Letter 074, pg. 3
take the trouble to read the first and only ad for the book you’re stacking [sic] your reputation on! When you read it, you saw that I was right to worry. Don’t talk to me about my book “not depending on one line in an ad.” It doesn’t. It doesn’t depend on any one of the other things which Bobbs-Merrill haven’t done. But what, in Christ’s name, does it depend on? My wonderful genius? Is that what you expect to sell books for you? Do you believe that publishers succeed or fail on mere luck—the luck of getting or not getting good books? Do you believe that it’s the books that do it? Then what are publishers for? What is it that good publishers do for their authors? Just set up the print? Take the credit if the book succeeds and blame the author if it doesn’t?
I don’t mind the fact that your advertising appropriation is limited. But precisely when an appropriation is limited one must weigh the tone and nature and every word of an ad most carefully, to get the utmost good out of it. The horrible crap you read to me over the phone wouldn’t sell a book to a half-wit. It is not intellectual appeal, it is not commercial appeal, it is not even good blurb-writing. It is just simply dull and meaningless. It says nothing. It’s just wasted space, wasted words, wasted money.
Don’t talk to me about people who must be good because they make their living in advertising. There are incompetents and fools making a living for a while in any profession. The fact of holding a given job at a given time does not prove that one is good at it. Judge by the product and the results. Successful publishers don’t employ advertising copy writers who put out stuff like that. It’s not only the over-emphasis on architecture, it’s not only such dreadful words as “Fakers and Prophets”—which certainly wouldn’t arouse anyone’s interest—it’s the fact that the main idea has not even been hinted at, that your one good line about the ego has been dropped, that nothing in the whole god-damn mess gives any indication of the book’s theme, importance or seriousness.
To make things nicer, all you have to show the public so far is one ghastly kind of review. And your ad will merely support it. Your ad will tell the public, in effect: “Yes, that’s right, this is just a pretty novel about architecture.” It couldn’t have been planned better if it had been done on purpose. There’s the good start you’ve given the book. If the book goes, it will have this handicap to overcome. You’ve begun by placing an obstacle in its way. Now you have a period of ten days (until whatever reviews we get on the 16th) during which the book will be dead. At the end of the ten days, Mr. Chambers will decide that it’s not worth advertising, because it is not selling.
This could have been prevented if you had taken the time to look at that ad. You didn’t. The advertising agency, the publicity department, the sales department are all sensitive people whose feelings must not be hurt by outside curiosity or advice. An advance inquiry would be rude interference. Only an author is the kind of person who must listen politely to everyone and anyone, never get offended, accept every suggestion and consider every criticism made by copy readers and writers of popular novels of the light fiction type. I suppose that’s because an author deals in such dry, routine stuff as creative writing which does not make a person emotional or sensitive. Archie, if this