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Thursday, April 09, 2015

SUMMA FARRAR, STRAUS & ROLOFF

THIS IS A SUMMARY ACCOUNT OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY ONCE EMPLOYER FARRAR, STRAUS. 
THERE ARE POSTED A NUMBER OF LETTERS ASKING F.S.G. & ROGER STRAUS SUCCESSORS, AND INHERITORS TO HONOR A CONTRACT I DREW WITH THE FIRM IN 1966. 

Sometimes you get a job by not asking for it. As a matter of fact, I would never have had the temerity in 1966 to ask Roger Straus for a job. FSG was far too august a firm, its list far too intimidating - especially the most impressive American poet, Robert Lowell, whose work I then placed with Suhrkamp. I happened by as the Suhrkamp scout, and then got a call from Roger Straus.
I signed our contract, which I might have shown to my agent, Max Becker. The contract called for participation on my part once a book had sold in excess of 5,000 copies,
and in the event of mass paperback and book club sales of 2 %.
I managed to talk my new colleagues into doing Nossack's THE IMPOSSIBLE PROOF. Moreover, I brought with me three immediately publishable Hesse titles, Ursule Molinari's translation of NARCISS & GOLDMUND and mine of PETER CAMENZIND & BENEATH THE WHEEL,
and we signed a ten-book Hesse contract with Suhrkamp Verlag. I you might say was on my way.

F.S.G seemed to be at a friendly shop, a darling Margaret Nicholson, author of book on linguistic usage, was doing rights, a sweet Bob Wolforth was the comptroller, Giroux was a bit forbidding in his banker's suit, Roger had an elegant and smart secretary in Peggy Miller, the one editor I hit if off with, Henry Robbins, who edited Tom Wolfe & Donald Barthelme, left soon for Simon & Schuster. There were several gay editors, Roger it turned out despised gays, but not lording it over them – overall FSG
struck waif me as a pretty homey place, and that Dorothea Straus,
according to Boris Kaschka's HOTHOUSE
would later describe it as a sexual sewer, was not something I became aware of at the locus. However, traveling with Roger to the Frankfurt Bookfair & staying at the same hotel I realized that his tastes ran in the direction of heterosexual hardcore.

My third author was Nelly Sachs. I happened to have the option on Nelly Sachs at the time that one fine morning in Fall 1966, on waking, the NY Times greeted me with the news of the award. I called Roger and promised to translate a half dozen poems for the next editorial meeting. Then I hired Michael Hamburger and Ruth and Mathew Mead to translate together with me. For me the translation of 65 of those poems was my mourning work and it wiped me out emotionally, which is why I did not participate in the 2ndvolume that FSG published.
Things therefore went well initially. All first ten Hese titles were sold to Bantam Books for handsome advances, NARCISS for $ 500,000. CAMENZIND and BENEATH THE WHEEL for 250,000 however I received accounting and the agreed royalties only on the first five of the first ten book contract I just discovered. I recall buying a Napoleon style raincoat in Paris and turning it over to author Peter Handke in 1971 when he was in need and was indeed already an early and future conqueror and how we (his wife and buddy Kolleritch of Short Letter Long Farewell fame, and I) were amused how well the coat suited him and how excellently he struck the emblematic pose!
    At the same time that I made the so surprising discovery of the halving of the percentage in Spring 2014 and then realized that Farrar, Straus had not paid me the royalties due under my 1966 agreement on the second 
    five titles of the first ten book Hesse contract, all published in the first half of the 1970s and all sold to Bantam mass paperback for very large advances in which I was meant to participate, I had been bugging Roger Straus, for quite some time, since 1994 to be precise, pay up under the second ten book contract.
    First ten book titles on which I have never been paid my share.
  • Pictor's Metamorphoses: And Other Fantasies
    Hours in the Garden and Other Poems: A Bilingual Edition (English and German Edition)
  • Knulp: Three Tales from the Life of Knulp
  • Strange News from Another Star and Other Tales by Hermann Hesse.
  •  If the War Goes on: Reflections on War and Politics by Hermann Hesse (Jun 1971)

