Here’s a small story of the publishing world. It includes hope and anguish, heroism and tragedy. If you read to the end you may be touched, as I have been, by the goodness that surfaces from time to time in human affairs.
In December 2020, mystery writer G.P. Gottlieb sent word to book coach Christine DeSmet that Dan Willis of DX Varos Publishing, Inc., would be open to new submissions in January. Noting that historicals were among the genres Dan published, Christine passed the information on to me.
I sent a query, and Dan asked to read my shiny new manuscript, Freedom’s Purchase. Trembling with hope, I sent him the file. After only a few weeks, he replied:
Thank you for the opportunity to consider to consider your manuscript for Freedom’s Purchase.
I’m afraid I’m going to take a pass on this one. The plot as described in the query had not begun to develop in the first 50 pages, and I frankly lost interest in the story at that point. You might want to consider rearranging some of your chapters, assumed the escaped slave story did eventually materialize, and have it interspersed with the character/scene development that was all at the beginning.
Best luck to you!
Daniel Willis, Publisher D. X. Varos, Ltd.
Sigh. Another rejection, par for the course.
But this was the best kind of rejection—a personal note telling me what was wrong. Combining it with one received from another publishing house and triangulating: BAM! I achieved a sudden blinding insight.
I spent a year rebuilding my book from the ground up, gave it a new title—The Maelstrom—and asked Dan to read the new version. He agreed to read it and then agreed to publish it.
So on August 23, 2022, I became the author of a published novel, now titled Price of Passage. This is the proudest accomplishment of my life, after my daughter and grandchildren.
Think of my world as a great room in which nervous writers shuffle about, bumping into one another, smoking endless cigarettes (real or metaphorical), while riffling the smudged and bruised pages of manuscripts that are getting old. The vast floor of that room, Dear Reader, is knee-deep in jagged shards, the remains of shattered dreams.
My book, Price of Passage, would be among those dead fragments of once-bright literature, had not Galit Gottlieb shared key information; had not Christine DeSmet passed that information along; and, especially, had not Dan Willis agreed to read my manuscript—twice!—finding, on the second read, some of the value I had struggled so long and hard to put there.
That’s exactly how gritty and how personal the book publishing business is.
Nearly a year has elapsed since my book was launched. Dan Willis has been my partner in the tough job of selling books. Neither of us is flush with money for advertising. Both of us have struggled, persistently. Dan has been in this struggle not only with me but with about thirty other authors DX Varos publishes.
Dan Willis died July 9.
Dano died of natural causes. He was a comparatively young man, I don’t know how old exactly, but he had not been healthy for some time.
His demise has thrown the future of DX Varos Publishing, Inc., and the future prospects of more than fifty books, by about thirty authors, into uncertainty. That’s because DX Varos has been virtually a one-man operation.
Dan’s friend Karen Morrisey, secretary and co-owner of the publishing house, is trying to sort things out. It will be a while before we know what the future holds.
What we all do know—we authors have been commiserating via Facebook and Zoom—what we all know is that we have lost a great friend and champion.
Dano was a man of many parts. He was an accomplished genealogist with a deep and abiding interest in the royal families of Europe. He was an author, who published several works of fantasy or speculative fiction plus authoritative nonfiction works on the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, the Windsors, and other royal lineages.
And, oh yes, he was a publisher for aspiring authors like me. In the halls of Random Penguin Publications, he would pass unnoticed. Hidden behind a water cooler. Swamped under piles of digital press releases. Perhaps relegated to the AI department. Who knows?
But at little DX Varos, in Denver, Colorado, Dano was a giant.
Dan didn’t make money as a publisher. He always had to supplement his income with a day job. But he discovered authors, gave them a chance to shine, and brought out a lot of worthwhile books that otherwise would have been just the fragments of shattered dreams.
His contract was simple, clean, and unambiguous. He responded promptly to emails and was, according to all his authors, a delight to work with. Amid financial and business pressures that must have been gigantic, Dano always found time to pay attention to our questions and concerns. And he was an important part of the volunteer machinery of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.
We are finding out that Dan, fearing his life might be cut short, had taken special care to set up his files and busines operations in an orderly way so that Karen, his executor and successor at the helm of the publishing company, will have a fighting chance to keep it going, sell it advantageously, or wind up its affairs in a sound way.
We mourn the loss of a wise and patient man who helped us all navigate the problematic world of book publishing.
The Big Five publishers—the ones we all wish would look at our books—have their own way of doing things. A profit-oriented way.
I kind of like Dano’s publishing model.
He will be missed.
Larry F. Sommers
Your New Favorite Writer