Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 189/190

The first two-week stretch in which I did not sell a book.
Not even a conversation of note. One street person stopped by my table. (Later he came back because he had found a book by someone named “Levin” on the “Free” shelf and wondered if we were related.) So did the most soft-spoken person I have ever met in my life. If I leaned forward and said “What?” I could barely hear him. He was a “programmer,” tall, thin, bald but bushy bearded. He said – I think – he would return after he settled his cappuccino and pastry but he did not. He sat two tables away and acted like he never saw me before in his life.
Maybe it is because UC is on vacation.
Maybe I have saturated the market.
Maybe I need another new sign.
Maybe it is the nature of the business. This week someone posted at the Authors’ Guild Message Board that Lightening Source has 18,000,000 different POD books available, and Ingram another 750,000 titles in its warehouse. This is not surprising. Two years ago, the median income from writing for a Guild member was $6000, down 42% from 2009. (Income from book sales was $3100, down 50%.) “Full-time” authors’s median income was $20,000. I do better on Social Security – and I took my money early.]
The only response to this post was from a fellow urging members not to give up. All you had to do, he counseled, was publish four novels a year and, in your spare time I suppose, promote them relentlessly.

In other news…
“I Will Keep You Alive” garnered Adele and me a rave e-mail from musician/author (“Rock Folk,” “Ray Charles: Man and Music”), and – in interest of full disclosure – friend of over 40-years Michael Lydon. “So good… so funny… a truly great accomplishment… Super, super, super… Amazing.”
From his lips to the Editor of the NYT Book Review’s ears.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 188

Sold two copies of “Cheesesteak.”
The buyer was that folk musician from Detroit who hangs at the cafe to whom I’d given one last week. The first was for a fellow who runs a recording studio in Philly. The second for a guy who lives here and whom I know because his father was our family doctor back in the days of house calls and because I waited on his bunk’s table at Camp Tacoma. (See p. 45.) He was a sweet 10-year-old then who came to Berkeley around when I did and, now with a pig-tail down his back, sold pretzels from a food cart near Saither Gait before becoming a major hippie entrepreneur. His guitar shop (new and used), still psychedelic painted, is known world-wide.
And gave an “I Will Keep You Alive” to the fellow who’d helped Adele and meI move stuff from my office after I retired. (See p. 113 of that one). Then he’d sold “Street Spirit,” a newspaper for and about the homeless, outside the café because he’d been laid off from Chevron.
Now he was doing it again, laid off due to ill health (CHF) and trying to get back on his feet. Even though it had been eight years, he recognized me.
Also got an inquiry – but no purchase – about “Schiz” from an unshaven, skinny fellow in a raincoat and camo cap. “Wanna buy a book?” I said. “Can’t afford it,” he said. His name was “Solanoo.” “I made it up. It means ‘New Sun.’”

In other news, it’s been a good period for words-of-mouth.
1.) Leif, the mathematician, came out of the corner table where he usually sits bent over his papers to say he wanted to tell me how much he’d liked IWKYA. “Terrifying,” he said.
2.) Then Joseph (or whatever I called him before), the retired assistant library clerk, e-mailed augmentation of his earlier praise by comparing it to an operatic aria between a man and woman, with “the sweeping emotions” of my and Adele’s alternating voices overwhelming him.
3.) Finally, Jean-Paul, the founder of Berkeley’s first co-operatively owned record store and the most knowledgeable person about pop music I know, read my seminal article “Dylan: The Man, the Moment, the Italian Meats Sandwich.” I have always considered it the best thing ever written about Bob, a view not widely shared, and it was nice to hear him call it “Evocative, hilarious and profound. PHENOMENAL!”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 187

Reports of two sales (one actual, one contemplated).
That one, of “Outlaws, Rebels…,” would be of its e-book version, if that even exists, since its buyer would be to an artist/cartoonist in Serbia, who contacted me via Facebook, because she is a friend of another artist/cartoonist in Serbia, who recommended it, and the cost of postage makes a direct purchase from me unappetizing.
The other sale (“Most Outrageous”) went to a woman in Virginia who, having learned her reputed father died more than 10 months before her birth, has come to believe, for reasons unexplained, that her true dad, if not the subject of my book, is likely to have been his brother – or their father. She e-mailed me a request for any photos in my possession obtained during my research which might aid in her Visual Recognition study.
That both these events occurred the same week that a jackass I’d known in Powelton Village showed up, fictionalized, in a “New Yorker” story, and, after I’d mentioned to a fellow I had just met who had graduated Haverford College in 1964, the only two classmates of his I’d known, and he turned out to have roomed with one and baby sat for child of the other after he’d returned to school following an expulsion for heroin use, led me to ponder the mysteries of connection that string the web or our lives.
I may have also said, “It’s a small world.”

