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Title: If You Don't Write Fiction
Author: Cushing, Charles Phelps, 1884-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    |Transcriber's note                                  |
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    |Minor punctuation errors have been corrected without|
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    +----------------------------------------------------+



     IF YOU DON'T
     WRITE FICTION

     By
     CHARLES PHELPS CUSHING

     [Illustration]

     NEW YORK
     ROBERT M. McBRIDE & COMPANY
     1920



     Copyright, 1920, by
     ROBERT M. McBRIDE & CO.

     _Printed in the
     United States of America_

     Published. June, 1920



                              TO
                           COUSIN ANN

who "doesn't write fiction," but who is ambitious to market magazine
articles, this little book is affectionately dedicated. If it can save
her some tribulations along the road that leads to acceptances, the
author will feel that his labors have been well enough repaid.



The author thanks the editors of _The Bookman_, _Outing_ and the _Kansas
City Star_ for granting permission to reprint certain passages that here
appear in revised form.

                                                           C. P. C.



PREFACE


The publisher assures me that no one but a book reviewer ever reads
prefaces, so I seize upon the opportunity to have a tête-à-tête with my
critics. Gentlemen, my cards are face up on the table. I have declared
to the publisher that nearly every American who knows how to read longs
to find his way into print, and should appreciate some of the dearly
bought hints herein contained upon practical journalism. And, as I kept
my face straight when I said it, he may have taken me seriously. Perhaps
he thinks he has a best seller.

But this is just between ourselves. As he never reads prefaces, he won't
suspect unless you tell him. My own view of the matter is that Harold
Bell Wright need not fear me, but that the editors of the Baseball Rule
Book may be forced to double their annual appropriation for advertising
in the literary sections.

As the sport of free lance scribbling has a great deal in common with
fishing, the author of this little book may be forgiven for suggesting
that in intention it is something like Izaak Walton's "Compleat
Angler," in that it attempts to combine practical helpfulness with a
narrative of mild adventures. For what the book contains besides advice,
I make no apologies, for it is set down neither in embarrassment nor in
pride. Many readers there must be who would like nothing better than to
dip into chapters from just such a life as mine. Witness how Edward
FitzGerald, half author of the "Rubaiyat," sighed to read more lives of
obscure persons, and that Arthur Christopher Benson, from his "College
Window," repeats the wish and adds:

"The worst of it is that people often are so modest; they think that
their own experience is so dull, so unromantic, so uninteresting. It is
an entire mistake. If the dullest person in the world would only put
down sincerely what he or she thought about his or her life, about work,
love, religion and emotion, it would be a fascinating document."

But, you may protest, by what right do the experiences of a magazine
free lance pass as "adventures"?

Then, again, I shall have to introduce expert testimony:

"The literary life," says no less an authority than H. G. Wells, "is one
of the modern forms of adventure."

And this holds as true for the least of scribblers as it does for great
authors. While the writer whose work excites wide interest is seeing the
world and meeting, as Mr. Wells lists them, "philosophers, scientific
men, soldiers, artists, professional men, politicians of all sorts, the
rich, the great," you may behold journalism's small fry courageously
sallying forth to hunt editorial lions with little butterfly nets. The
sport requires a firm jaw and demands that the adventurer keep all his
wits about him. Any novice who doubts me may have a try at it himself
and see! But first he had better read this "Compleat Free Lancer." Its
practical hints may save him--or should I say _her_?--many a needless
disappointment.

                                                           C. P. C.



     CONTENTS


     CHAPTER                               PAGE

             PREFACE                          v

          I. ABOUT NOSES AND JAWS             1

         II. HOW TO PREPARE A MANUSCRIPT     10

        III. HOW TO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS         16

         IV. FINDING A MARKET                25

          V. A BEGINNER'S FIRST ADVENTURES   32

         VI. IN NEW YORK'S "FLEET STREET"    43

        VII. SOMETHING TO SELL               54

       VIII. WHAT THE EDITOR WANTS           61

         IX. AND IF YOU DO--                 72

          X. FOREVER AT THE CROSSROADS       79



IF YOU DON'T WRITE FICTION



CHAPTER I

ABOUT NOSES AND JAWS


A foxhound scents the trail of his game and tracks it straight to a
killing. A lapdog lacks this capability. In the same way, there are
breeds of would-be writers who never can acquire a "nose for news," and
others who, from the first day that they set foot in editorial rooms,
are hot on the trail that leads to billboard headlines on the front page
of a newspaper or acceptances from the big magazines.

Many writers who are hopelessly clumsy with words draw fat pay checks
because they have a faculty for smelling out interesting facts. In the
larger cities there are reporters with keen noses for news who never
write a line from one year's end to another, but do all of their work by
word of mouth over the telephone.

To the beginner such facts as these seem to indicate that any one can
win in journalism who has the proper kind of nose. This conclusion is
only a half-truth, but it is good for the novice to learn--and as soon
as possible--that the first requisite toward "landing" in the newspapers
and magazines is to know a "story" when he sees one.

In the slang of the newspaper shop a "story" means non-fiction. It may
be an interview. It may be an account of a fire. It may be a page of
descriptive writing for the Sunday magazine section. It may be merely a
piece of "human interest."

As my own experience in journalism covers barely fifteen years, the
writer would not be bold enough to attempt to define a "story" further
than to state that it is something in which an editor hopes his public
will be interested at the time the paper or magazine appears upon the
newsstands. To-morrow morning or next month the same readers might not
feel the slightest interest in the same type of contribution.

Timeliness of some sort is important, yet a "story" may have little to
do with what in the narrower sense is usually thought of as "news"--such
as this morning's happenings in the stock markets or the courts, or the
fire in Main Street. The news interest in this restricted sense may
dangle from a frayed thread. The timeliness of the contribution may be
vague and general. We may not be able to do more than sense it. This is
one reason why men of academic minds, who love exact definitions, never
feel quite at ease when they attempt to deal with the principles of
journalism.

We practical men, who earn a living as writers, feel no more at ease
than the college professors when we attempt to deal with these
principles. When we are cub reporters we are likely to conceive the
notion that a "story" is anything startling enough, far enough removed
from the normal, to catch public attention by its appeal to curiosity.
Later, we perceive that this explains only half of the case. The other
half may baffle us to the end. Instance the fact that a great many
manuscripts sell to newspapers and magazines upon the merits of that
mysterious element in writing known as "human interest." If a reward
were offered for an identification of "human interest" no jury could
agree upon the prize-winning description. A human interest story
sometimes slips past the trained nose of a reporter of twenty years'
experience and is picked up by a cub. It is something you tell by the
scent.

This scent for the trail of a "story" may be sharpened by proper
training, and one of the best places for a beginner to acquire such
training--and earn his living in the meantime--is in a newspaper
office. Yet nothing could be further from the present writer's intention
than to advise all beginners in journalism to apply for jobs as
reporters. Some of the most successful magazine contributors in America
have never set foot inside of a newspaper plant except to pay a
subscription to the paper or to insert a want ad for a chauffeur or a
butler.

If you have nose sense for what the public is eager to read, newspaper
experience can teach you nothing worth while unless it is a deeper
knowledge of human nature. As a reporter you will view from behind the
scenes what the people of an American community are like and catch some
fleeting glimpses of the more unusual happenings in their lives. You
may, or may not, emerge from this experience a better writer than you
were when you went in. Your style may become simpler and more forceful
by newspaper training. Or it may become tawdry, sloppy and inane.

"Newspapers," observed Charles Lamb, "always excite curiosity. No one
ever lays one down without a feeling of disappointment." That was true a
hundred years ago, and appears to be just as true to-day.

Fortunately, the men who write the news get more out of the work than do
their readers. The reporter usually can set down only a fraction of the
interesting facts that he picks up about a "story." His work may be
eternally disappointing to the public, but it is rarely half so dull to
the man who does the writing.

No life into which the average modern can dip is so rich in interest for
the first year or two as that of the reporter working upon general
assignments. A fling at hobo life, ten voyages at sea and more than two
years of army life (a year and a half of this time spent in trekking all
over the shattered landscape of France) do not shake my conviction that
the adventurer most to be envied in our times is the cub reporter
enjoying the first thrills and glamors of breaking into print. There is
a scent in the air, which, though it be only ink and paper, makes the
cub's blood course faster the minute he steps into the office corridor;
and as he mounts the stairs to the local room the throbbing of the
presses makes him wonder if this is not literally the "heart of the
city."

He makes his rounds of undertakers' shops, courtrooms, army and navy
recruiting offices, railway stations, jails, markets, clubs, police and
fire headquarters. He is sent to picnics and scenes of murders. He is
one of the greenest of novices in literary adventure, but, quite like an
H. G. Wells, he meets in his community "philosophers, scientific men,
soldiers, artists, professional men, politicians of all sorts, the rich,
the great."

He is underpaid and overworked. He has no time to give his writings
literary finish; and, in the end, unless he develops either into a
specialist or an executive, he may wear himself out in hard service and
be cast upon the scrap heap. At first, the life is rich and varied.
Then, after a while, the reporter finds his interest growing jaded. The
same kind of assignment card keeps cropping up for him, day after day.
He perceives that he is in a rut. He tells himself: "I've written that
same story half a dozen times before."

Then is the time for him to settle himself to do some serious thinking
about his future. Does he have it in him to become an executive? Or does
he discover a special taste, worth cultivating, for finance, or sport,
or editorial writing? If so, he has something like a future in the
newspaper office.

But if what he really longs to do is to contribute to the magazines or
to write books, he is at the parting of the ways. He should seize now
upon every opportunity to discover topics of wide interest, and in his
spare time he should attempt to write articles on these topics and ship
them off to market.

He has laid the first solid foundation of successful freelancing, for if
he has been able to survive as long as six months in the competition of
the local room he has a nose for what constitutes a "story."

