10,000 Tampa Avenue
December 11, 1945
Mr. Ross G. Baker
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
468 Fourth Avenue
New York City
Thank you for both your letters of December 5th. I am glad that the pamphlet is now in the shape you wanted. It was one of the hardest assignments I’ve ever had to do.
I am happy that you liked “Anthem.” Your comment—“I don’t believe I ever was more delighted to see the word ‘I’ than when it showed up in Anthem”—was a very valuable one. If that was your reaction to the book, I did accomplish my purpose in it.
Have you made the corrections of the plates of “The Fountainhead” according to the list of errors I left with Mr. Hurley? When you have a corrected copy out, would you send it to me please?
For how many copies have you ordered paper beyond the 90,000? You didn’t mention it and I naturally would like to know.
I am returning the enclosed Literary Guild ads. Thank you for sending them to me—I did want to see them. I have a copy of the black-and-white one; it’s vulgar, but not too bad as an ad. The colored one, however, is so appalingly dreadful that I don’t want to keep it. No wonder it did not sell the book for the Guild people.
Those to whom such an ad would appeal could never read or like “The Fountainhead.” I don’t even think they could read—period. And there’s no moron on earth who wouldn’t see that the quotation from the daily Herald-Tribune (in the box) is an out-and-out panning. Why do the Guild people really do such things to an author and to themselves? Apart from the fact that it’s a gratuitous insult to me—is it practical? How do they expect to sell a book that “changes people’s lives” by calling it “a six-ring circus”?
When they have on their hands a book that’s growing in sales through its serious, philosophical,
inspirational aspect—what kind of sense is there in trying to palm it off as a cheap, lurid dime-novel? Is that good business?
No, I am not writing this as any kind of reproach to you—since you had nothing to do with the composition of this ad, and you did me the courtesy of sending it to me when I asked for it. I am writing this only because there is an extremely valuable lesson for us in this ad. I’d like you to consider it when you plan your own ads and publicity for the book. I could have told you two years ago that such an ad would flop and that the Literary Guild would not get any response to it. I suspect that you would have then thought I’m just an author who wants to be “highbrow.” So I’m glad the Literary Guild did use this ad and did flop with it. Now you have an objective, practical demonstration. I think Bobbs-Merrill can save money, by learning from an experiment on which the Literary Guild wasted its money.
When you hear talk, comment, raves, fan letters, all on a single theme—an ecstatic kind of admiration for the figure of Howard Roark—you’re not going to sell the book as “the great story of an amazing woman.” You aren’t—because it ain’t. Furthermore, there’s been nothing but books about “amazing women” ever since Scarlett O’Hara—practically every book ad has tried to feature that idea—and the public is sick of it. If that’s all a book has to offer—there’s no attraction in it any more, it’s been worn out. BUT you have a book about an amazing man—a strong, positive character—a hero who is really a hero—and that, after a decade of male mush, is such a surprise to the readers that it’s one of the main reasons of the book’s popular appeal. Yet the Guild’s sales experts hide that—and feature a naked woman. What’s the sense in it?
As a practical suggestion: I think you should have some ads that contain some copy about the book—not just old quotations; every book can muster a few favorable quotations, that’s not much of a sales point any more; quotes can be used—but not as the chief attraction. I think the copy should tell the readers something of the real nature of the book—at least a hint, an indication or a come-on. If we want to attract new readers, why not feature that which got us 200,000 old ones? Why hide the actual sales power of the book from its potential buyers?
I see you’re afraid of the word “individualism.” I think you’re wrong, but okay, you don’t have to use it. Use an equivalent. Take a tip from the Kings Features Syndicate people. Did you notice their
caption for the strip? “Based on the great, best-selling novel of a man who dared to pit his genius against the world.” They did that—I had nothing to do with it—I never discussed the subject of a caption with them and never saw it until I received the proofs. There is what I consider good salesmanship. They knew it was a man’s story—and they stressed its real theme in a dramatic way.
If you don’t want to stress philosophy in ads—stress Roark. The effect will be the same, only in popular form. I suggest something like this:
“The story of a great man who stood alone against the world.”
“Howard Roark did all the things you were taught to believe as evil. Read this book to find out why thousands of readers consider him the noblest character in modern fiction.”
“Why do most men think they’re Howard Roark—and most women wish it were true?”
Isn’t this last one lurid enough (by implication) even for the taste of the Literary Guild people? Yet it’s true—and the readers, seeing such a line in an ad, will stop, wonder and feel intrigued.
As for quotes, there are two which you haven’t used—and they would be excellent, not by themselves, but with the above kind of copy:
“Roark is like the sun…to see anybody else afterward is impossible.”
Saturday Review of Literature
“Howard Roark towers over any man in the United States… Howard Roark is the hero (a real hero, not just the ‘central character’) in the most original and daring book of fiction written in this country—The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.”
You told me that you thought of advertising the book as “a modern classic.” You were right. Try it. A book expert in New York told me that the biggest fiction sellers of all times (and the surest receipe
for a best seller) have always been religious novels with a good story (“Ben-Hur” “Quo Vadis?” “The Robe”)—and that “The Fountainhead” is a religious novel. So it is—but not in the conventional sense of the word; it gives to modern readers the same thing which simpler people get from a Biblical story—a sense of faith, courage and moral uplift. Why not try handling and selling the book as that? The results might surprise you—as this book has surprised you many times.
All this is in the nature of suggestions—not reproaches. I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate the fact of your advertising the book as you promised. I do appreciate it and am pleased to see good-sized Bobbs-Merrill ads. I merely hope that the above analysis might help your copy-writers to get some good punch lines into the ads.
With best regards,