|NORMAN MAILER’s Letters|
- 142 Columbia Heights
- Brooklyn 1, New York
- October 15, 1963
- 142 Columbia Heights
First, a long belated thank you for the cook books, which Beverley received with glee and from which I expect to draw dividends over the years. They are, by the way, damn good books. I read parts of a few of them just for pleasure. They stack up very nicely against Robbe-Grillet.
Much has happened since I saw you and doubtless you’ve had wind of it. I came to the grim conclusion over the summer that I was just not going to be able to do the big book well, considering my financial situation, because although the advance royalties were quite decent I still would have been able to work only two weeks a month on the novel and the other two weeks would have to be given over to getting my pen hired for the best going price, or else giving lectures for fees. These secondary activities are always chancy and they open the danger of using up more effort than is commensurate. So I decided the only way out of my impasse was to dare a bold stroke. I contracted to do a novel in eight installments for Esquire, talked Walter into releasing me for one book, and managed to sell this absolutely unwritten work for an incredible sum to Dial and Dell. This is in the strictest confidence, but they are paying me $125,000 against the hard cover and paperback rights and so of course this solves my difficulties for a year or two, or ideally three or four. Now all I have to do is write a first-rate novel in eight months, and I can tell you this gives me pause. At any rate, I won’t be working on the big novel for about a year (I think I’ll need four months to recuperate from the next eight months) and that was why I told Cy to tell you that I didn’t wish to draw royalty payments yet.
Now as far as this new book goes, I’m quite ready to work up a contract with you right now if you so desire, but I think it might make more sense to wait and see how the book turns out. If it’s a good book I might ask you for a fairly good royalty for it. If it’s a bad one, I obviously could not. But if we wait there at least would be no feeling of A) holding you up or B) giving something away. And you can have my word and my hand across the sea on it that I will certainly give you first and complete crack at the book. In any case I don’t feel there’s a vast rush on this—at least I’m in no hurry. So if you’d like to wait and see what you’re buying, that will be fine with me. Incidentally, to the best of my understanding all this happened very quickly, the paperback rights have already been bought by a subsidiary of Dell who paid a vast price—twenty-five grand, my friend, again in the strictest confidence. What bothers me about this last is that I’ve been very pleased with Corgi for the job they have been doing, but the English paperback rights were tied into this deal and I had reluctantly to go along with it, since Dial and Dell were paying so much for the American rights. I’m going to write a letter to Corgi today so they won’t bounce too hard when they get the bad news.
And when I see you this January—I certainly hope you’ll be making a trip this year—I’ll tell you the story of how the ante got up so high. It’s a rare account of the mating habits of that most curious bird—the American publisher.
Say hello to Diana and my best to you,
An American Dream Expanded.
- Mailer’s letter to Andre Deutsch is the first to lay out the plan of serial publication of a novel in Esquire followed by hard cover publication by Dial Press and soft cover publication by Dell Books. Deutsch was the principal director of Andre Deutsch Limited, Mailer’s British publisher from 1959–1966.
- Mailer married Beverly Bentley, his fourth wife, in December 1963.
- Alain Robbe-Grillet was a French novelist known for the flat, objective descriptions of his novels.
- Walter Minton was the president of Putnam’s, Mailer’s American publisher for four of his books from 1955–1967, but not, as the letter indicates, An American Dream, which was still unnamed at that time.
- This book in the one Mailer promised in Advertisements for Myself, a novel “fired to its fuse by the rumor that once I pointed to the farthest fence and said that within ten years I would try to hit the longest ball ever to go up into the accelerated hurricane air of our American letters.”
- Charles “Cy” Rembar was Mailer’s first cousin, longtime lawyer and sometime literary agent, although it was Mailer’s new agent, Scott Meredith, who helped broker the deal with Dial and Dell after Mailer himself had successfully proposed the idea to Harold Hayes, the editor of Esquire.
- Corgi, an imprint of Transworld Publishers Limited, published the soft cover British edition of Advertisements for Myself in 1963.
- Diana Athill was an editor and director at Andre Deutsch.