Adventures in Marketing: Week 156

i.
“Hello, Monsieur…” She stood beside my café table, latte in hand, looking at my books and sign. “…Levin.”
“Bonjour…,” I said.
“…Lorelai,” she said.
Fiftyish, green baseball cap, shades, tie-dyed back pack on a luggage cart. I had seen stranger. “Wanna buy a book?”
Alas. She had spent her last $80 on a four-concert, no-service-charge package. Elvis Costello, Beck, Alice in Chains… I forget.
Popular culture trumps literature again.
She had not seen Alice in Chains in 20 years.
ii.
Faithful readers may recall the woman who had told Adele she was withholding judgment on “I Will Keep You Alive.”
“You and your husband are excellent writers,” she said, standing between the health club’s massage tables and the basket for the yoga mats.
“But…?” Adele said.
“But… I didn’t care for the frankness.”
“Can you give me an example?” Some people, Adele thought, like frankness.
A personal trainer and the young woman he was massaging smiled.
“I could have done without the sex.”
“There’s not a lot of sex.”
She turned back. “And the incontinence.”
“You and your husband wrote a book?” the young woman said. “What’s it about?”
“You mean, besides sex and incontinence?” Adele said.
iii.
Adele was talking with Sunshine, a buxom woman with dyed black hair. She and her husband, a commercial litigator, have belonged to the club for 30 years, but she spends half her time at a retreat in Taos. She held our book, and I thought, Oh, good, a sale.
The Ram Dass quote on the cover, Sunshine was saying, balanced the “Cardiovascular” in the below-the-colon portion of the title. The red lettering balanced the black. The spiritual, in other words, balanced the scientific. Both sought truth, but neither, in isolation, could find it. She had been talking to Adele for 10 minutes when I arrived and continued another 20. She discussed the concept of “journey.” The concept of “romance.” The “I” that would “keep” the “You” “Alive.” (It was only about this time that she realized Adele and I had written what she held.) Her process involved pauses during which movements of her arms seemed to search for words. It involved sharp, audible inhalations, like those I have been instructed to take when feeling dizzy upon getting up too quickly. The point, Sunshine said, was that there was no “I” that was not dependent upon or subservient to a greater power.
I explained from where our title derived. I did not argue the point though. I was enthralled. Her discourse was Sunshine’s excellence. I wondered what her conversations were like with her husband, whom I only knew from talking work-out routines and muscle cars.
“So would you like to buy a copy?” Adele said.
A silly question, she later realized. Sunshine already had it.
iv.
In other news…
1.) IWKYA has been acquired by its first library. The University of Illinois (Chicago) School of Health Sciences. (Circle Campus, I assumed. When I was in VISTA, I played basketball in its gym. So the mind associates.)
2.) Adele has steered a woman who reads many books to a neighborhood bookstore to buy ours, and I sent one as a gift to a friend who, while laboring under many disabilities, cares for a husband who is even more disabled. And we heard from another friend whose husband’s cardiac condition has disabled him for years. By page 50, she said, she had succumbed to PTSD.
I often wonder how people who have not been as lucky/blessed as Adele and I will react to our book. But, I thought, if you are a writer, you write what life brings you. You are not entirely responsible for how people react, and where some may find distress, others will find inspiration.
So far, more have mentioned the latter.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 155

“I avoid bookstores. I’ve got books,” said the elderly gentleman of pleasant disposition but dubious cognitive capacity, on leaving my table’s display at the café. That began my week. It ended with the place so crowded I was sharing space with three others when a mother and daughter joined us. This gave me two options: (a) scrunch my stuff closer to me; (2) sell them all my books. I was offering them this choice when I knocked over my water glass, triggering many apologies and much swabbing with napkins.
In between, things went better.

