NEW YORK Roger Straus, the late founder and longtime leader of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, regarded his company as a family and liked to boast that "we publish authors, not books."
And what authors: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Susan Sontag, Bernard Malamud, Grace Paley, Derek Walcott, all of whom stayed for decades, regardless of how many books they sold, or how much (or little) they were paid.
But now one Farrar star, who has praised Roger Straus for taking a chance on him when no one else would, is leaving after more than 40 years, millions of sales, numerous awards and countless controversies.
Tom Wolfe, the white-suited "New Journalist," satirist and fiction writer, ended his relationship with Farrar, Straus recently, signing with Little, Brown & Co. for a planned novel about Miami, "Back to Blood."
With sales for his most recent novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons," well below those for his celebrated "The Bonfire of the Vanities," Wolfe and Farrar, Straus couldn't agree on terms for his next book. Wolfe wanted at least $5 million, more than Farrar was willing to risk.
"We have an old-fashioned model for publishing, which is to publish someone well and consistently for a long time," Farrar publisher Jonathan Galassi said. "That is a model that works well; it's when money rears its ugly head that you have a problem. And we had that with Tom."
Readers may not know, or care, whether an author sticks with Farrar, Straus or Little, Brown, but within the industry there is a long, proud history of writers who became inseparable from their publishers: John Steinbeck and Viking, William Styron and Random House, Ernest Hemingway and Scribner. Even Wolfe liked to call himself the "Cal Ripken" of the book world for his uninterrupted streak with Farrar, Straus longer, he noted, than Steinbeck's time with Viking.
The business is far larger, more fickle and more impersonal than when Wolfe first joined Farrar, in 1965, but most of the major publishers still have a core of veteran authors who have stayed in one place: David McCullough and Mary Higgins Clark at Simon & Schuster, Maya Angelou and E.L. Doctorow at Random House, Russell Banks and Tony Hillerman at HarperCollins.
Longevity can be a story of personal or professional loyalty. At Grove/Atlantic, publisher Morgan Entrekin and author P.J. O'Rourke are so close that Entrekin served as best man at O'Rourke's wedding. Studs Terkel has a decades-long bond with New Press publisher Andre Schiffrin, as does Angelou with editor Bob Loomis. Wolfe worked for years at Farrar, Straus with editor Pat Strachan, who will again handle the author at Little, Brown.
"It's a kind of co-dependence, a rhythm that gets established between a writer and an editor," said retired Random House editor Jason Epstein, who worked for decades with Jane Jacobs, author of the classic "The Death and Life of American Cities."
For the more literary publishers, "old-fashioned" ones like Farrar, Straus and Alfred A. Knopf, the prestige and intimacy of the company overall keeps authors from moving. John Updike has been with Knopf since 1959, Anne Tyler since 1964, and Robert Caro and Toni Morrison since the 1970s.
"It would be hard to leave a publisher like Knopf, because the people do manage to give you a family feeling in an industry that's become hard-nosed," Updike said. "And you're also keeping your backlist alive. Virtually all of my books are still in print, but if you jump publishers more than once, you're apt to lose your old work to a secondhand bookstore."
Taste matters. Updike says he was first attracted to the look of Knopf's releases, "the prettiest books by any American trade publisher," and remembers gratefully that he was given a say on the jackets and design of his own work.
"That meant a lot to me in my formative years," he says.
For long-term stability, authors ideally sell enough books to make a profit, but not so many that demands become higher than the publisher is willing, or able, to meet. A decade ago, Stephen King famously left Viking for a multimillion-dollar deal with Simon & Schuster. Michael Crichton switched from Knopf to HarperCollins in 2001, ending a 30-year relationship.
"With authors like that, the publishers don't really matter," Epstein said. "They're more like a dry cleaner clean and pressed and out he goes."
The days are over when authors like Jacobs didn't even bother with agents, but some writers still make little fuss about money. Updike has published dozens of books with Knopf, and he is long past worrying about how much he will receive for an individual work.