'Wicked' author Gregory Maguire's new novel is free - take that, Walmart!

2762686-4265197-thumbnailAs giant retailers continue their price war over books (Target just joined Walmart and Amazon in offering pre-sales of top November titles for $9 or less), there’s one new book that seems to take the trend to its logical extreme. The Next Queen of Heaven, a new novel by Wicked author Gregory Maguire, is available starting today for the low, low price of $0.00. That’s not a typo. Queen is the third title from the year-old Concord Free Press, which is giving away 2,500 copies of the book (half through its website and half through select independent bookstores) to readers who agree to make a donation “to a local charity, someone who needs it, or a stranger on the street.” (Distribution of the book is strictly first come, first served.) As a box on the paperback’s back cover explains: “When you’re done, pass this novel on to someone else (for free, of course) so they can give. It adds up.” The press claims that its first two releases have generated more than $85,000 in charitable donations to various causes.

The Next Queen of Heaven is a farcical holiday yarn set in 1999 in a fictional upstate New York town where strange events occur after Leontina Scales gets clocked by a Catholic statuette and begins speaking in tongues. Why in the world would an author as prominent as Maguire publish for free? “I admire that the books as well as the publishing model raise questions about art’s inherent value and the commodification of content,” he said in a statement. “I like knowing that this book is out in the world, helping to generate donations for great causes.”

Neither the author (nor the book designer) is paid for their work; as Concord Free Press notes on its website: “Our unique agreement with our writers…is 100% lawyer-free.” That said, all authors who publish with the Concord, Mass.-based outfit retain the rights to their works and can republish them later with conventional publishers. The first book in the series, CFP founder Stona Fitch’s novel Give + Take, is due from St. Martin’s imprint Thomas Dunne Books next year. According to Fitch, “Authors donate (voluntarily) 20 percent of all earnings from the book’s life after CFP back to the press to support our subsequent books. So in this way, we’re semi-self-sustaining, with one writer helping the next.”

Fitch says the idea for the press came to him in the wake of his experience on Give + Take, which was orphaned when his editor left the publishing house that had acquired it. “The novel is about a jazz pianist who steals diamonds and BMWs, sells them, and gives the money away,” Fitch says via e-mail. “So it was thematically aligned with the idea of a press that publishes beautiful books for free and gives them away.” Instead of shopping his novel around when his first publisher dropped it, Fitch decided to make it the Concord Free Press’ inaugural title. He’s since recruited other writer friends, including fellow Concord, Mass., resident Gregory Maguire, to publish through CFP.

It’s an intriguing idea, the free book. But I suspect that there are more than 2,500 Maguire fans out there clamoring to read his newest novel — and willing to donate a pretty substantial sum to charity for the privilege. Given the paucity of the print run, though, some may be reluctant to pass the book along to others when they’re done. Perhaps I’m just being cynical. What do you think of free books to promote charitable causes?

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  • crispy

    If you’ve ever read any of Maguire’s other books, you’ll know that free is still too much.

  • Doris

    Yes, but Wicked was made into a good musical (except for the music itself), especially when Kristin Chenowith & Edina Mendel starred in it!

  • Mariah

    Yeah, you’re just being cynical. Not everyone will get into the spirit of things but some will and that’s what counts. I think it’s a cool idea.

  • bunker

    ‘Wicked’ was a wonderful book that got turned into a crappy musical for teenage girls.

    • Angielam18

      You can’t compare the musical to book. They are entirely different.

    • Ana

      My favorite chetrcaar is and has always been,the Wicked Witch herself! She’s a go getter from way back and knows how to use her resources to get the things she wants.You go girl!!!

  • Melusine

    This is amazing. What a great story. I love to hear about artists taking their work back into their own hands–and out of the hands of the publishers, record companies, producers, etc, to whom artists are just another commodity. This is where the creative industry is going, and it means good things for artists–more creative control over their own work, for one. Thanks for this, ew! Maguire is a great writer and I’m heading over for my copy now.

  • a person

    the musical of wicked was better than the book

    • John

      The musical robbed the novel of its complexity, deep characters, and, ultimately, the entire point. In fact, the only reason the musical works at all is because Maguire himself was brought in at the last minute to re-write the libretto.

      • glitch

        “Wicked” wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if he hadn’t piggybacked off the characters he lifted straight from a far superior creator.

        And the problem with that is that this guy didn’t have any real respect for the one who created his material. If I were a writer, I’d hope that anyone lifting my characters would at least have the decency not to destroy them. What Euripides did to Electra was intertextuality. What this guy did to Frank Baum’s characters was rape.

    • a person

      oh i forgot to mention i liked “Son of a Witch” better than Wicked, but couldn’t finish the third wicked book or Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister…those two were just plain boring!

  • John

    I’ll admit that Maguire’s writing isn’t for everyone (or really, most people), but I’ll admit that I enjoy wrapping my mind around his complex, dark, and yes, incredibly pretentious interpretations of the Oz universe (I understand that his other books don’t quite reach the quality of these). Just the way my brain works; I enjoy the writing.

  • Jacob Jingleheimer

    Who cares? His last book was so terrible I threw it away rather than force anyone else to read it.

  • Mamma Mia

    Wicked was a dark book that was made into a less dark musical (with a semi-happy ending). Each was enjoyable in its own right. I’ve seen the musical three times so far; only read the book one time. Since I read the book before I saw and loved the musical, I could not go back to the darkness. I’d like to read something else by the author.

  • PNK

    I love Maquire’s books, but this book topic sounds poor, not compelled to read it based on the description. C’mon, Gregory, bring your A game – even if it IS free! Guess I’ll go get Stephen King.

  • Alphabetica Design

    Glad to see EW covering Gregory’s new book. Nice to see our cover design in the press too! Thanks!

  • Hudson

    It is an interesting idea. I just went and signed up to get my copy and after I read it then I’ll decide whether it was good read or not. No point in trying to do that before I’ve read it. Meanwhile probably going to donate the money to the local library. Budget cuts and all. And free books should be for everybody. Bravo to Fitch and Maquire for trying to do something good.

    • Mariana

      I love The Notebook, Atonement, and Love Actually. Somehow I’ve never watched Sleepless in Seattle the whole way thurogh and not even a bit of The Family Man. I’ll be adding that to my movies to watch list. Thank you!P.S. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  • Emma

    Thanks for this. I just requested my copy as I have read a few of Maguire’s books and have enjoyed them. I love the idea behind this, and I hope CFP really does end up being self-sustaining, it’s a great idea. I will be donating to our local literacy council.

  • Molly

    Just ordered my copy. I guess I’m more cynical than I thought I’d be, since I’m now wondering if it will actually show up at my door. I like the idea though, and I’ll be making my donation soon. Maybe to some sort of literacy group?

    • Thom Geier

      As of this morning, Stona Fitch reported that CFP had plenty of books.

  • Qness

    I’ll definitely give it a read. Out of all of Maguire’s books I do have to say that “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” is my absolute favorite. I did however thoroughly enjoy both “Wicked” the book and “Wicked” the musical.

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