Mark Twain Relates That He Is Not Involved in the Management Side of the Firm He Founded to Publish His Books

That firm published the blockbuster successes “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and the “Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant”

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Mark Twain was never truly satisfied with any of his book publishers. Charles H. Webb neglected to pay him the royalties his “Jumping Frog” book had earned; Elisha Bliss frustrated him with frequent delays in publishing his work, such as “Tom Sawyer”; and he considered James R. Osgood to be inexperienced and...

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Mark Twain Relates That He Is Not Involved in the Management Side of the Firm He Founded to Publish His Books

That firm published the blockbuster successes “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and the “Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant”

Mark Twain was never truly satisfied with any of his book publishers. Charles H. Webb neglected to pay him the royalties his “Jumping Frog” book had earned; Elisha Bliss frustrated him with frequent delays in publishing his work, such as “Tom Sawyer”; and he considered James R. Osgood to be inexperienced and inept. He felt he should be making more money from his books. His solution was to start his own publishing firm. In 1884 he founded Charles L. Webster and Company, which he named after his business agent (and his niece’s husband), who became its director. Clemens hoped to reap the combined benefits of being an author and a publisher. The new company had its office at 67 Fifth Avenue in New York.

The Webster firm enjoyed great success with its first two publications, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and the “Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant”. Sales of Grant’s two-volume memoir generated a record-breaking royalty payment of $200,000 for the President’s widow and made Clemens a wealthy man.

Autograph letter signed, Elmira, NY, September 10, 1886, to an unknown recipient, telling her that he is not handling the business side of his publishing enterprise and referring her to Webster. “I do not take a practical part in the management of the business, but I will with pleasure send your letter to the New York offices whence it will be answered.”

The Webster firm never duplicated its early triumphs, and projects that seemed so promising failed to realize their expected profits. Mark Twain’s works still sold well, but Clemens was forced to pump his royalties back into the firm. Tensions flared as the company foundered. In 1888 an exasperated Clemens forced the overworked and ailing Webster out of the company. Deep in debt, the firm declared bankruptcy on April 18, 1894.

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