I also gave away two books.
An “I Will Keep You Alive” went to my optometrist, who was retiring after 40 years in practice. She is devoted enough to Ram Dass, whose favorable quote adorns our front cover, to have sat at his feet in Hawaii within the last year. She also knocked to cover price of books her patients gave her off their bill. Alas, this deal seems to have ended since my last book landed.
And a “Cheesesteak” went to a fellow drawn to my table by me new (See previous “Adventure”) “Meet the Author” sign. A leading member of the café’s acoustic music gang and a veteran of the Village and Bay Area folk scenes, I’d gone up in his estimation, once he’d learned I’d actually written the books I was peddling. He wa from Detroit and a couple years older than me, but by the time we’d connected around comics and early rock’n’roll, I knew he’d be a perfect reader. We’d gotten around to basketball – and his playing against Dave DeBuscherre and Togo Pallazzi – when I had to leave.

Ming! Ming! Ming!

My latest piece has gone up at

It begins:

Pythons didn’t seem to come in Goshkin’s size, so he clicked “Eel Skin.”
“Vintage,” the ad said. “Pre-owned.”
He liked the idea of stepping out shod like a Mexican drug lord. A 77-year-old Jewish one with a bad heart at that. He wondered how someone came up with the idea of making cowboy boots from eels. He only thought of eel at Party Sushi. Weren’t they too skinny to stick feet in?

Adventures in Marketing: Week 186

Sold one “I Will Keep You Alive.”
The buyer was my former associate, one of the attendees at my boontz-lunch a few weeks before. (See previous “Adventure.”) She paid a surprise visit to the café, and we had a nice chat, involving Colorful Clients We Had Known, going back 40 years to the People’s Temple cases, which we’d worked on together. Then her husband’s two M.I.s came up and then Adele and my book.
The week’s other notable encounter came about because of my new sign. I’ve subbed out the S. Clay Wilson Checkered Demon’s “Buy Bob’s Books!” for a commissioned J.T. Dockery, based on an old “New Yorker” cartoon. A down-and-out wino, unshaven, frazzled cuffs, holes in his shoes, sits crumpled on the sidewalk, upturned hat between his legs, books beside him, a sign on the wall he leans against: MEET THE AUTHOR!
It has drawn its share of looks and smiles. “Wanna buy a book?” I asked one of these gawkers. “No,” the gentleman said. “But I can help you out with a couple bucks.”
“He must not have appreciated your eel skin boots,” Adele said, when I told her.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 185

Sold one “I Will Keep You Alive.”
The buyer was a woman from India, who worked in I.T. We had noticed each other at the café but had not spoken until we met at the salad bar at Whole Foods. (“Romaine is back!” I’d said.) She said she read Wayne Dyer and Wayne Dyer often mentioned Ram Dass and Ram Dass had written a cover blurb for our book, so the next time she saw me at the café…
When she did, it turned out she wanted a book as a gift for a friend. “He likes science-fiction.”
“Not too long ago,” I said, “this would have been just that.”

I also gave a “Schiz” to a Croatian woman who lives in Slovenia. (You know what it costs to send a book to Slovenia? $24, that’s what.)
She had sent me a “Friend” request at FB. When I messaged her “Why?”, she said it was because we both loved comics, and, if I would give me my address, she would send me some of hers. They turned out to be three minis and a full-size anthology she’d edited, all of which she’d also published. (That cost her 6.90 euros.) I was so struck by them, I said I would like to write about them – and she said she would send me two more.

I may have said – but will say again – among the great and gratifying experiences of this writing thing, especially in this internet age, are the connections it brings and the odd conjunctions of which they often consist.
And I’m a kid who, when growing up in West Philadelphia, the only non-Americans he knew were two brothers from Puerto Rico.
Oh yeah, there was also Chinatown.

In other news…
1.) A political consultant acquaintance on “Cheesesteak”: “Delightful… witty and well-written.”
2.) A basketball buddy on the same: “Really good. A 40-foot three-pointer.”
3.) A woman from the health club on IWKYA: “Wonderful. The only book I leave out on my coffee table for visitors to pick up.”

