If I can’t sell Cloverine Salve, how can I sell books?


WHEN I WAS YOUNG – and I mean young – I was smitten with nightmares.

Bitter nightmares.

Harsh nightmares.

Cold sweat nightmares.

I had heard evangelists preach heaven and hell.

That didn’t disturb me.

They ranted on about fire and brimstone in the bottomless pits of hades.

Didn’t bother me at all.

But I was deathly afraid of one thing.

I didn’t want to grow up and be a salesman.

I had been one once upon a time.

Didn’t like.

Wasn’t cut out of the job.

Feared the thought of asking one more person to buy whatever it was that I happened to be selling.

There ‘s that feeling again.

I still get it.

Cold sweats.

I had gone door to door selling Grit.

I wasn’t for sure exactly what it was, but I sold it.

It looked like a newspaper.

It read like a magazine.

Cost a dime.

And if I sold some, I kept a little of the money. Don’t remember how much, but it was enough to keep me in baseball cards.

So on Saturdays, my mother would drive me out to the East Texas oilfield camps, park the car back under the trees, and wait for me while I went door to door selling Grit.

Some bought.

Some didn’t.

Some had pity on me.

Others didn’t care.

“Why does your mother always park back under the trees?” my friend asked me.

I knew.

But I didn’t tell.

She didn’t want anybody to know she was living in the same house with a salesman.


Later on, I moved up to higher stakes and went door to door selling Cloverine Salve, dutifully explaining that it was one of the world’s great miracle cures for the soothing relief of burns, scalding, chapped lips, rough skin, chafing, and windburn.

Throughout Texas, at the time, those were pretty well recognized as the seven deadly afflictions facing farmers and oilfield workers.

Those were my clients.

If you weren’t a farmer or an oilfield worker you didn’t live anywhere down the same oil road we traveled.

The salve came in a green tin that looks like it could have held Skoal or some other concoction between your cheek and gum Buy one for a quarter, and you would walk away with a genuine full-color lithograph, painted by the Old Masters or at least somebody north of Highway 80 and suitable for framing.

Best deal on the block and I had it.

Sell enough and the boys back at Cloverine would pay me in hard cash money or let me earn such premiums as a Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun, a wristwatch, when only the rich wore wrist watches, a blue and silver-streaked Schwinn bicycle, or a Shetland pony.

One newsboy won six of them.

Shetland ponies.


I was shooting for the Red Ryder BB Gun.

I wound up with a closet full of Cloverine salve and enough genuine full-color lithographs to wallpaper a good-sized room.


I didn’t want to be a salesman.

I wanted to be a writer.

So what did I become?

A salesman.

Sure, I write books.

Sure, I write blogs.

Mostly I try to figure out ways to sell the books: Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, ads on Websites, ads, on blogs.

It’s like selling Cloverine Salve or Grit door to door.

Keep knocking, they say.

Don’t stop.

Keep knocking.

Sometimes I think the worse.

Nobody’s home.

So I’ve put my books on Amazon.

You can’t miss them.

They are sitting right there on the same site shelf with the Cloverine Salve.

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  • Don Newbury

    My spiel for the White Cloverine Salve: “Any place you can rub it, stuff it or sniff it, it’ll cure it!”…

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Don, where were you when I needed you?

  • Sally Berneathy

    I remember Cloverine Salve! But we had to sell seeds. Our school sent us home with seed packets to sell. The profits would fund something or other noble. I don’t remember what. I just remember how humiliating it was to have to return unsold seeds. I lived in a rural area where everybody planted vegetables and flowers. But our seeds were 10 cents a packet, and the seeds from the seed store were 5 cents a packet.

    And you’re right. Now I have to be a salesman for my books…and I don’t want to be!! I just want to write them and have people magically discover them.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I sold some salve and I sold a few Grit newspapers, Sally. But I never sold enough to buy a Red Ryder BB Gun. I keep writing because somebody one of these days will figure out how to sell books, and i want to have some books on hand when they do.

  • Roger Summers

    Also sold Cloverine Salve. Also sold the Grit. Also sold seeds. Also sold sparkling pictures of Jesus. Also sold . . . I sell, there I am.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      But you’re like me, Roger. Mostly you sold words and scattered them in a newspaper.

  • Maybe that’s why it hurts so much to have to do our own marketing: we are not natural salespeople. Because, if we were, we’d be out selling things, and not at home writing books. Duh!

    I hate selling. I very much enjoy the lovely people I’ve met that way. But it takes a lot of time. Selling would be a faster way to make money! Maybe. Maybe not, if you’re not a salesperson.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I hate selling, Alicia. But I love having sold.

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