Getting Literary Buzz at the Sidewalk Level

"You're not looking to purchase something; you're just out somewhere, like the auto shop. And somebody comes up to you and says, 'Wanna buy some chicken?' " That's how 22-year-old Dallas Clayton explains the serendipitous method by which he peddles his self-produced chapbooks. Bypassing conventional publishing channels, he hawks the homespun 'zines outside of nightclubs, at farmers markets or in movie lines by simply asking Angelenos if they want to buy a book for a dollar. "I just go wherever there are lines of people," he says.

A buck buys a postcard-sized, photocopied booklet of diary-like musings written by Dallas, who publishes using only his first name. A bimonthly series, the chapbooks are roughly the same size each time, but each issue has a different title. "Been Meaning to Keep a Journal," "Playing Stickball on Company Time" and "The Used Car Collection" are representative examples. Dallas photocopies and hand-assembles the books, which he produces in runs of 1,000. Covers are becoming increasingly elaborate, integrating flotsam such as postcards, board game trivia cards, stamps and other odd items. On a good day, Dallas vends more than 100 at a given location, and he usually sells out each issue's run.

"I get a ridiculously positive response," says the one-man publishing enterprise, who was raised in North Carolina and moved to Los Angeles in 1999. "It's something you can only do in big cities, since there's enough circulating people." While Dallas agrees that "it would be pretty sweet to be able to write for a living," the series is primarily about literary expression. "It's a pure outlet," he says. "With other [writing] jobs, there's different criteria, and formats and backers that make you change things."

A buyer at the Hollywood farmers market turned out to be an employee at MOCA, whose gift shop now stocks the books, as does Book Soup on the Sunset Strip. The series has developed a small following, despite the fact that much of its readership got hooked by accidentally bumping into the author. "I don't want to make it an obligation, like I need to move this amount of product," says Dallas. "I go places where I'll probably be going anyway."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World