Posts tagged ‘Agents’

King of the Comics and Agent, Editor, Faaan

Julius Scwartz, 1945.

Julius Scwartz, 1945.

The thing about Julius Schwartz is that, while I myself did many things in that Early Paleozoic Era when there were no jet aircraft or nuclear submarines and people didn’t even have TV sets yet, Julie Schwartz was doing the same things even earlier than I did.

For instance, I joined my first science-fiction fan club, the Brooklyn Science Fiction League, in 1932, but Julie had joined the first science-fiction fan club that ever existed, the New York Scienceers, years before that. I edited my first fanzine (we didn’t call them that yet, just “fan magazine”) when I was twelve. So did Julie. But he was twelve before I was, due to his unfair advantage of having been born four or five years earlier.

And both of us had set ourselves up as literary agents, specializing in trying to sell other writers’ stories to the science-fiction magazines, and both of us coasted from that to actual full-time jobs editing —

Hey, wait! I was going to say that we then coasted into full-time jobs as professional magazine editors. And that did happen for both of us, but I’m getting the facts wrong, because that was the one time that I led the way for Julie.

I broke in in 1939, when I lucked into the job of editing two science-fiction magazines, Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, for Harry Steeger’s giant pulp house of Popular Publications. Julie not only was still making his rounds as a literary agent at that time, I actually bought a number of stories from him for my magazines. He didn’t get the chance to make the jump to an editorial job, with an actual salary, until 1944. Then he was hired as an editor by a company that published comics magazines which ultimately mutated into the mighty DC Comics.

Oh, and there was another significant difference in our careers. By 1944, I wasn’t working for Popular Publications anymore, anyway. A war had come along and it required me to get into uniform so I could give it my full attention. I never did go back to working for Popular Publications, either.

Julie, on the other hand, knew a good thing when he had it. He stayed with DC Comics, in all of its convolutions and growth problems, until the day when — by then as its editor in chief! — he retired.

That was in 1986. However, you mustn’t think that his retirement from editorial duties took Julie off the payroll. Although he didn’t have to worry about deadlines or sales figures any more, but now he was reborn as DC Comics’ “goodwill ambassador to the world of comics and science-fiction fandom.” That meant he was given a fat expense account and charged with showing the DC Comics flag at as many cons and other events as he could find the strength to go to.

Was that what you would call a dream job? For a grown-up faaan who still loved cons and fandom in general, you bet it was! But it wasn’t unwarranted. More than any other single human being, Julie was responsible for returning DC Comics, and indeed the whole comics industry, to the money-making powerhouse status it achieved in the mid-1950s. in what was called “the Silver Age Revolution.”

Continue reading ‘Julie Schwartz’ »

Illustration by Hannes Bok.

I commissioned this illustration from Hannes Bok after seeing his work in 1939.

The Futurians had any number of members who won awards for writing, but we only had one who earned his Hugo by the beauty of the things he drew and painted. That was Wayne Woodard, as his parents called him when he was born in 1914, though he became better known to fans and to art-lovers all over the world by the name he chose for himself when he needed something to sign to his artwork, Hannes Bok.

Most magazine illustrators get their start with the magazines by visiting their offices, a bunch of samples under their arms, and showing them to whoever on the masthead would look at them until somebody showed up who liked the samples well enough to use a few in their magazines. That wasn’t possible for Hannes. He was a West Coast kid and he had no possibility of affording a bus ticket to where the magazines were. But he had a stroke of luck.

When he moved to Los Angeles — which he did early in 1939 — he met a kid fan named Raymond Bradbury — “Ray,” for short — who was almost as badly off as himself. The kid wasn’t aiming to be an artist; his dream was to become a writer, but he was as unsuccessful at it as Hannes was with his art. However. he belonged to a group of people who, like Hannes, were interested in science fiction and fantasy. The group, the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, would later become the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. They met in an upper room of a place called Clifton’s Cafeteria.

