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Personalized romance book a novel experience

Judy Stoffman
Publishing Reporter
December 11, 1999

Book By You - Publisher - Michael Pocock
Mike Pocock: Man behind personalized romance novel is 38 and single.

Mike Pocock has a novel idea for Christmas.

His London, Ontario based company is publishing a 140-page romance titled Love's Next Door, whose four main characters change according to each buyer's specifications.

Pocock says people order the books for their wives, husbands, significant others, moms, friends, anyone who enjoys a mildly erotic fantasy whose hero or heroine bears their name, features and habits.

Orders have been placed through his Web site (romancebyyou.com) from all over North America.  One customer wrote from Florida: "My husband jokes about making love to Sharon Stone.  I gave him Love's Next Door for his birthday and included Sharon as the leading lady.  He chased me for weeks."

The original story was penned by Christine Elliott, who lives in Saint John, N.B., and had never written a book before.  "It turned out to be a joint project," Pocock says.  "An editor and I went over it, toned down the sex scenes and put in more humour. We wanted to make the book so you could give it to anyone."

It may be a novel but literature it is not. "We don't need a Pulitzer prize-winning book.  We can't have to many twists and turns in the plot or a big surprise in the end because it would be too difficult  to the make the changes. We've looked at a number of manuscripts that would be great as a book but not as a personalized book.  Conventional publishers wouldn't put a lot of cliches in, but we do. People talk like that."

The heroine of Love's Next Door is a magazine editor in a big city who moves back to her home town and finds her old high school crush living next door. He has a girlfriend but, of course, she's a nasty bit of business and totally unsuitable. It's only a matter of time before the girl-friend is toast and our heroine has the boy next door under her spell.

To order a copy, customers fill out a list of 30 specifications, including the names of the four characters (hero, heroine, best friend, villain), hair colour and style of heroine, pets, favourite restaurant and preferred cocktails of the protagonists.

Most of the choices are limited to what's on a prepared checklist. "One woman wanted us to give the heroine a pet snake but we only offer cats and dogs because there's a scene where the heroine cuddles her pet."

The specifications translate into "more than 1,000" changes made by the computer in the text for each customer.  The glossy cover is personalized, too.

Pocock won't say how many copies he's sold since he put the novel on the market four months ago. "Business is going very well for Christmas and we are especially looking forward to Valentine's Day."

It's business is made possible by technology.  Pocock worked on the computer program himself, along with two other people. The books are printed individually by an on-demand printer and they cost $29.95 each.

"Someone sent me an ad for a California publisher who does something similar and they charge $240 (U.S.)  for each book," he claims.

Pocock, 38 and single, says he sees himself as more of an inventor than a publisher. "I have a number of U.S. patents in the interactive television area.  I'm a technology person."

Does he read romances? "I've had to, but I don't read them as a general rule."

About half the orders for Love's Next Door are made through its Web site but the book can also be ordered at selected Hallmark and Print Express stores. The book can also be ordered through the Romance By You  toll free order line 1-877-659-4844.

Reprint courtesy of the Toronto Star.

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