The next thing he has to learn is that an article for a magazine differs
chiefly from a newspaper story in that the magazine must make a wider
appeal--to a national rather than to a local interest. The successful
magazine writer is simply a reporter who knows what the general public
likes to read, and who has learned when and where and how to market what
he produces. Timeliness is as important as ever, so he must look to his
tenses. The magazine article will not appear until from ten days to six
months or more after it is accepted. Some of our magazines begin making
up their Christmas numbers in July, so he must learn to sweat to the
tinkle of sleigh bells.

I wonder how many hundreds of ambitious newspaper reporters are at this
very minute urging themselves to extra effort after hours and on their
precious holidays and Sundays to test their luck in the magazine
markets? The number must be considerable if my experience as a member of
the editorial staff of a big national magazine allows me to make a
surmise. I have read through bushels of manuscripts that had the ear
marks of the newspaper office all over them. They were typed on the
cheap kind of "copy paper" that is used only in "city rooms." The first
sheet rarely had a title, for the newspaper reporter's habit is to leave
headline writing to a "copy reader." Ink and dust had filled in such
letters as "a" and "e" and "o." Most of the manuscripts were done with
characteristic newspaper office haste, and gave indication somewhere in
the text that the author had not the faintest notion of how far in
advance of the date line the magazine had to make up its table of
contents.

Many of these novices showed a promise in skill that might give some
uneasy moments to our most prosperous magazine headliners. If only there
were firm jaws back of the promise! These men had the nose for
journalistic success, but that alone will not carry them far unless it
is backed with a fighting jaw.

I look back sometimes to cub days and name over the reporters who at
that time showed the greatest ability. Three of the most brilliant are
still drudging along in the old shop on general assignments, for little
more money than they made ten years ago. One did a book of real merit
and the effort he expended upon it overcame him with ennui. Another made
the mistake of supposing that he could pin John Barleycorn's shoulders
to the mat. Another had no initiative. He is dying in his tracks.

Who now are rated as successes on the roll call of those cub reporter
days? Not our geniuses, but a dozen fellows who had the most
determination and perseverance. The men who won were the men who tried,
and tried again and then kept on trying.

Mr. Dooley was quite right about opportunity: "Opporchunity knocks at
every man's dure wanst. On some men's dures it hammers till it breaks
down the dure and goes in an' wakes him up if he's asleep, an'
aftherward it works fur him as a night watchman. On other men's dures it
knocks an' runs away; an' on the dures of other men it knocks, an' whin
they come out it hits thim over the head with an ax. But eviry wan has
an opporchunity. So yez had better kape your eye skinned an' nab it
before it shlips by an' is lost forevir."

The names on a big magazine's table of contents represent many varieties
of the vicissitudes of fortune, but the prevailing type is not a lucky
genius, one for whom Opporchunity is working as a night watchman. The
type is a firm-jawed plugger. His nose is keen for "good stories," his
eye equally alert to dodge the ax or to nab Opporchunity's fleeting
coat-tails.



CHAPTER II

HOW TO PREPARE A MANUSCRIPT


If you have a real "story" up your sleeve and know how to word it in
passable English, the next thing to learn is the way to prepare a
manuscript in professional form for marketing. In the non-fiction
writer's workshop only two machines are essential to efficiency and
economy. The first of these, and absolutely indispensable, is a
typewriter. The sooner you learn to type your manuscripts, the better
for your future and your pocketbook.

It is folly to submit contributions in handwriting to a busy editor who
has to read through a bushel of manuscripts a day. The more legible the
manuscript, the better are your chances to win a fair reading. I will go
further, and declare that a manuscript which has all the earmarks of
being by a professional is not only more carefully read, but also is
likely to be treated with more consideration when a decision is to be
made upon its value to the publisher in dollars and cents. Put yourself
in the editor's place and you will quickly enough grasp the psychology
of this.

The editor knows that no professional submits manuscripts in
handwriting, that no professional writes upon both sides of the sheet,
and that no professional omits to enclose an addressed stamped envelope
in which to return the manuscript to its author if it proves unavailable
for the magazine's use. Why brand yourself as a novice even before the
manuscript reader has seen your first sentence? Remember you are
competing for editorial attention against a whole bushel of other
manuscripts. The girl who opens the magazine's mail may be tempted to
cast your contribution into the rejection basket on general principles,
if you are foolish enough to get away to such a poor start. What an
ignominious end to your literary adventure is this--and all because you
were careless, or didn't know any better!

The writer who really means business will not neglect in any detail the
psychology of making his manuscript invite a thorough reading. It may be
bad form to accept a dinner invitation in typewriting, but it is
infinitely worse form to fail to typewrite an invitation to editorial
eyes to buy your manuscript. Good form also dictates that the first page
of your contribution should bear in the upper left hand corner of the
sheet your name, upon the first line; the street address, on the second;
the town and state, on the third. In the upper right hand corner should
be set down an estimate of the number of words contained in the
manuscript.

Leave a blank down to the middle of the page. There, in capitals, write
the title of the article; then drop down a few lines and type your pen
name (if you use one) or whatever version of your signature that you
wish to have appear above the article when it comes out in print. Drop
down a few more lines before you begin with the text, and indent about
an inch for the beginning of each paragraph. Here is a model for your
guidance:


      Frank H. Jones,                                 about 3000
      2416 Front St.,                                   words
      Oswego, Ohio

                    CAMPING ON INDIAN CREEK

                              By

                        Frank Henry Jones

     It took us two minutes by the clock to pack everything we
     needed--and more, for the camper-out always takes twice as
     much junk as he can use. All that was left to do after that
     etc.,


There are sound reasons for all this. The first is that, likely enough,
your title may not altogether suit the editor, and he will require some
of the white space in the upper part of the page for a revised version.
Also, he will need some space upon which to pencil his directions to the
printers about how to set the type.

Double space your lines. If you leave no room between lines, you make it
extremely difficult for the editor to write in any corrections in the
text. Moreover, a solid mass of single-spaced typewriting is much harder
to read than material that is double-spaced.

Use good white paper, of ordinary letter size, eight by eleven inches,
and leave a margin of about an inch on either side of the text and at
both top and bottom. Number each page. Don't write your "copy" with a
ribbon which is too worn to be bright; and, while you are about it,
clean up those letters on the typebars that have a tendency to fill up
with ink and dust. You may have noticed, for example, that "a," "e,"
"o," "s," "m," and "w" are not always clear-cut upon the page.

You are doing all this to make the reading of your contribution as easy
a task as possible from the purely physical side. You are simply using a
little common sense in the process of addressing yourself to the
favorable attention of a force of extremely busy persons who are paid
to "wade through" a formidable stack of mail.

If you have an overpowering distaste for doing your own typewriting, you
may hire a typist to turn your handwritten "copy" into something easier
to read. This procedure, however, may prove to be rather too costly for
a beginner's purse. It is the part of wisdom to learn to operate a
machine yourself. At first the task may seem rather a tough one, but
even after so short a time as a month of practice you are likely to be
surprised at the progress you will make. Before long you will be able to
write much faster upon a machine than with a pencil or a pen.

The danger then lies in a temptation to haste and carelessness. This is
one reason why many fastidious magazine writers always do the first
draft of an article in longhand and turn to the typewriter only when
they are ready to set down the final version. Temperament and habit
should decide the matter. Nearly any one can learn to compose newspaper
"copy" at the keyboard, but not so many of us dare attempt to do
magazine articles at the same high rate of speed. Particularly does this
hold true of the first page of a magazine manuscript. The opening
paragraph of such a manuscript is likely to make a much more exacting
demand upon the writer's skill than the "lead" of a newspaper "story."
All that the newspaper usually demands is that the reporter cram the
gist of his facts into the first few sentences. The magazine insists
that the first paragraph of a manuscript not only catch attention but
also sound the keynote of many words to follow, for the "punch" of the
magazine story is more often near the end of the article than the
beginning.

Though the technique of newspaper and magazine writing may differ on
this matter of the "lead," do not make the mistake of supposing that the
magazine introduction need not be just as chock full of interest as the
opening of a newspaper "story." You are no longer under any compulsion,
when you write for the magazines, to cram the meat of the story into the
first sentence, but one thing you must do--you must rouse the reader to
sit up and listen. You can well afford to spend any amount of effort
upon that opening paragraph. Write your lead a dozen times, a hundred
times, if necessary, until you make it rivet the attention.



CHAPTER III

HOW TO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS


After he has bought or rented a typewriter, the would-be free lance in
the non-fiction field has his workshop only half equipped. One more
machine is an urgent necessity. Get a camera.

Few of our modern American newspapers and magazines are published
without pictures; so anybody ought to be able to perceive how absurd it
is to submit an unillustrated manuscript to an illustrated periodical.
Good photographs have won a market for many a manuscript that scarcely
would have been given a reading if it had arrived without interesting
pictures; and many a well-written article has been reluctantly returned
by the editor because no photographs were available to illustrate it.

There is only one way to dodge this issue. Just as you can hire a typist
to put your manuscript into legible form, you can pay a professional
photographer to accompany you wherever you go and take the illustrations
for your text. But the same vital objection holds here as in the case
of the professional typist--the costs will cut heavily into your
profits. With a little practice you can learn to do the work yourself.
After that, you can operate at a small fraction of the expense of hiring
a professional.

Your work soon enough will be of as high a quality as anything that the
average commercial photographer can produce, and, better yet, it will
not have any flat and stale commercial flavor about it. Nothing is more
static and banal than the composition that the ordinary professional
will produce if you fail to prevent him from having his own way. Ten to
one, all the lower half of the picture will be empty foreground, and not
a living creature will appear in the entire field of vision.

It cost the present writer upward of $150 to discover this fact. Then he
bought a thirty dollar postcard kodak and a five dollar tripod and told
the whole tribe of professionals to go to blazes. The only time since
then that he has ever had to hire commercial aid was when he had to have
heavy flashlights made of large rooms.

So save yourself money now, instead of eventually. Even if thirty
dollars takes your last nickel, don't hesitate. For a beginning, if you
are inexperienced in photography, rent a cheap machine with which to
practice--a simple "snapshot box" with no adjustments on it will do
while you are picking up the first inklings of how to compose a picture
and of how much light is required for different classes of subjects.

