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George Robinson <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 15 Mar 2000 12:25:23 -0500
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Fellow Twainians --

This came from the SHARP-L list, a History of the Book list run out of
U. Indiana. I think its interest to Twain-Web is self-evident.

George Robinson
Author, "Essential Judaism" (published in hardcover by Pocket Books,

Carol Digel wrote:
> One of the most fascinating items for sale at the Oregon Book Fair was "A
> Salesman's Prospectus for 'Life on the Mississippi' " by Samuel Clemens
> (1883), offered by Phillip J. Pirages ( ) for
> $3,000.
> This multi-panel hardcover sales kit opens to reveal separate leaves in front
> and back on which samples of the spine - in "deluxe"  Morocco, sheepskin and
> calf bindings  - have been  glued with such care that you can almost read the
> indentations made in the endpapers the samples rest against.
> The kit includes text with illustrations and, sewn onto the back, pages
> for names of readers agreeing to buy it, as well as their choice of bindings.
> Best of all, a separate sheet has been retained called "Notes to Canvassers."
> This, again, is the kind of material a book critic would pull out and
> throw away, but thank heaven no one did:  The Canvasser Notes offer a rare
> glimpse of traditions in book selling (the salesmen sold this book
> door-to-door
> rather than to bookstores). They are intriguing for their use of
> language, respect for "product" and understanding of the haggard sales rep in
> the field.
> You know the myth that editors want to see only a part of a book before
> they make a bid on it because they don't want to spoil their own hopes by
> viewing the whole manuscript? Apparently readers were regarded the same way
> in Twain's time.
> "It is always easier to canvass with a subscription book containing specimen
> pages of the work than by taking and selling the work itself," the Canvasser
> Notes explain. "Time is saved, which would often be vainly spent in allowing
> persons to look over the volume. The labor of carrying
> the greater weight is spared. People will much more readily agree to take
> a  book at some future point than to pay for it at once."
> The Notes offer good ideas for any "canvasser" in the book biz, then or
> now:  "Enter with confidence upon your work. As you have a really good book,
> you know that you are conferring a benefit upon those whom you persuade to
> purchase it. ..Make yourself thoroughly familiar with the book, the author,
> the publisher's description . .  Illiterate agents even are frequently
> very successful from the pains they take to be able to talk freely and
> understandingly about the work they have for sale."
> Canvassers were expected to stir up their own publicity, stay disciplined
> and "work" the streets in a professorly manner. They were not to "rove
> about," as Twain himself might have instructed with a grin.
> "In commencing the canvas of a place, try to secure the good will and
> editorial commendation of the local journal, if necessary by the promise
> of a book. . . Enter upon a faithful and systematic house-to-house
> canvassing . .. Do not rove about but proceed regularly, neglecting no house,
> store or shop.
> "Never attempt to canvass among groups or crowds in the street - find
> your customers at their homes or places of business. Always learn the name of
> the occupant before entering a house. Never disturb a man who is busy. Accost
> everyone politely, and keep your temper under all circumstances,
> remembering that your object of interest is not yourself but your book."
> F. O. C. Darley illustrated Twain's "The Gilded Age."
> Carol Digel
> [log in to unmask]