A CONVERSATION WITH HAROLD WEISBERG

MAY 23 1999 TRANSCRIPT © 1999 BARRY EARNEST

So, if you were me, ‘how would you write a book these days? If I were to do it, I think as a first-person account and that’s what I think you should do. Tell me about your first book, Whitewash.

I had lost my [literary] agent and I had gotten a contract with a small publisher in New York who just published a best seller, the book Patton. That impressed me, but that was a fluke. He was an utter incompetent. I had to deliver the manuscript [for Whitewash] by February 15 and I did. It was 1965. I went up to New York and they told me advanced sales would total 39,000 [book copies], which, in those days, was a best seller. Two days later they broke the contract and didn’t even return the manuscript. So, how could I account for this?’ They say it’s a best seller, and for those days, with that much of advanced sales with no advertising or public relations and generated only by book stores. Thirty-nine thousand in advanced sales before the book was written. And yet they broke the contract. And then on top of it, how do you explain their not returning the manuscript? I had to reconstitute the manuscript.

Toward the end of April of 1966, I decided to publish it myself. It was kind of a daring and crazy thing to do, because I had no money and I was in debt. All I could do by publishing it was increase my debt. I had over 100 rejections. Not one included any editorial criticism of the manuscript. That was hard to understand and hard to explain. Several places I had encouragement. For example, the special events director [at one major publisher] had it overnight, and told me the next day, he said, “I think we can do 50,000 for the first print on this.” But he said his boss in San Francisco had to approve it. Well, he didn’t approve it. He said, “It’s a fine book; it’ll sell like hell.” So I said, “Why did he disapprove it?” He said, “Well, we only publish recognized scholars and you’re not a recognized scholar...

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