By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Then came the problem of printing costs. One local printer wanted $30,000 to print 1,000 copies of the book. Patterson rejected that offer as clearly unprofitable. A few smaller printers charged less, but required the author to do virtually everything but jog on a treadmill to turn the printing press.
After months of fruitless searching, Patterson stumbled across Alfred Huntsberry, a soft-spoken, middle-aged printer who'd run Alps Printing in South Oak Cliff for 34 years.
Huntsberry listened patiently while Patterson pitched her book. She told him she didn't have a lot of money, but believed the book would be successful. He agreed to print 1,000 copies.
"Just bring it to me and we'll pray about it," he told her.
Huntsberry says he took the job for two reasons. First, he thought she had a good product. Second, he considered it his responsibility.
"It is so hard for us as black folks to get the proper people to fund us, and she hadn't had any help at all," Huntsberry says. "I thought I'd take her on my own and help her out."
The book finally came off the presses last summer. Patterson quickly sold her initial press run of 1,000 copies by mail order--fueled almost exclusively through word-of-mouth.
Soon, the demand for books outstripped the printer's capabilities. "Ella's book was doing so well, we just couldn't keep up and meet our other customers' needs, too," Huntsberry says.
The author ended up at Dallas Offset printers, where she ordered 100,000 copies. The printing company has published 45,000 so far.
By this time, Patterson had set up her own company, Knowledge Concepts Systems, to handle marketing. She found distributors for her book in Dallas, New York, and Atlanta, and adheres to advice that Emma Rodgers, co-owner of Dallas' Black Images bookstore, once gave her.
"She told me not to be caught without my books," Patterson says.
So Patterson always totes a box of books in the trunk of her Mazda Miata. She wishes she'd bought a bigger car.
Patterson's marketing efforts got a big boost earlier this year when Black Elegance, a 9-year-old national magazine that focuses on black lifestyles, began seeking materials for its annual "sex issue."
Sonia Alleyne, editor-in-chief of the New York-based publication, said she'd already scanned through hundreds of manuscripts and books on sexuality--but she and her editorial staff weren't impressed.
"We went through a ton of books," Alleyne recalls. "But it was all the same thing--medical terms, talk show-type rhetoric."
Then Alleyne came across a postcard Patterson had sent to every magazine editor she could think of. The card informed editors that "...this guide is for women who need a directory on becoming a more sensuous and sensitive love Goddess."
Intrigued, Alleyne called Patterson, requested a copy of Will the Real Women... and immediately knew she'd found her book.
"Everyone here agreed that we'd not read anything like it," Alleyne says. "It's a very outspoken guide. That is what women have been waiting for."
Alleyne recalls her own response to Patterson's explicit prose. One day, she was commuting to work on a New York subway. "I was trying to make sure no one could read it over my shoulder. Some things in the book are not for everybody."
The book caused some discussion among the editorial staff about what could be printed in the magazine. "We didn't want to turn anybody off," Alleyne says. "Some people may find it abrasive, but it is real. It talks about things that people are afraid to talk about. I had a friend call me, excited about those vaginal palpitations."
Black Elegance excerpted Will the Real Women...Please Stand Up! and profiled Patterson in its April 1995 issue.
The issue was a tremendous hit. People deluged the magazine with comments, and newsstand sales were strong. A few readers called Black Elegance to provide unsolicited reports on their post-Patterson trysts.
"One couple called to let us know they'd tried certain numbers," Alleyne says. "It certainly is a book that gets you involved."
Patterson sold more books, and Black Elegance enjoyed a surge in circulation.
Vera Peeler was sitting in a beauty shop in Flagstaff, Arizona, when she ran across a copy of the magazine--and Patterson's excerpt. "I said, 'This sounds like a book I want to read.'"
The 55-year-old housewife placed an order with Patterson, and loved the book. She showed her favorite chapters to her friends at the nail shop. "I said, 'you guys need to look at the title, and that's all you need to know.'"
The ladies wanted their own copies, so Peeler ordered 10 books from Patterson.
She peddled those, then brought her copy to the beauty salon to show her beautician. Her beautician wanted a copy--and so did her client.
Peeler ordered 10 more. And sold those, too.
"I told Ella she should put me on commission," Peeler says.
Patterson is convinced her book will become a national best seller. She receives dozens of letters from readers thanking her for the book, and often asking questions.
One woman confessed she couldn't enjoy lovemaking with her partner, and begged for advice. So much pain was evident in her words that Patterson sent a kindly letter in return, urging the woman to seek counseling.