Somewhere, in my distant past, I read that publishing requires three ingredients: patience, perseverance, and pluck. I suppose the same could be said for any business, but at least these three prerequisites (and perhaps a fourth – pesos) apply with particular precision to this profession. Success, if it comes at all, comes infrequently and often unexpectedly. I recall that once, when I congratulated Roger Straus on his success with Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, he told me, coldly, “Yes, but it has taken me ten previous books that all lost money to get here.” He could have said the same for John McPhee and Carlos Fuentes. We could probably say the same for the eccentric French novelist Georges Perec, the underappreciated American humorist Will Cuppy, and the persistent artist George Tice, all of whom now have their fifth title in print with this house and an audience that seems to be growing and, to some degree, appreciative.
There is also the ability to just stick with it. I think it was Calvin Coolidge who once observed that “Beyond Money and Genius, Success Depends on Perseverance.” You come to work every day and you do the best you can. Sooner or later, if you have any ability whatever for your life’s calling, the instinct for success overtakes the capacity for failure. You know what to do because you’ve done it again and again.
Pluck, the courage to take a chance, the understanding that rewards are often in inverse proportion to safety and security, and that risk is the price you pay for opportunity is at the heart of all publishing, which for all that might be said about it, is basically a crapshoot. The difference now is that it is a crapshoot in which many more companies, large and very small, are participating and in which many more dollars are at play and at risk. But in what other field can you introduce a new product for a few thousand dollars and protect it for almost an eternity?
As for pesos, when I first set up shop, almost forty years ago, I was told that to do it with a bare bones list and staff would require about $500,000. This was about right, a little low but in the ballpark. With that investment, we have certainly not grown as much as I had hoped or anticipated, but we have survived – and with no additional loans and little additional investment. I doubt – in fact, I know – that it has not gotten any easier, especially for a company that is totally editorially driven and where marketing still means shopping at the grocery store. But as one of my heroes, the late Dr. Edwin Land of Polaroid, once observed, “The strength of the marketing department of any company is always in inverse proportion to the quality of the product.” Here, we concentrate on the quality of the product, and the results, I hope, can be seen in the pages (and the authors and artists) that follow.