Friday, September 07, 2012

Those Were the Days

The summer holidays are over, school has started, and it is time to start blogging again. There's a lot I want to blog about, and it'll take me a while to catch up, but I'll start with the Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters.I read these avidly at least twenty years ago and have dipped into them occasionally since then. It is the correspondence between Rupert Hart-Davis, publisher and all round man of letters, and George Lyttelton, who had taught him at Eton and was now retired. The range of literary reference is immense and that is what I most like about them. And yet in spite of that, I have never been quite sure that I really feel sympathetic towards Rupert Hart-Davis and I was musing on why that was - something overly clubbish? a bit stuffy and reactionary? - when I came across this. Hart-Davis reads the manuscript of 'a short novel written in English by a Hungarian woman about a consumptives' home in Hungary. Despite these disadvantages it has quality and I think I will publish it, though it won't sell.' Yes, you read that correctly: 'I think I will publish it, THOUGH IT WON'T SELL.' When I read this, I felt I could forgive him almost anything. This was in 1955.It is hard to imagine any publisher, except perhaps the smallest of independents, taking that view these days, when in mainstream publishing the bottom line is everything, a book won't be acquired unless the marketing department like it, and hitherto successful authors who have made money for their publishers are dropped, not because their last book didn't sell, but because it didn't sell quite enough. A lot of good writers are turning to self-publishing these days and no wonder.


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