  • The fact that I made this discovery - (while  attempting off and on for the past twenty years to get Farrar Straus to live up to our agreement with respect to the second ten book Hesse contract which I negotiated in 1969 while still in their employ, and which ten titles I selected) as well as a number of other titles (*) - that kind of  unawareness on my part shows, on the one hand, a certain indifference or nonchalance as long as my income suffices for someone who about 30 years ago chose to work exclusively as a writer and scholar and occasional translator. I had seen and experienced quite enough during my twenty-five years in New York. That is, it manifests a peculiarity of editors who regard themselves as servants of their betters, the authors, and who far too often think too little of themselves. Genuegsam
  •  is the German word and although the word has a certain social acceptability it does not really signify a happy state of being, or how anyone ought to be. Turns out that it is self-destructive not to be greedy. For one thing, these servants become far too easy to exploit. So how did this come about?
  • In 1969 Roger Straus and I negotiated a second 10 book contract with Suhrkamp, the selection being mine, especially keen I was on Hesse letters many of which advised those who had approached him to find someone but not him as a leader preferably to become inner-directed (I made a selection which FSG eventually published with Ted Ziolkowski as outside editor). Since I knew of F.S.G.'s reluctance to commit huge amounts to advances I managed to get both parties to come together at the sum of $ 5,000 per title on signing, that is, a total of $ 50,000; and this was the one time I had lunch at the Four Seasons - the Suhrkamp New York agent, whom I had no idea I might replace on her resigning the account, was the Berliner Joan Daves, whom I much liked for her 30s stylishness, and whose husband Ashton I would later use as translator for Adorno as editor at Continuum Books, and I can’t say I ever paid attention or noticed that Roger was a chintzy tipper. I myself, having had barista-type jobs, make sure to tip even when broke.

  • The first Hesse contract ran through Joan, and the second, then, was meant to run through Lantz-Donadio when I became Suhrkamp agent through that agency, but the contract never did – and the reason it was so delayed had to do with Dr. Unseld renegotiating the terms for mass paperback sales and running into objections, of course, on the part of Roger Straus – (ah the sacredness of a contract!)  And so it instead ran through Kurt Bernheim after the agency Lantz-Donado and I had resigned the account in 1971, in part for Dr. Unseld’s violation of his contractual agreements with Farrar, Straus of which he did not consult with his agents – the most experienced and sophisticated Robert Lantz would certainly have advised against doing so, especially in Unseld’s bull-in-the-china-shop manner.
  • Roger Straus, on the Bull  holding him up (the bone of contention was the mass paperback income split) came crying to me, and didn’t seem to believe that neither I nor Robbie (as Lantz was known) or Candida had the faintest. And it was I who had been instrumental in the introductions back in 1966, when, as Suhrkamp scout I had stopped by Farrar, Straus to express my interest in their list for Suhrkamp and Roger Cherrypicker Straus had subsequently offered me a job at a firm that I thought far too august to approach.

  • Within the year of representing Suhrkamp, as of 1969, I had a call from Roger Straus saying I ought not to double-dip the second Hesse contract. After consulting with Candida Donadio (who agreed with Straus if only to please a publisher he sought to remain on the best of possible terms with for the mother hen’s authors), I did so, it seemed to be an ethical matter, even though I realized that Roger was also saving himself his minute royalties to me who found himself supporting his job representing Suhrkamp - fulltime it turned out instead of the anticipated half-time @ 125 dollars per week - with handsome royalty income from the first five titles of the first ten book Hesse contract! Hesse, all around manna it appears wherever he manifests himself! And then elicits greed! And I, not entirely naïve to the articulateness of money, desisted the temptation to go to Bantam Books and sell the second ten book contract for a million or more and not only fund my unwanted agentship but perhaps edit them myself at a great salaire – no, I liked Farrar, Straus too much for that, and the idea did not seem to have occurred to the needy Suhrkamp or the greedy Hesse heirs who were prodding Unseld.

