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Home » BOOKS » JEAN SHEPHERD–Gene B.’s Rant. Part 1

JEAN SHEPHERD–Gene B.’s Rant. Part 1

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“You could be on New York radio for many years

and be widely unknown.” –Jean Shepherd

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Regarding Shep’s third book of short pieces, The Ferrari in the Bedroom, Shepherd’s main publisher, Doubleday, who had best sellers publishing his first two books of stories, rejected it. Leigh Brown had to go shopping it around until Dodd Mead bought it.

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Ferrari cover

Where were/are all the Fatheaded Jean Shepherd fans?

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NEGEV_REGION_NEW

(This is a desert.)

Lemme put it to you another way: the number of listeners Shep had during his live broadcast days has been given at many hundreds of thousands; the lowest figure I’ve ever come across is 60,000.

If there were only 60,000 of us in the 60s and 70s, where are they now—maybe 10,000 are dead; maybe 20,000 don’t pay attention and don’t know there are thousands of free and nearly free audios of Shep shows, three websites, one blog, several trade paperbacks of his stories and articles easily available, two books focused on his work, numerous books with significant references to him, and the Internet with numerous articles about him including Donald Fagan’s on “Slate” and Richard Corliss’s marvelous tribute on the Time Magazine site. And what about the hour Seinfeld talked about him at the Paley Center?  Wake up, Shep enthusiasts!

THAT LEAVES AT LEAST

30,000 FANS.

Shep listeners are not like other people–

They are enthusiasts–fanatics,

understanding from their first contact with him

that he is their intellectual soulmate, mentor!

WHERE ARE ALL THOSE FATHEADED JEAN SHEPHERD ENTHUSIASTS NOW?

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The only positive note I can come up with is that In God We Trust, his first book of kid stories, is now, according to its current colophon page, into its 46th trade paperback printing. Encountered recently in a book store. How the xxxx did that happen?! See below–earlier (only 38th) printing 

IGWT colophon page paperback

Why hasn’t the Paley Center released on DVD the Shep-tribute hour as they have all those other programs (that are apparently very popular, but which I’ve never heard of)?

Paley_Center_Jerry

Don’t they care about promoting and disseminating

their fine Seinfeld tribute to Shep

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And why does the Facebook group, with its bold and straightforward name “I’m a Fan of Jean Shepherd,” have less than 700 members instead of tens-of-thousands? And why does only a small handful of those few hundreds ever post on the group? Two of those maybe-a–dozen who post (Max S. and Gene B.) mostly promote their basic Shep-work from elsewhere for anyone who might care.

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Why has the only book about his career (my Excelsior, You Fathead!) in ten years not quite sold 8,000 copies yet? Where are the other 22,000+ Shep enthusiasts? (I recently encountered that on amazon.com, EYF! and S’s A each have about 43 mostly very enthusiastic Customer Reviews.)

Why doesn’t some theatrical producer, or influential Shep-enthusiast, grab my play about Shep? Kevin Spacey, where are you?

play scenery

Why did my current publisher inform me last year that, after a year on the market, my Shep’s Army book had yet to sell 2,000 copies?

Because of those less-than-2,000 copies, my publisher doesn’t want Shep’s travel-story manuscript, which is why I’m posting the chapters on this blog. And my publisher has even failed to respond to my other manuscript of Shepherd material that’s sure-to-be-a-hit-if-people-pay-attention.

“Get an agent!” Tried that–and no agent is interested even in books with somewhat of a built-in audience. Way back, looking for a publisher for EYF! I chose a dozen agents that seemed likely prospects and sent them query letters with SASEs. I received back 5 no thanks, 4 lots-a-luck but no thanks, and 3 no response. An agent’s commission even on my EYF! would have been under $3,000 so far–is that piddle worth any agent’s time? (And, in recent decades, most publishers won’t even look at a book that isn’t submitted by an agent.)  I do not have an agent–not because I haven’t tried.