LASFS was a welcoming group for Hannes. Among the people he met there was a writer named Emil Petaja, who did get some of his stories published in the prozines and became Hannes’ best and lifelong friend. Another was a fan, or actually a kind of superfan who knew everybody involved in making of sf films, named Forrest J (No Period!) Ackerman.

The big news in science fiction, at least as far as the LASFS was concerned, was what was going to happen in New York that summer. The city was planning a huge show called the New York World’s Fair, and the fans in New York had uncharacteristically abandoned their blood feuding to work together to create a wonderful new project, a World Science Fiction Convention. It was the chance of a lifetime, they reasoned, because they could take advantage of all the foreigners who would come to New York for the Fair. Some fraction of them, they calculated, were sure to be fans who would be likely to stay for this Worldcon.

It was every last LASFS member’s dearest dream to be among them, but for most they knew it was only a dream. The Depression was dwindling fast, but its effects were not altogether over. And LASFS was made up mainly of teenagers with few resources to draw on.

But one resource was Forry Ackerman. A small inheritance had left him with money in the bank, so he was going to the Worldcon himself. So was a female fan named Myrtle R. Jones — or, as you would say it in Forry’s favorite second tongue, Esperanto, “Morojo.” And, when Forry had had a couple weeks of exposure to the woebegone expression on Ray’s face, he figured out a way of solving one problem. He could lend Ray Bradbury the bus fare. So he tapped the bank account a little harder, and pulled out enough cash to lend Ray Bradbury the price of a ticket to New York.

That was not a risk-free investment on Forry’s part, because the only source of income Ray had to pay him back was what he earned as a newsboy, selling papers on the streets of Los Angeles. But it wasn’t just a kindness to Ray. To Forry’s generosity, Ray added on a kindness of his own. He was going to do his best to meet every sf editor in the world, or at least every one who made it to the Worldcon, and while he was introducing them to himself there was no reason — assuming Hannes would lend him some samples to take along — why he couldn’t introduce them to the work of Hannes Bok at the same time.

 
And that is how it all fell out. Ray wheeled and dealt with such good effect at the Worldcon that, if I’m not mistaken, some of Hannes’ samples were actually bought and published by an editor, and several other editors asked him to do work for them.

One of this latter class was me. I met Ray Bradbury, and heard of Hannes Bok, for the first time at (or, more accurately, near — but that’s another story) the Worldcon, and shortly thereafter commissioned a set of illustrations for a story of my own from Hannes. (I still have one of the drawings on the wall of my office at home.)

That expedition worked so well for Hannes that it gave him the funds to make the move to New York, and that too worked pretty well. Well enough, at least, for Hannes to enjoy some years of relative affluence — affluence enough, that is, for him to pay the rent and have enough left over to eat regular meals.

I think he must have been a pleasant person to be around then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around him for most of that period, because I had received an employment offer — the kind of an offer that you just can’t say no to — from the Armed Services of the United States of America.

 
Watch for Part 2, covering how all this worked out, coming soon — provided “soon” is when I write it.

 
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Harry Steeger

Harry Steeger

In the late 1930s, I was a teenage science-fiction fan and would-be writer. I had come to know a number of editors of the existing science-fiction pulps by reinventing myself as a literary agent and visiting them at their offices, offering them the latest stories written by some of my fan friends. The writers were pretty amateurish and my sales of them around zero. Still, the deception wasn’t entirely implausible. A couple dozen of us would-bes had formed ourselves into a fan club called The Futurians. Drawn from that pool, some of my clients were Cyril Kornbluth, Don Wollheim and Isaac Asimov, and they were all already coming fairly close. Close enough, at least, to be taken at least slightly seriously by the editors.