At the café, I sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to a woman who had previously bought one and wanted another as a gift for a friend with heart problems. Following a six-person reading at the café in which I participated, Adele sold one to a writer/real estate agent/lawyer/painter of long acquaintance, and I sold one to a poet we had just met. And another morning I sold a fourth to a woman who had come down from Davis on Amtrak with her family to eat at Chez Panisse, plus a “Cheesesteak” she wanted for a friend and a “Schiz” for her punky 23-year-old daughter.
Sold another IWKYA to a family practitioner (ret’d) at the health club and checks for it arrived in the mail from a director/screen writer/teacher friend in L.A., an 83-year-old Mended Hearts e-mail buddy in South Carolina, and a similarly aged MH member in Oakland. (Five copies for her.)
So lots of gratification.
And a few laughs.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 154

A woman in late middle age, who works at UC, bought a copy of “I Will Keep You Alive” from me in the café. She had previously bought a “Schiz,” and now she told me my writing had reminded her of Charles Bukowski. I was, of course, pleased – and both impressed and surprised by how catholic was her reading taste, since she had not struck me as someone who would read Bukowski, let alone “The Schiz.” When we spoke a couple days later, she told me how much she admired Adele’s portions, for, as primary care-giver when her husband had cancer, she knew all that entailed.
Our niece in Tustin reports buying a copy of IWKYA for a friend who, like us, co-authored a book with her spouse.
A woman in my Mended Hearts chapter ordered five copies.
A friend of Adele’s brother’s wife has selected it for their book group’s selection sometime in the fall. (Our first book group! Let others take note.)
A woman at the health club, whose husband has had two stents worth of heart problems, reports he bought a copy, based on the recommendation of a mutual friend.
A friend gave us a second Five Star Amazon review.
And here are some additional words-of-mouths:
1.) “Inspiring and empowering.” Adele’s sister.
2.) “I have to confess I haven’t read it.” Friend of Bob’s.
3.) “I could hug you! Oh, my God! Thank you for writing this!” Another woman at the café.
We also gave a copy to a fellow at the health club who’d recently had abdominal surgery. This led another member to ask if I would speak to yet another’s 18-year-old grandson, who wants to become a writer. “I figure [Name of Prominent Author Member] is too busy,” he said. “You’re probably right,” I said. “Okay.” Anything that makes me feel like a REAL writer is good with me. In fact, I was semi-flattered to be playing only second fiddle to the other guy. But I did take note than neither the fellow nor the grandmother expressed any interest in buying anything I’d written.

Still no reviews or requests for interviews.
But I am putting this in perspective.
This week, at the Author’s Guild forum, a woman was complaining about treatment by her publisher. Her first two books had been widely reviewed, still brought her requests for interviews, had sold out their 5000-copy printings, and more than repaid her advances, but it had rejected her third book.
She was, I thought, justifiably aggrieved. But all that, and she only sold 5000 books. So she made, what, ten, fifteen thousand, less expenses, and each book took her a year or two minimum to write. Hell, I can publish my own book and only lose a couple thousand with no reviews. “You’re in the same ball park,” my friend Budd said when I told him. Exactly.
And then I read about Nelson Algren and what a disaster his life had been. I had been a fan of Algren’s. I owned seven or eight of his books, and this article reminded me that when my first novel was to appear, I asked if he would look at a review copy and maybe provide a cover quote. He wrote back “Sure,” probably I now surmise, from some flop house in Newark, where he was working on his published-posthumously Hurricane Carter book, and then probably cashed in my book for whatever he could get as soon as it arrived. But what struck me the most in this exchange was that it was the only time in my life I received a letter from someone in an envelope, recycled, after it had originally been sent to him.
Anyway, the point is – and this may not be what I tell the 18-year-old – sale numbers are interesting – but essentially meaningless – statistics, like WOR or WHIP. The best thing is to write the best you can, have a good time writing it, and savor whatever reactions come your way. You may even create something that means something to someone.
“But keep your day job,” added Flea Market George, a guitar player, when I voiced this at the cafe

Extract

A portion from Adele’s and my book has gone up at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/i-will-keep-you-alive-excerpt-from-the-levins-cardiovascular-romance/

