Whenever I Am About to Publish a Book

Reports of his death are no longer greatly exaggerated, yet Mark Twain continues to surprise readers with new work — new as in never before published in book form, that is. The piece that follows is drawn from the volume Who is Mark Twain?, to be published on April 21 by HarperStudio. We are grateful for the opportunity to share it with our readers. –The Editors

Whenever I am about to publish a book, I feel an impatient desire to know what kind of a book it is. Of course I can find this out only by waiting until the critics shall have printed their reviews. I do know, beforehand, what the verdict of the general public will be, because I have a sure and simple method of ascertaining that. Which is this — if you care to know. I always read the manuscript to a private group of friends, composed as follows:

1. Man and woman with no sense of humor.

2. Man and woman with medium sense of humor.

3. Man and woman with prodigious sense of humor.

4. An intensely practical person.

5. A sentimental person.

6. Person who must have a moral in, and a purpose.

7. Hypercritical person — natural flaw-picker and fault-finder.

8. Enthusiast — person who enjoys anything and everything, almost.

9. Person who watches the others, and applauds or condemns with the majority.

10. Half a dozen bright young girls and boys, unclassified.

11. Person who relishes slang and familiar flippancy.

12. Person who detests them.

13. Person of evenly balanced judicial mind.

14. Man who always goes to sleep.

These people accurately represent the general public. Their verdict is the sure forecast of the verdict of the general public. There is not a person among them whose opinion is not valuable to me; but the man whom I most depend upon — the man whom I watch with the deepest solicitude — the man who does most toward deciding me as to whether I shall publish the book or burn it, is the man who always goes to sleep. If he drops off within fifteen minutes, I burn the book; if he keeps awake three-quarters of an hour, I publish — and I publish with the greatest confidence, too. For the intent of my works is to entertain; and by making this man comfortable on a sofa and timing him, I can tell within a shade or two what degree of success I am going to achieve. His verdict has burned several books for me — five, to be accurate.

Yes, as I said before, I always know beforehand what the general public?s verdict will be; but I never know what the professional reviewer?s will be until I hear from him. I seem to be making a distinction here; I seem to be separating the professional reviewer from the human family; I seem to be intimating that he is not a part of the public, but a class by himself. But that is not my idea. He is a part of the public; he represents a part of the public, and legitimately represents it; but it is the smallest part of it, the thinnest layer — the top part, the select and critical few. The crust of the pie, so to speak. Or, to change the figure, he is Brillat-Savarin, he is Delmonico, at a banquet. The five hundred guests think they know it is a good banquet or a bad one, but they don?t absolutely know, until Delmonico puts in his expert evidence. Then they know. That is, they know until Brillat-Savarin rises and knocks Delmonico?s verdict in the head. After that, they don?t know what they do know, as a general thing.

Now in my little private jury I haven?t any representative of the top crust, the select few, the critical minority of the world; consequently, although I am able to know beforehand whether the general public will think my book a good one or a bad one, I never can know whether it really is a good one or a bad one until the professional reviewers, the experts, shall have spoken.

So, as I have said, I always wait, with anxiety, for their report. Concerning my last book the experts have now delivered their verdict. You will naturally suppose that it has set me at rest. No, you are in error. I am as much bothered as I was before. This surprises you? — and you think my mind is wandering? Wait, and read the evidence, and you will see, yourself, that it is of an unsettling nature. I am going to be fair: I will make no quotation that is not genuine; I will not alter or amend the text in any way.