Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 180, 181

Two swaps.
A “Cheesesteak” to a fellow in town from Modesto for a Zen book he co-edited on “loving the world as it is.” What better time for that?
And a “Schiz” to a 76-year-old retired in-house corporate writer for his first published book, a three-novella collection in development his entire adult life.

In other news…
The high was that Z (See earlier “Adventures”) finally gave me my book sale numbers.
The low was that Z gave me my book sale numbers.
The solace is that I had read that the averaged self-published book sells 250 copies and I’ve already beaten that, three-for-three.
And I’ve proved I haven’t sold out my artistic vision.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 179

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive.” The buyer, a late 50-ish mathematician (I told you I was big with mathematicians), had bought a book from me months ago. “Cheesesteak,” I think.

In other news…
1.) Recent words-of-mouth include (a) “Fascinating. Brutal and painful but fascinating.” [Those, for IWKYA, from a fellow I’ve known on a first-name-but-nothing-more basis since the early ‘70s]; (b) “Literally, on every page there is something I identified with.” [These, for “Cheesesteak,” from a newly connected-to, 75-year-old author from Philadelphia, which is a nice reaction, but, really, if not from him, whom?]; and (c) “Perfect… a thrill.” [This, on “What About Johnny Craig?”, from the editor of “Comic Aht,” in which it will appear next month. Stay tuned.]
2.) After a couple decades hiatus, I’d decided to resume banging my head against the wall of short story submission. I’d hold out my best unpublished (and most rejected) story and Googled a list of where to send it. Two journals found it “not right” for them within two days of each other. Not an auspicious beginning.
3.) A 76-year-old who is having his first book, a short story collection (and who is also the utterer of the butter-him-up words of 1 (a) above) was referred to me by his publisher, another frequenter of the café, for tips about promotion (“Bob knows everything). Talk about blind-leading-blind. Dogs barking up wrong trees.”Nothing works,” is the message. “All effort is futile.” “Despair, despair, despair.” “Keep your day job.”
On the other hand, as my accountant said to me almost 50-years ago, when asked if I should be shopping for savings funds with higher interests rates, “If it’s fun.” Soon after that, he became a carpenter – then moved to L.A. to write sitcoms.

Last 10 Books Read (III.)

1. EriH. Lee. “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Yup, I’d never read it. It was on the Free Books shelf in the cafe and I figured it was time.
2. D. Winslow. “The Cartel.” The guy is no J. Ellroy but he keeps you turning pages.
3. S. Schiff. “Saint-Exupery.” Another freebie. A terrific bio writer. I may do more of her.
4. K. Atkinson. “Transcripts.” Entertaining but not up to her Jackson Brodies. (See below.)
5. B. Postema ed. “4 Panel.” Because my comic world buddy Eric Nebel is in it — but I would have to stretch my head to really get it.
6. W.T. Vollman. “Argall.” Because of Mark Merin’s recommendation, a cafe buddy. Vollman is… WOW! Maybe the most extraordinary American writer of the last half-century.
7. K. Atkinson. “One Good Turn. (Second time.) Terrific — but do “Case Histories” first.
8. J. Cook ed. “The Book of Weirdo.” Because Adele and I are in it. Great fun.
9. D. Day. “Malcolm Lowry.” Another free bio. When I was in college, “Volcano” knocked me out. A couple decades later, I just shook my head. Now I may need a tie-breaker third reading.
10. W.T. Vollman. “The Ice Shirt.” (See above.) Only one of the so-far five completed Seven Dreams to go.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 178

No sales.
Not a blink of interest.
But in other news…

1.) Some nice words-of-mouths on “I Will Keep You Alive.” (A.) An ICU nurse, to whom a friend had tweeted a recommendation, responded, “I enjoyed it through and through”; and (B.) A physician at the health club, who has been battling his own health issues while carrying for an even more seriously ailing wife, called it “A great book.”
[That’s “GREAT book” for those who didn’t hear me the first time.]
2.) One of the pleasures of being a (self-perceived) underappreciated author is the opportunity to share, compare, banter, and ruefully laugh at with other writers similarly positioned the snubs, insults and betrayals to which we have been privy. But just this week, reading a biography of Malcolm Lowry, I ran into a medal-winning experience in this regard. While they were struggling to survive, Lowry’s second wife began writing mysteries. Scribner’s accepted her first, following which they heard nothing, until Lowry walked into a book store in Mexico City and spotted it for sale. Byt this time, Scribner’s had accepted her second. Again, they heard nothing, until a concerned fan wrote because Scribner’s seemed to have omitted the final chapter. (It had.)
I should add, this was during publishing’s Golden Age, and the editor-in-chief was the fabled Maxwell Perkins.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 177

