Author Phronk opens up on viral hit ‘Baboon Fart Story’

Phronk (pseudonym) is a technology analyst but moonlights as an author and possible Dada artist. Phronk got the inspiration to write the book “Baboon Fart Story” when author Chuck Wendig blogged about self-publishing and wrote on Sunday, “I can literally write the word ‘fart’ 100,000 times and slap a cover of baboon urinating into his own mouth, then upload that cool motherf—er right to Amazon. Nobody would stop me.”

Phronk decided to give it a shot: He wrote the word “fart” 100,000 times and uploaded the e-book to Amazon — with the cover of a baboon urinating in his own mouth, of course. He added some funky formatting, including a page called “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Farts Club Band,” and put it on the retailer Monday evening. Wendig tweeted a link to the book and soon it ranked No. 9 within its category. Amazon pulled the book this morning (which shows that there are gatekeepers at Amazon, after all) and we caught up with Phronk after he got home from work.

Was your book getting traction before Chuck Wendig tweeted it out?

I think he tweeted it out within an hour of it going up on Amazon, so there wasn’t much time between there. I don’t think it would have gotten much traction without his signal boosting and putting it out there.

How long did it take you to write it?

It was a holiday yesterday so a bit of the morning and afternoon to copy and paste the word “fart,” so yeah, the afternoon. Putting it through Amazon is a bit of a pain but I did it recently so it didn’t take too long.

How many copies have you sold?

I haven’t checked the total number, but in the American store it was about 21 copies before it got taken down. There could be a few sales within the British and Canadian store.

Just 21? How did it get to No. 9 in the store?

That is a good question. It was in kind of an obscure category. It was in one category, which was like literary criticism or something. Twenty-one copies is enough to get it within the Top 10, I guess.

How long was it available?

I’m not sure when it got taken down. I just heard about it this morning around 9 a.m. so it was probably up overnight; I put it up a few hours before that. Less than 24 hours, probably 12.

And people complained to Amazon?

I didn’t get any notification when it was taken down but a few hours later I got an email from Amazon and I forget the wording, but it said people complained and said they had a poor reading experience when they read the book, which I can understand. It probably went through an algorithm on Amazon for complaints that got it taken down. I guess when it got in the Top 10 in literary criticism, some people outside Chuck Wendig’s circle read it and thought it was a real book.

What made you want to sit down and put his theory to the test?

I saw that sentence on his blog and thought to myself, “Someone’s gotta do that and actually put it to the test.” I provoke things on the Internet when I get the chance and see an opportunity like that when it comes along. I suspected it might go viral for an hour or two and I’m kind of an attention whore so I did it and I guess I was right.

Is it pulled forever or is this just a suspension?

According to them, it’s done. I put in a complaint to Amazon and they sent me a short e-mail back saying, “It’s gone. We’re not going to explain why. Have a good day.” And that’s about it. So I emailed them back again saying that’s not acceptable. This is a joke book so it doesn’t really matter but what if this was a real book they took down with no explanation? I’m going to email them back a few times to see if they’ll put it back up but it’s not looking hopeful. Another thing about that – what’s really lost are the metadata. The reviews were funnier than anything I’ve ever done.

So what is your take on e-books and self-publishing?

People on both sides of this war between self-publishing and traditional publishing taking any extreme side are not going to get anywhere. They’re both valid paths to publishing a book right now. A lot of people made a lot of money self-publishing. Hugh Howey’s a millionaire now so a lot of people say that’s the only way and you’re losing money if you don’t go with it, but this shows even if you put something up and it gets through the initial screening process and it gets popular, you’re not going to make a lot of money off of it unless it’s actually a good book. You have to write a good book and get it in front of people. Whether that’s going through the gatekeepers of editors and agents or putting it up there and hoping reading will take a viral liking to it are both valid paths.

I think e-books are not necessarily the only future. They’re one valid path that’s been added to our present and our future.

Speaking of money, how much have you made off the book?

When you price a book at 99 cents, you get 30 percent royalty, so if I sold 30 then I guess I made $10. Don’t laugh – that paid for my meal today. Awesome.

Do you think you’ll write more books of this nature?

I write serious books, too, I just haven’t really published them. I sold a few short stories, but yeah, of this nature probably not. Unless I spot something that is a “good idea,” then maybe I’ll jump on it, but that’s enough for now.

Where did you find the photo of the baboon?

I looked for it on Flickr for creative commons licensed imagery and some guy just had a photo of a baboon and I Photoshopped a yellow stream. I looked for a long time for a baboon peeing in its own mouth; there were a lot of monkeys, but no baboons.

Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark


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