"Until recently—a few weeks ago in fact—I employed no agent."
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Jul 1933 (CL 3.82, MF 2.605)
For the first years of his pulp career, Robert E. Howard acted as his own agent, dividing his working time between writing and revising stories and poems, and drafting letters to submit those stories to markets both new and established. The Texan’s access to market news was largely limited to what he could read on the pulps in the stands, industry scuttlebutt from his letters to Lovecraft, E. Hoffmann Price, and August Derleth, and the occasional guidance from editors. In early 1932, Howard supplemented this by joining the American Fiction Guild, a professional organization aimed at freelance writers, whose organ Author & Journalist contained advertisements for upcoming pulps and other market news. (CL 2.337) Around the same time, an unknown agency offered to represent Howard:
Hundreds of part-time authors have been dumped on the market, and that makes competition tougher. The part time writer is often more efficient than the professional; he’s had more time to study style and literature. An agency wrote me wanting to handle my stuff for a year or so. They bragged on what they’d done for Whitehead; I wrote Whitehead and he replied cryptically that he considered himself heap damn fortunate to have gotten out of their talons as soon as he did. (CL 2.368)
|Otis Adelbert Kline|
Kline had been a writer in the pulps in his own right, today most remembered for his Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque serial novels like The Planet of Peril (1929), Jan of the Juggle (1931), The Swordsman of Mars (1933) for Argosy, but he was also an early contributor to Weird Tales, and anonymously edited the May-Jun-Jul 1924 issue. (WT50 84, IMH 175) Robert E. Howard was aware of Kline as a writer, and considered him a good one (CL 2.123, 302); Lovecraft was more critical, considering Kline’s fiction among “the pallid hack work of systematically mercenary writers[.]” (MF 2.560) Whatever his merits as a writer, Kline fell into being an agent; in his own words:
In 1923, I helped another writer, an old timer who had quit for eight years and with whom I had previously collaborated on songs and movie scenarios, and one musical comedy, to come back. He quickly told others of the help I had given him, and they told others, so presently, I had an agency, international in its scope. Soon I was selling the work of other writers as well as my own in foreign countries as well as the US. Presently, also, I was representing foreign publishers, literary agents and authors in this country, and similarly representing US publishers, authors and syndicates in foreign countries. (OAK 15.4)The foreign angle was Kline’s United Sales Plan, as detailed by his friend and occasional client E. Hoffmann Price:
In addition to domestic marketing, Otis developed his Unified Sales Plan: every story which he accepted for handling in the States went to his foreign representatives. Although Otis did not by any means originate the foreign rights angle, he was a pioneer among his competitors in that he regarded every story as having foreign sales potential. He is not only increased his clients’ income—his approach won him new clients. (BOD 36, cf. OAK 5.9-12)While much of the correspondence between Howard and Kline is no longer extant, the few letters that remain give an outline of their business relationship. Kline waived reading fees (a fee for reading a manuscript and trying to sell it), and worked on a straight commission: 10% of whatever the story sold for went to Kline. Kline, who was centered in Chicago, also had associates in other cities: if he couldn’t sell a story, himself, Kline would send it out to an agent. If they sold a story, they got a 5% commission, on top of Kline’s 10%. The checks generally went directly from the publisher to Kline, who subtracted his (and his associates’) commission, then cut a check to Robert E. Howard. So, for example, “Guns of the Mountain” (5,000 words) was sold to Action Stories by Kline’s associate V. I. Cooper for 1¢ per word, for a total of $50—of which Kline got $5, Cooper got $2.50, and Robert E. Howard received $42.50. (IMH 363) This practice was not always strictly followed, as magazines sometimes paid Howard directly, and he would cut a check for the commission to Kline. (IMH 372)