Adventures in Marketing: Week 58

Sold a “Cheesesteak,” a “Schiz,” a “Most Outrageous,” an “Outlaws, Rebels…,” all to the same woman. (I gave her a discount for buying in bulk.)

She had arrived at the café, handing out Meyer lemons from a tree in her yard, to all the customers. Squeeze one each morning into hot water, she explained, to clear the body of toxins. She had blue eyes, a round, smiling face. She had short gray hair under a wide-brimmed straw hat. She wore a loose-fitting black top and wheat-colored Himalayan butterfly pants. She had also, I later notice, taken 18 books from the “Free” shelf and piled them on a chair at her table.

My work seemed to have interested her in me so much that she paid several visits to keep me posted on her thoughts. (And I felt grateful enough for her purchases not to interrupt.) So I learned of the health problems of her sister who operated heavy equipment at a nuclear waste disposal site, the personality of her brother-in-law, a Mohawk high-beam walker, the dialogue her own interest in the dharma had led to with a local Catholic worker-priest, and her suspicions that the Amazonian special ops warriors she read about in intrigue novels were real.

So I did not get a lot of work done that morning.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 54

No sales again.

Not only that but the last two “customers” at the café have avoided eye contact entirely. This I could understand if “The Schiz” was the book in question, but “Cheesesteak”…

And my Manhattan-based efforts have constricted. Only partly from choice, Logos will have an exclusive east-of-Berkeley sales dealership on “Best Ride” and, until my actual distributor kicks in, a temporary one on “S” and “C.” I understand there are flyers and a display. This could be fun.

In other news, at the suggestion of my entrepreneurially-inclined friend Budd, I have e-mailed honchos at the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiologists hoping for an endorsement of “Heart” which will make it more attractive to agents and/or publishers. No responses yet, which will be kept in mind when it becomes time for charitable bequests.

Finally, I was interviewed by two fellows who hope to make a documentary film about Dan O’Neill and the Air Pirates. This seems an entirely DIY, low-budget operation, but of the half-dozen folks who’ve expressed similar interest, it’s the only one to actually get cameras rolling. Since they wouldn’t tell me the questions they’d be asking in advance, I’d prepped by skimming by book, which I hadn’t read since it came out. Boy, it was good! Maybe if the film is released, there’ll be a second edition. Maybe an NYRB Classic.

So a lot is going on. Still, there are moments just after wakening when I lie there thinking, Just what am I doing?

But they pass and I get up and do it some more.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 52

Sold a “Schiz” and a “Fully Armed” to an old friend/retired psychologist in Philadelphia. Sold a “Cheesesteak” to a stranger (contractor) in the café. Sent a “Schiz” and a “Cheesesteak” to a recently resurfaced fellow who’d helped me a lot on my Air Pirates book. (He send me a pdf of his new book on Darwin.) Sent a “Cheesesteak” to a rock guitarist who’d given me a copy of his CD when I visited him in the hospital on my Mended Hearts rounds.

In other news, a woman with whom I attended 4th through 12th grade has offered to pitch “Best Ride” and “Cheesesteak” to bookstores in Manhattan, where she lives, Brooklyn, and Philly. (She expressed discomfort with “The Schiz” but is willing to look at it.) Her other activities include playing the harp at and singing in the chorus of her church (Episcopalian)and being an on-again, off-again booking agent for a chamber music group so this endeavor sounds adventurous and amusing to us both.

And the Berkeley indie author/publisher said he would do “Heart,” except he wasn’t publishing anything for the time being. But maybe when he secured his next grant… So pitches to agents and publishers continue there.

[Bob’s books remain available from this very web site.]

Adventures in Marketing: Week 49

Sold one copy of “The Schiz.”

The buyer was a 40-something UC employee. Something in computers.
He is a fan — and unpublished writer — of sci-fi, who had previously bought and, he now told me, been delighted by “Cheesesteak.” It was, he said, “Like a vanished time that will never come again. Did you see the movie ‘Blade Runner’? That was the future, and yours was the past, but, like it, you captured this entire world.”

