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It was a series of bizarre vehicular misfortunes that led Goodloe Byron to finally write the book that, he says, “was brewing for a long time.” In 2004, Byron—a Myersville, Md., native—was living in Los Angeles and en route to his first day of work at Guitar Center when he was hit by a car and hospitalized for a day. A few weeks later, he was mugged and dragged behind a vehicle. Next, a wheel came off his car while driving, causing him to crash into a freeway median. To top it off, a month later, his dog was struck and killed by an automobile.
“It was this big defeat on top of everything else,” says Byron, 26. “All of a sudden I felt this kind of frailty, this mild annoyance at everything, which was a perfect state for writing.” Over the next four months, Byron wrote The Abstract: Tales of Wickedness and Sorrow, which follows a discontented expatriate who, for lack of anything better to do, pretends to be a journalist covering the local arts scene.
After completing the novel in Los Angeles, Byron returned to D.C. in 2006, and got a gig as a pro-bono cover artist for Soft Skull Press. There Byron learned the ins and outs of publishing; he then used the money he had saved from his day job as a receptionist to self-publish 10,000 copies of The Abstract, which he priced at $0.00.
“The idea was to go an extra mile here and to do more than what would have been done if it had been released by Doubleday or whoever,” says Byron, who adds that he didn’t solicit publishers for the book. “[S]ubmitting to publishing houses isn’t my style. You have to write letters, talk about the audience you’re going for, sell yourself. After I had my job at Guitar Center, I was done with selling stuff. I am not any kind of great manipulator.”
In September, Byron embarked on a guerilla-style book tour across the country. He loaded his 2003 Dodge Dakota with thousands of copies of The Abstract and headed west, stopping at book festivals, coffee shops, and bars to distribute the book for free. “Something that wouldn’t seem real plausible to a businessman would seem real plausible to an idiot,” he says of his unconventional business model.
Byron adds that he’s more interested in the spirit of the project than making a profit. “I like the idea that people will just happen upon it,” says Byron. “I was in Chicago distributing the book, and I was feeling kind of lazy, so I just dropped a big stack in Wicker Park. Later, I saw all these people walking around with it, sitting on benches reading it.”
Byron returns to the District this week, where he says he’ll leave copies of his book in bars and coffee shops and public parks such as Dupont Circle. He gets permission from the venues before leaving copies; those who refuse, he says, seem to assume he’s “either a cultist or a pornographer.” For those who aren’t lucky enough to find a copy of The Abstract, Byron will also mail one to anyone who sends him an e-mail request. (Byron’s e-mail address is available on Brown Paper Publishing’s Web site, brownpaperpublishing.com.)
Byron plans on distributing the book through January 2008; after that, he’ll start work on a new novel about an amnesiac and try his hand at autobiographical creative nonfiction. So far, he says, he’s pleased with how the tour has gone—he’s given away more than 4,000 copies of The Abstract.
“Even if they probably don’t read it, they still take it,” says Byron. “I guess people just like a free book.”