Cocktail Time is a publishing success

by Kelvin Smith

P.G.Wodehouse often wrote about publishing, and in Cocktail Time he gives a special insight into the publishing world. When Sir Raymond Bastable writes his book of the same name, we hear that this first novel took a while to find a willing publisher. Even in the days of numerous small imprints, it could be difficult for a first time author.

“He sent it from an accommodation address to Pope and Potter, and it came back. He sent it to Simms and Shotter, and it came back; to Melville and Monks, and it came back; to Popgood and Grooly, Bissett and Bassett, Ye Panache Press and half a dozen other firms, and it came back again. It might have been a boomerang or one of those cats which, transferred from Surbiton to Glasgow, show up in Surbiton three months later, a little dusty and footsore but full of the East-West-home’s-best spirit. Why it should eventually have found journey’s end in the offices of Alfred Tomkins Ltd one cannot say, but it did, and they published it in the spring, with a jacket featuring a young man with a monocle in his right eye doing the rock ‘n roll with a young woman in her step-ins.

After that, as is customary on these occasions, nothing much happened. It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.”

As is to be expected from a Wodehouse plot, the pseudonymously published novel is at the centre of an entanglement of personal relationships, misunderstandings and various mischief. Purely by chance (the denunciation of Cocktail Time by the Bishop of Stortford) there is a succès de scandale that leads to big sales, serializations and movie deals.

Barbara Crowe works the agent’s magic for Edgar Saxby literary agency, now run by Howard Saxby, who provides some lessons on how playing the fool might help one to be a successful agent.

“As a boy he had been inclined to let his mind wander – ‘needs to concentrate’, his school reports had said – and on entering the family business he had cultivated this tendency because he found it brought results. It disconcerts a publisher, talking terms with an agent, when the agent stares fixedly at him for some moments and then asks him if he plays the harp. He becomes nervous, says fifteen per cent when he means to say ten, and forgets to mention subsidiary rights altogether.”

P.G.Wodehouse, Cocktail Time, 1958