Just as office workers begin to hit the streets in search of a quick lunch, Tariiq Walton settles in for a long, hot day at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street NW. Shouldering in between Lyndon LaRouche pushers and a woman selling designer-knockoff watches, he props up a poster advertising his latest book, a relationship guide titled It’s Just a Damn Date!!!: Why We Expect Too Much Too Soon. Walton, 32, stands beside his sign, fans his two self-published books in front of him, and warms up his pitch. “Read a good book today,” he suggests to three sharply dressed women, who pass without pausing.
Directly across the street, Angelo Reynolds has set up shop. Reynolds, author of the self-help book Overcoming Obstacles: Beating the Odds, met Walton at a networking event several weeks ago. Though Walton claimed to be thriving, Reynolds was struggling, selling only a few copies of his book a day in suburban malls before being kicked out by security guards. Walton encouraged Reynolds to come to D.C. and try the afternoon crowds in Northwest. But he hadn’t bargained on Reynolds coming quite so close.
“Angelo and I can’t be on the same street corner,” Walton says of his competition. Reynolds has agreed to stay on the other side of the street, but, according to Walton, that’s not far enough.
“Kitty-corner would be even better,” Walton says.
Even without the competition, selling self-published books at $10 a pop isn’t an easy way to make a living. Walton has been hawking his work every afternoon for almost three months, ever since—during a weekend trip to New York to visit his family—he saw the street vendors of Harlem in action.
“Everyone was out, hustling for themselves, selling colognes, oils, whatever,” Walton says. “I thought, I can do the same thing and make a living out of it.”
So sure was Walton that he left his administrative-assistant job at Bowie State University, where he had worked in various positions for the last five years. Some of Walton’s co-workers, however, were more skeptical.
“It takes a lot of courage to say, ‘I am going to leave behind any kind of semblance of security,’ but it is not something I would have done,” says Nicole Lobban, who worked with Walton at the university. “I told him that I would feed him, but he can’t live at my house,” she adds.
Walton’s foray into the world of self-publishing was a rocky one. After completing his first novel, Broken—a first-person account of a 33-year-old man’s failed attempts to find a new woman and a new job—last May, Walton asked a friend to edit it, then ordered 1,000 copies from a Gaithersburg printing company for about $3 each. Unfortunately, more than a few grammar and usage errors slipped past his volunteer editor’s notice.
“That was a major embarrassment for me,” Walton says of the editing mistakes in Broken. At his mother’s insistence, he hired a professional editor to read his soon-to-be-available second novel, Crystal’s Tears, the story of a 33-year-old kindergarten teacher whose primary goal is to find a man and get pregnant.
Having more than one title to sell at a time is key, Walton says. When he first hit the streets, in June, Broken was the only book he had available, and he only sold about five books a week. “Now I have two,” he says. “I don’t look like an amateur anymore.”
According to Walton, the fictional characters in his novels come straight from his imagination. “I haven’t written anyone who I can identify with,” Walton says. “[My characters] are composites of a lot of different personalities.” Any similarities between his lead characters—many of whom, like Walton, are in their early thirties, and, like Walton, are struggling with career setbacks and a tough dating scene—are purely coincidental, he says.
The inspiration for Damn Date—Walton’s first attempt at nonfiction—is a little more direct. After he arranged a blind date at a pricey Penn Quarter restaurant with a woman he had met online, Walton says, his potential sweetheart showed up with a bitter, pregnant friend. Things went immediately downhill.
“The woman talks nonstop for three hours,” Walton says. “She broke all the rules: She paid; she talked about sex; she brought a third wheel.”
Walton’s book aims to set such rulebreakers straight. Women should not be out hunting for husbands; they need to sit back and let men be in control of the pacing of the dates and the relationship, Walton advises.
“The main problem in all of this is that women these days are taking over companies,” Walton observes. “They are used to being in control of their own destiny.” Though Walton supports women’s corporate climb, they can’t push men into relationships, he says.
By his own admission, Walton’s longest relationship lasted only four months. But he claims his extensive field experience qualifies him for the job. “I would juggle them,” Walton says of the many women he claims to have dated. “I was loving a lot of women.”
At least one woman too many. One of the many guidelines in Damn Date is that one should not drop by a lover’s house without calling first. Walton says the rule is based on a Valentine’s Day 2000 incident, in which—shortly before his date for the evening arrived, wearing nothing but a trench coat—a different girlfriend made an unannounced visit, then refused to leave when he tried to usher her out the door. An unfortunate scene ensued.
“Those were my real dog days,” Walton says, adding that he has reformed.
Since hitting the streets, however, Walton says he hasn’t had time for dating at all. He’s too busy sweating it out for each hard-earned dollar—and after working in the sun all day, he’s too tired to go out at night. Walton says that as long as he sells 50 books a week, he’ll be all right. “I am actually making twice as much money as I was working at Bowie State,” he says. So if this new gig is taking a toll on his love life, Walton says, the sacrifice is worth it—for now.
“Pleasure will have its time,” Walton says. “Right now, it’s all business.”
Business isn’t always as bustling as Walton claims. At least one day last week, Walton sold only a single book. He says he usually does better—the dry spell might have been caused by the LaRouche people, who were handing out free magazines. Or maybe his rival, Reynolds, was getting too close—physically, if not topically.
“It’s Just a Damn Date,” scoffs Reynolds, who claims that he and Walton are going after different markets—and that Walton’s is the easier sell. “It’s entertainment. Entertainment gets more readers than self-help.” —Sadie Dingfelder