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Year-End Update: Revisiting Scenes and People From 1986 View Stories : A Closed Chapter

December 28, 1986|PAUL DEAN

View has revisited some of the people and places it reported on in 1986 to update their stories. Among them:

--A shelter for the homeless that was itself homeless.

--An author who had new ideas about how to market and promote his book.

--The campaign to save Nancy Reagan's 1981 inaugural gown, which is stretching under the weight of its bugle beads.

The advance on Duane Unkefer's book was $160,000, one of the fattest figures paid a first novelist. Prestigious William Morrow of New York was the publisher. When "Gray Eagles" appeared in bookstores in March there were reviews of solid praise and a quick spot on the Canadian best-seller list.

Then sales, reviews and requests for author interviews dried up.

Although Unkefer always has remained on amicable terms with publisher Morrow, their opinions divided sharply in June when the book apparently began to slide.

Morrow said it had run a quick but better than average course. Early sales of 32,000 copies were excellent, a spokesman said, and there would be no further promotion of the book.

Unkefer, 48, of Santa Barbara, said that wasn't good enough. He opposed Morrow's approach to book marketing, and contended the company had failed in not pitching an aviation book to the aviation market. "I knew it (the book) wasn't a piece of trash," he said then.

So he decided to go around his publisher and make his own marketing plan, to promote the novel on his own time and borrowed money. He vowed: "I'm going to put the book on the best-seller list in the United States on my own."

He organized radio and television talk-show appearances. He hawked "Gray Eagles," the story of a reunion shoot-out among fighter aces of World War II, from the back of his van at air shows. He advertised in flying magazines, made personal pitches to the book-review editors of the nation's 50 top newspapers, printed 5,000 bookmarks as giveaways and reached through flying clubs and veterans associations to the nation's 820,000 licensed pilots.

And when all this self-promotion was done?

'I'm not aware that I made any significant (best-seller) lists," he said. "The book is still popping up all over the world, I received another review only last week and I've just heard there was a gigantic display in Paris. But there's no way to judge how effective I was. I have no sales figures. My last financial statement from Morrow shows the book will earn enough to recover their advance. I think the book is pretty much going along on its own without any help from me."

Was it worth it?

"No," said Unkefer this week. "I've (financially) wiped myself out."

Was there any support for his criticism of modern publishing methods?

"I've got quite a lot of mail from other writers and they all seem to have their horror stories."

Will he write another book?

"Oh, yeah. I'm right in the middle of a collection of short stories. How to market it? I'm still trying to figure that out."

Will he market it himself?

"Not totally. Not directly. But I'm going to demand, insist, that any (publishing) contract includes my (marketing) involvement."

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