However, the 2nd 10 book Hesse contract was not yet signed and then never ran through Lantz-Donadio, and so I did not even manage to dip once. When I called Roger Straus' attention to that state of affairs once back from Mexico in mid-90s he refused to answer, as has his successor Jonathan Galassi or Holzbrinck the new owner, nor John Sargent the head of Macmillan U.S.A. Imagine that! I bring a total of what is now fifty books to Farrar, Straus, they make millions, Roger Straus sells the firm for $ 30 million – and one thirtieth of that is certainly the VAT I added, and they cannot respond! Perhaps Jonathan Galassi, so heavily promoted by Roger Straus, over his own son, is just as clever and crooked as his mentor.
At the same time that Roger wanted me not to “double-dip” (in 1970) Roger wanted to take a kind of snapshot of where we were at in midstream with a lot of titles still in the pipeline, and so we did. It mentioned all the books on which I was then earning my participation  (but the Nelly Sachs on which I actually deserved  greater participation than any other considering the amount of work involved in putting OH THE CHIMNEYS together, translating 65 of the poems myself. However, Roger at one point said "we don't pay on poetry translation", typical as we now know of his fundamental not just chintzy- but crookedness), yet there seemed no need to specify the various other titles in the pipeline, such as the second set of five Hesse titles from the first ten book contract, the second volume of Handke plays (RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE AND OTHER PLAYS) all but They Are Dying out I had already translated (the first was the near best-selling then Kaspar & Other Plays), or published titles such as H. E. Nossack’s
The Impossible Proof or Christa Wolf’s Thinking about Christa T. which I had acquired and whose translations I had edited but which had not earned out for me yet, or so I was told.

Leaving FSG in 1969 with so many titles that I had been instrumental in acquiring still to be publishes indeed meant leaving as it were mid-pipeline. One question that was never addressed was that of authors who subsequently published numerous books through that firm, of which there was one, Peter Handke, was especially productive and remunerative.

  • It now looks to me, with FSG failing to account to me over these many years, as though this "snapshot" was a trick of Roger's (typical it turns out) to make the then status a permanent one and try to get out of the commitments of the original agreement. Crude and brutal looking Roger Straus, it then turned out, was a man who, while he deceived and distracted you up front, was tricky enough to filch the wallet out of your back pocket. There are other, grosser, analogies.

  • I must say that at that time I could not have conceived of someone who was making millions off treasures I had brought him screwing you in that fashion; meanwhile, more experienced, it turns out not to be not that an unusual event. Roger screwed Bob Giroux who brought him not only great authors but also the kind of window dressing, the kind of suit, Roger had needed since the beginning when he affixed the name of a first rate editor, John Farrar, who was down and out, to the firm's name, first. Cudahy, it ctd. like that. There I sat at editorial meeting and Robert Giroux, like a banker in his suit, was suffering, it turns out, to the extent that the thought of Roger made him desist from writing a history of the firm. And where could he go with his great authors after having left the other half at Harcourt, Brace?

  • Over the lifetime of a well-selling title that one percent or two can sure add up! Roger was looking ahead, saving small tips for the decades. And did so knowing he was always on the verge of bankruptcy.
  • I lost hundreds of thousand by agreeing to be agreeable, obliging, and not pointing out the above-mentioned truth. It took analysis to make me aware of that quality.

  • Had I been warned about Straus in any way, aside that I realized the guy was a brute who did not belong in literary publishing yet meanwhile had a great list and Bob Giroux's authors, great window dressing ever since he took poor beat-up John Farrar's name and added it to his in 1947? Had I had any warning that something might be seriously amiss aside the arbitrary decision regarding the Nelly Sachs volume? Actually I had. I'd gotten to know Cecil Hemley the founder of Noonday Press which paperback line Cecil sold to Roger Straus, about the time I went to work for F.S.G., but independently of Roger, I think via Bryn Mawr classmate Paula Diamond who worked for Farrar, Straus around that time??

