This letter was written one day before the official publication date of The Fountainhead.
May 6, 1943
Thank you for your letter. It was very nice of you to wish to cheer me up—and that is why your letter was heart-breaking to me. If I were up against malice, I could fight it. When I’m up against genuinely good intentions—not backed up by facts—I’m licked.
Apparently your genius is that of an editor and lies in the printed word—not in any other form of reality. So I’m going to put it all down on paper. Maybe you’ll understand. Please try to.
You say: “I guess it’s your faith in others I sometimes worry about.” I don’t know what that word means. If you mean “faith” in a religious sense—in the sense of blind acceptance—I don’t have any faith in anything or anybody, I never have had and never will have. I go by facts and reason. I had neither faith nor non-faith in you when I first met you. I formed no opinion of you until I had some concrete evidence on which to base an opinion. I trust and admire you as an editor, because of the intelligent judgment you exhibited while we were working on the novel. This is not “faith.” It is much sounder. It is my reasonable conviction.
What evidence has the firm of Bobbs-Merrill given me of its competence to handle the business side of a book’s publication?
Whom is it that I must have faith in, and on what grounds?
You have said that I don’t know the business side and must let those in charge handle it. I shall list what I know about the methods I have observed other publishers using.
When a book is supposed to be a “lead” and a “special”—
1. It is publicized months in advance. There has been no mention of my book anywhere.
2. The author is given publicity. I was given nothing.
3. Posters and display material are prepared. I’ve had none.
4. Window displays are arranged. I’ve had none.
5. Circulars are sent to mailing lists. I’ve had none.
6. A party of some sort is arranged for the trade. I’ve had none.
7. Ads are taken in both Sunday papers and in the dailies. I have one ad coming.
8. The book is issued in time to get reviews on publication. Mine was rushed through in a manner that gave nobody but an ass like Harry Hansen time to read it. I hold Bobbs-Merrill responsible for that review. It is obvious that Hansen hasn’t even read the book—
he’s skimmed through it. And our publication date was chosen because the firm wanted bills to come in one month in advance!
Now I don’t say that I advocate necessarily all of those methods or any one in particular. I only know that those are the methods used. You’ve used none of them. Perhaps you have better methods of your own. Very well. TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE. Name them. I don’t want compliments, I don’t want consolations, I don’t want any talk about anyone’s “faith.” I want facts.
If you can tell me what Bobbs-Merrill have done for the book, I shall be delighted to be proved wrong.
I use the word “you” in the above as meaning Bobbs-Merrill as a business firm, not you as a person. In your own specific job, that of editor, you have proved yourself superlative. I have not changed my opinion on that. I repeat that I think you are a genius as an editor. I know how much you have done for the book in that respect and how much I owe you.
But I am not at all clear about your position or authority on the business side of the firm. So when I criticize that, you will have to decide whether it applies to you or not. I honestly don’t know. I am criticizing the behavior of the firm. If you had authority in those matters, then the fault is yours. If you hadn’t, then my words are no reflection upon you. In either case, they are not a reflection upon you as an editor.
You are too intelligent and honest a man to say the sort of things you said in your letter. Archie, doesn’t reason and logic mean anything to you at all? Why do you say things like that? WHY? Won’t you tell me, as a gesture of charity, if nothing else? I’m actually begging you to give me an explanation. Why do you ask me to have faith in a publicity department that forces reviewers to call in and inquire whether the author of your “important” book is a man or a woman? Is that a proof of competence? Is that what one does to promote a new “discovery”? I suppose faith—the blind faith of a moron—is all one can feel for publicists who do this. Certainly not respect or confidence. Is that the kind of faith you ask me to feel? To me, that performance on the part of a publicity department is either criminal negligence or plain lousy incompetence. In the name of all logic and honesty, I don’t see any other alternative, or explanation. If I’m wrong—tell me what the publicity department has done for me.
I did have faith. That’s where I’m guilty. Since the first of January, when I delivered my script to you, I never asked what your publicity department was doing. I didn’t interfere, I didn’t hint, I didn’t ask for anything. Observe the results.
Now we come to the beautiful ad I’m getting on Sunday. I have told you, every indication has told you, advance reactions have told you and you have agreed that the book must be sold as an important, challenging, intellectual novel on a great modern issue—and not as a cheap story on architecture. Until I annoyed you by tactlessly butting in into what you said was none of my business—you didn’t even
take the trouble to read the first and only ad for the book you’re stacking 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 overemphasis 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
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 good will, 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 garantee 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 best seller. 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
book in the best way possible to him. So honor is all I have to rely on now. Honor, honesty and integrity are matters of intelligence, reason and action, not of good will, emotion, sentiment, desires, instincts and mush. Let the conscience of whoever is concerned—yourself, Mr. Chambers, Mr. Baker, Miss Reynolds and all others—tell you what must be done now.
All I can add is that my life is at stake. Also yours.