What I noticed about the editors was that they spent much of their time reading science fiction. Well, that’s what I was doing, too, only I was doing it for nothing. I summoned up the nerve to ask one of the friendlier editors, Robert Erisman, if he would like to hire me as an assistant. He didn’t laugh at me. He didn’t even tell me what I am sure was true, that he didn’t have a budget for an assistant or any hope of being given one. But he did tell me that he had heard that some new magazines were coming out from Harry Steeger of Popular Publications, way at the far end of 42nd Street (Erisman’s office was almost as far west as you could go on 42nd Street, in the old green glass McGraw-Hill Building, while Steeger’s, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, was almost as far as you could go east — that is, in either case, without running into a river.). So why didn’t I, then, go see Mr. Steeger and see if he might hire me to edit a science-fiction magazine for him?

So I did, and, wonder of wonders, Mr. Steeger did. He said I could start right away. He cautioned me that these new magazines he was adding would be paying only a half-cent a word, instead of the traditional pulp penny, and to be consistent, all he could pay an editor for them, like me, was $10 a week, which even in 1939 was starvation wages. (I learned later that I wasn’t even the worst-paid of his new hirees. A young man named Costa Carousso was hired at about the same time, and his deal was that he would be paid nothing for his first three months and then raised to $10 a week. Curiously when Carousso, like me, got swept up into the Air Force a couple of years later, they turned us both into weathermen.)

What he didn’t tell me, but I found out for myself soon enough, was that none of the editors got paid very much, but were all expected to write enough stories for themselves to add up to a passably almost decent income. I volunteered the information that I would prefer to do my own typing and there, too, he managed not to laugh in my face, since that was what all the editors did. He simply walked into an unused office, poached a typewriter off its desk, carried it a few yards down the stem of the great T the offices were laid out in, set it down on that desk and said, “This will be your office. My secretary, Peggy Graves, will come to see you tomorrow and answer any questions you may have, Good luck.” And he walked back to his own office, leaving me to enjoy my very own desk, in my very own office in my very own employer’s publishing company.

Would you believe it, I was 19 years old and actually a professional editor.

(There is one memory from that day that still rankles a bit. All this had taken place on a Thursday, almost all of which I spent in the Popular office. The next day was Friday, which I spent working there. When, the following Friday, Peggy marched through the offices, depositing a paycheck on everyone’s desk, mine was for the five days of that week, with nothing for the Friday and most of Thursday of the week preceding. I contend that I am owed 1-1/2 days pay, or $3, for that week, that I have been owed it now for the better part of a century, and that the debt should have been earning, and compounding, interest all these years. Only I don’t know who to send the bill to.)

 
More to come.

 
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Part 4 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
 

The Space Merchants

Bester: I’m curious, Fred. Where did you get the idea for The Space Merchants?

Pohl: The Space Merchants has a long history. During World War II, I was with the American Air Force in Italy. I got a little homesick, and I’d brought my typewriter with me. I’d carried that damn thing all over World War II hoping some time to find a use for it and I did.

I thought I’d write a novel about New York City to make me feel a little better. And the most exciting thing I could think of to write about in New York City was the advertising business — which was a glamorous sort of thing —-and I wrote this novel for some 300 pages or so, called For Some We Loved. It’s a quotation from Omar Khayyam. I was 23 years old, what did I know?

And then the war was over and I got back home, and I looked at the novel and perceived there was something wrong with it. What was wrong with it was that I didn’t know anything about the advertising business, and I had written this whole novel that dealt with it. But I knew how to solve that problem. I looked in the Sunday New York Times, classified advertising section, and I saw three or four help-wanted ads for advertising copywriters. I’d never been an advertising copywriter, but it looked easy. So I answered a couple of the ads and one of them hired me, and I spent a couple of years there.

Bester: What agency was it, Fred?

Pohl: A little tiny thing called Thwing & Altman, mostly book accounts. We did the Dollar Book Club and the Literary Guild and William Wise. I got to be pretty good at writing advertising.

And, at some point during those years, I had a summer place in upstate New York looking out over a lake with a big fireplace, and I had my manuscript of my novel For Some We Loved with me, and one night, I began to read it in front of the fireplace and as I read each page, I tossed them in the fire one by one.

