Sam Gottlieb, author of “Overbooked in Arizona”


overbookedinarizonaEditor: Sam, many booksellers know you from book-related lists, but they may not all know you’re an author. What originally gave you the idea for the wildly funny “Overbooked In Arizona”?

Sam: I was on one of my usual Saturday Garage Sale mambos when it suddenly dawned on me how much time, energy and gasoline I had been wasting week after week after week.

Suddenly growing tired of the book sale grind, a certain sense of determination to PERMANENTLY discontinue these fruitless ventures overwhelmed me and I stepped on the gas, headed home. Two short blocks later, I passed another garage sale which looked like it had a couple of shelves of books…As I commenced driving past the sale, my mind began to conjure up images of the FABULOUS books I was about to leave behind. I slammed on the brakes!

When a wave of rationality finally washed over me, I realized that in all the years I had been doing the garage sale routine I had NEVER found anything really worthwhile and that I was a very sick man needing a 12 step program.

Somehow I managed to get home and I began to write the story, in longhand.

Editor: Was this one of the lucky ones that just told itself, once you had the idea, or a story you really had to work for? If you really had to work at it, did you have a firm schedule for working, or work as inspiration hit you?

Sam: Once I sat down to write it down the whole process became very mystical. I can hardly remember thinking anything over. The story just seemed to flow, and when I invested in a used IBM Selectric, it flowed faster and better. No, there was very little real “work” involved. Writing the story was an absolutely exhilarating experience; formerly achieved only by the constant abuse of controlled substances. It may not have been “stream of consciousness” in the Joycean sense, but at least now I think I know what stream of consciousness means.

Editor: Is Camelback Gallery a small publisher, or did you self-publish?

Sam: Camelback Gallery is part of my book business. I set it up solely to publish Overbooked when I was told by a New York publisher, who was interested in the book, that if they did it I would make about 15 a copy!

Editor: Is Joe Servello a friend? If not, how did you find an illustrator whose work you liked?

Sam: Joe Servello had done many excellent covers for a number of books; for William Kotzwinkle and for my friend Dennis Macmillan, the peripatetic publisher currently in Sun City, Arizona. Dennis introduced me to Joe. By the way, I believe Dennis Macmillan still maintains a website of Joe Servello jackets and illustrations including the Jacket for Charles Willeford’s Kiss You Ass Good Bye at http://www.dennismcmillan.com/servello.htm

Editor: How much control did you have on the final appearance of the book and dustjacket (unless, of course, you self-published and had total control)?

Sam: It was, indeed, self-published and I did most of the design work but when I gave the dustjacket project to Joe Servello he asked to read the manuscript and came up with what I thought was a perfect dj, first shot out of the box. I was just delighted with it. When we went to hardcover following a number of requests, I laid out the blurbs on the back panel of the dj, including the famous Rue Morgue “review.”

Editor: If your book was self-published, how did you go about promoting it? If published by a pre-existing publishing company, how did you get together with them, i.e., an agent or “over the transom” submission, and did they promote your book?

Sam: I really lucked out with the promotion. When I received the first four or 5 boxes of books from the bindery, I took a couple of hundred to a book fair I was doing in San Diego and hand sold a number of copies to some of the other exhibitors. As luck would have it, the show was pretty slow and lots of folks had nothing to do but sit around their booths reading Overbooked in Arizona. I had orders for over 1500 copies by the time we left on Sunday.

Next, about 2 weeks later, a friend called me from San Francisco on a Sunday morning to tell me that Patricia Holt had written a good review of Overbooked in the book review section of the San Francisco Chronicle. The guy who called me was a great practical joker and I was absolutely certain he was joshing but 30 minutes later I heard from another friend up in the Bay Area. Pat Holt’s review led to hundreds of orders from booksellers in almost every state! Sales thereafter were pretty much generated by word of mouth. Also, a number of other pamphlets and magazines including FIRSTS reviewed Overbooked quite favorably.

I never, to the best of my recollection, advertised Overbooked anywhere. I did a number of book-signings. All-in-all it was a lot of fun.

Editor: Have you written or published other books? Do you have plans for another book in the future?

