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For Would-Be Authors

by The Editor Company   


A clever girl who has received a passably good education, who is fond of books and who wants to earn a little money, sometimes decides that she will enter the lists and write a novel. She procures a supply of foolscap and sits down with a story in her head.

Nothing appears easier to the dreaming girl or to the boy who took prizes at school in the composition class. She means to write a book, and before she has finished the first chapter she sees herself in imagination famous and successful and the possessor of a fortune. Have there not been examples of success so swift, so dazzling, so almost miraculous that there is no reason for discouragement, but on the other hand, every reason for hope? What woman has done, woman may do. Has not our friend heard of the quiet little New England girl never twenty miles from her village until she had written a dozen short stories that fairly took the world by storm? Has she not heard of the Southern girl brought up on her father's library and familiar from childhood with the picturesque literature of colonial life, the girl whose first novel was published in our most exclusive literary monthly and whose work was known on two continents and brought her a golden harvest?

These and other examples flit before the busy brain and she feels in her inmost soul that she is as likely to reach the top of the ladder at a bound as they were. So, filled with confidence, she begins to write.

There is never much difficulty about the first chapter. The pen flies over the paper and the hero and heroine with their attendants step briskly upon the stage. But unless the young author belong to the exceptionally gifted few, she soon encounters trouble. She does not know what to do with her people ; they are puppets and wooden at that; they are not living and breathing realities, full of red blood and throbbing flesh as the characters are in the stories of novelists endowed with creative power. Before very long, if she is fortunate, our girl-writer realizes that it is not worth while to meander through three hundred dull pages only to be rejected by the publisher in the end. If she does plod doggedly on, she may win her experience at a dearer rate.

Only here and there do we find those who have come into the world with the heaven-sent gift of the story-teller. Novelists are born, not made. All the teaching and training in the world never yet put a spark of divine fire into the work of a romancer who had not the romance faculty in her soul. True, there are many dull books published every season; more is the pity. This girl, however, is too sensible to write a hopelessly dull book with her eyes open.

Perhaps the better way is usually for the youthful aspirant to test her mettle by attempting to write short stories. There is a ready market for strong, bright, and charming short stories in the monthly magazines, and the weekly periodicals. They sometimes find a place, too, in the daily newspaper. A story must have pith and point. It must have atmosphere and local color, and above all, it must describe something in a manner so life-like that it takes rank above mere invention and carries with it a conviction of sincerity.

Not for imitation, but for study, the girl who thinks she can write short stories should read those of the popular writers of the day. Alice Brown, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Abby Roach MacGuire, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Margaret Deland and others will afford her excellent examples of finished art in story-writing.

Nothing is oftener heard than the woeful complaint that there is no room for a new writer. The fact is that editors are always on the lookout for new writers. The public clamors for novelty. There is, of course, a welcome for men and women whose work has distinction and whose style is of a certain fine individuality, but it is a gala day in an editorial office when a new star looms upon the horizon. Equally in the publishing world there is joy when the new novelist brings the product of genius to the front.

Editors and publishers not infrequently make mistakes. As every one knows, David Harum was sent from one publisher to another, returning with polite notes of regret to its invalid author, until one reader was found who discovered its rare merits. Books rejected by the readers of one publishing house have been recommended by those of another, and, being given to the world, rapidly ran through many successive editions, bringing their authors fame and money and receiving notice among the best selling books of several seasons. If the aspiring author have the stuff in her she will after awhile find somebody who has the witch hazel wand that divines genius and the helping hand that introduces it to the reading world.

Meanwhile, read more than you write. You can hardly read too much. Read everything that interests you, travel, essays, biography and poetry, but do not too closely confine yourself to the successful writers of today. Draw from the deep wells of pure English furnished you by the standard authors of the language.

Read the best authors of other languages. The successful novelist of the twentieth century must know both literature and life. If you would have this assertion verified, read, for example, the wonderful pages of one of the most eminent and conspicuous of the hour's successful writers, Mrs. Humphrey Ward. You will discover that Mrs. Ward knows history, art, politics, religion and human nature. If you are a girl in the early twenties you have not yet lived long enough to compete with any one who has been graduated in so various and profound a school. You may begin your apprenticeship as Mrs. Ward did and as others have done, by much study, much reading and by careful writing.

When your story or your book is written, have it copied legibly in typewriting, if possible, and send it fully stamped, and with stamps added for the possible return of the manuscript, to the editor you have chosen. Write your name and address at the top of the first page. If you send a letter of explanation or introduction, let it go in the same inclosure and not separately. It is best to add nothing to the labor of the editor. Do not expect an immediate reply. From fourteen to twenty-one days is the briefest limit in which the story of a volunteer can usually be examined. Remember that your work must enter into competition with that of skilled writers who have earned a claim on public attention, and whose work is often engaged months before it appears. Do not resent the printed slip which tells you that your manuscript is declined with thanks. If there is anything in you and you persevere, you will one day receive not the printed slip, but the welcomed check which will be an omen of your happy future.

In many cases the aspiring author will win a measure of success earlier if she does not attempt imaginative work, but if, on the contrary, she writes clearly and lucidly about domestic matters, housekeeping, fashion, house-furnishing, or some other practical topic of interest to the ordinary reader. She must carefully select the medium to which she sends her work. She must be satisfied with small returns at first. There are millions of people who want to be instructed and amused. Why may she npt help to do this?