Kipling Liked It! He Really Liked It!
If you ever read The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, do yourself a favor and also read the novel’s afterword.
I don’t always read afterwords, but when I do, I read The Bridge of San Luis Rey afterword. It’s a fascinating look at the publishing process the novel went through.
I’ll try and sum it up.
Wilder wrote The Bridge during 1926 and 1927.
The completed manuscript ran only 34,000 words. That’s extremely short for a novel. Wilder’s publisher didn’t like the length.
Wilder wrote to his sister: “My publisher is REVOLTED that it isn’t long enough to keep up the fraud of a $2.50 book. He wants six to eight illustrations, and the Canadian and Eskimo rights.”
The book was published on November 3, 1927 at $2.50 each. According to the foreword, the “book was an ungainly object, designed with hideously thick paper stock, its 235 pages set with grotesquely wide margins and containing no fewer than eleven illustrations.”
That’s like a high school student’s tactic to making a paper longer. Teacher wants 10 pages? No problem…use 16 point font, and pictures, and wide margins! Hilarious.
Nevertheless, The Bridge Of San Luis Rey sold out immediately. By end of the year, 17,500 copies had sold. In June 1928, the book received the Pulitzer Prize and sales rose to 158,000.
By the end of 1928, The Bridge had sold 223,170 copies in 17 printings, plus more than 50,00o sold in Great Britain.
I love how Wilder described his success to Lewis Baer in a letter. He said he was receiving constant telegrams and “calls from producers, and don’t dare use this: a report that Kipling liked it.”
Kipling liked it! He really liked it!
Not only was the book wildly successful but Wilder made a pretty penny himself. In 1927, his teaching salary was $3,000. In 1928, he earned a net taxable income of nearly 87,000 from The Bridge, or close to $1 million in current dollars.
My takeaway: You know a story is powerful when the first edition of said story is described as an “ungainly object,” with “hideously thick paper stock” and “grotesquely wide margins” and still goes through 17 printings and wins the Pulitzer in its first year.
Just more amazing information from The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
If you haven’t already guessed it—especially after last week’s post about the Aurora Tragedy—this novel really speaks to me.
My review is coming on Wednesday.