- Jack London's London Publisher
In January 1911, Jack London was not a happy author. He was on the verge of tearing up his publishing contract with an English firm that had been issuing editions of his books for Great Britain and the "Colonies," primarily Australia and New Zealand. As we know from his letters and semi-autobiographical novels such as Martin Eden (1909), London took a passionate interest in his own business affairs, and his quarrels over royalties and publishing schedules were intense and sometimes abusive. Sounding a lot like Martin Eden, victim of the publishing elite, London called his English publisher a "cad, snob, bounder, four-flusher, hog" and a "Petticoat Lane huckster," and warned, "Personally, my feeling is, that if ever I should meet you, I should pull your nose."1
By 1911 Jack London was at the top of his form, enjoying worldwide acclaim as the author of The Call of the Wild and White Fang, among other titles. He was America's first millionaire novelist, with a prodigious output of fiction and non-fiction in book, newspaper, and magazine form. When it came to publishing, he was a study in contrasts, as anxious to take direction as he was to strike out on his own and make personal and often impulsive decisions (see Wilson 92-112). The English-language market overseas was a lucrative one, and London was eager, when possible, for simultaneous publication of his books in the United States and abroad. He also sought to replicate the arrangement he had in the U.S. where one firm, the Macmillan Company, handled publication of all his works, and whose president, George P. Brett, was both mentor and friend.
What happened in 1911 in Britain is the subject of this article. Eight months after London's initial outburst, he abandoned the larger and more established publishing firms for a relatively new and small house that would, in the end, suit him perfectly: Mills & Boon, Limited. "I haven't a word of complaint to make," London told Mills & Boon in 1914, "but I do have many hearty words of thanks."2 [End Page 1]
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London's publishing odyssey overseas reads like an adventure story, filled with the Sturm und Drang that permeated his personal life. London sought the prestige and revenues that British publication would bring. At the same time, he was restless and impatient, craved attention and validation, was desperate for money, and was frustrated at the slower pace of publication in Britain, compared to America. London went through two literary agents and a dozen publishers before he found a kindred spirit in Mills & Boon. The London-Mills & Boon relationship would prove innovative, testing marketing techniques and stunts with this star author that would become standard practice among publishers after World War I, when the commercialization of the publishing industry coincided with the rise of the first truly "mass" market. Mills & Boon catered to London's every whim as it ingeniously established a successful "brand" that sold a great number of books.
London's five years with Mills & Boon were historic, and his combative nature was tamed. Had he not died prematurely in 1916, as his star was burning brightest, we can only speculate what might have been, for him and for his lucky overseas publisher.
Playing the Field
It is likely that Jack London followed the lead of other American authors in using his American publisher, Macmillan, for advice in pursuing publication overseas, particularly in Britain. Macmillan, founded in London in 1843, opened its American branch in 1869. By the turn of the century, the companies were run independently but kept close ties. Macmillan U.S.A. also published editions of Jack London's works in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India.
But publishing in Britain was very different from America, in terms of scale and organization. In Britain, the Net Book Agreement, introduced in 1900, prevented pricing wars between booksellers by forbidding the sale of any new book at less...