“Self-publish!”  Got any idea how much that costs? Any idea of the non-creative drudgery that involves? What about promotion? Of course I’d broadcast to the email group and the Facebook group and my blog, and I’m sure that flicklives.com would promote it, but, based on previous experience, would that sell enough even to get an agent’s attention? What about distribution? Without having to spend thousands on  a small ad somewhere, how would anyone find out about it?

Why don’t I start sending out that sure-hit manuscript to more publishers and more agents? Because I’ve spent over 45-years struggling to get my varied manuscripts accepted and I’m tired of that struggle—it’s a hassle and mostly a time-waster. (“Had we but world enough and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime.”) I’ve experienced many of the aggravating but inevitable snags on the route to publication. The least of which is having to wait–hanging by my thumbs–at least 3 months for a reply for each submission. Should I get an offer out-of-the-blue, yes, I’ll take it. Then I’ll do my very best in the pre-publication process–even though knowing through previous experiences that I’ll have to struggle and spend my precious time going through those grueling pre-publication frustrations and compromises endemic between contract and publication day–yet, it would be worth it all! And I ain’t in it for the nickels  and dimes.

“GLORY DAYS”

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010_bergmanncrowd_smallCBS image

• Gene B. and Max Schmid at Old Time Radio convention.

• 70 people at a CT library to attend my discussion of EYF!

• Only TV interview: SHEP’S ARMY.

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And, speaking of my blog, why has it taken several years to even build up what I estimate to be only about 100 readers per post? My site statistics indicate that recently I’ve just achieved 110 “followers,” whatever that means. And why do so few of those 100-or-so people think to comment about Shepherd at the site?

And talking about posting my Shep’s travel manuscript on the blog, I’ll remind you—and myself—that a fair portion of the posts of mine on varied non-travel Shep subjects I’ve cannibalized from my other two unpublished book manuscripts of miscellaneous (and wonderful!) content about Shep.

So—where does that leave me? Am I discouraged? Yes.

But I carry on with my Excelsior banner held aloft.

bullwinkle up mtn

 

Shel's excelsior drawing

 

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8 Comments

  1. Bettylou Steadman says:

    You ask where are all of Jean’s fans and former fans.  I started listening to Jean on WOR radio around the mid 50s.  I will be 83 soon.  Perhaps many of Jean’s fans are no longer with us?Bettylou Steadman

  2. Stephen Roga says:

    Hi Gene,

    This is very interesting and I feel Shep had to have throngs of listeners and followers to keep his WOR and PBS shows viable.
    Steve

    >

  3. Steve says:

    Three thoughts from the Big Island of Hawaii, Gene:

    1. Many of Shep’s original listeners simply no longer have the same enthusiasm they had when they were mere pimply-faced teenagers seeking some escape from their unfeeling and unfriendly world, often in suffocating suburbia. They have long since moved on to other (sometimes better) places.

    2. Many of Shep’s former listeners are not so computer savvy, so all those blogs, websites and Facebook pages mean little or nothing to them.

    3. Finally, perhaps Shep indeed did not leave as great a mark on 20th century America (or at least on many 20th century Americans) as some few might wish to believe. . . .

  4. Dick says:

    Keep on keeping on Gene. Your efforts are much appreciated!

  5. Nick Mantis says:

    Gene you have been instrumental in keeping Jean Shepherd’s name and bodies of work out there. You have been an asset to me in producing the documentary film I am producing on Shep’s life and career. Your books still stand as the only ones out there dedicated to this man that had such a huge audience from the late 1940’s to the new millennium and through the various forms of media. I’m happy to have been with you at the Paley Center and will never forget the times we have spent together. My feeling is people are watching, listening and learning about SHEP (I am) maybe the majority just like to remember SHEP through the radio, live stage or Tv and then those that want more pay for it or speak up and contribute. Then there’s SHEP himself who would go on interviews late I his life and say he made it all up and that radio, TV were just stepping stones in his career. I think he lost a lot of his faithful with some of that and turned people off. Just my thoughts from the sidelines looking in the field of play.

    • ebbergmann says:

      Thank you, Nick. You are these days, one of the few major Shep enthusiasts who are contributing to his memory/legacy. We gotta stand together and hope/work for the best!

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