Letter 074, pg. 4
sounds like nasty sarcasm, remember that this is what you told me. Not so crudely, but in effect.
Now let me do you justice. You did convince your salesmen of the book’s merits, so that the sale has been good, or so I’m told. It was because you talked to them personally. (But that sale won’t do us any good if the books are returned.) You did send out excellent letters about the book. It’s because you wrote them personally. You did give me an excellent ad in the two trade sheets. It was good because you and I re-wrote it. It was pretty awful originally. Why couldn’t you take the time to do that again on the much more important and expensive matter of our first Sunday ad? Why couldn’t you bring me the copy and let me express an opinion? You didn’t have to take my opinion, only to consider it—and I had proved myself helpful once. I know it wasn’t indifference or laziness on your part. It was your goodwill, politeness and “faith” in your advertising agency. That’s what makes it much worse than intentional negligence. There’s your best example of the results of “faith.” Everything you’ve done on your own has been good and able. You turn aside at the most important moment—not for any good cause, not on any logical reason—but for the sake of courtesy to a lot of worthless people. I know your career depends on this book as much as mine. You’re sacrificing it—for the sake of humanitarian kindness to other people. There’s a rather tragic illustration of the fact that I really wrote the truth in my book. It was not just a story, Archie. It works that way—in international politics, in private life or in the publishing business. It’s good intentions that are murdering all of us.
Archie, darling, good will is no proof or guarantee of anything whatsoever on earth. So it’s perfectly pointless to assure me how much you want my book to succeed. I know it. I believe you. What I don’t believe is that the firm of Bobbs-Merrill knows how to sell a book. If desire were all, then any writer would have a bestseller. If an author came to you and said: “Here’s a manuscript, it’s good because I want it so very much to be good,” you’d throw him out. You don’t buy novels because their authors are sincere in wanting them to be good. You buy on the basis of performance. You judge by concrete and reasonable standards. NOT by anybody’s faith, sincerity, hope, desire or the fourth dimension.
And yet you ask me to feel confidence that my book is being properly handled merely because you all want so much to have it succeed. Bobbs-Merrill have made a mess of my book’s release in every way that I can detect. JUST EXACTLY ON WHAT BASIS must I have confidence? If I’m wrong, tell me. But don’t speak of “faith.”
Do you wonder now why Bobbs-Merrill don’t get any good books? Do you wonder why authors rush to Simon & Schuster? Is this the way you hope to establish a reputation, to acquire prestige and a good list? In exchange for what?
Bobbs-Merrill have paid me—for a year and a half of unspeakable and unbelievable work—less than the amount they paid in that year to their cheapest stenographer. Our contract reads that they have the right to publish the book in any way they please. There is an implication of honor in such a clause. It is presumed that the publisher will exert his honest best effort to publish and sell a