The Art Of The Adsmith

Author: William Dean Howells

The other day, a friend of mine, who professes all the intimacy of a bad conscience with many of my thoughts and convictions, came in with a bulky book under his arm, and said, "I see by a guilty look in your eye that you are meaning to write about spring."

"I am not," I retorted, "and if I were, it would be because none of the new things have been said yet about spring, and because spring is never an old story, any more than youth or love."

"I have heard something like that before," said my friend, "and I understand. The simple truth of the matter is that this is the fag-end of the season, and you have run low in your subjects. Now take my advice and don't write about spring; it will make everybody hate you, and will do no good. Write about advertising." He tapped the book under his arm significantly. "Here is a theme for you."

He had no sooner pronounced these words than I began to feel a weird and potent fascination in his suggestion. I took the book from him and looked it eagerly through. It was called Good Advertising, and it was written by one of the experts in the business who have advanced it almost to the grade of an art, or a humanity.

"But I see nothing here," I said, musingly, "which would enable a self- respecting author to come to the help of his publisher in giving due hold upon the public interest those charming characteristics of his book which no one else can feel so penetratingly or celebrate so persuasively."

"I expected some such objection from you," said my friend. "You will admit that there is everything else here?"

"Everything but that most essential thing. You know how we all feel about it: the bitter disappointment, the heart-sickening sense of insufficiency that the advertised praises of our books give us poor authors. The effect is far worse than that of the reviews, for the reviewer is not your ally and copartner, while your publisher—"

"I see what you mean," said my friend. "But you must have patience. If the author of this book can write so luminously of advertising in other respects, I am sure he will yet be able to cast a satisfactory light upon your problem. The question is, I believe, how to translate into irresistible terms all that fond and exultant regard which a writer feels for his book, all his pervasive appreciation of its singular beauty, unique value, and utter charm, and transfer it to print, without infringing upon the delicate and shrinking modesty which is the distinguishing ornament of the literary spirit?"

"Something like that. But you understand."

"Perhaps a Roentgen ray might be got to do it," said my friend, thoughtfully, "or perhaps this author may bring his mind to bear upon it yet. He seems to have considered every kind of advertising except book- advertising."

"The most important of all!" I cried, impatiently.

"You think so because you are in that line. If you were in the line of varnish, or bicycles, or soap, or typewriters, or extract of beef, or of malt—"

"Still I should be interested in book—advertising, because it is the most vital of human interests."

"Tell me," said my friend, "do you read the advertisements of the books of rival authors?"

"Brother authors," I corrected him.

"Well, brother authors."

I said, No, candidly, I did not; and I forbore to add that I thought them little better than a waste of the publishers' money.

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