It begins…

Bob and Adele Levin’s I Will Keep You Alive: A Cardiovascular Romance is this husband and wife’s joint account of Bob’s heart attacks and recoveries. The Levins’ write-ups of their own emotional states, as well as their angles on vagaries of our country’s healthcare system, make their book a national resource – a map of the future for countless Americans fated to cope with hearts gone wrong. I Will Keep You Alive comes with an epigraph from Flannery O’Connor – “In a sense, sickness is a place more instructive than a long trip to Europe.” Its lessons from the land of the very sick reminded me of another instructive book: The Immoralist. Yet the Levins’ takeaways are sweeter and more sociable than Gide’s. Not that the Levins are pious types. (They are alive to dark humor in the horrors of their fearsome years.) It’s true, though, their testament hits hopeful notes that seem pretty far gone from the dailiness of hardcore modernists. Cue Ram Dass who’s praised I Will Keep You Alive as “an inspiring story of a journey through illness toward love, compassion and being.” The excerpt that follows starts with an upside as Adele Levin muses on her husband’s changes. Her entries to I Will Keep You Alive are italicized; Bob Levin’s are in plain text.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 153

Adele sold two “I Will Keep You Alive” to a high school classmate, one for herself, one to donate to the school. I sold two to a friend who plans to give them as gifts. Adele sold one to a woman in the health club locker room, and I sold one to a-back-to-the-land second cousin in rural Arkansas. (She couldn’t begin reading it until she and her husband had finished injecting oak stumps with shittake and oyster mushrooms, which reminded me that another fellow can’t start our book until hew finishes Michelle Obama’s. I note these delays as evidence of our audience’s wide range of interests.)
We also got a check in the mail from a complete stranger. (Not only do we not know him, we never heard of the town he lives in.) The only action at the café was from a prior customer – and elderly, bushy bearded fellow in several layers of clothes and bulging backpack, who said he would be back after the first of the month, presumably by which time his S.S.I. check will have arrived.
Words-of-mouth have included “an extraordinary book” (A lawyer-friend) and “overwhelming” (A fellow author). The president of my Mended Hearts chapter plugged IWKYA in our monthly newletter. The locker room woman (See above) said she would tout it to her reading group. A buddy from my pick-up basketball days recommended it to everyone on the game’s mailing list. (One fellow said he’d ordered it, and another said he would.)
But an East Coast journalist pal pitched a review to a half-dozen places, and heard, “Not one fucking word.”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 152

No sales at café. No interactions of interest
But sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to a checker at Safeway and two by mail to a friend from college. A couple folks said they’d be buying it from Amazon or indie book stores. (Swapped a “Schiz” to a writer in Kentucky who’d sent me a book of his. He’s sending me two more and I’m packaging an “Outlaws, Rebels…” for him.)
IWKYA received a five-star Amazon review from a Mended Hearts member in New York, but the only fellow I know of who’s attempted to place a review in a periodical has had two places decline interest. Meanwhile rave words-of-mouth from friends, relatives and acquaintances continue. (“It’s a everything good. It’s Shakespeare. It’s poetry. It’s prose. Whatever it is, it’s gorgeous.” A loquacious health club member. “A real page-turner.” A less loquacious member. “Packed with insight and emotion. An urgent and harrowing medical drama… and, above all, a love story.” Our oldest nephew.) Then there was the woman from the café who said “I can’t wait to read it,” which isn’t quite true since she had bought it 16 days before she said that.
People have read it “in small bites” and “devoured it.” Adele’s sister, who’d had a similar operation to mine, mastered her anxiety by beginning at the end and reading forwards.

In other news…
The scans have arrived for the book from Kentucky University Presses for the book to which I’ve been asked to write an introduction. And I’ve been invited to review a book on Edward Gorey forthcoming from University of Mississippi Press in 2020.
So the Devil will find no idle hands here for the next few months.