Sent a “Cheesesteak” to a fellow who is writing a book on Overbrook High School et environs in the 1950s and ‘60. When I learned he’d played on the same Hilltoppers’ squad as Walt Hazzard and Wally Jones, I threw in a “Best Ride.” (I always figured my ideal reader for that one was someone from Philly, about my age, who was into basketball. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many of them.)
And sold three copies of “I Will Keep You Alive.” One went to a young woman at the health club about five or six years ago when I’d started on the heavy bag. Her dad, a quintuple by-pass guy, just received a pacemaker. Since I’m the only guy she knows who comes similarly equipped, she sounded me out. One thing led to another and…
The second went to an older woman who’d heard from friends in the locker room what a great book it was. Since she’d already admired the “Love” shorts Adele had made for me and my bracelets, she was already predisposed toward us. (That’s “GREAT BOOK” for those of you still without one.)
The third went to a well-regarded author (and publisher) at the café. He’d read the book in manuscript, liked it, and suggested revisions, some of which we’d made in moderation. (He is also a veteran of multiple cardiac “incidents.”) I offered to give him a copy, but as someone in the business, he insisted on supporting the arts.

In other news…
1.) I sent a series of questions to Z (See previous “Adventure”), of which he answered none. I called Customer Service at the Corporate Behemoth. Its spokeswoman said it would only respond to an e-mail. I sent an e-mail with my questions and copied Z. He immediately replied he would pay me. I told him to relax. I just wanted to understand what was going on and then we could work things out reasonably.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 175

Sold one “Most Outrageous.”
The cute-as-a-button young woman who selected it had asked me to describe each of the five books I was displaying. “True crime,” I said. I added, “You have to be over 18 to read it.” Usually, I am joking. This time, regarding her closely, not so much. But she turned out to be a UC graduate in mathematics. You would be surprised, but my books do well with mathematicians. I am always impressed, though, by someone edgy enough to pick MO, esp someone like her, a “first” actually, who has “barely” heard of “Hustler.”

In other news…
1.) According to the small indie publisher guy, (Let’s call him Z), under whose umbrella my books have been distributed by a corporate behemoth, said behemoth has fudged its records, resulting in his being hit with a a $13,000 overpayment charge he can’t pay. (Hell, he can’t even pay to have his recently rear-ended car fixed or his whip-lash treated.) He has shut his doors, liquidated his stock, all but lit out for the territory. Whatever happened to the the dollars that should have been mine has been lost in this shuffle. The silver lining is my sales have been so meager these dollars are likely not many. But I am trying to straighten it out. Suggestions are welcome.
2.) On a sunnier front, editorial negotiations over my introduction to the forthcoming university press cartoonist-novelist collaboration (See previous “Adventure”) have gone well. My punctuation and grammar have been spruced up – and if anyone can give me the rule for when to use “which” and when “that,” I’d appreciate it – and my “gonzo academic” style praised. I’ve given up my use of “Nip.” (It’s a cusp of WW II book.) “Hebe” is under negotiation. (I’ve proposed substituting “Hebrews,” citing James McMurtry’s usage in “Choctaw Bingo” as authority.) And I’ve replaced “knockers” with phallic-S&M imagistic allusions.
3.) Then I received this even bigger lift. An e-mail from a guy with a Japanese name, a subject line of “Review,” and an incomplete sentence seeking “representative in north america with a stipend commission and salary attached” There was no period and no attachment.
Why, I wondered, would someone in Japan with an incomplete command of English and its punctuation be writing me? Clearly, a manga publisher wanted a well-known “gonzo academic” in the U.S. to “review” – its books or a comix-related magazine wanted the same. (Clearly, too, it was a case of good karma resulting from my eliminating “Nip.”) So I requested further info.
The attachment that arrived was from a steel import/exporter seeking representatives to establish good will with customers and collect overdue invoices.
It’s all coming together, I thought. Maybe the job will help me deal with Z.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 174

No sales. (Again.)
Not even a noteworthy conversation.
But five pre-10am medical-related appointments between me and Adele got us out of the café so early sometimes I didn’t set my display up.

In other news…
1.) A gratifying response to “Who Was That Masked Man?” from an FOM reader: “I’ve read and been reading around (Levin’s piece)… and I’m not up to the job to say anything much about it except I thought it was great…”
2.) Word from the border states (Civil War border, that is) is that the comic book novella-
adaptation to which I provided the introduction has been green-lit by its university-type publisher. I am to hear from the editor who, the cartoonist assures me, thinks “it’s REALLY good, perfect… and they’re all impressed/excited” but that, in “the picking gnat shit out of pepper” mode of editing that weighing of cultural/PC impact has brought about a couple of my word choices (“Nip” and “Hebe,” for instance), and my “over-heated” description capturing the drawing of the female lead may require toning down.
Well, hell, I’m a reasonable guy – not the “eccentric” who drove editors to “tearing at their hair,” as I have been memorialized in the otherwise (mainly) estimable oral history of Fantagraphics Books. So here’s my chance to set the record straight.
3.) Received an e-mail from a cartoonist whose heroine had, mid-story, been confronted by menacing litigation and needed a plausible way out. I woke up at 3:30 am, brainstorming, and sent my ideas. She grabbed one or two and promised me a credit and free comic. (I will be denied a cameo in it however, as my wisdom will be delivered by the She-Hulk’s alter ego, who happens to be an attorney.) “You ought to write comics, Bob,” she added.
Turning to my area of expertise, I pondered. What if a burnt-out Batman brought a workers’ comp claim against Gotham City and was denied for being an independent contractor? I could get into the whole gig-economy thing. (Plus, I had a spiraling-into-further-darkness sub-plot involving Robin I won’t get into here.)
“All I need is an artist willing to work on spec,” I said.
“Ha, ha, ha,” the cartoonist replied

Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 172/173

No sales.
But swapped a copy of “I Will Keep You Alive” to a personal trainer at the health club for her two-DVD “Core Flow Fitness.”

In other news…
1.) Received a copy of a review of IWKYA in the Georgia-based, Mended Hearts-related “Aorta Reporter.” It was extensive, positive (“A must read”), and I particularly enjoyed its emphasizing Adele’s role as primary care-giver, since I sometimes think it is easier being the person going through the health crisis than the person outside observing and responding to it. We hope the review brings the book to the attention of others who will benefit from it.
2.) I had set a goal for “Who Was That Masked Man?” (See earlier blog/post) of one significant response. This has been more than met by a lawyer//friend (“Fantastic,” “Great”), who engaged me about it via e-mail and forwarded it to several friends, and by a cartoonist/pal (“Enjoyed the hidey-heck out of it”) who shared it at FB. However, several of my usually-to-be-counted-upon readers – of whom there are not many – have not even managed to click “Like.” This may be explained by the fellow I ran into outside the art museum who said he had noticed it but felt it appeared “structurally daunting.” Since he has degrees from two Ivy League universities, I guess I can not be accused of writing down to my audience.
Anyway, I gained sufficient confidence to send the link for the piece to “Expecting Rain,” a preferred site for Dylan fanatics, which posted it, subjecting it to hard core scrutiny; and having finished a print-out-able draft of a similarly approached endeavor, I now believe I know what it is that I am doing and no longer fear I have stripped the gears of my mind.

Who was That Masked Man?

My latest piece is on-line at

Here’s a portion:

Martin Scorsese’s “Rolling Thunder Revue” opened with a a silent movie magician vanishing a woman. (The trick should have been a clue.) Then came Rolling Thunder Dylan performing “Mr. Tambourine Man,” intercut with Present Day Dylan explaining why he’d hit the road. He referred to America’s “loss of confidence,” following the fall of Saigon and two attempts on the life of the president, while flotillas, parades, and President Nixon celebrating the Bicentennial screened.
But the Bicentennial had been the summer after Rolling Thunder, and Nixon had resigned two years before it, and Ford had been shot at, not Tricky Dick. Neither Saigon nor the assassinations had figured in any tour account Goshkin had read, and the only mention of the Bicentennial was Shepard telling Scorsese people “didn’t give a shit” about it.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 171

No sales.
The closest was the fellow who showed interest in my books (“You wrote these?”) but seemed challenged to come up with enough for a cup of coffee.
Then there was the 80-something ex-therapist who said he’d buy “I Will Keep You Alive” once he’d read his stack of other books and “New Yorkers” and sections of the “New York Times’ “if I am still around.”
I know the feeling.

In other news…
1.) The painter/teacher (See previous “Adventure”) e-mailed he “LOVED” “Cheesesteak.”
2.) A woman at the health club told Adele her husband enjoyed IWKYA so much he read portions of it to her aloud. (Who he is and how he got it is unknown.)
3.) My piece about Casanova Frankenstein drew limited but high quality – two fine novelists, two edgy cartoonists – praise.

Sometimes, when I ask myself why I continue writing, I recall the Iranian woman who told me that the Koran instructs our full measure is only taken when the Book of Life has closed on the last of us. With the Internet, you can be regularly surprised by whom a ripple you have cast has reached. Some decades ago, I wrote a piece about a B-movie actress of the 1950s, and since then I have regularly heard from others, including her nephew, who Googled her name.
One of these, a woman in Georgia, sent me links to films in which the actress appeared besides the one which had interested me. We remained in correspondence for a year or two until she fell silent, and I learned little about her, except that she wrote e-books for the Christian bondage market.
This week she sent me an e-mail which stated she was unemployed, hoped to begin a state-run job training program but until then was asking all her friends to Pay Pal her $1.
This request stabbed my heart.
“Why,” I asked, “$1?”
“Because,” she replied, “to most people it’s trivial. But to me it seems something.”
I doubt it meant more to her than this exchange meant to me.