Bill Wattenburg’s Background: Publishing

Bill Wattenburg is also the comical author Will Harvey who once entertained nationwide audiences on major TV shows such as “The Phil Donahue Show” and “The Tonight Show”. Wattenburg’s media career began when he wrote a surprising best-seller while he was the president of a scientific laboratory in Berkeley. He had written short stories during his college days. He told us that in 1971 a group of women at a University cocktail party, who had read some of his short stories, bet him that he couldn’t write a book that was funnier than the New York Times’ then best-seller on sexual fantasies, The Sensuous Woman. So, he whipped out a book for them in three weeks with the title How To Be Good To A Woman, which they liked enough to make hundreds of Xerox copies of the manuscript to send to friends all over the country. But New York publishers said it wouldn’t sell when he tried to give it to them to publish, free—so his friends could buy cheaper copies. Unconvinced, he changed the title of the book to How To Find And Fascinate A Mistress, changed “woman” to “mistress” in the text, and had a Berkeley printer produce the first five thousand hardcover with a catchy jacket designed by his engineering draftsmen. He then gave away 200 copies to airline flight attendants (for whom he had written a complimentary chapter in the book). Orders began coming in from all over the country.

Three months later, his kitchen publishing company, Montgomery Street Press, had shipped over sixty-thousand hardcover copies to every major bookstore chain in the country. The New York publishing houses that could have had the book for nothing were soon bidding for the paperback rights. Pocketbooks (Simon and Schuster) finally bought the paperback rights for a reported $650,000. Pocketbooks sent him out on a national promotion tour to a few major TV shows. Requests then poured in from other shows all over the country who wanted him. Over the next year, he appeared as funnyman Will Harvey on over 130 local and national TV and radio shows. He was invited back to some major shows several times in 1972. Paperback sales of his book climbed to over 2,000,000 as he tickled audiences all over the country with his cowboy humor and the image of the hapless male struggling to keep up with the sexually aggressive women of the burgeoning feminist movement.

A former Pocketbooks executive has told us that Wattenburg received an advance for the paperback rights of “over $500,000”. She remembered that he caused quite a problem at Simon and Schuster during the bidding for the paperback rights to his book. She recalled: “He didn’t have an agent. He thought that our standard royalty contracts with authors were crazy. He demanded a guaranteed cash payment up front—not conditioned on future book sales, as was the usual case. He cleaned up after that. I think he still owns the hardcover… . He wouldn’t stay at some of the best hotels we booked him into during the promotion tours. He found out that travel expenses were being deducted from his royalties after sales went above, I think, 2,000,000… . He drove us nuts. We had to plead with some famous newspaper columnists and book reviewers to meet him for interviews at Holiday Inns… .”

Before it was over, the book that he had tried to give away had earned him over $1,300,000! It was published in six countries. Bantam books bought the rights to his next book for an undisclosed sum. He says he still has to explain on the radio to women who like to tease him that “in no way could I ever live up to the exploits of Will Harvey.”

We asked him in 1990 why he didn’t write more books. He said: “You can sometimes beat the pros at their own game once. But they don’t often let you get away with it a second time. It’s much easier to find another field.”

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