Books about publishers are usually among the most unrewarding parts of literature. Sometimes these volumes are products of retired editors far sunk in gentlemanly anecdotage. Sometimes such a book is a piece of self-glorification issued at a centenary of a famous house, perfect in typography and empty of critical content.
Professor Howard Mumford Jones
New York Times Book Review, Oct 27, 1946
This may be as good a place as any to call attention to the difference between a bookseller, a stationer, a printer, a binder, and a publisher, yet all these trades frequently have been merged into one. A bookseller must have a stock of books if he wishes to survive—if you don't believe it, ask Dr. Rosenbach. A stationer, too, must have a shop in which he sells paper, pens, ink, etc. A printer must have types, presses, etc.; and a binder pasteboard, leather, and tools. But a publisher requires none of these things: he can start a business using the other fellow's plant and the author's brains—and he frequently asks him to put up some money too (73).
Bibliography and pseudo-Bibliography
To View Listings of the Books on Library Thing
I have found interesting tidbits—at least to me—in some of my books about publishers. And Professor Jones had nothing but good words to write about the book he reviewed, Of Making Many Books by Roger Burlingame.
As for A. Edward Newton's striking comment about publishers, I queried David Klappholz, the noted A. Edward Newton collector. But he knew of no problems between Newton and his publisher. Dave even has friendly letters between Newton and two of his editors in his own Newton Collection. I should note that Newton partially supports his own viewpoint in his second lecture, stating that the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy had to put up some money in order to get earlier works published.
Henry Holt as Publisher and Editor
Charles A. Madison, a retired editor himself, used Professor Jones's quotation to begin the preface of his book about Henry Holt. And while Madison had good words to write about Holt, he didn't glorify him. One chapter is even titled, "Holt's Failures With Popular Authors." In this chapter, Madison detailed Holt's problems with Jerome K. Jerome, Anthony Hope, and Paul Leicester Ford, all of whom left Holt for other publishers. Robert Frost, on the other hand, remained with Holt for forty-eight years, and considered himself to be "Holt's oldest employee."
Of particular interest to Newton's charge, Madison wrote that Henry Holt did not think Paul Leicester Ford's first novel would sell enough copies. And he required Ford to put up some money in order to get his novel published. The book, The Honorable Peter Stirling, went on to become a bestseller.
Not all books about publishers "are perfect in typography;" the author's name is misspelled on the spine of the book printed for the Dibdin Club in 1898. This book, by Adolf Growoll, managing editor of The Publishers' Weekly, is about book trade bibliography. But added to the book is "A Catalogue of All the Books Printed in the United States" as of 1804.
Cass Canfield was the first book publisher to become an A. S. W. Rosenbach Fellow in Bibliography. And that didn't happen until 1968. Canfield gave two lectures: "The Real and the Ideal Editor," and "How Publishing Has Changed and Is Likely To Change." Of historical interest was Canfield's handling of the publication of Leon Trotsky's biography of Stalin, which he discussed in his first lecture. Trotsky was assassinated before completing the biography, and Canfield selected a Russian scholar to complete the work. Review copies were sent out on Friday morning, December 5, 1941. Two days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Realizing that Stalin would be America's ally, and would not be pleased with the book, Canfield withdrew it on Monday morning, and stored the entire edition under seal in a warehouse for five years, until Stalin was no longer considered an ally of America.
First hundred years of the House of Scribner (1846-1946). Burlingame's viewpoint concerning the publication of political books got my attention:
A book-publishing house is in a somewhat different spot, politically, from the publisher of the average magazine or newspaper. With a few conspicuous exceptions, periodicals have always been committed to the political stand of the editorial boards. It is traditional for a book publisher to keep free of "partis-pris." He feels that the pubic expects him to present all views provided they are expressed in good books. His only standard is the goodness of a book as a book; if the book is political, then the author's case must be presented in the best possible way. What the case is, is not his concern. No matter how many heads may shake in his editorial office over the views in a book by Trotsky or Mussolini, the editor must give full attention to each—to its clarity, its perfection of form, its proper promotion—as if the views were his own. A general publishing house must be a forum (299).
Burlingame's mention in 1946 of a book by Trotsky is just too coincidental. Canfield released Trotsky's biography of Stalin in 1946. Was Burlingame saying that Canfield had the responsibility to publish Trotsky's book in 1941, regardless of the political consequences? Canfield reasoned that his responsibility as a citizen outweighed his responsibility as a publisher.
The Country Life Press was one of my first books about publishers. I found it in the early 1990s on the Books About Books shelves of Mike Slicker's Lighthouse Books in St. Petersburg, Florida. Two words on the front cover first attracted me: Long Island—I grew up on Long Island! And when I took a look at the Contents page, I knew the book was a keeper.
This book introduced me to The Country Life Press, a division of Doubleday, Page & Company. And it told me more than a little bit about the authors whose works Doubleday published. But the icing on the cake was the Kipling Index. Doubleday published all but three of Kipling's works, whose contents are listed in over fifty pages in this book. And then there is the O. Henry Index. . . .