I, of course, had never seen it that way. The West Philadelphia of “Cheesesteak” was — and is — pretty real and living to me. But I welcomed his enthusiasm.

“This new one,” I said, “is different.”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 38

No café sales.

A lawyer I knew when I was in practice asked how my writing was going. But…

A woman said, “I have a library with 3000 books, and if I bring one more home, my children will kill me.”

A thirtyish fellow, longish black hair, thickish black-framed glasses, lots of black clothes, asked if the books on display were mine.

I assured him they were.

He examined each, front cover and back. He riffled through some, lingering the most at the cartoons in “most Outrageous.” Which was understandable.

He assured me I was a credit to Berkeley.

B.
Sold a “Schiz” to the sole law school classmate with whom I have even semi-regular contact. He e-mailed he’d enjoyed “Cheesesteak,” which I’d comp’d him. He’d known some of the characters and locales (pp. 78-87) and asked about them, which was cool. He also wanted a “Best Ride” and a “Pirates/Mouse” to give an Overbrook High School classmate of his, now “living as a mountain man in West Virginia.”

That sounds like a story-and-a-half.

[All books available from www.theboblevin.com]

Adventures in Marketing: Week 37

Sold copies of “The Schiz” to two alte cockers at the health club, both veteran readers of my stuff. (One hasn’t paid yet, but, a retired lawyer/professor, he’s good for it.) Since I’m not discounting this item, even for pals, each got a complimentary “Huge.” Swapped a “Cheesesteak” to a Penn man for an UG-friendly zine he edit/publishes.

Speaking of Penn, my café friend Hap, another alum, I send a “C.steak” to the “Gazette,” its all-university mag for its Class Notes (“Bob Levin L.’67…). Figuring it would draw more eyes than the law school’s equivalent, I did, but since I usually toss the Gazette when it arrives, I didn’t know the notice’d run till Hap gave me his copy.

If any sales result, I shall let you know.

[Bob Levin’s books are available from this very web site.]

Readers Respond

“I finished ‘The Schiz.’ I hope the characters weren’t based on real people.”
A fellow at the café.
“Terrific. I think it would make a great graphic novel.”
My good friend Budd.

I tend to evaluate how people respond to my writings. I know this is not fair. I understand it’s hard to come up with responses that satisfy creators. I fuss and fret over responses myself. (Still I noted the café fellow said absolutely nothing which revealed what he thought of my book, and graded him downward accordingly.)

Budd’s response recalled to me that decades earlier, to perhaps the first draft of “The Schiz,” Max Garden, (See “Cheesesteak” p. 14 et seq.) said it reminded him of a comic book. He meant this as a compliment, but I felt my seriousness of purpose and complexity of thought dissed. So while I reacted more dispassionately to Budd’s assessment which, after all had praised the book directly, I noted his implication that it would be better as something else.

Then, later that day, Adele’s brother Gordie called. “The macabre and grotesque scenes and characters,” he said, “reminded me of those EC comics you showed Ken and Joey (His children) the first time we visited. It was like you’d created comic art in words.” Though Gordie, like Max and Budd, had connected “The Schiz” to comics, his comment alone unqualifiedly warmed me.

First was his utilization of the words “grotesque” and “macabre.” Though at first glance denoting less stars than “great” or “terrific,” he had individualized his response, narrowed it and sharpened it in a way to fit my book specifically and, at the same time, linked it to a recognized literary tradition. Flannery O’Connor, Mary Shelley, Poe. (In fact, Wikipedia says, no less than Thomas Mann called the grotesque the “genuine antibourgeoise style.”