After you have practiced with this for a while, go out and buy a folding
kodak. If you have the journalistic eye for what is picturesque and
newsy the camera will quickly return 100 per cent. upon the investment.

The one great difficulty for the beginner in photography is that he does
not know how to "time" the exposure of a picture. The books on
photography are all too technical. They discuss chemicals and printing
papers and all the finer shadings of processes carried on in
laboratories under a ruby light. But what the novice longs to know is
simply how to _take_ pictures--what exposure to allow for a portrait,
what for a street scene, what for a panorama. He usually fails to give
the portrait enough light, and he gives the panorama too much. He is
willing to allow a professional finisher to do his developing and
printing. What the beginner wants to read is a chapter on exposure. As
an operator, he is seeking for a _rule of how_ and some examples of its
application.

If you lack a simple working theory, here is one now, in primer terms:

The closer the object which you wish to photograph is to your lens, the
_more_ light it requires; the farther away it is, the _less_ light it
requires.

This may sound somewhat unreasonable, but that is how a camera works. A
portrait head, or anything else that must be brought to within a few
feet of the lens, requires the greatest width of shutter aperture (or,
what comes to the same thing, the longest exposure); and a far-away
mountain peak or a cloud requires the smallest aperture (or the shortest
exposure).

To understand thoroughly what this means, take off the back of your
kodak and have a look at how the wheels go round. Set the pointer of the
time dial on the face of your camera at "T" (it means "time exposure")
and then press the bulb (or push the lever) which opens the shutter.
Looking through the back of your camera, make the light come through the
largest width of the lens. You can do this by pushing the other pointer
on the face of your kodak to the extreme left of its scale--the lowest
number indicated. On a kodak with a "U. S." scale this number is "4."

You will see now that the light is coming through a hole nearly an inch
in diameter. If it were a bright day you could take portrait heads
outdoors through this sized aperture with an exposure of one
twenty-fifth of a second.

Using this same amount of time, the size of the shutter aperture should
be reduced to a mere pin hole of light to make a proper exposure for
far-away mountain tops, clouds, or boats in the open sea.

Suppose we make our problem as simple as possible by leaving the timer
at one twenty-fifth of a second for all classes of subjects. We will
vary only the size of the hole through which the light is to enter.

For a close-up, a portrait head, we operate with the light coming
through the full width of the lens.

Now push to the right one notch the pointer which reduces the size of
the hole. This makes the light come through a smaller diameter, which on
a "U. S." scale will be marked "8." Only half as much light is coming
through now as before. This is the stop at which to take full length
figures and many other views in which the foreground is unusually
prominent. Buildings which are not light in color should also be taken
with this stop. In general, it is for heavy foregrounds.

Push the pointer on to "16." If your scale is "U. S." you will notice
that this is midway between the largest and the smallest stops. It is
the happy medium stop at which, on bright days, you can properly expose
for the great majority of your subjects, those hundreds of scenes not
close enough to the lens to be classified as "heavy foregrounds" nor yet
far enough away to be panoramas. Buildings which are light in color and
sunny street scenes fall into this division of exposures. When in doubt,
take it at one twenty-fifth of a second with stop "16." You can't miss
it far, one way or another.

Push the pointer on to "32" and the object to be photographed ought to
be at some distance away. This is the stop for the open road and the
sunlit fields--anything between an "average view" and a "panorama."

At "64" the scale is set for the most distant of land views, beach
scenes and boats in the middle distance off-shore. You will learn by
costly overexposures that water views require much less light than
landscapes. Photographers have an axiom that "water is as bright as the
sky itself." So at "64," which is proper exposure for the most distant
of land panoramas, you begin to take waterscapes.

That tiniest pin hole of a stop, at the extreme right of the scale, is
never to be used except for such subjects as the open sea and snowcapped
mountain tops.

There you have the theory. Apply it with common sense and you will meet
with few failures. You scarcely need to be cautioned that if an object
is dark in color it will require proportionately more exposure than the
same object if it is white. Through various weathers and seasons,
experience will keep teaching you how to adapt the rule to changing
conditions of light. Certain handbooks and exposure meters will be of
service while you are learning the classifications of subjects.

You have been told how the rule works. Press the "T" bulb again to click
your shutter shut and prepare to set out on a picture taking excursion.
Set the time scale at one twenty-fifth of a second, and leave it there.
Load up a film. Replace the back of the camera. Take along a tripod.
Don't forget that tripod! With that you insure yourself against getting
your composition askew, or losing a good picture on account of a shaky
hand.

Suppose the expedition is gunning somewhere in the backwoods. Down the
stony winding road saunters one of the natives in a two-piece suit.
Overalls and a hickory shirt constitute his entire outfit. He grows a
beard to save himself the labor of shaving. His leathery feet scarcely
feel the sharp stones of the highway. Here is a picture worth
preserving, for the "cracker" type is becoming a rarity, almost extinct.
Set your pointer at "8" and take his full length. If you wish a close-up
of his head, set the pointer at "4."

A little farther and the road plunges into a shady valley. Under the
trees ahead is a log cabin, dappled with the sunlight and the shade of
dancing leaves. Use your judgment about whether such a scene requires
"8" or "4." If in doubt, use "4," for the danger here is that you may
under-expose.

In a clearing where the shade of the trees has little effect, stands an
old water power mill. It is simply an "average view," and you can safely
snap it with a "16" stop.

The friendly razorback hogs under the mail hack make a picture with a
heavy foreground. They fall into the "8" classification--half in shade,
half in sunlight.

The road leads us at last to a river. An old-fashioned ferry boat is
making a crossing in midstream. From the hilltop where we first survey
it the scene is a landscape, distant view, and can be taken with a "32."
But when you get down to the water's edge and shoot across the shining
river, beware of overexposure. Stop down another notch.

Do you see now how the theory works? Give it a fair trial and you will
agree that taking pictures--the mere _taking_, with no bothering your
head about developing, printing, toning and the like--is a matter no
more baffling than the simple art of learning to punch the letters on
the keyboard of a typewriter. Keep at it, never neglecting an
opportunity to practice. Keep experimenting, until you can fare forth in
any sort of weather and know that you will be able to bring back
something printable upon your film or plate. If the day is not bright,
shove your timer over to one-tenth of a second, or to one-fifth.

Certain experts in photography will bitterly deride this advice to keep
the time set at one twenty-fifth of a second and to vary nothing but the
size of the lens aperture. They will point out--and be quite right about
it--that the smaller the aperture the sharper the image, and that a more
professional method of procedure is to vary the timing so as to take all
pictures with small stops.

To which I can only answer that this is all well enough for the trained
photographer and that in these days of my semi-professionalism I
practice that same sort of thing myself. But in the beginning I was duly
grateful to the man who gave me the golden maxim of "the closer the
object, the larger the stop; the more distant the object, the smaller
the stop"--a piece of advice which enabled a novice, with only one
simple adjustment to worry about, to take a passably sharp, properly
exposed picture. So I pass the word along to you for whatever it may be
worth.



CHAPTER IV

FINDING A MARKET


A nose for news, some perseverance, a typewriter and a camera have thus
far been listed as the equipment most essential to success for a writer
of non-fiction who sets out to trade in the periodical market as a free
lance. Rather brief mention has been made of the matter of literary
style. This is not because the writer of this book lacks reverence for
literary craftsmanship. It is simply because, with the facts staring him
in the face, he must set down his conviction that a polished style is
not a matter of tremendous importance to the average editor of the
average American periodical.

Journalists so clumsy that, in the graphic phrase of a short grass poet,
"they seem to write with their feet," sell manuscripts with clock-like
regularity to first-class markets. The magazines, like the newspapers,
employ "re-write men" to take crude manuscripts to pieces, rebuild them
and give them a presentable polish. The matter of prime importance to
most of our American editors is an article's content in the way of
vital facts and "human interest." Upon the matter of style the typical
editor appears to take Matthew Arnold's words quite literally:

"People think that I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have
something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only
secret of style."

No embittered collector of rejection slips will believe me when I
declare that the demand for worth-while articles always exceeds the
supply in American magazine markets. None the less it is true, as every
editor knows to his constant sorrow. The appetite of our hundreds of
periodicals for real "stories" never has been satisfied. The menu has to
be filled out with a regrettable proportion of bran and _ersatz_.

The fact that a manuscript lacks all charm of style will not blast its
chances of acceptance if the "story" is all there and is typed into a
presentable appearance and illustrated with interesting photographs. A
good style will enhance the manuscript's value, but want of verbal skill
rarely will prove a fatal blemish. Not so long as there are "re-write
men" around the shop!

It is not a lack of artistry that administers the most numerous defeats
to the novice free lance. It is a lack of market judgment. When he has
completed his manuscript he sits down and hopefully mails it out to the
first market that strikes his fancy. He shoots into the dark, trusting
to luck.

A huge army of disappointed scribblers have followed that haphazard plan
of battle. They would know better than to try to market crates of eggs
to a shoe store, but they see nothing equally absurd in shipping a
popular science article to the _Atlantic Monthly_ or an "uplift" essay
to the _Smart Set_. They paper their walls with rejection slips, fill up
a trunk with returned manuscripts and pose before their sympathetic
friends as martyrs.

Many of these defeated writers have nose-sense for what is of national
interest. They write well, and they take the necessary pains to make
their manuscripts presentable in appearance. If they only knew enough to
offer their contributions to suitable markets, they soon would be
scoring successes. What they can't get into their heads is that the
names in an index of periodicals represent needs as widely varied as the
names in a city directory.

