Rollene Saal sits in her manuscriptladen office and looks out at the competition. With her skycraper view of Harcourt Brace, Delcorte, Dial Press, and Book-of-the-Month-Club within her sights, she remarks, "We are absolutely surrounded by our confreres," in the ironic tone she favors.
Formerly the Avis of the publishing world. No. 2 after the 51-year-old Book-of-the-Month Club. The Literary Guild, a division of Doubleday, now claims to be No. 1 with a club membership of 1 1/2 million to BOMC's 1.2 million. "They say they've got more poeple" grouses BOMC's editorial director. Al Silverman, "but we don't ever see figures. We're a public corporation, anybody can see ours."
Membership figures aside, power at The Literary Guild is more consolidated with Saal than it is with Silverman at BOMC.
At Book-of-the-Month-Club, a panel of six judges, (five men, one women, with three of the men in their 70s) meet monthly over a gourmet lunch and determine the major monthly selections.
At The Literary Guild, Sall, though she relies strongly on her six male and nine female editors - and insists that she rarely opposes them - has the final word on the major selection of the month. Saal also has power over the other book club within Doubleday.
And running a book club means clout. A Literary Guild main selection, especially if Saal gets into what she cuphemistically calls a "bidding situation" with BOMC, will, she admits, be "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
A Guild selection, according to Saal means a book will be promoted in approximately 40 magazines a month. And Guild endorsement, which comes several months before a book is published, strongly influences paperback sales and movie rights.
"We send a book to the clubs the moment we have a finished manuscript," said Simon and Schuster associate publisher Joni Evans. "They have a strong commercial and literary voice and there's no question they very often make best-sellers."
Saal passes over an inter-office memo she had sent to her staff of the New York Times best-seller list, with Literary Guild selections checked off.
sixteen of those 30 best-sellers (10 in the fiction category) are Literary Guild selections. All but two of the remaining books, though they aren't checked off are Book-of-The-Month Club.
"Just a little parlor game we play, Rollene Saal says.
Both the Literary Guild and Bool-of-Month Club operate the same way; the club member is notified, by a glossy catalog that spares no cliche about a club's selection, and if the member does not decline, he will receive that book. (The Guild selection for November is Irwin Shaw's "Beggar Man, Thirf," billed as "murder and scandal threaten to destroy a star-crossed family."
If a club member does not want the main selection he may or may not choose the featured alternate or any of the several dozen alternate books, some of which may be promoted to featured altermates, some of which are standbys.
"Gone With The Wind," according to Saal, is still a Literary Guild alternate because it still sells.The members usually get about 30 per cent off the retail price. Seven per cent of the price goes to the book's publisher, who divides it with the author.
To keep their catalog freshly stocked The Literary Guild buys 350 books a year. Alternates may be selected by Saals editiors, without Saal ever reading them, but when it comes to the monthly selection.Saal has the final say.