The man who made Charles Bukowski a millionaire.

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Charles Bukowski, the infamous underground poet and writer, died with a net worth of $4 million. Surprising, considering that despite his tremendous talent, he was a dirt poor drunk that jumped from job to job at nearly the same alarming pace he changed beds.

His unlikely fortune can be almost entirely attributed to the man on Bukowski’s left in the photograph up above.

In walks John Martin.

John Martin was first and foremost an entrepreneur. But, not unlike most entrepreneurs, he was a voracious reader.

While building a forty-person office supply business he amassed a vast library of books, including a collection of D.H. Lawrence first editions worth a small fortune.

One day, whilst thumbing through an indie magazine, Martin stumbled upon a fairly unknown LA poet and writer by the name of Charles Bukowski, who wrote almost entirely about drinking and fucking whores (literal whores) but did so in such a poetic way that it left the reader flipping violently through the pages as if each sentence were a bump of cocaine.

It was love at first sight.

Martin was certain that Bukowski was the next Walt Whitman. So much so that he sold his collection of D.H. Lawrence first editions to raise $50,000 to fund a publishing house created with the sole intention of bringing Bukowski to the masses.

At the time, Bukowski was working at the Post Office where he had every intention of retiring.

He’d work his day job from 9 to 5, clock out, pick up a six-pack on his way home and spend the rest of the night drinking and writing.

Martin was convinced that if Bukowski went all-in on writing, that together, the two of them could build one hell of a publishing house.

They sat down with a little piece of paper. Martin asked Bukowski how much he could pay him each month to quit the Post Office and write full-time. Bukowski began listing off his monthly expenses…

Cigarettes… $3.

Rent… $35.

(Remember this is 1965.)

Liquor… $10.

Food… $15

Child support… $15.

Bukowski quite the Post Office.

Bukowski put in his two weeks at the Post Office and Martin began paying him $100 a month to write full-time.

Three weeks after they struck up their deal, Bukowski dropped his very first novel on Martin’s desk titled… Post Office.

It went on to sell 1 million copies.

As Bukowski’s scribbled away, Martin built both Black Sparrow Press brick by brick, handling the editing, the design, the layout, the printing, the distribution, the marketing, the list goes on.

Bukowski turned into a screaming success and before too long, John Martin gave him a raise… $10,000 every two weeks.

Today, that would be worth a little over $80,000 — so Bukowski was making somewhere around $2 million a year.

Here’s a line that has always stood out to me in the countless interviews I’ve read with John Martin…

“I believed in him as much as he believed in himself.”

John Martin and Black Sparrow Press is a lesson in taste. If you can’t write, design, create, etc… find someone that can and make a fortune with them.

While everyone wants to be the next Picasso, it pays to simply have good taste. And, perhaps the hustle to bring that taste to the masses.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.

P.S. If you’d like to dive a little bit deeper into the work of Charles Bukowski, well, I can’t stop writing about him. So, read this article, this one and perhaps this one too.

Stranger than fiction by Honey Copy is a curation of stories about bat shit crazy marketing ideas that have made brands some serious cheddar. If this story made your mouth water, why not let me tell you when I write the next one?

Originally published at on June 12, 2020.

Written by

I write pretty words and sometimes sell things.

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