Take, for example, five of our leading weeklies: _The Saturday Evening
Post_, _Collier's_, _Leslie's_, _The Outlook_ and _The Independent_.
They all use articles of more or less timeliness, but beyond this one
similarity they are no more alike in character than an American, an
Irishman, an Englishman, a Welshman and a Scot. Your burning hot news
"story" which _The Saturday Evening Post_ turned down may have been
rejected because the huge circulation of the _Post_ necessitates that
its "copy" go to press six or seven weeks before it appears upon the
newsstands. You should have tried _The Independent_, which makes a
specialty of getting hot stuff into circulation before it has time to
cool. Your interview with a big man of Wall Street which was returned by
_The Outlook_ might find a warm welcome at _Leslie's_. A character
sketch of the Democratic candidate for President might not please
_Leslie's_ in the least, but would fetch a good price from _Collier's_.
Your article on the Prairie Poets might be rejected by three other
weeklies, but prove quite acceptable to _The Outlook_.

When you have completed a manuscript, forget the inspiration that went
into its writing and give cold and sober second thought to this matter
of marketing. _The Outlook_ might have bought the article that
_Collier's_ rejected. _Collier's_ might have bought the one that _The
Outlook_ rejected. Every experienced writer will tell you that this sort
of thing happens every day.

Don't snort in disdain because the editor of _The Ladies' Home Journal_
rejects a contribution on economics. Maybe the lady's husband would like
it. So try it on _The World's Work_, or _Leslie's_ or _System_. It might
win you a place of honor, with your name blazoned on the cover.

Too many discouraged novices believe that the bromide of the rejection
slip--"rejection implies no lack of merit"--is simply a piece of
sarcasm. It is nothing of the sort. In tens of thousands of instances it
is a solemn fact. Don't sulk and berate the editors who return your
manuscript, but carefully read the contribution again, trying to forget
for the moment that it is one of your own precious "brain children."
Cold-bloodedly size it up as something to sell. Then you may perceive
that you have been trying to market a crate of eggs at a shoe store.
Eggs are none the less precious on that account. Try again--applying
this time to a grocer. If he doesn't buy, it will be because he already
has all the eggs on hand that he needs. In that event, look up the
addresses of some more grocers.

The same common sense principles apply in selling manuscripts to the
magazines and newspapers as in marketing any other kind of produce. The
top prices go to the fellow who delivers his goods fresh and in good
order to buyers who stand in need of his particular sort of staple.
Composing a manuscript may be art, but selling it is business.

Naturally, it requires practice to become expert in picking topics of
wide enough appeal to interest the public which reads magazines of
national circulation. Every beginner, except an inspired genius, is
likely to be oppressed with a sense of hopelessness when he is making
his first desperate attempts to "break in." The writer can testify
feelingly on this point from his own experience. Kansas City was then my
base of operations, and it seemed as if I never possibly could find
anything in that far inland locality worthy of nation-wide attention.
Everything I wrote bounced back with a printed rejection slip.

At last, however, I discovered a "story" that appeared to be of
undeniable national appeal. Missouri, for the first time in thirty-six
years, had elected a Republican governor. I decided that the surest
market for this would be a magazine dealing with personality sketches.
If a magazine of that type would not buy the "story," I was willing to
own myself whipped.

On the afternoon when we were all sure that Herbert Hadley had won, I
begged a big lithographed portrait of the governor-elect from a cigar
store man who had displayed it prominently in his front window. There
was no time, then, to search for a photograph. A thrill of conviction
pervaded me that at last my fingers were on a "story" that no magazine
editor, however much he might hate to recognize the worth of new
authors, could afford to reject.

The newspaper office files of clippings gave me all the information
necessary for a brief biography; the lithograph should serve for an
illustration. By midnight that Irresistible Wedge for entering the
magazines was in the mails.... Sure enough, the editors of _Human Life_
bought it. And, by some miracle of speed in magazine making never
explained to this day, they printed it in their next month's issue.

The moral of this was obvious--that in the proper market a real "story,"
even though it be somewhat hastily written, will receive a sincere
welcome. The week after this Irresistible Wedge appeared in print I
threw up my job as a reporter and dived off of the springboard into free
lancing. A small bank account gave me assurance that there was no
immediate peril of starving, and I wisely kept a connection with the
local newspaper. In case disaster overtook me, I knew where I could find
a job again.



CHAPTER V

A BEGINNER'S FIRST ADVENTURES


What happened to me in making a beginning as a free lance producer of
non-fiction might happen to any one else of an equal amount of
inexperience. My home town had no professional magazine writer to whom I
could turn for advice; and though I devoured scores of books about
writing, they were chiefly concerned either with the newspaper business
or with the technique of fiction, and they all failed to get down to
brass tacks about my own pressing problem, which was how to write and
sell magazine articles. I was not seeking any more ABC advice about
newspaper "stories," nor did I feel the least urge toward producing
fiction. I thirsted to find out how to prepare and market a manuscript
to _The Saturday Evening Post_ or _Collier's_, but the books in the
public library were all about the short story and the novel, Sunday
"features," the evolution of the printing press or the adventures of a
sob sister on an afternoon daily.

So I had to go out and get my education as a magazine writer in a school
of tough experiences. A few of these experiences are here recorded, in
the hope that some of the lessons that were enforced upon me may be of
help to other beginners.

The immediate results of my plunge into free lancing were:

JANUARY--not one cent.

FEBRUARY--$50.46. Seven dollars of this was for the magazine article. No
other magazine acceptances had followed the Wedge. I had not yet caught
the national viewpoint, nor had I picked up much practical information
about the magazine markets.

By March it was becoming painfully evident that a fledgling free lance
should, if he is wise, depend for a while upon a local newspaper for the
larger part of his income. In a school of hard knocks I learned to sell
"stories" of purely local interest to the Kansas City market, topics of
state-wide interest to the St. Louis Sunday editors, and contributions
whose appeal was as wide as the Gulf of Mexico to newspapers in Chicago
and New York.

Also I learned that if the free lance hopes to make any of these markets
take a lively interest in him, he will introduce his manuscripts with
interesting photographs. I rented a little black cube of a camera for
twenty-five cents a day. It had a universal focus and nothing to bother
about in the way of adjustments. To operate it you peeked into the range
finder, then threw a lever. Its lens was so slow that no pictures could
be taken with it except in bright sunlight.

I wrote about motor cars, willow farms, celebrities, freaks of nature in
the city parks, catfish and junk heaps--anything of which I could snap
interesting photographs and find enough text to "carry" the picture.

March saw me earn $126.00 by doing assignments for the city editor in
the mornings and "stories" at space rates in the afternoons for the
Sunday section. At night I plugged away at manuscripts hopefully
intended for national periodicals. But not until late in September did I
"land" in a big magazine. Then--the thrill that comes once in a
lifetime--I sold an article to _Collier's_. It required tremendous
energy to keep up such a pace, but there was sweet comfort in the
thought that, technically at least, I was now my own boss. Gradually, I
broke away from assignment work until I was free to write what I liked
and to go where I pleased.

From finding material in the city, I adventured into some of the near-by
towns in Missouri and Kansas, and soon was arguing a theory that in
every small town the local correspondents of big city newspapers are
constantly overlooking pay streaks of good "feature stories." Usually I
would start out with twenty-five dollars and keep moving until I went
broke. A railway journey no longer meant, as in reportorial days, a
banquet in the dining-car and a chair on the observation platform,
charged up on an expense account. Often enough I slept in a day coach,
my head pillowed on a kodak wrapped in a sweater vest. The elevation was
just right for a pillow; and at the same time the traveler was insured
against theft of his most precious possession, a brand new folding
camera of post card size.

For the little snapshot box soon showed its weakness in an emergency and
had to be replaced with a better machine which had an adjustable
diaphragm, a timing apparatus, a focusing scale and a front like an
accordion. One afternoon it had happened that while two hundred miles
from a city and twenty from the nearest railroad, the snapshot box had
been useless baggage for two hours, while an anxious free lance sat
perched on the crest of an Ozark mountain studying an overcast sky and
praying for some sunlight. At last the sun blazed out for half a minute
and the lever clicked in exultation.

This experience enforced a lesson: "Learn to take any sort of picture,
indoors or out, on land or water, in any sort of weather." After I got
the new machine, with a tripod to insure stability and consequent
sharpness of outline, a piece of lemon-colored glass for cloud
photography and another extra lens for portrait work, I began snapping
at anything that held out even the faintest promise of allowing me to
clear expenses in the course of acquiring needed experience. I
photographed the neighbors' children, houses offered for sale, downtown
street scenes and any number of x-marks-the-spot-of-the-accident.

When a cyclone cut a swath through one of our suburbs, I rushed
half-a-dozen photographs to _Leslie's_, feeling again some of the same
thrilling sort of confidence that had accompanied the first Irresistible
Wedge. Back came three dollars for a single print. Rather a proud day,
that! Never before had one of my prints sold for more than fifty cents.

There were evenings after that when I meditated giving the writing game
good-by in favor of photography; and many a time since then the old
temptation has recurred. The wonder of catching lovely scenery in a box
and of watching film and print reproduce it in black and white keeps
ever fresh and fascinating to me, gratifying an instinct for composition
in one whose fingers are too clumsy to attempt to draw or paint. In
those early days of my adventures in photography an editor came very
near the literal truth when he sarcastically observed: "Young man, life
to you seems to be just one long undeveloped film."

Parallel with improvement in skill as a photographer, I developed a
working plan to insure more profitable excursions afield. My interested
friends among editors and reporters gladly gave me hints about possible
out-of-town sources of "stories," and I studied the news columns, even
to the fine type of the Missouri and Kansas state notes, with all the
avidity of an aged hobo devouring a newspaper in the public library. For
every possibility I made out a card index memorandum, as--

     KANAPOLIS, KAS.

     Geographical center of the country. Once proposed as the
     capital of the nation--and of the state of Kansas. Now a
     whistling station and a rock salt plant.

For each memorandum I stuck a pin in the state maps pasted on the wall
of my workshop. When there were several pins in any neighborhood, I
would sling my kodak over my shoulder, the carrying case strapped to the
tripod-top, like a tramp with a bundle at the end of a stick. And then
away, with an extra pair of socks and a harmonica for baggage. Besides
the material that I felt certain of finding through advance information,
luck always could be trusted to turn up some additional "stories." The
quickest way to find out what there was to write about in a town was
simply to walk into the local newspaper office, introduce myself and ask
for some tips about possible "features." I cannot recall that any one
ever refused me, or ever failed to think of something worth while.

