A Hint to Impecunious Authors



LEST the above signature create in the minds of possible readers a doubt as to my qualifications for handling this delicate subject adequately, let me hasten to explain that it is not quite accurate — I am no longer impecunious, exactly. And it is in recognition of the fact that well-wishers of the human race have never been disposed to copyright their benefits, but have scattered them about to let those who would take freely, that I am moved to share the secret of my comparative solvency with the entire literary world.

So much by way of apology and introduction. Though, mind you, the discovery is as yet in what a scientist would call its experimental stage. But as I say, such as they are, you shall have the facts, gratis.

Surely all of us — I mean you and me and the host of other authors whose annual monetary profits run to five figures, all zeros —have at some time envied our more fortunate brothers, scoff at ‘commercialism’ and ‘cheapened ideals’ though we may. What one of us, imagining the monthly sales of So-and-So, the brilliant, socialistic pleader, has not sighed over the dimensions of the same So-and-So’s capitalistic bank-account? Or who of us, be he artist to his very fingertips, but has coveted Such-a-One’s (the world-feted satirist of Rotary Clubs) more than Rotarian income?

Briefly, then, my discovery is this: Though ‘we may not climb the heav’nly steeps,’ and though our hands may never wake ‘to ecstasy the living lyre,’ still, with care and the exercise of prudent foresight in our choice of subjectmatter, we can — provided only that our offerings are printed at all — live comfortably, satisfy all our legitimate wants, and (if editors be kind) even lay by a competence for old age!

Briefly, again, the light of inspiration— the dawn of this splendid discovery—burst upon me a year or so ago. Or perhaps ‘burst’ were too strong a word, since it came upon me slowly, gradually, like most other inevitable ideas. I had had a sketch called ‘ Barbershops ‘ accepted for the Contributors’ Club of the Atl-nt-c M-nthl-. Turning the beautifully written check over in my hand — even their checks are beautifully written, though, alas, few enough of them I see! — I looked at it pensively, thinking to myself how many haircuts it would come to and thrilling at that tonsorial vista, all blessedly paid for. And then, still idly fingering the check, and as idly dreaming, I attempted to make out the interest if said check were put away as an investment — no easy feat, you will readily agree, when I tell you that I had left both pen and pencil in my other clothes.

And what was the right degree — or rate, I believe, is the banker’s word — of interest? Liberty Bonds, Third Issue, I knew, bore 4¼ per cent. But my principal would buy but half a bond. Besides, 4¼ per cent was much too small an increase. Some perfectly reliable municipal and industrial bonds (See Back Advertising Section) brought 7 or even 8 per cent. But I was conservative—6 would be enough. Let’s see: six times five is nought, carry three; six times two equals twelve, add three — a year’s interest would be $1.50.

As I reflected thus idly, I realized that I could get half-a-dozen haircuts without encroaching upon my principal. I smiled contentedly to myself. And then I stopped smiling — and the Great Idea was born. Half-a-dozen haircuts would mean one every other month, leaving me a little long-haired, even for an author. But perhaps old Zeb — Zebediah Hopkins is our village barber — would come down to fifteen cents, if I’d shave my own neck. This would make ten haircuts a year, quite enough for a writer, especially allowing for the winter season, when it is inadvisable to be shorn too often with all this influenza going round.

Well, you grasp the notion. It is to utilize every ounce of efficiency in a manuscript, to make each accepted paper pay for itself— in other words, take off the poor author’s back some specific financial burden. Last month, for example, I sold a rather longer sketch, a description of an old German shoemaker, for one hundred dollars, which, at 6 per cent, means one pair of six-dollar, or two pairs of three-dollar, shoes a year henceforth — forever!

As I say, the matter is in the experimental stage yet, and one never can tell about the future. But I am confidently laying my plans. Neckties, collars, socks, suspenders, — I consider belts unhealthful, — and underwear are next on my programme. My sketch of a Fifth Avenue necktiesalesman is, I am quite free to admit, somewhat troubling me; for we authors, if we wear cravats at all, must choose imported flowing ones, and they ‘re expensive; but a ‘sure-fire’ comedy-skit I’ve in mind on a Third Avenue hatter should help me. I can borrow for my ties from him, you see, since I shan’t need many hats with my fine head of hair. Collars are simple: if anything should go wrong with my essay on them I can always wear a stock made out of an old bandanna, or, as a last resort, fall back on celluloid.

If it be objected to my theory that it is somewhat individualistic, that it considers only the author and takes no thought for his wife and children, I would reply that that is no valid objection. What is to prevent him from going in for domestic love-stories? They pay best of all, do they not? And if worst comes to worst, in this day of equal rights and opportunities a man’s family ought to be able to compose sketches of their own. Nor is my theory incompatible with the production of the highest works of art: a man’s ideals are no lower for an added incentive to defeat the rejection-slip! And if it be opposed further that the benefits accruing are too unspiritual, too sordid, too solely concerned with the material things of life, I would contend that that objection has no weight, either. No: the plan, let me repeat for the second time, is in its experimental stage only; merely the first of its myriad possibilities have been indicated. More will develop gradually, just as the bud unfolds into the full-blown rose. Rome, remember, was not built in a day: primum herbam, deinde spicam, deinde plenum frumentum in spica. Clothes, to be sure, do not make the man — but they make him look better and feel braver and more self-reliant. When we writers no longer have to worry about where our next pocket-handkerchief is coming from, editors perhaps will give us less to weep over!

Note. I trust that, in return for my generosity in sharing this remarkable discovery with the literary profession, no author will be unkind enough to take a mean advantage of my faith. I refer, of course, to the utilization for essay or fictional purposes of the little red-haired Jewish tailor on ll6th Street, New York, near Columbia University. Him alone I reserve for myself. Around him I’ve planned a serial from which I hope to obtain, not merely an annual pair of trousers, but an entire three-piece suit.

(The proceeds, if any, from the present paper will go toward establishing a permanent postage-stamp fund. Something tells me I shall need it.)