Sam: No, I’ve never written any other books. I have completed a couple of short stories and I may complete enough to publish a short story collection.

Editor: I know one of the areas you specialize in is Modern Library books. Was this difficult (I’ve tried using the standard reference book in this area and find it confusing)? Do you find lots of people now collecting these books? Can you tell us some of their history?

Sam: Henry Toledano up in San Francisco published the first Modern Library Guide in 1993 creating the best format he could at that time for a small reference guide. Because of space limitations, users were forced to thumb through several places in the book to get complete information on any one entry, a cumbersome and sometimes confusing process. In the last few years, Modern Library collecting has evolved considerably with more emphasis on first editions and correct matching dust jackets. My understanding is that Sharon Biederman, a knowledgeable collector and dealer in Maryland will prepare the next edition of the Price Guide. Knowing Sharon as I do, I’m certain she will not only add some significant information but will simplify the overall experience of using the guide for reference.

Many Modern Library collectors, such as I, first began using Modern Libraries in high school and on through college. They have a certain nostalgic value as well as being super little books which originally sold for 65 to 95 and which have held up beautifully over the years. Furthermore, some of the jacket art has become collectible. Many people are not aware that the Modern Library, while primarily a reprint house actually published much important work on its own. Forester’s African Queen did not appear in complete form in America until Random House published it as a Modern Library book. Styron’s Long March, published as a Modern Library paperback, was the true first edition. Many authors did special prefaces and introductions for the ML editions. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s for Gatsby just to name one.

Editor: How did you get into the book fair business? And, do you still exhibit at fairs other than your own?

Sam: I’ve really started to slow down in the past couple of years and don’t get to nearly the number of Fairs I used to attend. I miss the Rocky Mountain Fair in Denver and other regional fairs but find myself unable to obtain enough good books to exhibit at fairs beyond those produced by American Book Fairs.

Editor: What advice can you give booksellers exhibiting at your book fairs?

Sam: I’m really not qualified to advise booksellers about anything except how to get to the snack bar. We have hundreds of very fine exhibitors who need my advice like they need another paperback with water damage.

I have noted from personal experience that having GOOD books in higher grades of condition at fair prices usually can guarantee a good show.

Editor: Between bookselling and book fairs, which takes more of your time, and which do you prefer? Do you have plans to expand your involvement in either one in a manner that would lessen your involvement in the other?

I actually have little to do with the book fairs anymore. They are more than adequately handled by my lovely wife, Denise, who seems better suited to working with booksellers than I. She has far fewer fistfights with the exhibitors.

My bookselling is pretty much restricted to internet sales and to booths at the Glendale and Santa Monica Fairs.

Editor: Have you found that the internet has had any effect, good or bad, on your book fairs?

Sam: Initially there was a drop-off in both exhibitors and at the gate but almost 2 years ago the pendulum seemed to swing back. Many buyers, retail customers and dealers, prefer to see and feel the merchandise they are buying. This is especially true for more expensive items. Also, the fairs lend themselves to “impulse buying” which is pretty much nonexistent online. Furthermore, the contacts one develops at a fair or in a face to face encounter are invaluable. Even interrnet dealers need to buy books once in a while and a bookfair is a chance to visit a hundred or more bookshops in one day! The opportunity is fantastic.

A number of pseudo or faux dealers have “set up shop” in their kitchen sinks and sell on the internet. Some are outright scamsters and some are simply ignorant but they all eventually hurt online dealers who are trying to do a good honest job.

Editor: What advice would you give to new booksellers?

Sam: Start with a lot of money and just stay in business until it’s all gone. No, seriously, the one thing I’ve learned over the past 10 years is how little I really know. I just know that bookselling gets into one’s blood and that’s that. There are probably a million more profitable ventures but real booksellers are unable to stop.

Editor: Please tell us about yourself, personally–whatever you’d like us to know about you.

Sam: I’ve spent a lifetime of having unlisted phone numbers and hiding out. Even my wife and kids don’t know where I live.

I will say that I am pretty happily ensconced here in sunny Arizona with my wife, four dogs and 2 old horses.

Thanks Shirley.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

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