I do not know yet whether what I discovered then is a business or not,
but I made a living out of it. Whereas reporting on a salary had begun
to be something of a grind, the less profitable roamings of a free lance
furnished a life that had color and everlasting freshness.

Sometimes, trusting in the little gods of the improvident, I was lured
into the backwoods of the Ozarks by such a name as "Mountain Home,"
which caught my fancy on the map; and with no definite "stories" in mind
I would go sauntering from Nowhere-in-Particular in Northern Arkansas to
Someplace Else in Southern Missouri, snapping pictures by the roadside
and scribbling a few necessary notes. One of those excursions, which
cost $24.35, has brought a return, to date, of more than $250, which of
course does not include the worth of a five days' lark with a young
Irishman who went on the trip as a novel form of summer vacation.

He found all the novelty he could have hoped for. After some truly lyric
passages of life in Arkansas, when we felt positively homesick about
leaving one town to go on to another, we reached a railroad-less county
in Missouri infested with fleas; and to secure a discount on the stage
fare on the thirty-five-mile drive from Gainsville to West Plains (we
_had_ to have a discount to save enough to buy something to eat that
night) we played the harmonica for our driver's amusement until we
gasped like fish. His soul was touched either by the melody or by pity,
and he left us enough small change to provide a supper of cheese and
crackers.

Some happenings that must sound much more worth while in the ears of the
mundane have followed, but those first days of free lancing seem to me
to be among the choicest in a journalistic adventurer's experience.
Encounters with a variety of celebrities since then have proved no whit
more thrilling than the discovery that our host, Jerry South of Mountain
Home, was lieutenant-governor of Arkansas; and though I have roamed in
five nations, no food that I ever have tasted so nearly approaches that
of the gods as the strawberry shortcake we ate in Bergman.

Even in the crass matter of profits, I found the small town richer in
easily harvestable "stories" than the biggest city in the world. A few
years later I spent a week in London, but I picked up less there to
write about than I found in Sabetha, Kansas, in a single afternoon.
Sabetha furnished:

Half of the material for a motor car article. (When automobiles were
still a novelty to the rural population.) This sold to _Leslie's_.

An article on gasoline-propelled railway coaches, for _The Illustrated
World_.

A short contribution on scientific municipal management of public
utilities in a small town, for _Collier's_.

A character sketch about a local philanthropic money lender, for
_Leslie's_ and the Kansas City _Star_.

An account of the Kansas Amish, a sect something like the Tolstoys, for
Kansas City, St. Louis and New York newspapers.

Short Sunday specials about a $40,000 hospital and a thoroughly modern
Kansas farm house for Kansas City and St. Louis Sunday sections.

The profits of these excursions were not always immediate, and until
after I had worked many weeks at the trade there were periods of
serious financial embarrassment. To cite profitable trips too early is
to get ahead of my story, but the time is none the less propitious to
remark that a country town or a small city certainly is as good a place
for the free lance to operate (once he knows a "story" when he sees it)
as is New York or Chicago, Boston, New Orleans or San Francisco. I often
wonder if I would not have been better off financially if I had kept on
working from a Kansas City headquarters instead of emigrating to the
East.

I might have gone on this way for a long time, in contentment, for my
profits were steadily mounting and my markets extending. But one day my
wanderings extended as far as Chicago, and there I ran across an old
friend of student days. He had been the cartoonist of the college
magazine when I was its editor. He wore, drooping from one corner of his
face, a rah-rah bulldog pipe; an enormous portfolio full of enormities
of drawing was under one arm, and, dangling at the end of the other, was
one of the tiniest satchels that ever concealed a nightgown.

In answer to questions about what he was doing with himself, he
confessed that he was not making out any better than most other newly
graduated students of art. I argued that if Chicago did not treat him
considerately, he ought to head for New York, where real genius, more
than likely, would be more quickly appreciated. Also, if this was to his
liking, I would invite myself to go along with him.

We went. Now sing, O Muse, the slaughter!



CHAPTER VI

IN NEW YORK'S "FLEET STREET"


The inexperienced free lance who attempts to invade New York, as we did,
with no magazine reputation and no friends at court among the experts of
the periodical market, may be assured that he will receive a surprising
amount of courtesy. But this courtesy is likely to be administered to
help soften the blows of a series of disappointments. Anybody but a
genius or one of fortune's darlings may expect that New York, which has
a deep and natural distrust of strangers, will require that the newcomer
earn his bread in blood-sweat until he has established a reputation for
producing the goods. Dear old simple-hearted Father Knickerbocker has
been gold-bricked so often that a breezy, friendly manner puts him
immediately on his guard.

Most of the editors with whom you will have to deal are home folks, like
yourself, from Oskaloosa and Richmond and Santa Barbara and Quincy. Few
are native-born New Yorkers, and scarcely any of them go around with
their noses in the air in an "upstage Eastern manner." Most of them are
graduates of the newspaper school, and remnants of newspaper cynicism
occasionally appear in their outspoken philosophy. But be not deceived
by this, for even in the newspaper office the half-baked cub who is
getting his first glimpses of woman's frailties and man's weak will is
the only cynic who means all he says. All reporters who are worth their
salt mellow with the years; and editors who amount to much usually are
ex-reporters trained to their jobs by long experience. The biggest
editors and the ones with the biggest hearts have the biggest jobs. Most
of the snubs you will receive will come from little men in little jobs,
trying to impress you with a "front." The biggest editors of the lot are
plain home folks whom you would not hesitate to invite to a dinner in a
farmhouse kitchen.

What you ought to know when you invade New York without much capital and
no reputation to speak of is that you are making a great mistake to move
there so early, and that most of the editors to whom you address
yourself know you are making a mistake but are too soft-hearted to tell
you so.

Like most other over-optimistic free lances, we invaded New York with an
expeditionary force which was in a woeful state of unpreparedness.

In a street of brownstone fronts in mid-town Manhattan, a hurdy-gurdy
strummed a welcome to us in the golden November sunlight, and a canary
in a gilt cage twittered ecstatically from an open window. This moment
is worthy of mention because it was the happiest that was granted to us
for a number of months thereafter. We rented a small furnished room, top
floor rear, and went out for a stroll on Broadway, looking the city over
with the appraising eyes of conquerors. We were joyously confident.

One reason why we thought we would do well here was that the latter
months of the period preceding our supposedly triumphal entry had seen
me arrive at the point of earning almost as much money at free lancing
as I could have made as a reporter. Meantime, I had thrilled to see my
name affixed to contributions in _Collier's_, _Leslie's_, _Outlook_ and
_Outing_, not to mention a few lesser magazines. I thought I knew a
"story" when I saw one. I knew how to take photographs and prepare a
manuscript for marketing, and New York newspapers and magazines had been
treating me handsomely. What we did not realize was that while the New
York markets were hospitable enough to western material, they required
no further assistance in reporting the activities of Manhattan Island.
We had moved away from our gold mine.

Our home and workshop now was a cubbyhole so small that every piece of
furniture in the place was in close proximity to something else. My
battered desk was jam against my roommate's drawing table, and his chair
backed against a bed. Then, except for a narrow aisle to the door, there
was a chair which touched another bed, which touched a trunk; the trunk
touched ends with a washstand, which was jam against a false mantel
pasted onto the wall, and the mantel was in juxtaposition with a bureau
which poked me in the back. The window looked south, and adjacent
buildings allowed it to have sunlight for almost half an hour a day.

Yet it would have been a cheerful enough place if our mail had not been
so depressing. Everything we sent out came right back with a bounce,
sometimes on the same day that we posted it. With indefatigable zeal we
wrote feature "stories" about big topics in America's biggest city and
furnished illustrations for the text. But the manuscripts did not sell.
For two bitter months we kept at it before we discovered what was wrong.
You may wonder how we could have been so blind. But there was no one to
tell us what to do. We had to find out by experience.

In November our income was $60.90, all of it echoes from the past for
material written in the west.

"How that crowd in the old office would laugh at us when we trailed back
home, defeated!"

That was the thought which was at once a nightmare and a goad to further
desperate effort. Day after day the Art Department and the kodak and I
explored New York's highways and centers of interest. The place was ripe
with barrels and barrels of good "feature stories," and I knew it; and
the markets were not unfriendly, for by mail I had sold to them before.
But now we could not "land."

On Christmas Day there was a dismal storm. Our purses were almost flat,
and my box from home failed to arrive. To get up an appetite for dinner
that night we went for a walk in a joy killing blizzard. I wanted to die
and planned to do so. The only reason I did not jump off of a pier was
the providential intervention of several stiff cocktails. (I am
theoretically a prohibitionist, but grateful to the enemy for having
saved my life.) The black cloud that shut out all sunlight was our
measly total for December--$18.07.

One glimmer of hope remained in a growing suspicion that perhaps some of
the "stories" we had submitted had seen print shortly before we
arrived. Possibly some other free lances--I would now estimate the
number as somewhere between nine hundred and a thousand--had gone over
the island of Manhattan with a fine tooth comb? I began haunting the
side streets to seek out the most hidden possibilities, and ended in
triumph one afternoon in a little uptown bird store.

For two hours the young woman who was the proprietor of the store
submitted to a searching interview, and I emerged with enough material
for a full page spread. Then, taking no chances of being turned down
because the contribution was too long, I condensed the "story" into a
column. The manuscript went to the Sunday Editor of the New York _Sun_,
with a letter pleading that "just this once" he grant me the special
favor of a note to explain why he would not be able to use what I had to
offer.

"Well enough written," he scribbled on the rejection slip, "but Miss
Virginia has been done too many times before."

