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The Man Behind the People Behind Books: Kevin Reads Lord of Publishing

May 10, 2013 | Kevin Wilder

Ever wonder what makes a writer an author? Are they born with author genes, or does it have more to with family life, personal discipline, or what kind of cereal they choose every morning? An aspiring author himself, Kevin explores the ins and outs of what makes writers tick — whether they write books, movies, lyrics, or poetry.


The writing life, for me, most always makes for an interesting read. When it comes to writer-biographies, my attention is grabbed furthest when intimate aspects of the individual are laid bare on the page. Sharing personal details with a total stranger isn’t easy — which is why I’ll always favor a personal memoir over a well-researched biography.


Photo by Kevin Wilder


The recently released Lord of Publishing is a slightly different than many things I’ve read under this category. Yes, it was written largely about some authors we know. But this time by a person representing these people professionally rather than living in the spotlight himself. (And if you didn’t know Sterling Lord’s name going in, the title might suggest he’s a little conceited!)


This was certainly not the case. At age ninety-two, Lord speaks candidly about the writers has loved professionally and personally. The tennis-playing Iowa native takes us through his decades of life, and his rise to be one of the publishing heavyweights of the last century. After building relationships with writers in the magazine industry, his reputation grew, until he soon befriended and helped establish literary careers for authors like John Keats, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Rowland Barber, Ken Kesey, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.


Lord attributes this success to his personal investment, and firm belief in the authors he’s represented. One high point involves the sale of a book of Lyndon B. Johnson narratives, patterned after the design of Mal Tstetung’s book of Marxist quotations. This was released while the President was still in office, and might’ve persuaded him to avoid running a second term. Also, the only children’s book authors Lord ever worked with were the husband/wife duo behind the Berenstain Bears (in this chapter, Dr. Seuss, who Lord insists on calling “Ted Giesel,” interestingly serves as the Berenstain couples’ blunt yet highly-intelligent editor).


The story opens with a bang, as it centers on his first client: a man named Jack Kerouac. In the opening chapter we learn that the manuscript for On the Road took over four years to sell. Lord stuck to his guns until it did. His assistance was so appreciated that Kerouac and his third wife nicknamed a guestroom Sterling’s Room, and the famous 120-foot scroll remained in Lord’s personal safe for years.


As for his own scandalous history, Lord takes it upon himself to dedicate a chapter to his four failed marriages, where he readily admits a few of his own shortcomings. When asked about these divorces in his recent interview with Vanity Fair, he joked, “I can’t refute it. I guess growing up I learned more about writing than women.”











Kevin Wilder is a technical writer for pay and a creative writer for fun. He lives in Tampa, Florida, where he generally pays his bills on time and chips away at a debut novel.

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