was covered by CBS-TV.
Bantam fought back with a Beatles disco party in Atlanta. Atlanta literary agent Caroline Harkleroad hired a gaggle of mountain cloggers to clomp in her back yard, where she stuffed book-world movers and shakers from New York and Los Angeles with genuine Georgia barbecue and sweet Vidalia onions.
But the convention's centerpiece, its sales gimmick extraordinaire, had to be The Wedding, "the stupidest press gig of the year," sniffed Harkleroad. "Two real people are getting married, but no one knows whether it's a joke or not. I guess that's what the ABA is coming to."
Jove was jumping into the pulp romance line because other publishers had found the market's escape-seeking women readers insatiable. "It's a void waiting to be filled," whispered wedding guest Arthur Alintuck, marketing director for an Arkansas-based book distributor. "Our market research shows that one out of two marriages will end in separation or divorce. Unhappily, everyone's looking for a second chance at love."
Alintuck sat close to Charlotte, his wife of 28 years. He was quick to apologize. "We're a statistical anachronism." He labeled the wedding "opportunistic, rather than tacky."
He nodded toward the cameras. "lthe most important salesman in the world is a guest here today -- television."
Soon, the bride and groom would be off on an all-expense-paid honeymoon cruise to the Caribbean on the QE2. Her gown was donated by Adolpho; his tuxedo by After Six; the cake by a local baker.
Jackie Goldshlag, the bridesmaid, wore pink chiffon. She said she'd prefer "something more private" should she ever tie the knot. The bride called it "a hell of a lot of fun," and asked the photographer from Us magazine if he wanted a "kissy-face shot."
The new line of pulps features heroines ages 23 to 30 whose first love, for some reason (death, divorce) didn't work out, said Jove editor Caroline Nichols. Other romance novels star heroines who are "18, terrible virginal, and work in the typing pool. Our formula has its own special twist. And our heroines aren't girls. They're women.
"It's light, escapist romance. Boom, in chapter one, she meets Mr. Right, and in 65,000 words we have their love story."
Rosemary rogers, watch out.
As for Wanderman and Young, "they loved this," said Nichols. "They weren't exploited. We were determined it wouldn't be a circus, but a real wedding."
The judge played his part like a pro. "Love is the most beautiful and meaningful thing in all of life," he said. "Romantic love is a theme for all ages and yet love is a mystery -- intangible, indescribable. Love is the strongest force in all of this world. Love speaks a universal language. It's like the leaves on the trees. No two romances are exactly alike."
Then the judge reached for The Book, that is, tha pulp romance, and read the last line. "And they were soon married and lived happily ever after."