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The Saga of “Selected Lives”

May 21, 2011

This was my first attempt to write a book for publication. I thought it was a great idea – the journey of a soul from body to body through time, beginning with a microscopic marine organism one billion years ago, through prehistoric animal lives, to cave men, ancient times, down to the present day and beyond. The story of each of the 54 lives would be told by a full-page picture and a one page story.

It took four years to write it – much of the time spent researching the historical (or pre-historical) background and drawing the illustrations. I’d never done anything this ambitious before; most of my previous artwork consisted of doodles and cartoons. I was terrified, but I was confident that the idea was a winner and that the book would be a success. As far as I knew, no one had ever written a book like this before.

Finally, “Selected Lives: The Autobiography of a Soul” was complete. I wrote every literary agent and publishing house I could find and waited for the offers to come rolling in. The response was underwhelming. No interest at all, in fact.

When absolutely everybody had said no, I decided to try again. I rewrote “Selected Lives” as a series of stories told by an aging scholar to a young boy and named it “The Lives of Mister E.” First person became second person and I lost the poetry that had been a large part of the first version. Again, there was a deafening yawn from the publishing world. One small house actually accepted it, but published it in such an amateurish fashion that I refused to even let them offer it for sale.

I guess I’m stubborn, because I wouldn’t give up. At least twice, I revised the text – trying to make it livelier or something – and wrote to anybody who had missed the first opportunity to reject “Selected Lives.” Now my rejection slip collection became complete.

Seven years after completion, I rewrote it as a sort of personal celebration of life and called it “Life Itself”. In this “incarnation”, the stories were told as memories to illustrate the range and joy of conscious experience. The book had become a love song to life on earth. Again, no one cared.

Maybe that should have been the end of the story, but – as I said – I must be stubborn. I finally decided to ignore all of my painful “market research”, conducted over a period of exactly 20 years, and publish the book myself. I deleted 16 of the weaker and more didactic “lives” and I abbreviated the texts, hoping that less would be more, and I went to press on my own dime.

A happy ending?  Well, the book came out 5 years ago. So far I have sold (drum roll) nine copies – and given away over 200.

“Selected Lives” does have one distinction, however: it has one of the lowest sales rankings of any book on Amazon.com – number 9,140,747 as of today! Amazon doesn’t assign a sales rank until there has been a sale, so there are many books in their inventory that are unranked. “Selected Lives” achieved its incredibly low status when they thought they had sold a copy, then rechecked their inventory and realized it was a mistake. So the book obtained a ranking for zero sales.

Maybe some day after I’m gone, “Selected Lives” will be appreciated.  In any case, I feel that I have done my duty to my muse.

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