December 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Jack London, Quibbling Cosmo Freelancer

455px-Jack_London_young.jpgJack London wanted more than four cents a word, bless his freelancing heart. In a five-page letter London wrote on May 6, 1905, he chided his Cosmopolitan editor, John Brisbane Walker, about his article, "Revolution," and the paltry fee he was offered via telegraph. "I couldn't see why an article ten times stronger plus my name was not worth five cents a word," he wrote. The article was, according to London, perfect for Cosmo.

That letter--which could have been penned by a freelance writer yesterday, though perhaps not to Cosmo--will, perhaps ironically, be sold later this week for an estimated $4,000-6,000. Profiles in History, a California-based auction house, has a few London letters up for grabs at its Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector Part III auction on December 19. In another editorially-minded letter from February 6, 1908, London, author of White Fang and Call of the Wild, writes at length about plot and technique in fiction: "But it cannot be denied that what is technically known as 'the threads of the plot,' however closely woven they may be during the story, must inevitably separate again. The trick is to end your story just at the inch before the division."

A third lot of London features a typed letter from August 31, 1915--near the end of his brief career--in which he inquires (again) about pay rates for writers. Here he addresses Eric Schuler, the secretary and treasurer of the Authors League of America, writing, "The point of this letter is this: Is there any way in which you can send me samples of the rates that are paid to the first class, top-notch writers in the United States, both by magazines and by book publishers." Once a freelancer, always a freelancer. Coupled with another letter and a signed photograph, this letter is also expected to reach $4,000-6,000 at Thursday's sale, where a broad selection of literary, musical, political, and scientific manuscripts and rare books will be on offer.

Image via Wikipedia.