Bester: Oh, Fred, no! That’s terrible.

Pohl: It was awful. The concept was painful … but the novel itself was agonizing. I had no choice.

So here I had all this knowledge of advertising and no longer had a book to put it in. Also Fred Wakeman had come out with The Hucksters by then, so it was no longer really a fresh idea for a regular mainstream novel. Then it occurred to me to make a science-fiction novel about advertising, and I began tentatively putting words on paper — a little bit at a time, because by then I had a full-time job running a literary agency. And when I had put about 20,000 words on paper over about a year or two, I showed it to Horace Gold.

Bester: What did Horace have to say?

Pohl: He said, “I am now running Alfie Bester’s The Demolished Man—”

Bester: Leave me out of this, will you?

Pohl: I swear to God, that was what he said. And: “I haven’t got anything to follow it up with. There’s nothing else coming in that looks as if it’ll stand up to The Demolished Man. So I’m going to start with the first installment now, and by next Tuesday please have the second and the third.”

And I said, “There’s no way I can do that. I have a full-time job with the agency.”

And he said, “I don’t care whether you can do it or not, the printers will be waiting.”

So I went back to my home in New Jersey where my old friend Cyril Kornbluth, with whom I’d written a lot of stories before, was staying with me. He read over the part I’d written, the first third or so and said, “Yeah, yeah, we can do something with that.” So he rewrote that and added some, and I rewrote that and added some, and we barely got it into print, but actually the first part was being set before the last was written.

Bester: My God, you were living dangerously, Fred!

Pohl: I had nothing to lose. It was Horace’s problem!

Bester: Whose title was it — Horace’s or yours?

Pohl: I called it something ridiculous like “Fall Campaign,” and Horace put “Gravy Planet” on it.

There was a big book boom in science fiction at the time, all sorts of publishers deciding to bring it out in hardcovers. So, I thought, what the hell, I’ll sell it as a book, and I was a literary agent, and I knew every publisher and editor in New York, especially the ones that dealt in science fiction — a lot of them were very good friends of mine. So I took it off to one, and I said, “Here, print this. It’s pretty good stuff,” and he read it and gave it back and said, “No, that’s not really what I meant at all!”

And I said, “So much for you,” and I took it to the next one. And it was rejected by every publisher in America who then had a science-fiction line.

Bester: So was The Demolished Man, sir! It was bounced by everybody.

Pohl: Well, I think it’s the same story.

So, there was no publisher left to offer it to. Then Ian Ballantine started up his own company, and he was so inexperienced as a publisher that he didn’t know this was unpublishable. So he published it! You know, it’s been translated into 45 languages now.

Bester: It shows you, the greatest books in the world can be bounced by anybody. Look at Fred’s! The greatest science fiction novel of all time. Bounced by everybody! It’s preposterous!

 
To be continued.

 
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Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester

When the Air Force decided they wouldn’t need my services in order to accomplish the defeat of Japan — the reason for that being that Japan, discouraged by the simultaneous American atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Stalin’s last-minute invasion of their northern front, had finally given its struggle in World War II and surrendered — they sent me home to New York City. There I rented an apartment in Greenwich Village and, for reasons connected with a book I was trying to write, went looking for a job in the advertising business.

I answered three help-wanted ads in the Sunday Times employment section. One of them, a small Madison Avenue advertising agency, Thwing & Altman, took me on as a copywriter.

It didn’t pay as well as I had thought a Mad Ave. advertising job would, but otherwise it was a likable enough job. Its good features included location. Within the perimeter of a circle with a ten-block radius there were literally hundreds of quite good restaurants where I could get a lunch of almost any school and ethnicity. I quickly learned that, even with all that variety available, there were a handful that I kept returning to, and one of those was in the lobby of the Columbia radio (not yet TV) network’s then New York headquarters, the present skyscraper not yet having been built. The restaurant was frequently used by people from the network, and one of the reasons I liked it was that every once in a while I would run into Alfie Bester, also looking to grab a lunch there, and we would have a nice meal together, spiced with shop talk.