A view of the front entrance of the Country Life Press serves as the frontispiece for another Doubleday book:
In his memoirs, F. N. Doubleday reveals that it was his friend Rudyard Kipling who first tagged him with the nickname, Effendi—I thought it was Christopher Morley!
In 1899, Rudyard Kipling came down with double pneumonia in New York, and F. N. Doubleday served as his errand boy in the sick room. One of Kipling's first requests was to keep him furnished with whisky, which Doubleday's friend, Andrew Carnegie, was glad to supply. When Kipling was well enough for visitors, Doubleday suggested that Kipling invite Carnegie and thank him personally for supplying the whisky. Doubleday relates that Carnegie got a little bit flustered when he finally met Kipling:
"Mr. Kipling, I regard this as one of the greatest honors that has come to me in my life. That I should have been able to serve you in this small way has been the greatest pleasure to me, and as Shakespeare put it in his immortal verse—as Shakespeare put it in his immortal verse—"
He could not remember what Shakespeare put in his immortal verse, and Mr. Kipling's pulse was mounting by leaps and bounds.
"Or as Burns expresses it in his well-known poem—as Burns expresses it in his well-known—"
He could not remember what Burns had expressed and I thought Rudyard's life would go out. . . (60).
House of Harper: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Publishing
In 1817, when the Harpers started in business, New York City had a population of nearly one hundred and twenty thousand and the nation nine million. The country was slowly recovering from the effects of a second war with England, and the British were still jubilant over their defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. At Abbotsford, Walter Scott was completing a new novel, Rob Roy, and copies of that book would soon reach New York via the just established Black Ball Lines, the first scheduled operation of packet ships between New York and Liverpool. That same year the Great Lakes were demilitarized, making a fortless boundary between the United States and Canada. To the South a new state—Mississippi—was carved out of territory abutting the Gulf of Mexico and added the twentieth star to the flag. In March, the month in which James Monroe was inaugurated President, a new sign was hung in front of a small frame house at the corner of Front and Dover Streets, New York, It read, 'J. & J. Harper, Printers" (Exman, 3).
Portrait of W. W. Appleton and a record of the first hundred years of the House of Appleton: 1825-1925.
The genius for publishing is a jewel with many facets. It is not enough to be able to discover a great author or a great work. One must be able to discover and supply a popular appetite. The Appleton house has done this on more than one occasion. Those of you who may read this and who are of my own age or older, can remember the vogue of books, often wholly pictorial works, published in small sections, monthly, to be afterwards combined and kept in portfolios or bound as the owner might wish. I believe that W. W. Appleton supervised the first of these enterprises, conducted on a scale overwhelming in those days and not small in these. This was the work called "Picturesque America," edited by William Cullen Bryant. . . . Of these 6,000,000 parts or 600,000 volumes were sold (10).
Bill Adler ran a successful literary agency, wrote a few bestsellers himself, and supplied others with ideas for books. He was having lunch one day with his friend, William Safire, when Safire announced that he'd like to write his first novel, but didn't know what to write about. Adler suggested he write about a President who went blind while still in office, bringing the Twenty-Fifth Amendment into the picture. And that is how Full
Disclosure came to light. Doubleday bought it for $25,000. The Literary Guild outbid the Book-of-the-Month Club with a bid of $275,000. And Ballantine Books bought the reprint rights for $1,350,000, the highest ever paid by a paperback house at the time for a first novel (104,105).
One of the most widely read books of its period, All Quiet on the Western Front, sold 3 1/2 million copies in three years in the original German and was translated into more than twenty-five languages. It accounted for 20 percent of Little, Brown's trade sales in 1929, the year it was published, and became the number-one nationwide best-seller that year (82).
A most interesting book detailing Liveright's rise and fall as a publisher, and his constant battle against censorship.
By January 1928 there were approximately seventy modern books banned in Boston, although by this time no single group wished to claim credit for the wholesale suppression. Neither the District Attorney, the Police Department, nor the Watch and Ward Society accepted responsibility for the action; in fact, each accused the other of perpetrating it. The sale of very popular novels like An American Tragedy, Elmer Gantry, and Oil! had been stopped, and other works—some of equal literary importance—were also unavailable in Boston. Along with Kept Women and Loose Ladies were Count Bruga by Ben Hecht, What I Believe by Bertrand Russell, Blue Voyage by Conrad Aiken, Mosquitos by William Faulkner, Dark Laughter by Sherwood Anderson, Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (167,168).
Donald Friede's obscenity trial for selling a copy of An American Tragedy in Boston is covered in both this book and the Liveright book. By the time the case came up for appeal, Friede had left Boni & Liveright, and started his own firm with Pascal Covici. But it didn't last long.
