Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Successful Reading and Signing

Last Sunday, I participated as one of three authors in a book reading and signing at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. It was a terrific experience, and I’m only sorry if you couldn’t be there. (Hey, I sure announced it enough in the blog and on Facebook!)

It began with my arrival at about 3:30 PM, accompanied by my wife, who supports me with such forbearance in so many ways. Vroman’s had set up a space with rows of chairs for attendees – lots of attendees. At the front of the area was a podium, and to its left (audience right) were three tables, one for each of the authors. On each table were stacked copies of our respective books, ready for signing. In a word, it was classy.

I was greeted by a very nice woman who was both welcoming and helpful, and who laid out the event’s agenda. Each of us would have 15-20 minutes to read and/or speak about our book, and this would be followed by a Q&A which we’d do as a panel. Following this, the actual signing.

One of the other authors had pretty much stacked the audience with his friends and supporters, and he rather forcefully insisted on speaking last. The other author, a young woman who’d written a diet and weight loss book, and I, decided not to argue about it. She had never done a signing and did not want to speak first, so I took the lead-off position.

The reading went well, with lots of folks in the audience finding the excerpts from Zendoscopy funny and, in a few cases that I’m aware of, affecting. Next came the weight-loss author. Clearly, she was a hit. Slender, tall, and undeniably attractive, it really didn’t matter that her book was really just another self-help tome making dubious medical claims leavened with a bit of common sense advice. She clearly had an immediate impact upon the overweight women in the crowd. Then came the author who’d insisted on going last. He did an overly long and ill-defined reading from his book, but none of that mattered since he’d packed the audience with many people already primed to buy his work.

The Q&A went well, with lots of questions ranging from the thoughtful to the predictably anxious from aspiring writers (“How do you get your ideas?”). The Vroman’s staffer told us that it was the best Q&A she’d experienced, and she’d therefore allowed it to go on longer than usual for these events.

Finally came the signing. I’ve found signings to be fascinating, this one being particularly so because it followed a reading. There were those who told me that they’d enjoyed the reading and bought the book, those who said they’d enjoyed the reading and didn’t buy the book (but who might have bought one of the other books), and those who were only there to mingle with the authors and nothing else.

Did I sell many books? No, actually. Only a few. But it was fun and I got my first experience with a reading. I’m now looking at trying to do it again at other local bookstores, and the generally positive feedback has encouraged me to continue working on Zendoscopy‘s sequel. Don’t ask – it’s as yet untitled.

As always, many of the entries in are targeted to those who are hoping to succeed at writing. I hope this entry has provided a bit of insight into one aspect of marketing one’s work, and that you’ll keep coming back to follow my own adventure’s course in months to come.

Finally, I want to thank those friends and supporters who did turn out to support me at the event. Believe me, it meant a lot to see you in the audience. And here’s my plug and appreciation for one special attendee, Nancy Young, author of Strum. Nancy, I never expected to see you there, but I’m so grateful that you came!


An “Awesome” Posting

This Sunday, 1/25, I’ll be doing a reading and signing for Zendoscopy at the premier bookstore in Pasadena, Vroman’s (695 E. Colorado Blvd.). If you can come, please do. I’d love to see you there. Time: 4 PM.


I’m always interested (and generally appalled) by the use of certain words that have become trendy. I’ve written here before about this, taking to task such words as “basically” and “awesome”. The latest word that’s driving me nuts is “incredible”. It seems that everything, no matter how expected, mundane, or trivial, is getting described these days as “incredible”. To wit:

  • This bagel with cream cheese is incredible! Uh huh.
  • Your new T-shirt is incredible! Yes, it does slip on over your head.
  • I saw The Interview last night. It was incredible! Really?

Since when has everything become so unbelievable? Since when has it become so easy to inspire such a level of awe over the routine? Or, more likely, since when has paucity of language skills and general laziness been so openly displayed? I guess I don’t know what to say. I guess it’s just incredible.

In a recent posting about the terrible slaughter by terrorists in Paris, I ended with the statement that, “Nous sommes tous Charlie.” In some respects, I regret doing this because, just as with “incredible”, Je suis and nous sommes Charlie have become overused to the point of abuse as well as parodied, all of it to the point of meaninglessness.

