November 14, 2012

Book Sales: Now and Then

I'm very pleased already with how Walkin' Lawton has fared on

I wonder sometimes how my grandfather, John Dos Passos, measured his book sales without the easy aid of the internet.

I supposed that by the 1950s, as he entered the final phase of his career, he had enough books in the marketplace for him to measure their sales via royalty checks. Although each individual book of his probably generated only a few checks a year, his entire list of publications numbered around forty. So maybe he expected a couple checks a month at least.

Things probably evened out in terms of royalties for Dos Passos; one book might sell poorly one month, but be balanced out by another title on the rise.

I was a different time then--for authors, editors, the whole industry. I love the biography A. Scott Berg did of Scribner's editor Maxwell Perkins. It's called Max Perkins: Editor of Genius.

Editors like Perkins--per my idealized vision of that era--saw themselves as recruiters and counselors of talent. They genuinely tried to coax the best out of their stable of writers.

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