The Business, Part 3: 1951 to mid-1952

[Part 2 is here]

Following the publication of the first Gnome Press Conan book, Conan the Conqueror, things on the Howard publishing front slowed down again. The only items to appear in print in 1951 were the November Weird Tales reprint of “Pigeons from Hell” and a couple of Howard’s poems in Bob Briney’s fanzine Crit-Q. But things were popping behind the scenes.

In a May 10, 1951 letter to P. M. Kuykendall, Howard agent Oscar J. Friend tells his client about the royalty situation with Gnome Press: “They paid us $100 before, and now have made another $100 payment.” And Friend had other news; apparently he had finally gotten around to investigating the Howard titles left over in the Kline files: “I am selling the first reworked Howard story—’The House of Arabu’—to Avon publications for $86.00, and will shortly receive payment and will remit 50% (or $43.00) of this first serial sale to you.” On June 4, Friend wrote again:

We are still awaiting more royalties due from Gnome Press on Conan the Conqueror—and the advent of the second book in the series. Meanwhile, here is the first new income on some of the old Robert Howard material which we have worked over and to which we have just sold the first North American serial rights to Avon Fantasy Reader on our fifty-fifty agreement.

As stated previously, Friend received $86 for the tale and divided the proceeds, with half going to Kuykendall and half for “Kline Associates.” Friend ends his letter by saying that there “will be other first sales later as we can work over the Howard material.”

Friend wrote Kuykendall again on July 13, explaining the royalty situation with Gnome Press. At that time, Gnome owed $443.85 and had paid $200 previously, and Friend added, “Today we have collected another $200 of this amount,” leaving Gnome a balance of $43.85. Friend concluded with the following: “The publishers have assured us that this amount will be covered in the next royalty statement in the fall. Also, the second book of the Conan stories, The Sword of Conan, is now in process of preparation.”

By year’s end, there was still no movement on the Conan books, but in a December 5, 1951 letter, Friend sends Kuykendall some royalties from Arkham House and tells the doctor that the “second Conan book will be coming up for publication shortly,” but that wasn’t all that was on Friend’s mind:

Meanwhile, at this time, let me ask you if you know of any Robert E. Howard material or manuscripts or parts of manuscripts, or any unpublished Howard material at all. I am well aware that Mr. Otis Kline got most of Bob’s material from Dr. Howard, but if there’s the least scrap of stuff around Ranger that you know of, please wrap it up and send it to me. I would like, also, to have a copy of the British-published book, A Gent from Bear Creek, if you happen to have one laying around. I think we can sell a few of the stories in the second serial markets.

In 1952, things started to pick up again. Besides the fanzine appearance of “Song at Midnight” in Orb #10, a ’zine published by Bob Johnson, Friend’s reworked “House of Arabu” appeared as “The Witch from Hell’s Kitchen” in Avon Fantasy Reader #18; “Texas John Alden” appeared for the third time in eight years in Top Western Fiction Annual; and the December 1952 Famous Fantastic Mysteries ran “Skull-Face.” There were also some interesting developments in the Conan saga. But the year began with a rider agreement, dated February 11, 1952 and signed by Friend and August Derleth, to the Arkham House contract for Skull-Face and Others:

Whereas there have developed since the execution of the publishing contract between Arkham House and Otis Adelbert Kline on November 17, 1945, on Skull-Face and Others the possibilities of leasing various foreign book publishing rights to this volume, it is understood and agreed that Arkham House shall participate to the extent of twenty-five percent (25 %) of the net proceeds from any such placements.

Also on February 11, Friend wrote to Kuykendall, enclosing a royalty report from Arkham House and a check “for the one-time reprint serial rights to the story ‘Skull-Face,’ by Robert E. Howard, out of the Arkham House collection of Skull-Face and Others.” As part of their agreement, Arkham received a percentage for any story from Skull-Face sold on the secondary market. This agreement appears to be part of the reason for the Gnome Press arrangement of Conan stories:

For your information, the reason this royalty report has been held up so long is that we all figured the new series of CONAN books would be using certain Conan stories out of the Arkham House collection, and, anticipating this, Arkham House held up this payment to apply against monies which would be owing them for use of such stories. However, the present publisher of the Conan stories, Gnome Press, rearranged the order in which he is publishing the series, and no Arkham House stories will be used until the third book (fall of 1952 or spring of 1953). Thus, I deducted the old amount hanging fire from the Arkham check and include it in yours. This brings accounts up to 1951.

Regarding the Conan series, Friend closed with this:

I have just finished working with the publisher getting galleys and proofs and artwork, etc., ready on the second book. It will appear some time this coming spring—a collection of four Conan novelettes under the overall title of The Sword of Conan.

Back in 1950, in the introduction to Conan the Conqueror, editor John D. Clark had said that “Marty Greenberg and Dave Kyle asked me to help them with the job of arranging and editing the whole set of yarns, and to write an introduction for the lot of them.” Clark’s editorial stance was made explicit:

Very little editing was necessary or has been done. Even in the yarns clearly written before the idea of the Hyborian Age was born, changing the tense of a verb or two was usually all that was needed to make the story fit in. The Hour of the Dragon, the contents of this volume, was not entirely consistent with the chronology of “The Hyborian Age” and a slight insertion in the latter was necessary to clear things up. And that was about all. We don’t think that Howard would have minded and we hope that you don’t.

1952’s The Sword of Conan was also edited by Clark, but due to the appearance of “The Witch from Hell’s Kitchen,” things were about to change.

[Part 4 is here.]