By midsummer of 1930 it became obvious that the whole face of the book business—and all other businesses as well—was changing, and that we had to do some pretty radical changing ourselves if we wanted to survive. We took stock of ourselves and came to the very unpleasant conclusion that for an unforeseeably long time the market for limited editions was gone. Our mailing lists, which in the past had helped us to dispose of the major part of any limited edition we chose to publish, were now drawing only fractional returns. And the bookstores were ordering sparingly if at all. Yet we had well over three times our original capitalization tied up in advance and preliminary costs on this type of publication. We thought it over carefully, took a deep breath, and then wrote off every penny we had invested in future limited editions. Illustrations, translations, typographical plans, all of them paid for in full, went into the safe until times should improve. They never did. The safe was still bulging when we ceased to exist eight years later (108).
Clifton Fadiman reviewed 5,000 books published under the Borzoi imprint during its first fifty years. And these novels, novellas, short stories, reportage, essays, and verse he has chosen as the best of the lot.
Inserted in the slipcase of my copy of this book is Sir Edouard Morot's dinner invitation, along with the guest list of those invited to commemorate the Knopf's first book published fifty years ago. Morot (1910-1993) was a French diplomat, author, professor, and cultural emissary—a prime player in the New York cultural scene in the 1950s and 60s.
B. W. Huebsch, in a piece in Book II aptly titled, "The Publisher," provides an interesting viewpoint on the requirements of a publisher:
Is there any business so paradoxical, so self-contradictory, so baffling as that of the book publisher? It calls for scholarship, artistic taste, psychological insight, business acumen, critical ability, poker sense, and a few other endowments. . . (II, 125).
Publishing in this early days [1840s] was a highly respectable profession. There must have been plenty of competition because authors and books were relatively few and sales on the average were high. Trade ethics were very strong indeed. There was no copyright for English authors in America, but in spite of that, 'honorariums' were paid punctiliously and publishers were very shy of poaching on a competitor's preserve (6).
In 1893, Mr. Crowell received a manuscript which attracted very little attention in the office. It was very slight, less than thirty pages, and seemed at first hardly worth publishing in book form; but the title, What Is Worth While, was striking and he decided to try it. The little booklet was given a very tasteful dress, and soon began to sell surprisingly well. The author, Anna R. Brown, afterward the wife of Professor S. C. Lindsay of Columbia University, had the satisfaction of seeing her address, originally read before the Philadelphia Branch of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, become one of the best-selling books of its kind. This venture was so successful that other booklets were brought out in similar style—and soon the 'What Is Worth While Series' included essays of Henry Van Dyke, J. R. Miller, Professor George H. Palmer, O. S. Marden, R. W. Trine, and other prominent writers. The total sales of this series, which was one of Mr. Crowell's big successes, ran into millions of volumes (40,41).
Publishing, too, is steady work, for there can be no end to the constant, perdurable need to instruct and to engage by art and entertainment the whole of society, no less than every one. By its best, humanistic definition, publishing is a major means by which we conceptualize ourselves, by which we find out what the world is and what it wants of us. Books and journals and films and other media that inform, that tell what is known and intimate what is not—these reveal the identity of the reader and viewer no less that that of the author or producer. Assuming that men will always be curious about themselves, publishing must be, like awaiting the millennium, the longest-lived of professions (12,13).
And finally, here's a few tidbits from my books about American book publishing in general:
We tend to think of early publishing in terms of hardbound books, sturdy volumes in old calf; but in fact most early books were paperbacks. Sermons, for example, a popular kind of reading, were published in paper because it was the cheapest method. Some of the pamphlets or books even anticipated modern paperbacks in their use of the "skyline," that is, a phrase or sentence on the cover which summarized the content and, in effect, was a selling message.
The Creation of an Industry 1630-1865
A History of Book Publishing in the United States, of which the present volume is the first of three, was conceived more than fifteen years ago in the process of shaping a series of lectures for a class of graduate students at New York University. The course, which I was to teach for many years, appeared in the catalog as 'The Rise and Significance of American Publishing,' and was a synthesis of media history, including books, magazines, newspapers, and broadcasting (xi).
In Modern America, publishing, printing, and bookselling are discrete functions not normally performed, except in the smallest of operations, by the same firm. Commercial publishers today select works to be published, negotiate with authors, make arrangements for the physical production of books, and finally either distribute them themselves or arrange for their distribution to booksellers. The publishing house may have little or nothing to do with the making of the physical book—printing, binding and so on. Although a few old houses, such as Doubleday, Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, and Barnes and Noble, still maintain retail bookselling operations, most American bookstores are independent organizations. By contrast, early American printers frequently functioned as publishers and booksellers as well. For example, Isaiah Thomas, who published in Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts from 1770 to 1802, was both a printer and a publisher. Mathew Carey of Philadelphia began as a printer-bookseller but established a firm that, between 1785 and 1838, became one of first American publishing houses in the modern sense of the term. In New York from 1816 to 1844 Mahlon Day printed, published, and sold children's books for which he became well known (xx).