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Author Joe Peacock: Audience friendly 

Georgia native found an ingenious way to get published: Ask his readers

Lying in a body-piercing chair with iodine dripping from his teats, Joe Peacock is about to enter a world of pain. Peacock, a 6-foot-3-inch, 290-pound former high school wrestler and brown belt in judo, almost passes out as each of his nipples is pierced in front of screaming friends and family.

Why is he doing this? To win a $200 bet and, more importantly, the admiration of a girl who would one day be his wife.

Filled to the brim with odd stories and unusual encounters, Peacock, 30, decided to go about writing them for the general public, hoping to one day publish his tales in a book. But the route Peacock took to publishing his stories is as idiosyncratic as the events surrounding them.

Born and raised in Georgia, Peacock graduated from Mount Zion High School in Jonesboro and even attended Georgia State University for a short stretch. After seven months of history classes, he realized he could make a lot more money as a part-time computer programmer rather than paying a lot of money to be a full-time student. So he left Georgia State in 1996, became a computer programmer -- at the dawn of the dot-com craze -- and became Web-savvy enough to eventually create and manage his own site. That site, MentallyIncontinent.com, ultimately birthed his book -- and an entirely new way to go about writing one.

In 2002, Peacock launched MentallyIncontinent.com and began recounting those oddball stories from his life, and posting them. On the site, he features more than 150 memoirs written in the brutally honest, occasionally embarrassing tone that has become his trademark:

"He looked at me as if I'd just held a shotgun to a puppy and reduced the poor mongrel to a few bloody chunks right in front of him," he writes in the chapter titled "Pissed." "I think it was at that moment that we realized just exactly what each other was trying to say. Both of us had our honor on the line ... and neither of us was about to willingly sacrifice his for the other."

Peacock's mix of humor, self-deprecation and tangential, free-form writing earned him a sizable following. Realizing for the first time that his stories were enjoyable to the masses, Peacock thought of a brilliant way to get his stories published like he'd always wanted: simply compile the best stories from his website and turn them into a book.

But how would he choose which stories were the best, and how would he get his book published?

His strategy was simple enough for the first question: He'd let his readers decide. Peacock held an open vote where all of the site members could pick their favorite stories and the ones with the most support would make it to print.

More than 10,000 people have joined his site, though only about 4,500 are active users. Peacock says he terminates accounts due to inactivity to keep the dignity of the process intact.

"I'm writing a book collectively on the Net. I want you to tell me what's worth reading," Peacock says. "So if people are voting on the stories that make it in, I don't want someone who logged in once in six months to have the same vote as a loyal reader who actually cares about the stories."

After a few months, Peacock knew which stories would make their way into the book. He then had to find a way to publish that book. Peacock says for a while he negotiated with a major publishing house but decided to risk self-publishing, which removed a lot of pressure and provided for greater freedom.

"If your book doesn't sell enough in the first print run, so what? In 10 or 20 years, your book will still be available," he explains. "There's no pressure to perform and sell a certain amount right away because it's your book, so you can do what you want with it whenever you feel like it."

Not that Peacock is against publishers or the process; he just warns writers to proceed with caution: "I'm not against work-for-hire or being published. It's not a bad thing to sell something; it's just important to be aware of what's going on in the transaction."

In the end, Peacock appears to have made the right decision. Mentally Incontinent has sold more than 18,000 copies, and is backed in part by a 20-stop book tour. Sometimes he meets with seven or eight loyal readers over dinner, and other times he's greeted by 150 fans at a bookstore. He says he's not in it for fame or riches even while admitting both would be nice. He says he wants to ensure that only his best work goes out.

The reviews on that are mixed. One reader commented on his site, "[y]our sense of humor would be better put to use scripting low-budget remakes of Three Stooges skits than writing stories that barely pass for painfully verbose potty jokes. In short, you're a moron." Another reader simply commented, "[t]his is absolutely the funniest thing I have ever read." Obviously, Peacock's stories are more amusing to some than others, but that's why the voting process is so integral to his formula.

Peacock currently is writing his second book, Still Mentally Incontinent, and the same open-vote method has been employed for this book.

"I've got new stories up, but I don't update every day or even every week," he notes. "I write when I'm passionate about a story I want to tell. I don't have deadlines or advertisers to worry about, so I only write when I truly feel like it."

Listen to the Joe Peacock podcast.

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