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New American Library

Entry updated 7 August 2023. Tagged: Publisher.

US paperback-publishing company founded in 1948 by Kurt Enoch and Victor Weybright, who purchased the American assets of Penguin Books to form New American Library of World Literature. From that date until 1963, when it began publishing occasional hardcovers, NAL (as it was known) focused exclusively upon mass market books, to be sold in pharmacies and newsstands on paperback "spinners". It published 40 titles its first year and 60 the following year, under the imprint "Signet Books".

While its early list was restricted to a combination of literary classics, contemporary novels (mostly crime novels and westerns) and nonfiction, it published its first sf titles in 1950 with Edmond Hamilton's The Star Kings (September 1947 Amazing; 1949; vt Beyond the Moon 1950) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948; vt 1984 1950), with Robert A Heinlein's Sixth Column: A Science Fiction Novel of Strange Intrigue (January-March 1941 Astounding as by Anson MacDonald; 1949 as by Heinlein; vt The Day After Tomorrow 1951) early the following year. The fact that NAL changed the titles of all three titles from their hardcover editions' to ones likelier to attract the (then very large) readership of the sf Pulp magazines, plus the fact that all three editions bore covers that strongly recalled the style of those magazines, attests to the buyers the fledgling industry sought to reach: not those who frequented bookstores (where the hardcover edition of Orwell's novel remained available, and where paperbacks would not be sold for many years yet) but to the popular audience who purchased their reading material at newsstands and pharmacies.

This strategy evidently worked, for by 1954 NAL was publishing work by Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Wilson Tucker, and A E van Vogt, all reprints from US hardcovers. It was not until 1958 that NAL published their first sf original, Alfred Bester's first collection Starburst (coll 1958). Its apparent success – the collection went through several printings – evidently emboldened NAL to try more original titles, although at first they concentrated on collections, such as James Blish's Galactic Cluster (coll 1959) and Brian W Aldiss's No Time Like Tomorrow (coll 1959).

Within a year, however, NAL was publishing original sf novels, beginning auspiciously with Robert Sheckley's The Status Civilization (1960). Throughout the Sixties NAL continued a fairly conservative but clearly successful program of publishing multiple titles by a small number of established authors (by then including Arthur C Clarke and Fred Hoyle). These included a modest number of original titles, such as Alfred Bester's second collection The Dark Side of the Earth (coll 1964) and Those Who Watch (1967) by Robert Silverberg, whom NAL would continue to publish. Most of Heinlein's titles then available in paperback were published by NAL.

By 1971 NAL was becoming more venturesome in publishing new material, perhaps at the behest of David G Hartwell, who served as advisor and later editor during this period. Two of Silverberg's best-known novels from this period, Downward to the Earth (1969) and A Time of Changes (1971) were first acquired and edited by NAL, although the US Science Fiction Book Club, to whom subsidiary rights were sold, issued the earliest editions, as also happened with Samuel R Delany's Driftglass (coll 1971). NAL also published the three-volume series of Clarion anthologies (1971-1973) edited by Robin Scott Wilson during this period, even as it consolidated its line of reprints by its established authors by becoming the first to publish in paperback Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr series (1952-1958).

Novels from this period include The Fallible Fiend by L Sprague de Camp (1973) and Roger Zelazny's Today We Choose Faces (1973) and Bridge of Ashes (1976), as well as several novels by Poul Anderson that were again first issued by the US Science Fiction Book Club. Perhaps owing to the departure of David Hartwell to Berkley/Putnam at this time, NAL's line in the second half of the decade was notably less ambitious, if apparently still successful.

The Eighties saw NAL continue its policy of reissuing its successful backlist and reprinting new novels by its longtime authors, as well as publishing a number of original novels by Mike Resnick, Joel Rosenberg, and Esther M Friesner. It was best-known during this period, however, as the paperback publisher of Stephen King.

The Nineties saw a decided shift toward Horror, which continued through the following decade. NAL published little sf thereafter. [GF]

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