An AP report by Hillel Italie zooms in on the life of agent Sterling Lord, whose memoir Lord of Publishing, is just out. One of Lord’s big coups, Italie writes, was finding a publisher for Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.
The first problem: that Kerouac had written the book on “a 120-foot scroll that he was known to unfurl on a publisher’s floor.” And though he had already published a novel, The Town and the City, he had found no takers for the new book. Lord took the book on because he “found something fresh and dynamic, a jolt to the growing conformity of the times.”
So he took the book on and suffered the rejections, including one from a Knopf editor who thought On the Road was not “saleable” or “well-made.” Kerouac was ready to give up, but not Lord. By the mid-1950s, he had sold excerpts to The Paris Review and New World Writing. Viking Press agreed to publish the novel, for an advance of $1,000. On the Road was released in 1957, The New York Times raved and Kerouac became a hero for a generation of adventurers.
As Kerouac decended into alcoholism, Lord “tried to help him, but realized that he was a literary agent and not a ‘life agent.’ And he had rarely seen the author’s darker side, reasoning that he was a parental figure for whom Kerouac remained on his best behavior.”
Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.