  • I did not ask Cecil how he had been screwed, and Cecil's son, a fine writer did not know - I contacted him to find out whether Cecil, who died in 1966 while his son was eight years old, might have made his unhappiness with Roger part of family lore. It's not hard to know why Straus was so chintzy and foresightful of minute royalty payments – Farrar, Straus if you are to believe Boris Kachka's account of what Dorothea Straus told him was skating at the verge of bankruptcy all those years -
    yet with an estate in Purchase, a yellow convertible Mercedes (with which my yellow Firebird nearly once collided at the intersection of Park Avenue where the traffic shoots out from the overhead), and his many thousand dollar suits that the controversy adverse Roger never wanted to get any egg on while alive - he may have just been putting up a good front if we are to believe what his wife Dorothea says about the firm’s finances, and in that respect was like a lot of the publishers who lived from one list to the next until the great majority of them were absorbed by one or the other conglomerate – owned by the shark of sharks. Roger Straus may have worried about egg on his suits, a shame there is no hell where he might suffer the infamy of the subsequent shower of egg salad!
  • Amazing in retrospect that the New York Times, via reporter Henry Raymond, kept treating Roger as a kind of oracle of New York publishing! That Roger Straus is bruited to have been a great publisher is only possible in the U.S. He never made anything of Noonday paperback line or of Hill & Wang, he kept absorbing small independents but they failed to flourish. He ruined the flourishing publication history of Handke in this country which I recount not only in the above link but also here;

  • He permitted my nemesis, Michael DiCapua (who appears to have resented that my first two authors were Nobel Prize winners and that I was some kind of interloper golden boy) to kill some of my best projects, e.g. an Adorno reader that it took a year to fashion with Adorno prior to his death in 1969 and for which Susan Sontag was going to write the introduction – what a real differenc such an event would have made at that time! Killed by an utter twerp, childrens books editor, who was even editor in chief at the time I did what Handke then felt was the best translation he had seen to date, of his Walk About the Villages. A twerp and ass-licking stiletto man as the now city tomcat thinks of him!

  • Handke once commented how unlucky I seemed to be, you can’t be but half lucky at best if you end up in business with the likes of Roger Straus, a dofus like Harold McGraw, Werner Linz and my Urizen Books partners. Not that I did not work for fine people in publishing, Sam Lawrence, Bill Koshland, George Braziller, or nearly but then not as we had planned, Arthur Rosenthal. About the only really good thing that Straus then did was promote Jonathan Galassi where the firm strikes me as far superior to what it had been; although it surprises the hell out of me that Galassi - fellow poet, translator, scholar - fails to respond to me in this matter, but goes into the no-response shell that I suppose the legal Beagles prescribe in situations of this kind. It is so easy to repair some of this damage, and as indicated above I am nonchalant in the matter as long as I get by, which I am not at age 79 on a yearly income of approximately 8 thousand dollars, and if it weren’t for a friend who puts me up I’d be out on the street; and can't get my teeth fixed.

  • Of course, it is also a matter of principle, and that the principle meanwhile seems not to impress Jonathan Galassi or the other powers at Holzbrinck, speaks not well for them – I don’t know Jonathan Galassi, perhaps he turns out to be a chip of the Straus block and that is why Roger promoted him as he did.
  •   
  • There are terms on which I would settle, I imagine that that sum is to be found at the cost which FSG/ Holzbrinck incurs by not paying up, although I expect the cost is simply that of keeping one of their house beagles busy with this case as compared to another. Consigliere tell me that this is an instance where one could challenge the statute of limitations! However, all the monies in such a protracted process would go, guess? Thus one thing I can do is make sure that the world knows what Farrar, Straus and Jonathan Galassi are like.

  • From here I have to pay $ 10 K just to file the suit in Federal Court, a sum I have not had in my account for more than ten years; although NY State court would be the way to go since the contract was drawn and executed there. 