Plus, Gordie was saying “The Schiz” satisfied as itself. It was not the equivalent of a comic. It need not become one. It had only incorporated elements of comics, as artists incorporate elements of whatever they come across and are nourished by. And I and loved the idea of having EC as one of my literary influences. At various times, I had heard — and welcomed — “Ernest Hemingway” and “Raymond Chandler” and “Nathanel West”; but EC, which had fallen upon me years before any of these eminent others, had never been cited to or accepted by me, and it suddenly seemed right and simply nice to welcome it aboard and not standing on the pier as I sailed away.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 29

Sold two copies of “The Schiz,” one to a friend who’d missed the launch party and one to an attorney from my law practice past who lives down the peninsula. Sold a “Cheesesteak” to a fellow who sought my counsel on his nanny’s brother’s workers’ comp case.

The (presumably) mass e-mailing from my on-line publicist to reviewers hither and yon has resulted in a single request for “Cheesesteak.” (Actually a request for TWO copies.) This is not encouraging. On the other hand, it means I will be giving away fewer freebies. Is this it? I asked the publicist. Or should I expect more requests to trickle in? This question has not been answered.

However, my publicist has also recommended I give 10 copies away at Goodreads in a “lottery.” This, she says, will draw attention to my work and increase my name recognition. I was willing, but it required several tips from her before I could convince Goodreads “Cheesesteak” even existed.

In semi-related news, I have submitted my Introduction (or Afterword) to “Cumming,” Aaron Lange’s forthcoming collection of scurrilous anti-Trump illustrations. They are a hoot and getting my own rocks off was such a blast that I look forward to displaying the comic besides my own books in the café.

I have even offered to take on local distribution, as a sideline to my publishing empire. I mean if this won’t sell in Berkeley…

Adventures in Marketing: Week 28

I.
Sold three copies of “The Schiz” and one of “Cheesesteak.” The first went to two guys and a gal I knew at the French. The last went to someone I didn’t.

II.Tom?” she said.

She had me confused with an (even) more celebrated author who came there. He always wears a watch cap and I wore one that morning. She had wanted to compare knee replacements with him. (Hers had gone well; his hadn’t.) There, I couldn’t help her, but I could have done heart surgery.

Then she saw my cap said “West Philadelphia.” She had lived there in the ’60s, three blocks from my family, while her now ex- was in med school.

“Wanna buy a book?” I said.

II.
The big opportunity I missed was the 50th anniversary party we attended. Philadelphians past and present were there, but I had left my “Buy Bob’s Books” and my wares at home.

I was proud of the discretion I had shown but…

III.
I showed more initiative by placing both books in a store on consignment. One copy of each. 60/me;40/them split. They will display them 60 days and if any sell, take more.

So if you are in Pegasus on Solano Ave….

IV.
After much mulling I took the plunge on this outfit that promises to get your book reviewed. Think of us, they say, as your personal (cheap) publicist. They will pitch a personally-tailored-to-your-book promo to thousands.

I do not doubt they will find reviewers. One of these places even found me. (“Due to your interest in Cold War espionage…”) But do reviews by people you have never heard of sell books by authors you have never heard of?

I am not so sure.

Adventures in Publishing (Week 25)

The missing four cartons (see last week’s report) arrived.

Sold seven copies of “The Schiz.” One went, via www.theboblevin.com, to a stranger. Two went to couples at Berkeley Espresso. Two went to friends from high school (and two more announced an intent to buy one). Two went to fellows at the health club, one a lifelong friend and one a newer acquaintance. (I also sold, breaking my cherry at Amazon, a “Cheesesteak” to a woman I had gone to Hebrew and law school, but with whom I’d had no contact in a decade; and I swapped one to a poet I’d originally met playing pick-up basketball for a recent collection of his work.)

I also had my first reader response to “The Schiz.” (Believe me, given its history, I’d been anxiously waiting — and wasn’t sure I’d hear any.) It came from a woman at the club — and no sure thing at that. (I still carry, like a burr in my fur, her comment, in an otherwise favorable newspaper review 20 years ago of “Fully Armed,” that it was “annoyingly self-referential.”) She told Adele, before leaving the locker room for a swim, she was really enjoying the book. She loved the characters’ names, and — BINGO!!! — it reminded her of Nathanael West.