 
The thing to remember about the career of Alfred J. Bester is that he was first and foremost a money writer. He had the talent to do that well. He could write almost anything — science-fiction stories, comics, radio-serial scripts, you name it, and he could do them all at the top of his form — and what particular kind of thing he did write, depending on how the vagaries of the market fluctuated at any given moment, was whichever one of them was paying the most dollars per hour of punching typewriter keys.

Alfie had begun writing science fiction, back in the ’30s, because he had a number of friends — including Horace L. Gold and Mort Weisinger — who worked as editors at Standard Magazines, publishers of, among many other pulps, the magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories. They coached him in the writing of sf, and bought his practice stories. (Well, they didn’t buy all of them. A very few they rejected, and of those I bought one or two when, as a teenage editor, I was editing Astonishing and Super Science Stories).

Then Alfie discovered that comics were paying better than sf just then, so he tried his luck at comics, discovered that they were as easy to write as sf — for him — and switched his personal production line to comics.

Then he got a tip from his wife, Rolly, that changed everything.

Continue reading ‘Alfie’ »

Hal Clement, right, hands me the Skylark Award at Boskone 2 in 1966. The con chairman, Dave Vanderwerf, looks on.

Hal Clement, right, hands me the Skylark Award at Boskone 2 in 1966. The con chairman, Dave Vanderwerf, looks on.

Hal Clement was a nearly ideal client Almost everything he wrote was a sure sale.

The only real problem was that Hal (whose real name was Harry C. Stubbs) found it almost impossible to say no to a publishing-minded friend. He had written a really good novel called Mission of Gravity, but unfortunately, before I came on the scene, Harry had given it to the semi-pro sf book publishing company Shasta Publishers as part of a complex package deal intended to include a paperback and assorted other editions. Unfortunately, as happened with a number of the semi-pros, problems intervened, and the whole project came to shuddering stop.

Meanwhile Hal’s fine novel, perhaps the best he ever wrote, was lingering in hyperspace, waiting for some means to be devised so that readers could at last enjoy it.

Cleaning up log-jams of this sort is one of the most important duties of a literary agent. I went to work on the problem and before long had a release from Harry’s commitments to Shasta and the several other publishers involved in the deal, thus freeing me to send it where I had always known it belonged for its first appearance — that is as a serial in Astounding, John Campbell’s magazine.

Who promptly rejected it.

What Campbell said in his letter of rejection was something like, “wonderful story, Fred, but as you see it simply doesn’t divide well into three installments.”

That brings us directly to the second most important part of an agent’s duties, which is namely to prevent editors from making total fools of themselves. So I didn’t argue with John. I didn’t say anything at all to him. I just put the manuscript in the bottom drawer of my desk for a few weeks. Then I took it out and looked at it.

It was some 300 pages long. I turned to page 100 and hunted around until I found something that could be construed as a cliffhanger, and I marked that “Part 2.” I did the same on page 200, marking that one “Part 3,” and then I gave the ms. to my secretary, instructing her to retype three or four pages before and after those pages, and when she had done that I sent it back to John with a little note.

I didn’t lie to him in the note. I hardly ever lied to an editor, except when absolutely necessary. I just said, “How do you like it now?” And he sent back a check, and it was just about the best-liked serial he ever printed.

 
When I stopped being an agent, Harry and I remained good friends. Actually, we ran into each other just about as often as before, because both Harry and I enjoyed most of the East Coast’s annual cons and were generally invited to them. The best feature of them, in my view, was Harry’s every-con lecture on what was new in astronomy.

Between Harry’s talks and Isaac Asimov’s once-a-month column in F&SF, I considered myself the most scientifically up-to-date layman in Red Bank, New Jersey. Would they both were with us still.

 
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Hal Clement: Major Harry Stubbs