Achieving a Kind of Immortality



I really don't want to sink into Oblivion with the coming of the New Millennium, but here is my circumstance.


I have been writing professionally (and by that, I mean making my living at it, with some eking out by performing on the stage, television, and even the silver screen) since 1963. I am not prolific, and I never expected to get rich at it (though, of course, one dreams). I am primarily a writer of short stories at a time when the short story, once the glory and gem of American Literature, has been in deadly decline. I have also written a few novels and they have enjoyed a modest success.


I have dealt with the exigencies of publishing as best I could, but I am not the personable type who sells books at cocktail parties for five figures. I dutifully submit my work according to the rules, and I take my lumps, realizing that one can expect a lot of rejection no matter how good the story, and that, if I keep plugging away, I will eventually sell it. Sometimes it takes a long time, but the stuff does sell!


Now the rules have changed.


Editors, who once were old writers who found it easier to edit than write, are now trained in colleges; and they are not trained to be interested in subject matter, they are trained in marketing and the not-so-gentle art of climbing the corporate ladder. They do not speak of books, they speak of product. The product they desire (and buy) is not a work to be loved, cherished, and re-read by future generations: it is a work that can be marketed, sold quickly, and then replaced.


Some of the old style of publishing remains, but not a lot of it. In the realm where I have dwelt these many years (called 'the mid-list') there is no longer any interest in re-printing works that have enjoyed previous success. This, unfortunately, leaves many of us who write out in the cold.


It used to work this way: You wrote stories, they sold for a modest advance against sales, and then, when the edition went out of print, you worked to resell them at an incredibly more modest fee. By keeping those less profit-making works in print the general readership was given the opportunity to enjoy an author's output, develop a taste for the author's work, and look forward to the author's next, new short story or book. Over the years, these reprints built in quantity to where, combined with the new works, an aging author could enjoy a reasonable income.


As the short story (which, you will remember, is my primary form) lost popularity over the last fifty years, publishers became increasingly loathe to invest in collections of such stories, thereby further contributing to the decline. If they bought a novel from you, and you had a lot of fame, they considered publishing a collection as a tax write-off, but that was about it.


A peculiar court ruling concerning a tool company some years ago forced the publishers to rethink their inventory practices, and the result of the snowball is the current situation. A massive decline in reprints of short stories and novels: except, of course, those in the Public Domain: they don't have to pay the authors anything at all in that case.


And thus we stand at the threshold of the Millennium, and something amazing is happening: a transformation in the transmission of information that is as great as the introduction of the printing press.


No, it is not the e-book, or online reading.


(I really looked forward to that, but it seems to be a dud. Nobody wants to read a book on line. Too much eye strain, discomfort for the rest of the body, etc., etc., etc.. And the portable e-book at a price that you can afford to leave on the bus is a long, long way in the future.)


No, the reality is the book publisher with no inventory. The storage of books in data banks which, at the moment of purchase, simply print the books, one at a time.


I think we may all expect to see this in the shopping malls within the next ten years. Perusal of a data bank, order at the counter, and then you stop back for your book on the way out: maybe even faster.


What it means to writers like me is a major change of consciousness. Throughout my life it has been a cardinal sin to even think of what is usually called 'vanity publishing;' that is, the publishing of one's own work at one's own expense. It was the mark of the rank amateur; of the writer who just wasn't good enough to make it in the real market place. But now, I find very respectable writers indeed putting up the front money to set their books into on-demand editions that, for all practical purposes, need never go out of print! Sure, they are listed in the catalogue with that book on Contract Bridge that Uncle Charles always wanted to write: but they are available to readers who would otherwise have to scour used book stores for years in the hope of finding them.


And, they are bringing in a few bucks to a writer who can no longer count on reprint royalties to pay the ever-increasing extra bills.


The problem for me is that I am not one of those very respectable writers with the discretionary cash to enter the market place. And I fear that I never will be.


A very excellent agent, who is used to dealing in contracts for more than a million dollars, told me five years ago: "You write as well as anyone of the scene today. Why do you write the stories you write?"


The answer is, those are the stories I have to tell.


If you haven't read my work, I want to make very clear that I am not someone committed to abstract and opaque prose about things that people don't want to hear. I write stories to entertain people, plain and simple. I want them to laugh or cry or something like that. If I 'say' anything important: well, maybe it slipped in by accident, or maybe I am putting you on. My sister (who ought to know) once said to me: "If you have something to say, forget it. Concentrate on your craft, on telling an entertaining story, and if you actually do have anything to say you won't be able to avoid it." I have always taken that advice to heart, and tried to do her proud. My readers (and there seem to be a good number of them) seem to think I'm doing ok.


It's only those folks in New York, who want to correct the grammar of the quotes from Shakespeare, who don't like my stories.


Way back when I was young, vanity publishing was not only a sin, but completely out of the question. It was very, very expensive, and then you had to market the books after you had piled them in your wet garage. The on-demand book, marketed through all the usual sources on the Internet (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) has changed all that. For $750 one company is ready, willing and able to put a book in its inventory. That means the book would have to sell about 200 copies (my novels usually sell out quickly, with 5000 being the standard run for a 'quality' paperback, and 20,000 being minimum for a 'popular' paperback) before generating any actual income. If I could live without touching that, then the initial sales could be used to fund the next publication, and so forth.


So here is the deal!


If you'd like to be a Patron of the Arts, and be remembered like the Medicis (or maybe the Borgias?): like the folks who brought the symphonies of Haydn to the ear, or the works of James Joyce to the page: here's your chance!


If you will put up the $750, I will dedicate the book to you, right there on the page. Say wonderful things (and completely sincere, because I sure need the help!) about you in print, and if not make you immortal, at least enter you in the immortality sweepstakes. (Frankly, the future always thinks better of folks who help out artists than it does of politicians. You couldn't touch a campaign for mayor for $750, and even if you won, that street they name after you will have its name changed again in no time: your name will continue to be there on the book as long as copies continue to exist.)


Of necessity, there are two options. Re-printed books may already have a dedication. If there is one, then you will become the recipient of the dedication of 'the second edition,' or 'the third edition' or whatever. If it is a previously unpublished work (such as a collection of short stories) then you can become the sole subject of the dedication.


Right now there are three things that I would, rather passionately, like to see in print:


1) "The Particolored Unicorn," a novel which did very well and which people really seem to love. (It's hard to find because people seem to keep it and re-read it to make them feel good. A real bad thing in the current publishing climate!)


2) "Storm Wars," the long-awaited sequel to "The Particolored Unicorn," which has not sold because the ending demands the third book of the trilogy, and I am too broke to sit down and write it.


3) More than one collection of my many short stories.


These are all works with the Jon DeCles byline, which, in the current market place, have no hope of seeing print.


I also write under several other names, in regions where the grazing is not so hopeless; but this year is still pretty fallow, and even those publishers on whom I have depended are having some difficulties. There was a year with no writing at all while I settled a litigation with a film company which had used on of my novels without bothering to ask me: but that money went pretty fast, and my lawyer said the settlement was 'very unsatisfactory.' (You can imagine how little that was.)


If, before you think of throwing away that much money on a chance for fame, you would actually like to Read some of my work: go back to the main page of The Rhinoceros Lodge and check out "Our Own Little Book Store," from which you can order the little that is available at the moment.


Even if you can't consider the prospect of becoming a Patron of the Arts, I still want to thank you for reading this page. At least you now understand some of the really radical changes that are about to happen as those zeros roll around on the calendar.


If you do want to consider it, you can reach me care of And, I am open to discussion of other options.




Jon DeCles


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