Marketing (3.)

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.”

Marketing (2.)

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.

Marketing (1)

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.”

Notes on Media Baronhood: Report to Stockholders

So here is where things stand.

Having overcome the debacles at that photocopy place and with those idiots at Lulu and the loss of my PDFs when Windows 10 destroyed my computer (Thank you Michael, my pal and formatter, for keeping your copies), I signed up with a commercial printer for “Cheesesteak.” True, the proofs it sent me did overlook my six pre-pages (title page, copyright, dedication, TOC, Author’s Intro), but that’s all cool now, and all should be ready inside a month. “Schiz,” my black comedy novel is awaiting a cover and an illustration from a late-added cartoonist, and then its presses will be ready to roll. Adele and I have finished a second draft of “Heart,” and I’m setting a date to sit down with Dr. M for her input. My collection of comic-related pieces is, I think, still awaiting a decision from an indie publisher. I say “think,” because he didn’t reply to my last inquiry, but, fuck him, I have enough to do. Like publish “Lollipop,” my VISTA book (and “Cheesesteak” sequel) and “Industrial Injury” my workers’ comp book (and sequel to the other two) and…

But wait a minute. Could this be my newly-increased Lexapro talking? What is the point of self-publishing three or four or five books in three or four or six months unless you are carrying out some semi-crazed art project?

Just the other day, in the “Times,” John Prine discussed an alternate business model. After he became sick of record companies, he decided to issue his own sides. But he waited until the first one covered its costs before he did a second.

That makes sense to me.

Reflections on Media Baronhood (cont.)

Annual Report to Stockholders:

Here is how things stand, project-wise:
1.)Heart: Adele is finishing her final portion of Draft One. I am just short of finishing mine — but am over half thru editing what we have so far. No publisher is in sight.
2.) Collection of Comic-Related Writing: Complete. Query letters rejected by two publishers and ignored by a third. It rests with a one-man publisher of commix, who likes my stuff but has never done anything like my book. I should hear from him in a month or two about a spot in his 2016 line-up.
3.) Cheesesteak. Lulu, coincident with my outraged howl — see a couple blogs ago — has adopted “less strenuous” guidelines for the objectionable and a new “content evaluation specialist will be reaching out to (me) Monday or Tuesday at the latest.”
4.) The Schiz: One of the three top printing companies has provided a bid for our revised (upward) page count. (One seems to still be considering if the sample chapter sent it is too racy; one seems still to be crunching numbers.) We have seventeen of the eighteen cartoonists we need aboard and are beginning to assign chapters for illustration. (This one is going to be way-cool!)
May a rising tide lift all boatd.

Adventures in Media Baronhood (con.)

So I decided to go with Lulu for “Cheesesteak: The West Philadelphia Years,” a collection of reminiscences that took me from childhood through law school. Once I had formatted it to fit Lulu’s specifications, my m.s. was routed to its “content evaluation department.” “Issues,” I learned, had to be “resolved” before my book could “move forward.”

The first issue was that they had “found text that is copyrighted by someone else.” They “found” this because I had acknowledged that most of my collection had been published previously. My understanding was that these publications left me my copyright and only needed acknowledged t be republished by me. How Lulu determined otherwise was not explained, but no matter. Go along to get along, I figured.

The content evaluators offered me seven remedies. Three applied to work created before January 1, 1923. Since, as my text made clear, I was not born until 1942, these seemed of unlikely relevance. (They also made me curious about the attention and thought my m.s. had received.) One applied to texts of over 5000 words, which none of my pieces were. One applied to texts of under 5000 words, which all of my previously published ones were. I could satisfy the content evaluators by (a) removing these pieces, which would leave me a 20 page book, or (b) reducing them by 90%, which would give me 30. Or I could get permission to publish them from the previous publishers. This would be a pain in the ass, but doable.

Issue two was my text that libeled and/or invaded the privacy of others. How I had managed this puzzled me since, as I had disclosed, I had, at least, changed everyone’s name, if not other identifying factors.) The evaluators provided three examples, leaving open the possibility there were more. One was a reference to “Chuckie Tusk,” an ex-cop, in whose restaurant and on whose liquor license two of my Penn Law social circle ran a bar. How I had libeled or embarrassed “Mr. Tusk” by this reference mystified me. One was a reference to a “Laurel Plotkin,” who had been identified as my college’s “nymphomaniac.” No other description of “Ms. Plotkin” was provided, and since Brandeis had about 800 female undergraduates in 1964, and the youngest of whom would not be 70, I could not examine how it could be feared that one of these grandmothers would now come forward and declare she recognized herself in my description. (It was like, I thought, I had written “A girl at Brandeis was a nymphomaniac” or “…never brushed her teeth” or “…killed her mother and slept with her father.”)