  •  And here a link to the list of venues and people who have stolen either my name or money from me in the course of playwriting - strictly as background material for a further insight into the Wild West.
  •  http://artscritic.blogspot.com/2013/08/mis-attribution-of-translation-credits.html
  • 1)
  • Dear Victor: (who does the royalty statements for FSG/ MacMillan
  • Having occasion to take a careful look at the recent royalty statements that FSG/Macmillan/Holzbrinck rendered to me I notice that although the royalty rate of 1% for my participation in NARCISSUS & GOLDMUND is correct, elsewhere, as for BENEATH THE WHEEL, it has been reduced to 1/2 of 1 %. Question is, how long has this been going on, and if I cannot trust the extraordinarily fine print there, why should I trust the sales figures? 

  • I say so with special emphasis since under my original agreement I just discovered I have never been paid - in all these 40+ years - for the second five books of the first 10 book Handke contact, all of which, also, were sold to Bantam Books for mass publication at extremely handsome rates. $ 500,000 for NARCISS and $ 250,000 for WHEEL, CAMENZIND and the others, in which I also participated at 1%. These five books I have not been paid for are:*
  • Pictor's Metamorphoses: And Other Fantasies
    Hours in the Garden and Other Poems: A Bilingual Edition (English and German Edition)
  • Knulp: Three Tales from the Life of Knulp
  • Strange News from Another Star and Other Tales by Hermann Hesse.
  •  If the War Goes on: Reflections on War and Politics by Hermann Hesse (Jun 1971)\

  •  Now we come to two other matters that are absent from your royalty statements:

  • 1) An accounting for the titles on the 2nd 10 book Hesse contract with Suhrkamp & 
  • 2) An accounting for the 18 Handke titles on which I ought to participate under the original agreement if they have sold more than 5,000 copies.

  • About the 2nd 10 book contract there is this to be said.
  • Incidentally or not, of the total of 20 Hesse titles I brought to Farrar, Straus I am presently receiving accounting on income generated by five of them, which are listed as in print at the FSG/Macmillan site, as are eight (8) others, which leaves 7 important titles unaccounted for - are they out of print or do they generate income via their various once subsidiary licensings?

  • Hoping all is well with you in the city of thieves, or shall I be kinder as I watch my crows steal from each other, and call it city of magpies?
  • Michael Roloff
  • 2)
  • About 1994, Kurt Bernheim, my successor as Suhrkamp agent in New York, informed me that the famous second ten book contract ran over him. My various letters to Roger Straus to remind him that I had withdrawn because he asked me not to double-dip went unanswered. If I am not paid I cannot pay, that cascade is very simple indeed. The NY Times obituary of Kurt Bernheim astonishingly has dear Kurt introducing Hesse & Handke into the U.S., who long before he inherited the Suhrkamp representation had drawn contracts through other agents in this country.
  •   Michael Roloff, April 2015
=====================
DECEMBER 2015
OPEN LETTER TO ROGER STRAUS III

Dear Rog,
I have made a variety of attempts to persuade your father’s successors to make good on the contract I drew with him in 1966 that called for 1 % participation of mine on income exceeding a sale of 5,000 copies, as well as from mass paperback sales. However, to no avail. Jonathan Galassi does not even respond to letters asking why, e.g. this minimal royalty is being arbitrarily halved, as it has been on occasion, or why I don’t receive royalties on titles that I ought to; nor does Victor Wernicki, the McMillan fellow in charge of royalty payments for the now Holzbrink U.S. conglomerate.
for all this]

 As I have pointed out repeatedly, trying to be as ethical as I possibly could, I agreed to forego my income from the second ten book Hesse contract when your father called me at Lantz, Donadio in 1970 - he claimed I was “double-dipping”, that is, deriving income from the same source though at different locations. Candida agreed with him. It ultimately turned out that I never even single-dipped, since the second Hesse ten book contract was ultimately transacted through my successor as Suhrkamp agent, Kurt Bernheim.




