D. L. Chambers was president of Bobbs-Merrill when The Fountainhead was submitted to it in 1941. Archibald Ogden, one of the company’s editors, recommended the manuscript, but Chambers rejected it. Ogden then threatened to resign, writing: “If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you.” Chambers relented, wiring Ogden: “Far be it from me to dampen such enthusiasm. Sign the contract.” In the letter below, Rand is responding to a letter from Chambers dated February 3, 1944, almost a year after the novel was published, reminding Rand of restrictions on paper quantities implemented by the War Production Board but reassuring her of “our ability to supply all orders.” Chambers’ letter also ties motion picture-induced sales to a projected paperback edition of the novel.
This letter was previously published only on the Ayn Rand Institute website.
February 14, 1944
Mr. D. L. Chambers
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Indianapolis 7, Indiana
Dear Mr. Chambers:
Thank you for your letter of February 3rd. I am astonished that you did not understand me when I wrote about the effect of a motion picture on the sales of a novel. An important picture with a good publicity campaign gives a great boost to the sales of a novel in its regular edition. I refer you to the case of “King’s Row.”
I was and am interested only in the sale of the regular edition. I am not thinking of a popular reprint. It is much too soon for that. Of course “The Fountainhead” cannot be put out in a 25¢ Pocket Book type of edition. But if the picture helps to sell 100,000 copies of the regular edition, I will call that a big sale. A picture can do that and, in this case, I think it will.
There can be, of course, no question of paper difficulty about printing 100,000 copies of “The Fountainhead” when they become needed. Other publishers have printed 500,000 copies of books longer than mine.
I am concerned over this matter, because “The Fountainhead” was allowed to get out of print twice, last summer and fall, last time (in October) for three weeks. Each time, this happened at a crucial moment, when the demand for the book was growing, and each time the demand was killed. The worry and trouble which I was forced to take over the matter in October prevented me from working on “The Moral Basis of Individualism” which would have been finished then but for this matter. I did not expect such a disastrous occurrence a second time.
I am counting on you to see that this does not happen again. I realize fully how it happened. It was due to the pessimism of Bobbs-Merrill, who handled the book over-cautiously, played for loss and did not expect good sales. When the sales came,
they were caught short. I think we can still make up for it. But please remember that we must make up for it. I do not intend to have “The Fountainhead” as the victim of miscalculation.
War-conditions in the printing industry do not relieve you of the contractual obligation to keep my book in print in step with the demand. Since we know that everything is done slower now, we must make our calculations accordingly. It is merely a matter of ordering new printings earlier and in a larger quantity than would have been necessary in peace-time, when the exact date of delivery could be predicted.
I believe we are almost out of print now, unless you have reordered since I left New York. I am particularly concerned about the Literary Guild campaign which will help our sales. I do not want to see a break like that go to waste again. The same applies to the time when the motion picture will come out. I expect you to have the book in print, in step with and sufficiently ahead of the demand.
Referring to the last paragraph of your letter of January 28th—to the Omnibook matter—I must remind you that what you call a “fait accompli” was an accomplished breach of contract. Please do not expect me to accept any more breaches, of any nature, in the future.
As to “The Moral Basis of Individualism,” I shall finish it as soon as I can, but I cannot give you a definite date until I have finished my work for Warner Brothers. Your suggestion that I “do something on the book each day” is entirely out of the question. First, I am not permitted to do it by my contract with Warner Brothers. Second, do you really think that a serious book on so difficult a subject can be written in snatches and in between times?
If you are concerned over the fact that the book will come out too long after the Reader’s Digest article—I believe I will get ten other articles out of it, to help us when the time comes.[*] But we must finish the job on “The Fountainhead” properly, before we undertake the next one.
*The Reader’s Digest article to which Rand refers is likely “The Only Path to Tomorrow” (originally titled “The Individualist Credo”), published in the magazine’s January 1944 issue. The text was to be subsumed under her book “The Moral Basis of Individualism,” which was contracted for by Bobbs-Merrill but never completed.
In a four-page response on February 22, 1944, Chambers addressed Rand’s various points in some detail, showing how seriously they were taken at Bobbs-Merrill. He concluded his letter by assuring Rand that “The Fountainhead has at all times had the devoted interest, the wholehearted support of our entire organization. It deserved it.”