London’s Guildhall Library is a place I enjoy visiting. In the Manuscript Room you sit among very miscellaneous scholars and enthusiasts gazing intently at fragments of the City’s past, while the pleasant staff bring you massive ledgers revealing the bottom line of literary history – at least so far as Hodder and Stoughton’s authors are concerned.
What I wanted to find out yesterday was some information on Rose Macaulay’s Non-Combatants and Others. This novel about a young woman trying to escape from the War, and ending as a pacifist went against the grain of popular feeling in 1916, and was an extremely uncharacteristic book for H & S to publish – the firm was strongly committed to the war effort, and they were the publishers who collaborated most often with Wellington House on the production of propaganda volumes for overseas distribution. So how did it sell?
Rose Macaulay was by no means a typical Hodder author. Her first books were published by John Murray, and she was with H & S because she had won their £600 competition with The Lee Shore. in 1912. That had been a success. According to the ledgers, 9000 copies were printed. Of these, 7873 were sold before the end of the financial year ending March 31st, 1913 (of these 5123 were sold at full price in Britain, and the rest went abroad to Canada and “Colonial sales”). The book kept on selling modestly through the War years, and there was a new edition in 1921 (10,000 printed) that did well during the twenties, presumably kept going by the success of Macaulay’s post-war novels.
Her next book, The Making of a Bigot (1914) did less well. Of 5096 printed, only 1896 sold over the next two years through usual channels, but in the Ledger entry for 1915 there is a line saying “J. Bull 2156”. Cn this be a reference to the magazine John Bull? Some kind of book club or special offer? I don’t know. John Bull was run by Horatio Bottomley – and that’s a name I never thought I’d see linked to Rose Macaulay’s. Macaulay seems to have been given a £200 advance on this book, and the publishers made a loss.
Non-Combatants and Others was published in 1916 at 5/- a copy (The previous two books had been issued at 6/- each). H & S printed 3000 copies, which shows that their faith in the book was moderate at best. Of these, 2586 had sold by March 31st, 1917, which made the book a definite success. It seems to have earned Macaulay no more than £62/6/- (no generous advance this time) and the publishers made a modest profit of £48/19/2. That might not seem a big profit, but the ledgers suggest that H & S’s solid prosperity was based on small annual profits from the books on their massive backlist. Over the next six years the rest of the edition gradually sold out. H & S did not reprint it, probably because it was so much a novel of the War years.
These figures show that Macaulay’s novel managed to reach a respectable audience during the War years, despite lukewarm reviews. (An audience larger than the raw sales figures would suggest, because many of the sales would have been to libraries). They also show the commercial publishing system in a fairly good light. Much has been made in recent years of the involvement of firms like H & S in Wellington House propaganda schemes, but in this case they enabled one of their authors to express dissident opinions (and a disturbing view of the effects of the War on soldiers). Finding out how enthusiastically they backed and promoted the book would take more research, though.
Possibly a sign of differences between Rose Macaulay and H & S is the fact that after Non-Combatants and Others, Macaulay moved to Constable for the publication of her next novel, What Not, and her poetry collection, Three Days.