The third example was more problematic. I had written of my freshman English Comp instructor, a wrist-tattooed Holocaust survivor, who, while married to one department head, was rumored to be having an affair with a junior member of another. I had portrayed her in all other ways heroically, and she would be about 80 now and had not sued when the piece had previously run; but I, gallantly, offered to remove the tattoo — and make her an ex-junkie if that would make Lulu feel better.

It wouldn’t. In fact, its corrective “MUST”s included the following. I could not use my real name anywhere in the book or on its cover. I could not use the real name of any business or educational establishment I mentioned. I had to change the locale where the action occurred. In other words, I would be writing a memoir, “Cheesesteak: The West Philadelphia Years,” in which I did not appear, nor did any place where I actually spent time; and all the activities described took place in, I don’t know, Bismark, North Dakota.

Media Baronhood Interruptus

Robin Levy arrived at the copy center with the jpeg with his pdf as instructed. He expected to leave with 150 copies of his book, some to be given away, some to be peddled. He smiled.

A young man with a head cold was behind the counter, not the woman who had quoted Levy a price and instructed him to bring the jpeg. The young man’s brown hair was pinned into a bun. He wore a skirt. Levy described his order. The only difference from what he had told the woman was that he had increased his order by 50 copies.

The young man inserted the jpeg in a machine and pushed a button. He took the pages that resulted to a second machine, centered them, and pushed a second button, He placed one stack of pages on the other and handed to Levy a sample copy of his book. This had not, Levy noted, required a great deal of labor. The sample looked fine.

The young man wrote numbers on a form. He worked a calculator and wrote more numbers. He excused himself to call a “manager.” He wrote more numbers and called the manager again. Then he handed Levy a bill for THREE times what the woman had said.

Levy had not felt such feelings since the last time he had been told more surgery would be required. He did not know if he should blame incompetence or duplicity. He did not know if his feelings should be directed toward the young man or the woman or himself. No, he absolved himself, “three” did not sound like “nine.”

“This makes no sense,” Levy said. At the same time he recognized his tone was causing people at copying machines to stare, he commended himself for not allowing references to the skirt, or conclusions drawn therefrom to creep into his statement.

“There must have been a miscommunication,” the young man said.

“That,” Levy said, “hardly covers it.” His good feelings had been so deeply altered, it seemed he had taken a bad drug.

“Do not worry,” his friend Budd said, over lunch. “I am sure you’ll get a blog out of it.”

Adventures in Media Baronhood

It occurred to Robin Levy that if he wanted to see his name on another book, he was going to have to publish it. Levy had resisted self-publishing for years. He had come up when “vanity press” meant sneers from the literati. When, if you identified yourself as a writer, the first question to follow “Are you published?” was “By whom?” But now more and more writers were going the route of the looked-down-the-nose-upon. Writers he knew personally were crazy about it. The most enthusiastic embraced the DIY-aspect, the lay-out, the formatting, the etc. But in anything from wood shop, to home repair, to under-the-car’s-hood, to the mind-bogging mysteries of his home computer, Levy felt behind — if not buried beneath — the curve.

Two people offered to lend a hand. Michael, a friend for over 40 years, had published a dozen books via his local photocopy shop and advocated for the joy and pride of the accomplishment. Milo, who had edited many of Levy’s prior works and had set up Levy’s web site when he’d elected to accept that part of the 21st century, pumped for having a commercial printer do the book but leaving everything else for the two of them jointly.

Levy considered alternatives. A traditional vanity press in Berkeley wanted $3500 for everything, from design through marketing. It did nice books; he recognized some of its authors’ names; but the only one he knew personally swore the receivers of any marketing efforts she received must have shit-canned them. Lulu wanted $1000 (and 20% of sales) for its least expensive package. (That was attractive.) A retired professor at Café Bongo had a guy who charged $500 to get his book print-ready and then turned it over to Amazon, which did everything else. (That sounded good — even $500 better — but Levy had a resistance to all things Amazon.)

He decided to do one book with Michael’s help and one with Milo’s. (Levy knew he might not be making the best choice but he also knew he would feel the same about any choice.) He rented a PO Box, so disgruntled or fanatic readers would not pound his front door. He filed for a fictitious business name. He registered with the state, so it would know to tax him. He registered with the city, so it would. He opened a business checking account, so he could cash the checks which came to his fictitious name it its PO Box in order to pay his taxes.

He prepared, because of the taxes and governmental regulations to awaken one morning, surprised as Gregor Samsa, to find himself a Republican.