Personalized books give readers love of their lives
By: Michael Precker
The Dallas Morning News
February 10, 2000
There you are in your favorite romantic spot, in front of a roaring fire, with chilled champagne and swelling music, smooth satin caressing your skin, your passion aching to be unleashed.
And gazing into your eyes, here for you and only you, is Mel Gibson or Heather Graham, depending on your point of view, even Bob Dole or Janet Reno, if that happens to be your fancy.
In your dreams, pal.
Or, for about 30 bucks, in your book. "I was thinking, 'Wouldn't it be fun to be in your own romance novel?' " says Mike Pocock, a Canadian entrepreneur who has designed a bodice-ripper in which you supply the bodice. "As soon as they open the first page, people start to laugh. But the romantic part works, too."
The plot of Love's Next Door sounds pretty interchangeable with much of the fiction at the supermarket newsstand: Big-city editor moves back to her hometown, where her high school crush lives next door with his totally unsuitable girlfriend. After various inspirations, infatuations and indiscretions - nothing too insidious or too explicit - the star-crossed lovers wind up together again.
The difference, of course, is that you're the casting director. Log on to www.romancebyyou.com and you'll find about 30 blanks to fill in, from the hero and heroine's names to their favorite restaurant, from hair color and pet's name to body type and favorite drink.
Computer software tailors more than 1,000 variables in the text so the seamless prose might come out like this, if, say, TV's The Simpsons had ordered the book:
"Homer, I really enjoyed myself this afternoon. Would you care to come in for a bite to eat?" Marge asked, as she unlocked the door to her home.
Homer stood watching as the fading sunlight caught the ends of her blue hair, turning them a golden hue. The whole time they were together, the feelings that had been hidden for so long suddenly came rushing back to life. His face suddenly flushed, making Marge laugh.
And so it goes for 140 pages, encased in a glossy cover with the title followed by "Starring (your name here)" in full color.
You may have run across this concept in books for young children, who supposedly are thrilled to find themselves in simple stories with lots of pictures. Mr. Pocock, who lives in London, Ontario, had spent a dozen years working with interactive television when he decided to adapt the children's idea for romance-minded adults.
"I wanted to find out if you can publish a book with a print run of one," says the 38-year-old bachelor. "And I realized it probably could be done. But everything has to be pretty darned efficient to make it a viable business."
Mr. Pocock worked on the software as he polished the manuscript - "We took out the really explicit sex scenes and put in humor instead," he says - before launching the book in Canada last fall. He won't divulge sales for competitive reasons, but says he hopes the Valentine's Day peg will jump-start the book on this side of the border.
"When people receive it as a gift, they see their name on the front cover and they start to laugh," he says. "Then right on the first page there's a line that says, 'She has a body that just loved to be cuddled in the cold winter nights.' "Every woman who reads that just loves it, no matter what kind of body she has," he says.
He won't give away the ending, except to say that Homer and Marge, or you and whomever, don't get married.
"It's very, very touching," he promises. "I just received a letter today from two women who wrote, 'We thought it would be some cheesy book with our names in it. But it's a great story. We absolutely loved it.' "
He realizes the book could be used for nonromantic purposes or have unintended results.
"I suppose you could buy a book with you and your girlfriend in it, and your wife could find it," Mr. Pocock says. "Or if you think your wife is fooling around, what better way to expose them? I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I haven't heard of anything like that."
If Love's Next Door is a hit, Mr. Pocock is thinking of everything from a sequel to personalized sports books, children's books and beyond. Ultimately, you and your friends could chase Moby Dick, or part the Red Sea, or spend Tuesdays with your favorite professor from college.
"We think we can sell a lot more books," Pocock says. "And remember, you will always be the heroine or hero."
You can order Love's Next Door for $29.95 at www.romancebyyou.com.
Reprint courtesy of The Dallas Morning News.