With that a great light dawned. Further investigation discovered that we
had run into the same difficulty on numerous other occasions. We
newcomers had no notion of how thoroughly and often the city had been
pillaged for news. We could not tell old stuff from new. Manhattan
Island is, indeed, the most perilous place in all America for the green
and friendless free lance to attempt to earn a living. There is a
wonderful abundance of "stories," but nearly all of them that the eye of
the beginner can detect have been marketed before. Any other island but
Manhattan! When dog days came around, I took a vacation on Bois Blanc in
the Straits of Mackinac, and found more salable "stories" along its
thinly populated shores than Manhattan had been able to furnish in three
months. Everything I touched on Bois Blanc was new, and all my own.
Anything on Manhattan is everybody's.

But to return to our troubles in New York. The only hope I could see was
to create a line of writing all our own. This determination resulted in
a highly specialized type of "feature" for which we found a market in
the morning New York _World_. It combined novelty with the utmost
essence of timeliness. For example, precluding any possibility of being
anticipated on the opening of Coney Island's summer season, we wrote
early in February:

"If reports from unveracious employees of Coney Island are to be
trusted, the summer season of 1910 is going to bring forth thrilling
novelties for the air and the earth and the tunnels beneath the earth."

We listed then the Biplane Hat Glide (women were wearing enormous hats
that season) and Motor Ten Pins--get in a motor car and run down
dummies which count respectively, a child, ten points; a blind man,
five; a newsboy, one. Then the Shontshover. We explained the Shontshover
in detail because it was supposed to have a particularly strong appeal
to the millions who ride in the subway:

"New York's good-natured enjoyment of its inadequate subway service is
responsible for the third novelty of the season. In honor of a gentleman
who once took a ride in one of his own subway cars during the rush hour,
the device has been named the 'Shontshover' (from 'Shonts' and
'shover'). It is the sublimation of a subway car, a cross between a
cartridge and a sardine can. The passengers are packed into the shell
with a hydraulic ram, then at high speed are shot through a pneumatic
tube against a stone wall. Because of the great number of passengers the
Shontshover can carry in a day, the admission price to the tube is to be
only twenty-five cents."

We suggested on other occasions that new churches should have floors
with an angle of forty-five degrees, on account of the prevailing
fashion of large hats among women; that City Hall employees were
outwitting Mayor Gaynor's time clock by paying the night watchman to
punch it for them at sunrise, and that beauty had become a bar to a job
as waitress in numerous New York restaurants. (O shades of George
Washington, forgive us that one, at least!) These squibs did nobody any
harm, and did us on the average, the good of the price of a week's room
rent. We never meant them to be taken seriously or ever supposed that
any one in the world would swallow them whole. But among our readers was
a square-headed German; and one of the most absurd of our imaginings
turned out, as a result, to be a physical possibility.

"Ever since it was announced, a few days ago, that hazing in a modified
modernized form is to be permitted at West Point," we related, "a
reporter for the _World_ has been busily interviewing people of all ages
and interests to find the latest ideas on the subject.... Some small
boys in Van Cortlandt Park yesterday afternoon, diabolo experts,
suggested 'plebe diabolo.' It is simply diabolo for grown-ups. A rope
takes the place of the customary string and a first year man is used for
a spool. Any one can see at a glance what a great improvement this would
be over the old-fashioned stunt of tossing the plebe in a blanket."

A few months later I picked up a copy of the _Scientific American_ and
chortled to read the account of a German acrobat who was playing in
vaudeville as the "Human Diabolo."

But this sort of thing was merely temporizing, and we finally had to
abandon it for subjects more substantial. By a slow and harrowing
process we learned our specialties and made a few helpful friends in New
York's Fleet Street. The fittest among the many manuscripts turned out
by our copy mill survived to teach us that the surest way into print is
to write about things closest to personal knowledge--simple and homely
themes close to the grass roots. We turned again to middle western
topics and the magazines opened their doors to us. We plugged away for
six months and cleared a profit large enough to pay off all our debts
and leave a little margin. Then we felt that we could look the west in
the face again, and go home, if we liked, without a consciousness of
utter defeat. For though we had not won, neither had we lost. Our books
struck a balance.

When the Wanderlust began calling again in May, I sat many an evening in
the window of our little room, gazing down into the backyard cat arena
or up at the moon, and dragging away at a Missouri corncob pipe in a
happy revery. Some of my manuscript titles of editorial paragraphs
contributed to _Collier's_ trace what happened next:

     Longings at the Window.
     Packing Up.
     A Mood of Moving Day.
     From Cab to Taxi.
     Outdoor Sleeping Quarters.
     Shortcake.

Which is to say that it was sweet to see the home folks again, to eat
fried chicken and honest homemade strawberry shortcake and to slumber on
a sleeping porch. Our forces had beat a strategic retreat, but the
morale was not gone. Our determination was firm to assault New York
again at the first favorable opportunity. Meanwhile, we had learned a
thing or two.



CHAPTER VII

SOMETHING TO SELL


Six months back home, toiling like a galley slave, furnished requisite
funds for another fling at New York. If ever a writer _burned_ with
zeal, this one did. Mississippi Valley summers often approach the
torrid; this one was a record breaker; and I never shall forget how
often that summer, after a hard day's work as a reporter, I stripped to
the waist like a stoker and scribbled and typed until my eyes and
fingers ached.

It was wise--and foolish. Wise, because it furnished the capital with
which every free lance ought to be well supplied before he attempts to
operate from a New York headquarters. Foolish, because it took all joy
of life out of my manuscripts while the session of strenuousness lasted
and left me wavering at the end almost on the verge of a physical
breakdown. Nights, Sundays and holidays I plugged and slogged, nor did I
relent even when vacation time came round. I sojourned to the Michigan
pine woods, but took along my typewriter and kept it singing half of
every day.

The new year found me in New York again, alone this time and installed
in a comfortable two-room suite instead of an attic. A reassuring bank
account bolstered up my courage while the work was getting under way.

This time I made a go of it; and such ups and downs as have followed in
the ten years succeeding have not been much more dramatic than the mild
adventures that befall the everyday business man. "Danger is past and
now troubles begin." That phrase of Gambetta's aptly describes the
situation of the average free lance when, after the first desperate
struggles, he has managed to gain a reasonable assurance of
independence.

Confidence comes with experience, and when you no longer have any grave
fears about your ability to make a living at the trade, your mind turns
from elementary problems to the less distracting task of finding out how
to make your discovered degree of talent count for all that it may be
worth. After trying your hand at a variety of subjects, you will find
your forte. But take your time about it. Every adventure in composition
teaches you something new about yourself, your art and the markets
wherein you gain your daily bread. The way to learn to write--the only
way--is by writing, and you never will know what you might do unless you
dare and try.

Both as a matter of expediency and of getting as much fun out of the
work as possible, it is well in the beginning to be versatile.
Eventually, the free lance faces two choices: He may become a specialist
and put in the remainder of his life writing solely about railroads, or
about finance, or about the drama. Or he may, as Robert Louis Stevenson
did, turn his hand as the mood moves him, to fiction, verse, fables,
biography, criticism, drama or journalism--a little of everything. For
my own part, I have always had something akin to pity for the fellow who
is bound hand and foot to one interest. Let the fame and the greater
profits of specialization go hang; "an able bodied writin' man" can best
possess his soul if he does not harness Pegasus to plow forever in one
cabbage patch.

Like the Ozark Mountain farmer who also ran a country store, a saw mill,
a deer park, a sorghum mill, a threshing machine and preached in the
meetin' house on Sunday mornings, I have turned my pen to any honest
piece of writing that appealed strongly enough to my fancy--travel,
popular science, humor, light verse, editorials, essays, interviews,
personality sketches and captions for photographs. Genius takes a short
cut to the highroad. But waste not your sympathy on the rest of us, for
the byways have their own charm.

While one is finding his footing in the free lance fields, he had best
not hold himself above doing any kind of journalistic work that turns an
honest dollar. For he becomes richer not only by the dollar, but also by
the acquaintances he makes and the valuable experience he gains in
turning that dollar. There was a time--and not so long ago--when, if the
writer called at the waiting room of the Leslie-Judge Company, the girl
at the desk would try to guess whether he had a drawing to show to the
Art Editor, a frivolous manuscript for _Judge_ or a serious article for
_Leslie's_. At the Doubleday, Page plant the uncertainty was about
whether the caller sought the editor of _World's Work_, _Country Life_,
the _Red Cross Magazine_ or _Short Stories_--he had, at various times,
contributed to all of these publications.

Smile, if you like, but there is no better way to discover what you can
do best than to try your 'prentice hand at a great variety of topics and
mediums. The post-graduate course of every school of journalism is a
roped arena where you wrestle, catch as catch can, for the honors
bestowed by experience.

This experience, painfully acquired, should be backed up by an
elementary knowledge of salesmanship. Super-sensitive souls there are
who shudder at the mere mention of the word; and why this is so is not
difficult to understand--their minds are poisoned with sentimental
misapprehensions. Get rid of those misapprehensions just as swiftly as
you can. If you have something to sell, be it hardware or a manuscript,
common sense should dictate that you learn a little about how to sell
it.

Expert interviewers prepare themselves both for their topic and their
man before they go into a confab--a practice which should be followed to
some extent by every writer who sets out to interview an editor about a
manuscript. What you have to offer should be prepared to suit the needs
of the editor to whom the contribution is addressed. So you should study
your magazine just as carefully as you do the subject about which you
are writing. In your interview with the editor or in the letter which
takes the place of an interview, state briefly whatever should be useful
to his enlightenment. That is all. There you have the first principles
of what is meant by "an elementary knowledge of salesmanship." If you
don't know what you are talking about or anything about the possible
needs of the man to whom you are talking, how can you expect to interest
him in any commodity under heaven? Say nothing that you don't
believe--he won't believe it, either. Never fool him. If you do, you may
sell him once, but never again.

There is no dark art to salesmanship; it is simply a matter of
delivering the goods in a manner dictated by courtesy, sincerity, common
sense and common honesty. Be yourself without pose, and don't forget
that the editor--whether you believe it or not--is just as "human" as
you are, and quick to respond to the best that there is in you. Shake
off the delusion that you need to play the "good fellow" to him, like
the old-fashioned type of drummer in a small town. Simply and sincerely
and straight from the shoulder--also briefly, because he is a busy
man--state your case, leave your literary goods for inspection and go
your way.