In the sense that I used it, I meant that all of us were attacked, not just the satirical magazine and its staff. But those always eager to misinterpret things have come out ranting about how despicable Charlie Hebdo, the magazine is, and criticizing those who used the phrase, obviously in its more expansive sense. Idiots abound in this world, and those too stupid to understand that the attack was one on all freedom of expression, a terrorist act by those who would impose ignorant, religiously based tyranny upon us all It was, after all, Voltaire who in the 1700s said that he might disagree with what is said but not with the right to say it. Apparently, there are many in the world who still have not accepted this approach.

And although they are not committing atrocities, there are many in our own country who would censor what may be said, who seek to have books removed from libraries that they deem offensive, who would dictate how we all should live. Lest you doubt this, simply listen to Republicans these days, especially those on the far right who, in misunderstanding the foundations of the country, insist that it was founded as a Christian nation and who would rip the First Amendment to shreds given the chance.

There’s trouble in River City, my friends. If saner heads don’t speak up, don’t stand up and vote, we’ll get what we (don’t?) deserve. And if that happens, I can assure you it won’t be good. It will be real, and it won’t be “incredible” when your front door gets bashed in. But, now that I think about it, it will be “awesome”.

Consignment Fun

In my nearly constant quest to find markets for my writing, I look for independent bookstores that might be willing to take my work on consignment. Remember that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get any four-walled bookstore to carry your book if you’re self-published. The only viable route, then, is consignment. The general rule is that consigners – that’s you and I – will receive 60% of the sale price of whatever is sold, but there’s no guarantee of this. One bookseller I tried to deal with tried to reverse the usual arrangement and pay me 40%. I walked. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.

Let’s face it. The deck is stacked against self-published writers. Even if you get a store to take a few of your books on consignment, there’s no guarantee that they’ll place the books anywhere where potential buyers will see them. This happened to me at a prominent bookstore in Hollywood, where they took five copies of Zendoscopy and, for want of a better way to describe it, interred them on a shelf in a creepy back corner of the store where no one would want to wander. Meanwhile, they had shelves and tables with books – many “remaindered” — on prominent display across the front of the store and visible through front windows. And for this, they charged me $100 up front just for their benevolence. You can do the math: there was no way I’d make a penny on the sales even if the five books sold, which they of course didn’t.

Now, you may ask why I went for the deal at that bookstore in the first place. The answer is simple. I did it in the attempt to gain some recognition. In retrospect, it was a mistake.

Recently, I did better. The established bookstore in Pasadena, Vroman’s, agreed to take five books on consignment (for a fee, of course), but they placed them on a rack in the front of the store, with other books by local, self-published authors. Beyond that (and also for a fee but, hey, worth the gamble) they’ve given me a date for a reading and signing, along with two other authors who’ll also be there under the same arrangement. The event, about a week away, will be on Sunday, 25 January at the bookstore. Time: 4 PM. If you’re free and live in Southern California, please come. I could use a few groupies, or at least shills, to show up in my corner!

The fact remains, though, that one event won’t make me a well known, best selling author. It’s a struggle. Every self-published author I know has dealt with the problem, which arises from a “Catch-22” situation, namely, the “agent problem”. In order to get published by a mainstream publisher, you need an agent. But to get an agent, you need to have been published by a mainstream publisher. In other words, in order to arrive, you have to have arrived. The only other ways to find success are to have connections or to be the beneficiary of blind luck. Read the reviews of Zendoscopy on They’re terrific but they’ve gotten me nowhere because in order for anyone to see them, they’d have to know about the book in the first place. That’s another Catch-22.

Zendoscopy was also reviewed by Kirkus Reviews, and that review was favorable. In fact, the book was one of the 10% or so whose review made it into their main publication. Where? Buried in the Indie section toward the back of the magazine, where few would be likely to notice it. So, even in the face of a small triumph, there was ultimate defeat. But don’t get me wrong. I know that the marketplace owes me nothing. My point, if I have one, is that if you’re going to write and self-publish, do it because you’re driven to put words on a page and not because you think you’re going to get rich at it. The odds are overwhelmingly against you. Write if you must – I do – but even if what you write is pure fantasy, your expectations shouldn’t be.

I hope to see you at Vroman’s next Sunday.

We Are All Charlie

2015: a new year that has begun under a dark cloud. It is the cloud of religious intolerance taken to murderous extreme, and we should all be outraged.

