Alan Collins (1904–68) was AR’s literary agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. from 1943 until his death in 1968. That agency still handles her books. Collins wrote AR of an offer to syndicate an illustrated synopsis of The Fountainhead. Newspaper serializations of bestsellers were common in the 1940s.
10,000 Tampa Avenue
July 29, 1945
Mr. Alan C. Collins
Curtis Brown, Ltd.
347 Madison Avenue
New York 17, N. Y.
Thank you for taking up the matter of the sale of THE FOUNTAINHEAD with Bobbs-Merrill. I am glad that you’re “commercial minded” and I hope you can help me in this difficult situation.
But first, the matter of the King Features offer for a serialized strip of THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I like the idea, but I will accept it only on condition that the text and drawings will be submitted to me for approval before they go to press. In regard to the drawings, I will have the right to okay the artist’s proposed visualization of my characters before the actual pictures are made. In regard to the text, I will have: first, the right to okay the general outline of what scenes or parts of the book the syndicate’s writer wishes to dramatize; second, the right to edit all of the actual text used. No line of text is to appear in print without my approval. One specific point I want to be agreed upon in advance: Roark’s courtroom speech is to be included in the text. I will shorten the speech for them myself, if they want it shortened. I insist on this because the opportunity to have this speech syndicated is the main appeal of their offer to me.
I do not know on what terms such strips are usually contracted for—so I hope King Features won’t find this unreasonable. You may point out to them that my only interest in such a strip is the publicity it would give my book. Therefore it must be the right kind of publicity a condensation true to the theme, style and spirit of the story. If the condensation makes the book appear garbled weak or pointless (through careless choice of incidents) it will do positive harm in discouraging prospective readers.
My contract with Bobbs-Merrill gives them the right to make deals for condensations—but states that all condensations must be submitted to me for my approval. May I count on you to make sure that this is observed?
Bobbs-Merrill have broken that clause once before when they arranged for a condensation in Omnibook Magazine and it appeared in print before I knew anything about it. They pleaded at the time that they forgot to send me the text. I don’t intend to let this happen again. Since this offer came through you, perhaps it might be wise—to avoid future trouble—if you would warn King Features not to sign any deal with Bobbs-Merrill without my approval.
Now to the matter of Blakiston. I am baffled by Mr. Baker’s letter which you sent me. Mr. Baker admits that Blakiston have not done enough space advertizing in relation to the sale of my book. But he explains it by saying: “Actually they were in a situation where they were getting orders faster than books could be manufactured.”
Why were they in such a situation? It’s the same old story, isn’t it? They didn’t expect my book to sell as much as it did?
According to established procedure in the publishing business, a certain normal amount of advertising is given to every book, in proportion to its sale. If a book shows signs of having popular draw and goes into the best-seller class, the advertising allowance is proportionately increased and the publisher gets behind the book with a good, loud promotion campaign besides. But in the case of my book I am told that my advertising is below the normal rate for any average plodding book—“because my book sells too fast.” (!) I am told, in effect: “We can’t plug your book—it’s selling too well.”
You know the publishing business better than I do. Here is where I need your advice. Will you tell me—and then tell Bobbs-Merrill—what an author in my position is supposed to think and feel about this?
As I see it, the situation is still the same as it was from the beginning: I am being played for a loser—my book is too strange and out-of-the-rut—nobody knows what to make of it—nobody believes that it will sell big—therefore there are never enough copies of it in print to allow its sales to grow to the full.
Now here is what I would like you to do for me specifically. I am coming to New York early in September and intend to stage a publicity campaign for the book myself, on a large scale. Therefore I must be sure that I have enough copies to sell. I’d like you to arrange to have Blakiston order a printing of 50,000
(fifty thousand) copies of my book now, for delivery in September or as soon as possible. (This is to be over and above and in addition to whatever number of copies they have on order now.)
If you can manage to arrange this, I shall make with you the “commercial” deal we discussed here.
I don’t know how you may have to proceed in order to accomplish this. But you’re a good persuasive businessman and I think you could talk sense into Blakiston, if you talked to them personally. I don’t want to antagonize Blakiston—they have done so much better than Bobbs-Merrill, even without the ads. I don’t want Bobbs-Merrill ever to take the book back, away from Blakiston.