I pointed out as much to your father in correspondence during the 90s, while he was still alive, he never even deigned to reply – and if he had replied what, after all, could he have said? Now that we have Boris Kachka’s Hothouse, the biography of the firm, it becomes evident why Roger - Galassi describes him a chintzy tipper  was so keen on each and every percentage point. Funnee thing about me at the moment of that 1970 call and whatever thought I gave to assenting to his ethically coded request, I not only knew from Cecil Hemley [who had sold Noonday to your father] that he had been screwed (though I might have asked for the details, Cecil’s son, Robin, a writer, a kid when his father passed away, does not know the details).                          Not only that, there had been the moment that Roger called me, while I was still working for him, and stated that he did not pay on poetry translations – he was referring to the Nelly Sachs volume OH THE CHIMNEYS, a Nobel Prize winner book that I had the option on at the time of the awards & managed to assemble and also translated 65 poems of (an act of mourning that wiped me out emotionally for a year which is why I did not want to translate any part of the second volume of Nelly Sachs poems that we put out), within the year of her receiving the prize.                 I imagine that was the first time that this wus might have objected to such high-handed fiat, which entirely disregarded the contractual arrangements; or I might have handed these affairs over to my agent Max Becker. (Roger’s once statement that the “time had come to hustle’s Nelly’s ass” the part of me that enjoyed his Runonyesque personality was able to abide and put off to that quality of his, though the idea was certainly so crude and preposterous that it evidently left a sharp imprint in the memory pad).
   At the same time that Roger persuaded me to forego a future double-dip where not a single scoo transpired, he made a suggestion that seemed to make eminently good sense: to list the books on which I was then, in 1970, receiving royalties, and they were immediately very handsome on the five Hesse titles then in print as you will recall, and this proposition seemed indeed to allay whatever anxieties about Roger’s financial probity might have lain too far in back of my mind. However, it appears that the interpretation of that document seems to be that all the then contracted books through me, that had not yet been published, then did not pay the royalties to me! For example, I discovered only within the last two years that I had never received an accounting for the second five Hesse titles of the first ten book Hesse contract, which all sold in the tens of thousands and were sold to Bantam for sums of about 250,000, as were those of the second ten book contract. Nor did I ever receive accounting or my share for the Christa Wolf Thinking about Christa Wolf, or H.E. Nossack’s The Impossible Proof, once these titles exceeded their threshold. Nor for the much later -1979- published 2dn volume of Handke dramas Ride Across Lake Constance & Other Plays.
   To have had the income I was deprived of would have made a huge difference in my life in publishing during the 70s to mid-80s. I expect Urizen would not have gone the way it did – and I will gladly elaborate on that above and beyond what you can glean at

It turns out your father was not just a crude brute, but a tricky one! Who would have known! Not this person who during our first trip to Frankfurt together became very much aware of certain hard core tastes of his
     Since you did not wish to continue in publishing but preferred your career in photography – if I have that story right? - Roger then sold F.S.G. for I hear $ 30 Million to Holzbrink. My contribution to that sum is certainly one 30th, (I am not including the subsequent Handke volumes that came within the wake of my bringing Handke to F.S.G.) for the value that the Hesse titles added, which, for all I know, proved essential for the tenuous firm’s survival during the 20 years of their hey-day. Thus the Straus estate owes me, doesn’t it? And you are in a position I imagine, perhaps mistakenly, to somewhat redeem the stain that your father, always so keen for not a smudge to appear on his $ 1,200 multi-ply suits, to act as a stain remover.  And I wouldn’t ask or demand if my other sources had not all turned sour. Most of this lost income falls under the statute of limitation, so the legal beagles inform me, and since the 20 Hesse titles meanwhile earn less than $ 1,000 @ 1 % per annum it becomes a matter for small claims in New York & not worth the trip. Meanwhile I will be 80 in a few more weeks, but lack the funds to repair my ancient canines!
   Hoping that this finds you well & looking forward to a reply, I remain very truly yours, Michael Roloff



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