The story behind Alan Sepinwall’s book and James Gandolfini’s head ‘dent’

I was listening to “John Hein’s TV Show” on SiriusXM Satellite Radio yesterday when Hein and guest Alan Sepinwall — the HitFix writer and former Star-Ledger TV critic — started talking about “The Sopranos.”

Sepinwall (left) casually mentioned that “my boss at the Star-Ledger when ‘The Sopranos’ came on [the air] was James Gandolfini’s freshman roommate at Rutgers, and he put the dent in Gandolfini’s head.”

Is that a scoop? I wondered — then asked.

Sepinwall isn’t sure, and tells me that the former boss and Gandolfini classmate is Mark Di Ionno, now a Star-Ledger columnist and author of “The Last Newspaperman.”

I asked Di Ionno if he’s told the story before. He writes:

Mark Di Ionno

I have never written about the incident. It was during a dart gun fight. I kicked a metal door on him and it hit in the head. It knocked him out. And I had to take him to the ER to get stitched up. One correction: we weren’t roommates, but we lived on the same dorm floor. This was 35 years ago. Jim called himself Buck. His roommate, a New Jersey accountant named Stu Levine can verify. [He wasn't in his office when I called Friday afternoon, but I trust you, Mark.]

But back to Sepinwall …. His book, “The Revolution was Televised,” recently came out, and I had a few questions about it.

How was the self-publishing experience?
Self-publishing has been an interesting but so far very positive experience. It helped that I had a friend (sitcom writer/baseball broadcaster/blogger Ken Levine) who had done it several times and could walk me through the process, and introduce me to a professional cover artist and a formatting company who would make sure that my book looked like a real book and not something I slapped together. And it helped that another friend, Sarah Bunting, is a professional editor (among her many jobs) whom I could hire to both spot typos and point out when I was going way off course in a given chapter.

So I wasn’t doing it alone, but I also wasn’t doing it as cheaply as you can with a self-published book. By going this route, I was not only foregoing a publisher’s advance, but paying money out of pocket just to get the book to look the way I wanted it to. (On the other hand, print-on-demand programs like the one I used with Amazon eliminate the overhead going forward.) I had to have faith that I had enough of a platform with my blog and my social media presence, plus relationships to writers and editors at other publications, that I could promote and sell enough copies to make it worth it.

How is the book doing?
So far, it’s been selling fairly well, and the reaction’s been almost universally positive, which is nice. By doing it this way, I was able to write the exact book I wanted to write, and also publish it exactly when I wanted. I finished the manuscript in late October, and it was on sale before Thanksgiving. Though it’s mostly a time capsule, there were references in the epilogue to what some of the creators were up to now, and in a few cases, something significant changed right as I was getting ready to publish, and I was able to change that almost instantly.

Challenges?
I’ve run into some obstacles here and there. Some major publications have policies against reviewing self-published books, for various reasons. (One editor told me it’s the only way to spare her from having to spend all day every day explaining to the various eccentrics who call in why the paper won’t be writing about their manifestos; another said the policy assumed that they could trust the publishing houses to help narrow down what was and wasn’t worth reading and writing about.) But I’m really happy with the book so far, and the response to it.

* James Poniewozik: Think of Sepinwall’s book as the ultimate DVD-set commentary (time.com)

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