Roughly two years ago, Tom Graves and his business partner, Darrin Devault, formed The Devault-Graves Agency in Memphis, Tenn., with the idea of repurposing select, out-of-print backlist titles as e-books. Their publishing credo, according to Graves, is that “no good book deserves to fall into obscurity.” Now they're putting that credo to use with J.D. Salinger.
Since its launch, the company has released about a dozen titles, but last week unveiled its first physical book—J.D. Salinger: Three Early Stories. The collection, available as print-on-demand, and in e-book and audiobook, from the company's imprint Devault-Graves Digital Editions, marks, according to Graves, the first (legally sound) book by Salinger to be published in 50 years, and the first Salinger writing legitimately available as an e-book and audiobook. Ingram is handling printing and physical distribution, Bookbaby digital distribution, and the audiobook is available through Audible (and selling well, Graves noted).
Devault and Graves began to research the rights to the Salinger’s 21 early stories—all written before Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951—after learning of their existence in Salinger, Shane Salerno’s 2013 documentary about the reclusive author. The pair discovered that three stories had never at any time been registered to Salinger. “We knew we had a shot at obtaining the rights," explained Graves, "and the game began.”
After an “exhaustive” search that involved a team of intellectual property attorneys and expensive searches by the Library of Congress, the Devault-Graves Agency was able to legally secure world rights to the three works. Graves admitted he and Devault understood that if they “stepped one inch over the line” the Salinger Trust would “nail” them.
“I can't blame them for protecting everything that is rightfully theirs,” Graves added.
The late author’s trust did indeed have their lawyers investigate the matter as soon as the book went live on Amazon. But, after Devault-Graves’s lawyers presented the information from the rights hunt, all parties considered “the matter settled,” said Graves.
Three Early Stories contains Salinger’s first two published short stories, “The Young Folks,” from Story magazine in 1940, and “Go See Eddie,” published in the University of Kansas City Review in the same year. The third story, “Once a Week Won’t Kill You,” appeared in a 1944 issue of Story magazine.
In addition to the other firsts, Three Early Stories is, according to Graves, the first Salinger work to include illustrations (provided by Brooklyn-based artist Anna Rose Yoken). In designing the rest of the book, the publisher sought to put together a package with Salinger's preferences in mind.
“He liked his book jacket covers simple and with little ornamentation,” said Graves. “He did not want his photograph on the book, and did not like biographical information. So, we left all that out, as he would have wished.” While Graves and Devault had Salinger's tastes in mind for their edition, they did not seek to create a knock-off of current Salinger books. Grave said they “purposely did not in any way imitate any of the other iconic Salinger covers,” so as not to “creatively infringe on those concepts.”
Salinger, of course, was famously protective of his copyright during his lifetime. When an unauthorized collection of Salinger’s early short stories was published in 1974, the author told the New York Times, the act was "illicit" and "unfair." Salinger went on: "Suppose you had a coat you liked and somebody went into your closet and stole it. That's how I feel." Graves acknowledges that if Salinger had a say, his early works wouldn’t reach new audiences in republication.
“The old man himself may not have liked what we've done,” said Graves. “But we have done our best to respect his legacy and present a handsome product that would not have embarrassed him...We hope this book winds up in every library with the other Salinger classics.”