Kicks

My latest is up here:

Kicks


It begins:
In 1999, I interviewed and wrote about Maxon Crumb (“Alone in the Western World,” The Comics Journal #217. Reprinted in Levin. Outlaws, Rebels… 2008). He was, I still say, the strangest person I ever met. When I was asked to review Malcolm Whyte’s illustrated biography of Maxon, Art Out of Chaos (F.U. Press. 2018), I said I would if I could interview him again. We’d had no contact since he’d come to a reading of mine for Outlaws, and I wondered how time had treated him. (I knew it had changed me, and I wondered if that those changes included my characterological assessment.) But Whyte said Maxon no longer communicated with him and could be contacted only through a nephew in Colorado. I e-mailed the nephew but did not hear from Maxon.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 151

Adele and I read to/answered questions from 25-30 people at the monthly meeting of the Oakland chapter of Mended Hearts. (I’m a member.) Sold 14 copies of “I Will Keep You Alive.” It went so well the president offered to suggest other chapters to invite us to meetings and to urge national to review or write about our book.
I sold two copies at the café and Adele three – one to a stranger – at the health club. A friend of Adele’s from high school bought two and friends visiting from NYC another. A second cousin and a friend from college reported ordering copies from Amazon. Sent a “review” copy to an on-line magazine to which Adele and I both contribute, and another to a bookstore in Philly friends recommended as a likely outlet. (I also threw in a “Chessesteak.”)
Sample reactions: “Honest, thoughtful, humorous, soul-ful, helpful, true… Many people will ber thanking you.” “WOW!!… beautiful and intimate.” [Also one: “I’m withholding judgment.” Like we should care, bitch.) In the small world of our friends and acquaintances, IWKYA is a smash, but in the larger world, it has not caused a ripple.
Still, each time I open my lap top, I can hope movement has begun.
[NOTE: All of Bob’s books can be ordered from this very web site.]

Today’s Lesson

Each morning the woman from Indonesia sits at an outside table, reading a Buddhist text, paperback or hardcover, poetry or prose. She is thin. She wears loose fitting jackets and flared slacks. She has tiny, oblong-lensed glasses. Her grey hair is swept up and pinned aback her head.

Goshkin mentioned he had read about upcoming elections in Indonesia a strict Islamic party was expected to win. The woman appeared unaware, then indifferent, expressed an opinion of pendulums swinging one way, then the other. “Every law imprisons someone,” she said.

“But what do you do?” Goshkin said.

“Stay in the middle.” She paused. “The only problem with the middle is it can become boring. So people climb mountains. Barefoot.” She laughed. “We’re all coming back anyway.”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 150

Sold five “I Will Keep You Alive”s. One, by mail, to the president of a Mended Hearts chapter in Florida – who also invited Adele and I to speak/read. One, on credit, to a woman at the health club, and another, also on credit, to a fellow at the café, neither of whom had cash on them. Sold three, four for cash and one for whom I successfully worked my Square. Two were café regulars, one a lawyer-pal, and one a woman who hadn’t been to the café in eons. She’s an in-hospital social worker, who said she reads a lot of books about illness but never one written by both the patient and the care-giver, so she is very interested in ours.,
Three Amazon sales have been reported, one by a second cousin, one by a lawyer whom I’ve met through the MH message board, and one to a pediatrician who read about the book on my friend Budd’s blog (“Budd’s Blog” – highly recommended). Speaking of Budd, who has been extraordinarily supportive of IWKYA – and who, because of his own medical background and interest in doctor-patient relationships, may have appreciated the book more than even its authors, he has recommended it to his Lower Merion High School and Harvard Med classmates, resulting in a literary world-connected fellow from the former requesting a review copy, in case he could help. (I sent it First Class.)
Also, since the MH-connected lawyer said he’d also bought an “Outlaws” on line, I sent him a “Cheesesteak” gratis, and I swapped a “Schiz” to one of this month’s café readers for a copy of his new novel, “Disposable Man.”
Finally, I received some numbers via my distributor, the crunching of which led me to conclude that for each IWKYA sold on-line or in stores, we will lose 75-cents. (It seems I made an error when setting its price.) But if we get into a second printing, or Adele and I sell all the copies we have on hand or it gets into the right movie producer’s hands…
“I am not cut out for business,” I told our publicist.
“Then you’re perfect for publishing,” she said.