Adventures in Marketing, Weeks 184, 185

I had once remarked to Richard, a wine merchant, that he was fortunate to have a ready-made niche audience about his books. “Not so ‘niche,’” he said. Each book sold in six figures. Now he stood beside my table adding that he had landed a column in a trade magazine which gave him more readers than that. He also worked in the marathon he’d run and property he was developing in Oakland before noticing my books and sign.
He said he’d like to read one but he already had so much on his plate.
I said I understood.
Oh well, he said, and handed me two fives.
The next day he e-mailed that his wife was half-way through and enjoying “Cheesesteak.”
One woman wore a navy blue hijab above a black aba. Her face was expressionless, her eyelids low. Maybe from sub-Sahara Africa, I thought. The other woman was Caucasian. Her hijab was red. They may have been classmates or members of the same community or sect, or the second woman may have been an attendant accompanying the first, and her red hijab may have been a hoodie.
This thought was suggested after the first woman picked up a “Cheesesteak,” thumbed through it, laughing loud enough to be heard through the café, and then picked up a “Schiz,” thumbed through it, and flung it down forcefully and angrily.
“Elizabeth,” the second woman said, “the man is trying to sell his books.”
Before they left, Elizabeth set her fortunately-empty coffee cup upside down on the table.
I had known two Leons and one Venezualan and a couple financial planners but never anyone who was all three until the plump fellow in the multi-colored, horizontally-striped wool sweater slumped like he had no spine into a chair at the next table. I’d seen him around since his silver hair and been glossy black. He began the conversation by asking if I had written my books. When I said I had, he said he had written one of poetry himself.
When he picked me up “Cheesesteak,” he told me about visiting his brother in Philly who’d lived there before moving to Florida. When he picked up “Most Outrageous,” he asked if he was supposed to know who Chester the Molester was. When he picked up “The Schiz,” he asked if “Pulp Fiction” was a black comedy too.
I tried to remember “Pulp Fiction.”
“Two guys shoot these people,” he said.
“I shoot some people,” I said. “So mayber.” Then I asked if he wanted to read his poetry at the café where I run a series.
“They’re in Spanish,” he said.
“Hmmm. Might work.”
“I read once San Francisco. It brought me girlfriends. You know, poetry, Spanish, romance.”
“Pablo Neruda,” I said.
“Neruda had girlfriends all over the world. I only need one or two.”
He told me read John Grisham and David Balducci but only remainders. “I am always one behind, but I always have a new one. And if they write 30 books, att $30 each, and I pay $5, think what I can do with the money I saved. That’s the financial planning speaking.”
I told him if he brought a copy of his poetry, I would trade him.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ve been coming here from time to time for 25 years, and this is the first time I’ve talked to anyone.”

In other news…
Since I was paid partly in copies for my contribution to “Comic Aht?” I display them on my table too. A repeat customer was the first to pick one up, so I gave it to her. I’m still awaiting a reaction.
My mini-essay “Why” was declared “charming” by a reader of “FOM.”
A psychologist/friend in San Francisco wrote of “I Will Keep You Alive,” “Glows and enlightens… shining with wit, intellect, love, and insigjt.”
He has recommended it to patients.

Why Not Johnny Craig?

My article about the artist-editor of EC Comics “Vault of Horror” kicks off “But Is It Comic Aht?” No.2, an anthology of comix, interviews and noodlings attracted like metal filings to a magnet around the belief of Austin English, its editor/publisher, that “comics we all love were made for no real reason, drawn with passion independent of financial or cultural demand.

English’s own writing unfailingly teaches me something. His comix fascinatingly seem to break down the barrier between traditional all-in-color-for-a-dime books and more customarily considered gallery-worth objects. I look forward to what he’s assembled here.

But I see no price or place-for-purchase listed. (Perhaps a nod to English’s no-financial-demand credo.) However, you might check his company’s web site: and see what you can learn.


I have a new mini-essay up at First of the Month:
The editor added the words within the parenthesis to its title. Probably he thought they provided ideological comfort. I don’t mind.

Here’s the portion he selected as the hook:
A few years ago, a Rolls showed up three blocks from our house. It was the only one I’d seen in Berkeley in 40-years. I kept hoping someone would fire bomb it. The fucker’s license plate was MYDOCRX.
I have no problem with that either.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 183

No sales.
I’d had high hopes for a “reunion” lunch at a deli with my former associate, our suitemate (now an ALJ), and the lawyer whose office had been next door. None, so far as I knew, had bought “I Will Keep You Alive,” so I’d stashed copies in my car trunk (four, in case someone wanted two.) Lunch was fun, lots of talk of children (theirs), other lawyers, judges, former clients, and, briefly, a digression into dementiua (parental). But a desire for Adele and my book was never expressed. (Nor was notice taken of my new cowboy boots, faux snakeskin jeans, or bling, all of which had accreted upon me since our last meeting.)
Our friend Marilyn has a term “boontz,” which covers a situation where one’s entirely self-inflated expectations have been punctured, though remaining unknown to anyone but the person affected. Anyone, I had been “boontzed,” probably in four-star fashion.
[I would add the next day I returned to the deli for take-out, and a bus boy said, “Cool bracelts, dude.” You just have to know your audience.]

In other news…
Word has reached us from Manhattan of the first Book Group to devote a meeting to IWKYA. The audience, all women, all Caucasian, all elderly, all of whom had experienced something analagous, was knocked out. They were taken by Adele and my love story, her ability to convey the intensity of her feelings with such clarity, my ability to convey my experience with such control and humor, and the symbiosis of our different voices working together.
Even if you don’t fit this demographic, the book is worth a look.