Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lucre and Love Among the Literati

So I open up my email this afternoon and I read:

A Book Dedicated to You

Later this year, the second editions of The Dimwit's Dictionary and The Dictionary of Concise Writing, both by Robert Hartwell Fiske, will be published.

Since The Vocabula Review struggles endlessly to make ends meet, we thought we would offer book dedications to the highest bidders.

If you would like one of these two books dedicated to you, or to someone you know, please make your bid. You'll write the dedication, and we'll publish it (so long as it's in good taste, of course). Bidding starts at $250.00. Bid here:

The Vocabula Review is an online magazine about the English language edited by the same Robert Hartwell Fiske who has authored the two books in question. The magazine takes a prescriptive bent (bemoaning the misuse of words and widespread ignorance of correct grammar), which is not exactly my cup of tea, but it's amusing.

Among other eccentricities, the magazine's header notes, "The February issue is 34,211 words long." Reminds me of the old Liberty magazine from the 1930s and 40s, where each article was tagged with its reading time: "Nine minutes, 30 seconds." A weird convention that never caught on.

When I read about Fiske's auction-dedication scheme, I assumed it was unprecedented. The only analogy that occurred to me was an instance a few years ago when some mystery writer auctioned off naming rights for a character in a forthcoming novel (proceeds going to charity). But in this crazy world, anything that can be done has been done, usually many times. A few seconds on Google showed that auctioning off naming rights for fictional characters has become surprisingly common, as you can read here or here. And auctioning off dedication rights isn't unknown either, as seen here and here.

So Fiske's buy-the-dedication ploy isn't a first. But he may be first author driven to it by being unlucky in love. When I asked him about where he got the idea, Fiske explained:

I have written a few books, some of them published once, some published twice, and in more instances than not, the person (often a woman) whom I have dedicated a book to I no longer speak to. It's terribly disheartening--this dedication business. I have a third book coming out in a revised edition in June: The Dictionary of Disagreeable English--Deluxe Edition. That book I sweetly dedicate to the woman I now love, but I am terrified that it'll be the death knell of our relationship.

I thought I might give others a shot at dedication.

Poor fellow. It must be depressing for a writer to assume that every time he publishes a book, his current sweetie is sure to dump him. Of course, the problem may be caused by his titles. The Dictionary of Concise Writing is all right, but a woman might well get her nose out of shape about being presented with a book where the biggest word on the cover is Dimwit or Disagreeable.

So there's really a sad, almost tragic, backstory behind what might otherwise appear to be a crassly commercial strategem. Who knows?--Maybe Fiske and the ultimate winner of his dedication auction will fall in love and live happily ever after.

By six thirty this evening, Fiske had received a starting bid of $300. Good luck, Bob--here's hoping she's pretty.

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