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Shamelessly Self-Publishing

Paul Bibeau’s odd bid to break into books.

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He’s skipped such traditional venues as bookstores and literary readings, opting instead for guerrilla-style readings at open-mic nights, comedy clubs and coffee shops. As part of his regular circuit between Roanoke and Newport News, he makes regular stops at Richmond’s Tropical Soul.

“I try to go to two clubs a week,” says the 33-year-old Bibeau, who carries boxes of books and business cards with him in case some unsuspecting audience member gets the itch to make contact.

Bibeau started writing by the fifth grade, tossing off horror stories for the heck of it. He took classes in creative writing and literary journalism at the University of Virginia, and his first job out of college was at a newspaper in West Point, Va.

He moved to New York City in the mid-’90s, and spent eight years working for the glossy mags, starting as a low-level chump at Mademoiselle, where he eventually became an advice columnist. “I was the ‘normal’ guy who would tell the ‘normal’ women writing in what a ‘normal’ guy wanted,” he says. “You really learn what it is that an audience wants.”

Bibeau turned the experience into an assistant editing position at Maxim magazine and soon found himself at a crucial career crossroads. “You always have to make that decision,” he says. “Are you going to be an editor or a writer?” He chose the latter, but was all the wiser with a wealth of marketing and editing skills needed to hustle his work.

Bibeau is shamelessly pushing ahead with his self-publishing efforts and is determined that the face time at his commando readings will pay off in the end. “I think the future of self-published fiction is going to model the alternative music scene,” he says. “Traditional publishing is too cautious, too slow-moving, and too arrogant to give people fiction that’s unique and fresh.” With costs diminishing for small print runs and the Internet making marketing easy for little guys, Bibeau thinks it won’t be long before the large houses lose the advantages they currently have.

One way Bibeau gauges his success is via book sales, which have, to date, been depressingly meager. Bibeau estimates he has sold “more than a hundred.” But sales aren’t the only measure. Like a traveling punk band, Bibeau also takes note of the response he gets at the readings, he says, “and whether people remember me when I come back. Since you’re dealing with people in clubs, they’re drinking heavily,” he says. “If they remember something, it’s a good thing.” S

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