Followers of this blog know my feelings about religion, in general. If, when I was young, I was hesitant about admitting my humanistic philosophy and atheism, I’ve lost all inhibitions about doing so now that I’m older. To paraphrase, frankly my dear readers, I don’t give a damn, and if people like me can’t speak up, then what’s the first amendment for? Ah! Freedom of speech. Something we tend to take for granted or, unfortunately, as a couple of letters in this morning’s L.A. Times (one ignoramus actually referring to the Jewish “race”) distressingly reveal, rejected or forgotten.

The recent mass murder in Paris, then, is about more than just radical Islamism, although that’s certainly its foundation. But it’s one thing to have radical religious views and quite another to kill people by acting upon them. The three terrorists who committed the slaughter may have been acting from the fundamentalist base of their religion, but what they actually were doing was expressing in the most violent of ways their ideal of a religious totalitarianism, where to voice or publish any unorthodox view is a capital crime. Sadly, much of the world has neither a sense of humor nor respect for any view unacceptable to self-righteous absolutism.

Religion has brought much beautiful art, architecture, and music to the world, and in some cases even expressed worthy thoughts about how life should be lived. On the other hand, history is full of dysfunctional, cruel, and intolerant religious expression, and I would argue that not all the art, music, or moral exhortations outweigh the extraordinary damage done by religion over the centuries.

The murderous ignorance that led to the recent massacre in Paris was not just an attack upon a satirical publication. It was an attack upon us all. All of us who treasure freedom of thought, of expression, and the ability to walk the streets in safety, secure in our beliefs whatever they may be, should be appalled by what has happened. By what is happening all around the world and not only in Paris. And if the rest of the world does not stand up and say, enough, and work with all its might to put an end to religious bigotry, ignorance, and resultant terrorism, then we will all be to blame for what went down in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. In other words, the world must act because nous sommes tous Charlie.

Best Review Yet

As an end of the year surprise, Zendoscopy has received a wonderful review from an top 500 reviewer, B. Case. Here is what she said:

“Zendoscopy,” by J. Allan Wolf, is a fictional memoir that tries to be both emotionally honest and delightfully hilarious. It succeeds admirable at both. I haven’t enjoyed a work quite like this since I read David Niven’s autobiography, “Moon’s a Balloon” some 42 years ago. That bestseller captured the essence of the famous English actor’s sparkling personality mostly through a collection of outlandish (but narrowly true-to-life) tales. It’s the same with this book. It’s the personality of author that shines through loud and clear out of the pure joy of the reading experience.

“Zendoscopy” defies categorization. I called it a fictional memoir because it reminded me of Niven’s autobiography. But I could just have easily have said that it was a character study, a coming-of-age-novel, or a collection of linked stories. Whatever it is, in summary, it covers the early life of a geeky, insecure, and bright young man named Sherman Alt. The stories start with his birth in a hospital where a plumber’s plunge serves a vital role. It ends with Alt as a medical doctor with a wife, a home, and a major plumbing problem. In between are many stories that help describe what it was like to grow up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The stories cover a broad range from serious to slapstick. It’s a work full of wry humor, ironic circumstances, and somewhat exaggerated tales. Many of the stories have to do with the main character’s adventures and misadventures with the opposite sex.

On a serious note, the book covers the journey of one man toward self-acceptance and the deep psychological reward of a validated life. It’s impressive the way the author pulls off this serious theme from a book that is mostly light and brilliantly funny.

Wolf’s prose is rich and polished. He keeps his readers engaged by focusing almost entirely on action and dialog rather than weighing down any particular piece with too much descriptive prose. Most of his character development takes place through authentic action and dialog. As a result, these secondary characters flash to life off the page.

As for the meaning of the unusual title, “Zendoscopy,” trust that there’s a gratifying explanation at the end of the last story. And, yes, it’s tied together with further revelations about the honorable, rational, and world-loving character of Sherman Alt.

Naturally, the perfect audience for this book would be other bright, geeky men who grew up in the same time period (i.e., Baby Boomers in their mid-60s). But I am sure the many universal themes in this book can resonate nicely with a much broader range of readers. As far as humorous anecdotal story collections go, this book gets an easy five stars in my rating scheme. It’s brilliantly written and had me smiling almost constantly and laughing out loud a number of times.

My sincere thanks to B. Case for her kind words. As my regular readers know, one of the recurrent themes of this blog is the difficulty we self-published authors face in getting any recognition and publicity. An endorsement like this one from an Amazon Top 500 reviewer provides the author with a sense of validation and, specifically, is tremendously encouraging for me as I embark upon my next novel.

Happy new year to all, and for all those like me who write for the love of it while still hoping for an audience, keep on writing!