As to Bobbs-Merrill, here is my situation as I see it: I suppose they consider me a valuable author by now and they do want to keep me on their list; but they do not have any faith in the sales power of THE FOUNTAINHEAD—the sale merely surprises them—they expect it to stop at any moment, instead of to grow—they will gamble nothing on it—and they have been playing it that way from the beginning. This is where an agent can help me—this is the second thing I’d like you to do for me (and I think you can do it better than I could.) Please convince them that I understand the situation fully, as it really is, as stated above; if they find me valuable, they must be fair to me and keep me satisfied; I still have no interest in any other future book of mine—the only thing that matters to me is THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I am now working on my next book—but I don’t really care to have it published until THE FOUNTAINHEAD has had its full and fair chance. Please make this clear to Bobbs-Merrill. If they really want me to feel satisfied and if they want to have my next book—I want that 50,000 copies printing of “The Fountainhead” by Blakiston right now. Tell them to consider it as an advance on the new book—instead of money, if they wish to make that kind of a deal, and ask them to use whatever power they have in the matter to persuade Blakiston to do it.
I will be in New York in about a month and can settle all details with them then.
If you want “ammunition” to present my case to them, here are a few points:
1. I have begged Bobbs-Merrill to give my book space to breathe in, that is, let it have a chance to run on its own power—let it show them what it can do—never mind even the ads and pushing—just keep it
in print a few steps ahead of the demand—and it will go to the top of the best-seller list. Instead, for two years, my book has been consistently kept behind the demand. Every time I objected to it, I was told: “We didn’t expect it to sell quite so much this time.” (In August, 1943. In October, 1943. In February, 1944. In December, 1944—when the deal with Blakiston was made. Please remind Mr. Baker of the long-distance phone conversation I had with him then, he was in Pinky Berner’s office, I asked: “Why was the book out of print again?” The answer was: “Nobody expected it to sell quite so much.”) Now it’s still the same answer; though, thank God, larger printings are involved. When will they believe me that the book still has a much larger market than any of them imagine? They didn’t know it then. I did. Don’t they have enough objective evidence to see it now?
2. When I saw Mr. Van Cartmell here last winter, he assured me that Blakiston had the paper and the capacity to keep my book in print properly, in sufficient quantity. He told me that it was Blakiston’s policy to order the printings of their books in such a way as to have a supply on hand sufficient for six months in advance, the number of copies to be reckoned by the book’s past sale. My book has been selling at the rate of 10,000 copies a month or more. It is not falling off, it’s rising. Therefore, a printing of 50,000 would be less than a six months supply.
3. I notice, in Blakiston’s advertising schedule which you sent me, that the space ads stopped in April. If my sales became too big for ads then—why didn’t they order larger printings then? Why did they wait until August?
Now the third, and extremely important, thing you can do for me is this: obtain for me a precise, specific explanation of the exact method of calculation which has been used in determining the number of copies printed of my book in each printing. This question, as you probably see, holds the crux of the whole trouble. I have received nothing but evasive answers, both from Bobbs-Merrill and from Blakiston, when I asked them how their printings were estimated. THAT is the point I’d like you to fight out for me. Will you convince them that I am an author who sells and will continue selling? Apparently neither God nor cash receipts can convince them. You realize, as I do, that their pleading of paper regulations and war conditions are beside the point. Those regulations merely limit the total output of books. Publishers are free to dispose of their paper and to order their printings of each specific book on
their list as and when they wish. If they are running their presses at full capacity and cannot do justice to all their books—it is up to them to decide which book they sacrifice to which. I appreciate their difficulties—but the question is really simple: I have been consistently sacrificed to other books, which they expected to sell better. NOW I expect my publishers to place me, in their estimation, where I belong—on top. I belong there, not on grounds of personal vanity, but on the objective record of my sales. I want Bobbs-Merrill to understand that I realize this. If conditions force them to sacrifice some books, it is not THE FOUNTAINHEAD that is going to be sacrificed.
If you can make them understand my position and convince them that it is in their own best interest to act accordingly—you will have accomplished a great service to me. I know that I am a potential gold-mine for everybody involved—if someone would make the effort to realize the kind of commercial power I have—and would work it to the full. This is not the usual day-dream of all authors—I have two years of objective proof behind me—I have heard from too many people in the business that THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a phenomenon in publishing history.
I’d like, above all, to be able to write—and never have to think about the business part of it, knowing that it was taken care of in the best manner possible. If you can do it—please do. I would be more than grateful.
P.S. Would you ask your secretary to make a note of my home address for your files? It’s: 10,000 Tampa Avenue, Chatsworth, California. Your letters have been going to my old Hollywood address.