I sold five books. One at the café to someone with whom I chat. Two to people to whom I’d sent notices (one lawyer, one basketball pal). Two as gifts to former Philadelphians from a college buddy.
I have heard from slightly more than half the people I sent copies and slightly more than one-fifth the people I sent notices (and half these bought copies). I sent additional group e-mails to high school classmates and lawyers at a chat room who had neither received previous copies or notices, for a total of zero responses.
Readers have responded with “amusing,” “enjoyable,” an easy read,” “moving.” One thanked me for “capturing… the essence of adolescent experience” and another its “issues, fears and hopes.” One reader commented on my sister’s death and one on my mention of Little Walter. People who have observed me at a café have nodded, smiled, asked if I was “selling something” and if it was my “office.” One woman said, “Very cool.”
Another self-publishing author suggested we share a table at a local book festival — but all tables were already gone. Another person suggested I sell at the local farmers market — but book sellers are not allowed there. On the plus side, after several attempts, I managed to install an app on my Iphone so I can take credit cards.
The fellow in Philly who promised to send me his book did. It’s a coffee table-sized volume, richly illustrated, from Temple University Press, so I can out way ahead there. And I’ve entered into correspondence with the owner of Jim’s Steaks, on South Street, which, I’ve learned, has different ownership than the Jim’s on 62nd, or the Jim’s in the Northeast, or the one in Springfield.
Toward the end of the week, Adele set my books and sign outside the health club locker room. There was ittle foot traffic that morning, but we sold two copies. One was to a woman we barely knew, but she sat down to chat.
She is of Iranian descent and came here in the ’60s as a college student. She has been an artist and therapist and is a student of Sufi-ism. When I remarked that I would publish another book if I did not lose too much money on this one, she good humoredly reminded me how insignificant a consideration that was. Five thousand dollars, she said, ten thousand — grossly over-estimating what was at stake, “These are mere bumps in the road. You could not have been here at all. But if you touch only one person with this book, it has been worth it.” She went on to explain that, according to the Koran, the book on one’s life does not close until Judgment Day, “And you may never be aware of how what you have left behind has affected others.”
“What a nice thought,” I said. “And if I hadn’t written this book, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you.”
In my first week, I sat in a café each morning with a stack of books and my “Buy Bob’s Books!” sign. In one café, where I know few people, I sold one book. The buyer was a law professor whose own self-published book I had previously bought from him. Four people, two of whom were probably schizophrenic, stared at my sign without speaking, though one silently mouthed, “Wow.”
In my other café, where I know many copies, I have sold several copies, all to people whose first name, at least, I know. This café is in a boutique hotel and one morning a guest, an Asian-American woman, asked if I was “a Berkeley tradition.” “No,” I said, “I’m the first one I know of.”
Later, I realized, I had forgotten Julia Vinograd, a poet, who for years has roamed the streets, dressed in a long black coat and multi-colored cap, while blowing soap bubbles and peddling her chapbooks. I have the long black coat and the multi-colored cap already.
Or I could remain sedentary. Worst comes to worst, I figure, I can deduct the cost of my double espressos, like rent.
One week report:
About 80% of the people to whom I gave free copies of “Cheesesteak” have not responded. (Some may not have received theirs yet, the US Postal Service being what it is.) One respondee has bought one for someone else; one has promised to. One promoted the book at his web site, which resulted to my sole sale to a stranger so far. One said he might have it reviewed at his on-line magazine.
About 90% of the people whom I notified of “Cheesesteak”‘s existence have not responded. Two of the respondees bought a copy; one has promised to.
Exactly 75% of the people whom I asked for an address so I could send them a free copy did not reply.
One lesson I have drawn is that I am not as important a part of many people’s minds as they are to mine.
Another is that it is weird knowing everyone who knows of your book’s existence and of how they have dealt with this knowledge.
“Cheesesteak: The West Philadelphia Years: A Rememboir” is out (Spruce Hill Press. POB 9492. Berkeley 94709. $20, including postage.) It looks great. No reviews are in (or expected), but Adele was caught laughing when she read it. (She also said that in the author’s portrait on the back I looked “even more dissipated than in the original.”)
UPS delivered the shipment early Friday morning, which was nice. It meant I could get to Staple’s to stock up on the least expensive mailers into which I could squeeze one and then to the USPO where I could price one so-squozen in order to purchase the stamps required to mail them as cheaply as I could. (“Allow five-to-seven business days for delivery.”) Then I started stuffing envelopes.
Saturday morning, I put my marketing plan into operation. I trundled off to the French with a stack and my “Buy Bob’s Book Sign,” accompanied by Adele for moral support. We sold four, all to people with whom I have been known to chat. Others within this same degree of consanguinity did not bite. Strangers (and semi-strangers) did not glance in my direction.
Morning two, Adele stayed home. No one bought. (I guess I need a babe in the booth.) An Asian-American woman (a stranger!) picked up a copy, asked if I was part of a Berkeley tradition, put it down, and said, “Good luck.” An artist/musician picked one up, put it down, and said nothing. An anthropology professor emeritus offered to gtrade me a copy of his book he’d self-published after writing it for his grandchildren.
Hap, who bought one yesterday, said he’d read half and found it “hilarious.”