In 1969, I and my first wife were each in a full-scale psychoanalysis and I was doing everything I could to earn enough money to pay the medical bills. [I was actually audited by the IRS one year because they could not believe that someone with an income that low had medical bills that high.] A paperback publisher, New American Library, contacted me about doing a book to be called Ten Great Works of Philosophy. The idea was that I would find ten works whose translations or [in the case of David Hume] originals were in the public domain -- hence no permissions fees -- and cut and paste them into a little book together with sketchy introductions. The editor offered a thousand on signing and a thousand on submission, which in those days was three months of analysis for the two of us. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. I completed work on the book so fast that before they could pay me the thousand for signing a contract I had submitted the finished manuscript and asked for the second thousand as well. I know you will believe me when I say that this was not my finest scholarly effort.
This afternoon, in the day's mail, arrived my royalty payment for the book from Pearson, which at some point along the way acquired Penguin, which had earlier on acquired New American Library. Not much -- $334 -- but when I entered the sales and payments in the Excel spreadsheet that serves as a record of my book sales, I noticed that I was closing in on 200,000 sales, all of which have brought me a bit more than $20,000. I was thirty-five when I cranked out that little number, and like the Energizer bunny it just keeps on going. I have the creepy feeling that long after I am dust, semi-annual checks will continue to arrive for my sons, and eventually for my grandchildren.