He will judge you and your manuscript on merits; if he does not, he will
not long continue to be an editor. The two greatest curses of his
existence (I speak from experience) are the poses and the incurable
loquaciousness of some of his callers and correspondents. Don't attempt
to spring any correspondence school salesmanship on a real editor. Learn
what real salesmanship is, from a real salesman--who may sell bacon, or
steel or motor cars instead of manuscripts. He lives down your street,
perhaps. Have a talk with him. He will tell you of the profits in a
square deal and in knowing your business, and what can be accomplished
by a little faith.

If you are temperamentally unfit to sell your own writings, get a
competent literary agent to do the job for you. But don't too quickly
despair, for after all, there is nothing particularly subtle about
salesmanship. Sincerity, however crude, usually carries conviction. If
you know a "story" when you see it, if you write it right and type it in
professional form and give it the needed illustrations; then if you
offer it in a common sense manner to a suitable market, you can be
trusted to handle your own products as successfully as the best salesman
in America--as successfully as Charles Schwab himself. For, above all,
remember this: the editor is just as eager to buy good stuff as you are
to sell it. Nothing is simpler than to make a sale in the literary
market if you have what the editor wants.



CHAPTER VIII

WHAT THE EDITOR WANTS


Suppose you were the manager of an immense forum, a stadium like the one
in San Diego, California, where with the aid of a glass cage and an
electrical device increasing the intensity of the human voice, it is
possible to reach the ears of a world's record audience of 50,000
persons. What sort of themes would you favor when candidates for a place
on your speaking program asked you what they ought to discuss? "The
Style of Walter Pater?" "The Fourth Dimension?" "Florentine Art of the
Fourteenth Century?" Not likely! You would insist upon simple and homely
themes, of the widest possible appeal.

A parallel case is that of the editor of a magazine of general
circulation. He manages a forum so much larger than the famous stadium
at San Diego that the imagination is put to a strain to picture it. On
the generally accepted assumption that each sold copy of a popular
magazine eventually reaches an average of five persons, there is one
forum in the magazine world of America which every week assembles a
throng of ten million or more assorted citizens, gathered from
everywhere, coast to coast, men and women, young and old, every walk of
life. A dozen other periodicals address at least half that number, and
the humblest of the widely known magazines reaches a quarter of a
million--five times as many persons as jammed their way into the San
Diego stadium one time to hear a speech by the President of the United
States.

Put yourself into the shoes of the manager of one of these forums, and
try to understand some of his difficulties.

A dozen times a day the editor of a popular periodical is besieged by
contributors to make some sort of answer to the question: "What kind of
material are you seeking?"

What else can he reply, in a general way, but "something of wide appeal,
to interest our wide circle of readers"?

There are times, of course, when he can speak specifically and with
assurance, if all he happens to require at the moment to give proper
balance to his table of contents is one or two manuscripts of a definite
type. Then he may be able to say, off-hand: "An adventure novelette of
twenty thousand words," or, "An article on the high cost of shoe
leather, three thousand five hundred words." But this is a happy
situation which is not at all typical. Ordinarily, he stands in constant
need of half a dozen varieties of material; but to describe them all in
detail to every caller would take more time than he could possibly
afford to spare.

He cannot stop to explain to every applicant that among what Robert
Louis Stevenson described as "the real deficiencies of social
intercourse" is the fact that while two's company three's a crowd; that
with each addition to this crowd the topics of conversation must broaden
in appeal, seeking the greatest common divisor of interests; and that a
corollary is the unfortunate fact that the larger the crowd the fewer
and more elemental must become the subjects that are possible for
discussion.

Every editor knows that a lack of judgment in selecting themes of broad
enough appeal to interest a nation-wide public is one of the novice
scribbler's most common failings. It is due chiefly to a lack of
imagination on the part of the would-be contributor, who appears to be
incapable of projecting himself into the editorial viewpoint. I can
testify from my own experience that a single day's work as an editor,
wading through a bushel of mail, taught me more about how to make a
selection of subjects than six months of shooting in the dark as a free
lance.

Every editor knows that nine out of ten of the unsolicited manuscripts
which he will find piled upon his desk for reading to-morrow morning
will prove to be wholly unfitted for the uses of his magazine. The man
outside the sanctum fails utterly to understand the editor's dilemma.

This is the situation which has produced the "staff writer," and has
brought down upon the editor the protests of his more discriminating
readers against "standardized fiction" and against sundry uninspired
articles produced to measure by faithful hacks. The editor defends his
course in printing this sort of material upon the ground that a magazine
made up wholly of unsolicited material would be a horrid mélange, far
more distressing to the consumer than the present type of popular
periodical which is so largely made to order. All editors read
unsolicited material hopefully and eagerly. Many an editor gives this
duty half of his working day and part of his evenings and Sundays. All
of the reward of a discoverer is his if he can herald a new worth-while
writer. Moreover, the interest of economy bids him be faithful in the
task, for the novice does not demand the high rates of the renowned
professional.

Yet even on the largest of our magazines, where the stream of
contributions is enormous, the most diligent search is not fruitful of
much material that is worth while. The big magazines have to order most
of their material in advance, like so much sausage or silk; and much of
the contents is planned for many months ahead. Scarcely any dependence
can be placed upon the luck of what drifts into the office in the mails.

Inevitably, the magazines must have large recourse to "big names," not
because of inbred snobbishness on the part of the editors but because
the "big name," besides carrying advertising value, is more likely than
a little one to stand for material with a "big" theme, handled by a
writer of experience. A surer touch in selecting and handling topics of
nation-wide appeal is what counts most heavily in favor of the writer
with an established reputation. Often enough it is not his vastly
superior craftsmanship. I know of several famous magazine writers who
never in their lives have got their material into print in the form in
which it originally was submitted. They are what the trade calls
"go-getters." They deliver the "story" as best they can, and a more
skillful stylist completes the job.

Success in marketing non-fiction to popular magazines appears to hinge
largely upon the quality of the thinking the writer does before he sets
pen to paper. A classic anecdote of New York's Fleet Street may
illustrate the point:

The publisher of a national weekly was hiring a newspaper man as editor.

"Is this a writing job?" the applicant inquired.

"No!" growled the publisher, "a thinkin' job!"

The writer of non-fiction is in the same boat with the editor who buys
his articles; he calls himself a writer, but primarily he is up against
a thinking job. The actual writing of his material is secondary to good
judgment in selecting what is known as a "compelling" theme. If he can
produce a "real story" and get it onto paper in some sort of intelligent
fashion, what remains to be done in the way of craftsmanship can be
handled inside the magazine office by a "re-write man." Make sure, first
of all, that what you have to say is something that ought to interest
the large audience to which you address it.

Nobody with a grain of common sense would attempt to discuss "The Style
of Walter Pater" to fifty thousand restless and croupy auditors in the
vast San Diego stadium, but the average free lance sees nothing of equal
absurdity about attempting to cram an essay on Pater down the throats of
a miscellaneous crowd in a stadium which is from a hundred to two
hundred times as large--the forum into which throng the thousands who
read one of our large popular magazines.

Much as we may regret to acknowledge it, there is no way to get around
the fact that the larger and more general the circulation of a
periodical, the more universal must be the appeal of the material
printed and the fewer the mainstays of interest, until in a magazine
with a circulation of more than a million copies the chief
classifications of non-fiction material required can easily be counted
upon the fingers. The editor of such a publication necessarily is
limited to handling rather elemental topics; so it is not to be wondered
at when we hear that the largest publication of them all makes its
mainstays two such universally interesting and world-old themes as
business and "the way of a man with a maid."

Examine any popular magazine which has a circulation of general readers,
speaking to a forum of anywhere from a quarter of a million to ten
million assorted readers, and you will find that the non-fiction
material which it is most eager to buy may easily be classified into
half a dozen types of articles, all concerned with the ruling passions
of the average American, as:

     1. His job.
     2. His hearthstone.
     3. His politics.
     4. His recreations.
     5. His health.
     6. Happenings of national interest.

Examine a few of these types of contributions to arrive at a clearer
understanding of why they are so justly popular. Your average American
is, first of all, keenly interested in his job. It is much more to him,
usually, than just a way to make a living. It fascinates him like a
game, and you often hear him describe it as a "game." What, then, is
more natural than that he should eagerly read articles of practical
helpfulness concerned with his activities in office or store, factory or
farm? The largest of our popular magazines never appear without
something which touches this sort of interest, stimulating the man of
affairs to strive after further successes and advancement in his chosen
occupation. Many specialized business and trade publications and more
than a score of skillfully edited farm magazines thrive upon developing
this class of themes to the exclusion of all other material.

A second vital interest is the hearthstone--suggesting such undying
topics as love and the landlord, marriage and divorce, the training of
children, the household budget, the high cost of living, those
compelling themes which have built up the women's magazines into
institutions of giant stature and tremendous power.

Politics is another field of almost universal interest, broadening every
day now that women have the ballot and now that our vision is no longer
limited to the homeland horizon, but finds itself searching eagerly
onward into international relationships. Once we were content, as a
national body politic, to discuss candidates for the Presidency or what
our stand should be upon currency and the tariff. To-day we are also
gravely concerned to know what is to become of Russia and Germany, or
how the political and social unrest in France and Italy and England will
affect the peace of the world.

As a fourth point, your average American these days is quick to respond
to anything worth while concerning his recreations. As a consequence,
much space is reserved in the big magazines for articles on society,
travel, the theater and the movies, motor cars, country life, outings,
and such popular sports as golf, baseball and tennis. Every one of these
topics, besides being dealt with in the general magazines, has its own
special mouthpiece.

Health always has been a subject constantly on the tip of everybody's
tongue, but never before has so much been printed about the more
important phases of it than appears in the popular magazines of to-day.
Knowledge of the common sense rules of diet, exercise, ventilation and
the like are becoming public possession--thanks largely to the magazines
and the newspaper syndicates.

