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22 - Publishers and publishing

from PART III - WRITING AND THE ARTS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2015

Michel W. Pharand
Affiliation:
Queen's University, Kingston, Canada
Brad Kent
Affiliation:
Université Laval, Québec
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Summary

‘I always tell young authors who consult me’, Bernard Shaw wrote to publisher Stanley Unwin in 1929, ‘that publishing is a gamble in which the publisher, who must make one best-seller pay for several duds, must take every advantage he can obtain, and that it is up to the author to take care of himself ’. Shaw spoke from experience: fifty years earlier, few publishers were willing to gamble on his novels, written one per year from 1879 to 1883 with workmanlike regularity. As one rejection letter followed the other, and realising that novels were not his forte, Shaw turned to political activism, journalism, and playwriting. His first play, Widowers’ Houses, begun in 1884, was completed in October 1892 and published by Henry & Co. the following year. It sold poorly. ‘I object to publishers’, Shaw groused to bookseller Frederick H. Evans on 14 August 1895. ‘They combine commercial rascality with artistic touchiness and pettishness, without being either good business men or fine judges of literature. All that is necessary to the production of a book is an author and a bookseller, without any intermediary parasite’.

Although Shaw would perennially berate his publishers for their ineffectuality and incompetence, his close ties with publishing house presidents, directors, managers, and agents would prove crucial to his literary and economic success. In dealing with his five primary publishers – Grant Richards, Constable, and Penguin in England; Brentano's and Dodd, Mead in the United States – Shaw tried to control the fate of his books from proofs to bookshop, and to have the last word on prices, advertising, copyright, and royalties, on typeface, type size, margins, paper, and binding. Given his myriad activities – from writing and lecturing to directing and travelling – Shaw's micro-management of the technicalities and legalities involved in publishing his works is astonishing. He rewrote contracts, outlined more effective advertising strategies, and took precautions to ensure airtight agreements. Publishing was a gamble, but Shaw was no gambler.

Moreover, publishing plays was a risky business. Playtexts were bought mostly as inexpensive keepsakes of performances, and printed drama was overshadowed by triple-decker novels (until 1894, with the introduction of the one-volume, six-shilling format). There were also legal impediments to publishing plays.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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References

Dunlap, Joseph R.The Typographical Shaw: GBS and the Revival of Printing’, Bulletin of the New York Public Library 64 (1960): 534–47. Reprinted in The Shavian 2.3 (February 1961): 4–15.Google Scholar
Kelly, Katherine E. ‘Imprinting the Stage: Shaw and the Publishing Trade, 1883-1903,’ The Cambridge Companion to George Bernard Shaw, ed. Innes, Christopher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 25–54.Google Scholar
Middleton, George. ‘Shaw's Royal Royalties: Dramatist Knew Values of Literary Property Rights – and Protected Them to the Hilt’, Variety (9 January 1957): 31.
Newdigate, B. H.“G.B.S.” and the Typography of His Books’, London Mercury 12 (August 1925): 420.Google Scholar
Shand, James. ‘Author and Printer: G.B.S. and R. & R. C[lark].: 1898–1948’, in Books and Printing: A Treasury for Typophiles, revised edn., ed. Bennett, Paul A.. Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1951. 381–401.Google Scholar
Shaw, Bernard. ‘A Letter to the Author from Bernard Shaw’, in Thring, G. Herbert, The Marketing of Literary Property: Books and Serial Rights (London: Constable, 1933), xi–xxiii. Reprinted in Bernard Shaw: The Complete Prefaces, Volume 3: 1930–1950, ed. Dan H. Laurence and Daniel J. Leary. London: Allen Lane, Penguin, 1997. 131–40.Google Scholar

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  • Publishers and publishing
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.024
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  • Publishers and publishing
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.024
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Publishers and publishing
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.024
Available formats
×