Letter to Philip Graham (publisher of the Washington Post)
December 22, 1952
I'm sorry but I don't think any of your points are valid. Put it at its simplest: what happens if I write to you and say I believe like hell in the value of stirring up interest in books and since the Post is known for its service to culture it ought to stir up interest in books by giving my new one a quarter of a page of display space without charge to me?
All right, you show a deficit on the luncheon. What of it? The whole thing is promotional institutional advertising for the Post. Nobody can talk about it without talking about the Post, you advertise it in your own columns and you're advertising the Post some more. Well, if you want the services of an advertising agency, a billboard, a copy writer, or a press agent, you expect to pay for them. You don't ask them to contribute their services for the love of either culture or the Post. Why ask a writer to?
All right, you don't solicit ads from the publishers, but the booksellers think these occasions are just wonderful and you do solicit ads from the booksellers. Furthermore, if you can build the Post's book page up sufficiently, and these luncheons are maybe a promising way to do so, you will solicit ads from the publishers.
I can tell you a better way. Pay enough for reviews so that you can get good reviewers and devote enough space to the enterprise for them to discuss books at decent length.
I also believe that it does people some good to have some association with books. But my proper activity in regard to that belief is writing books for them to associate with. Nobody is associating with books when he, or rather she, comes to look at and listen to me. More likely, it works out the other way. Have you read DeVoto's new book? No, but I heard him at the Post's luncheon the other day.
I don't run a gas station or a shoe store that goes on making money for me when I'm out of town. I'm a professional writer and any time I take off from the job is a dead loss. I lose at the very least two days if I go to Washington to do the stunt, and the habits and reflexes of writing are such that I'm lucky if it doesn't amount in the end to four days. If I happen to be writing a piece for Woman's Day, which represents the median of the fees paid me, two days means four hundred bucks.
Why don't you set up a book luncheon at which three teachers of English in the Washington grade schools talk about books? By and large they'll talk about them just as well as three writers will. You don't because my name has got publicity value. Sure, that's why I'm in Colston Leigh's stable. Apply to Colston Leigh and he'll say, for a one-shot job, whether it's ten minutes or an hour long, I get five hundred bucks for DeVoto.
Look, I used to be a newspaperman and I'm still a reporter. I know about all these benevolent public services -- fresh air funds, hundred neediest families, gold gloves tournaments, and whatnot. They're public spirited as all hell but the idea is to sell papers. Any names that can be got to commend them, appear at them, or do some work for them will be just fine. But the staff you assign to run them get paid their regular salaries and if any union labor is involved it gets union scale. Tell a carpenter, a stage hand, or one of your own staff that he ought to contribute his service gratis just because people ought to have some association with books, and see what he says.
What do you think about the radio programs that ask me to appear on them free of charge?
I'm willing to put it on a barter basis. Send me a schedule of your advertising rates. Then the next time you set up one of these luncheons I'll figure out the cost to me in time and expenses and I'll trade you even up and write the copy for my ad. Sure, I have no love of culture. I can't afford to have any. I know damned well that the Post can't afford to, either.