A sixth mainstay of the magazines is in the presentation of articles
dealing with happenings of national interest or personalities prominent
in the day's news. This task grows increasingly difficult as the
newspapers tighten their grip upon the public's attention and as the
news pictorials of the moving picture screen gain in popular esteem by
improved technical skill and more intelligent editing. The magazine of
large circulation must go to press so long before the newspapers and the
films that much perishable news must be thrown out, even though it is of
nation wide appeal. The magazines are coming to find their greatest
usefulness in the news field in gathering up the loose ends of scattered
paragraphs which the daily newspapers have no time to weave together
into a pattern. In the magazine the patchwork of daily journalism is
assembled into more meaningful designs. Local news is sifted of its
provincialism to become matter of national concern. Topics which you
rapidly skimmed in the afternoon newspaper three or four weeks ago are
re-discussed in the weekly or monthly magazines in a way which often
makes you feel that here, for the first time, they become of personal
import.

The purpose of the suggestions sketched above is not to supply canned
topics to ready writers, but to set ambitious scribblers to the task of
doing some thinking for themselves. Instead of shiftlessly tossing the
whole burden of responsibility for choice of topics to a hard driven
editor, and whining, "Please give me an idea!", search around on your
own initiative for a theme worth presenting to the attention of a throng
of widely assorted listeners--for a "story" that ought to appeal to
America's multitudes. If your topic is big enough for a big audience,
your chances are prime to get a hearing for it. Dig up the necessary
facts, the "human interest" and the national significance of the case.
Then, rest assured, that "story" is what the editor wants.



CHAPTER IX

AND IF YOU DO--


Something in the misty sunshine this morning made you restless. Vague
longings, born of springtime mystery, stirred your blood, quickened the
imagination. Roads that never were, and mayhap never will be, beckoned
you with their sinuous curves and graceful shade trees toward velvety
fields beyond the city's skyline. The sweet fragrance of blossoming
orchards tingled in your nostrils and thrilled you with wanderlust.
Haunting melodies quavered in your ears. Your old briar pipe never
tasted so sweet before. Adventure never seemed so imminent. A golden
day. What will you do with it?

You could write to-day, but if you did, you know you could support no
patience for prosy facts, statistics and photographs. Whatever urge you
feel appears to be toward verse or fiction. Well, why not? Try it! You
never know what you might do in writing until you dare.

Verse is largely its own reward.

Fiction, when it turns out successfully, fetches a double reward. It
pays both in personal satisfaction, as a form of creative art, and also
as a marketable commodity, which always is in great demand, and which
can be cashed in to meet house rent and grocers' bills.

It is not within the scope of this little book--nor of its author's
abilities--to attempt a discussion of fiction methods. Too many other
writers, better qualified to speak, have dealt with fiction in scores of
worth while volumes. Too many successful story tellers have related
their experiences and treated, with authority, of the short story, the
novelette and the long novel.

The purpose here can be only to urge that an attempt to write fiction is
a logical step ahead for any scribbler who has won a moderate degree of
success in selling newspaper copy and magazine articles. The eye that
can perceive the dramatic and put it into non-fiction, the heart that
knows human interest, the understanding that can tell a symbol, the
artist-instinct that can catch characteristic colors, scents and sounds,
all should aid a skilled writer of articles to turn his energies, with
some hope of achievement, toward producing fiction. The hand that can
fashion a really vivid article holds out promise of being able to
compose a convincing short story, if grit and ambition help push the
pen.

The temptation to dogmatize here is strong, for the witness can testify
that he has seen enviable success crown many a fiction writer who,
apparently, possessed small native talent for story telling, and who won
his laurels through sheer pluck and persistence. One of these pluggers
declares he blesses the rejection slip because it "eliminates so many
quitters."

But of course it would be absurd to believe that any one with unlimited
courage and elbow grease could win at fiction, lacking all aptitude for
it. Just as there are photographers who can snap pictures for twenty
years without producing a single happy composition (except by accident),
and reporters who never develop a "nose for news," there are story
writers who can master all the mechanics of tale-telling, through sheer
drudgery, and yet continually fail to catch fiction's spark of life.
They fail, and shall always fail. Yet it is better to have strived and
failed, than never to have tried at all.

Why? For the good of their artists' consciences, in the first place.
And, in the second, because no writer can earnestly struggle with words
without learning something about them to his trade advantage.

A confession may be in order: your deponent testifies freely, knowing
that anything he may say may be used against him, that for years he has
been a tireless producer of unsuccessful fiction, yet he views his
series of rebuffs in this medium calmly and even somewhat humorously.
For, by trade, he is a writer of articles, and he earnestly believes
that the mental exercise of attempting to produce fiction acts as a
healthy influence upon a non-fictionist's style. It stimulates the
torpid imagination. It quickens the eye for the vivid touches, the
picturesque and the dramatic. It is a groping toward art.

"Art," writes one who knows, "is a mistress so beautiful, so high, so
noble, that no phrases can fitly characterize her, no service can be
wholly worthy of her."

Perhaps such art as goes into the average magazine article is not likely
to merit much high-sounding praise. In our familiar shop talk we are
prone to laugh about it. But even the most commercial-minded of our
brotherhood cherishes deep in his heart a craftsman's pride in work well
done. So your deponent testifies in his own defense that his copybook
exercises in fiction, half of which end in the wastebasket, seem well
worth the pains that they cost, so long as they help keep alive in his
non-fiction bread-winners a hankering after (if not a flavor of)
literary art.

And now must he apologize further for using a word upon which writers in
these confessedly commercial days appear to have set a _taboo_? Then a
passage from "The Study of Literature" (Arlo Bates) may serve for the
apology:

"Life is full of disappointment, and pain, and bitterness, and that
sense of futility in which all of these evils are summed up; and yet
were there no other alleviation, he who knows and truly loves literature
finds here a sufficient reason to be glad he lives. Science may show a
man how to live; art makes living worth his while. Existence to-day
without literature would be a failure and a despair; and if we cannot
satisfactorily define our art, we at least are aware how it enriches and
ennobles the life of every human being who comes within the sphere of
its gracious influence."

So, we repeat: for the good of the artist's self-respect as well as for
his craftsmanship it is worth while to attempt fiction. If only as a
tonic! If only to jog himself out of a rut of habit!

If he succeeds with fiction he has bright hopes of winning much larger
financial rewards for his labor than he is likely to gain by writing
articles. Non-fiction rarely brings in more than one return upon the
investment, but a good short story or novel may fetch several. First,
his yarn sells to the magazine. Then it may be re-sold ("second serial
rights") to the newspapers. Finally, it may fetch the largest cash
return of all by being marketed to a motion picture corporation as the
plot for a scenario. In some instances even this does not exhaust all
the possibilities, for if British magazines and bookmen are interested
in the tale, the "English rights" of publication may add another payment
to the total.

Not all of the features of this picture, however, should be painted in
rose-colors. A disconcerting and persistent rumor has it that what once
was a by-product of fiction--the sale of "movie rights"--is now
threatening to run off with the entire production. The side show, we are
warned, is shaping the policy of the main tent. Which is to say that
novelists and magazine fiction writers are accused of becoming more
concerned about how their stories will film than about how the
manuscripts will grade as pieces of literature. To get a yarn into print
is still worth while because this enhances its value in the eyes of the
producers of motion pictures. But the author's real goal is "no longer
good writing, so much as remunerative picture possibilities."

We set this down not because we believe it true of the majority of our
brother craftsmen, but because evidences of such influences are
undeniably present, and do not appear to have done the art of writing
fiction any appreciable benefit. If your trade is non-fiction, and you
turn to fiction to improve your art rather than your bank account, good
counsel will admonish you not to aim at any other mark than the best
that you can produce in the way of literary art. For there lies the
deepest satisfaction a writer can ever secure--"art makes living worth
his while."



CHAPTER X

FOREVER AT THE CROSSROADS


Keep studying. Keep experimenting. Set yourself harder tasks. Never be
content with what you have accomplished. Match yourself against the men
who can outplay you, not against the men you already excel. Keep
attempting something that baffles you. Discontent is your friend more
often than your enemy.

From the moment that he is graduated out of the cub reporter class,
every writer who is worth his salt is forever at the crossroads,
perplexed about the next turn. Nowhere is smugness of mind more deadly
than in journalism. To progress you must forever scale more difficult
ascents. The bruises of rebuffs and the wounds of injured vanity will
heal quickly enough if you keep busy. Defeated or undefeated, the writer
who always is trying to master something more difficult than the work he
used to do preserves his self-respect and the respect of his worth-while
neighbors. The fellow with the canker at his heart is not the battler
but the envious shirker who is too "proud" to risk a fall.

Swallow what you suppose to be your pride; it really is a false sense of
dignity. Make a simple beginning in the university of experience by
learning with experiments what constitutes a "story" and by drudging
with pencil and typewriter to put that "story" into professional
manuscript form. Get the right pictures for it; then ship it off to
market. If the first choice of markets rejects you, try the second, the
third, fourth, fifth and sixth--even unto the ninety-and-ninth.

Few beginners have even a dim notion of the great variety of markets
that exist for free lance contributions. There are countless trade
publications, newspaper syndicates, class journals, "house organs," and
magazines devoted to highly specialized interests. Nearly all of these
publications are eager to buy matter of interest to their particular
circles of readers. Every business, every profession, every trade, every
hobby has its mouthpiece.

Remember this when you are a beginner and the "big magazines" of general
circulation are rejecting your manuscripts with a clock-like regularity
which drives you almost to despair. Try your 'prentice hand on
contributions to the smaller publications. That is the surest way to
"learn while you earn" in free lancing. These humble markets need not
cause you to sneer--particularly if you happen to be a humble beginner.

Every laboratory experiment in manuscript writing and marketing, though
it be only a description of a shop window for a dry goods trade paper,
or an interview with a boss plumber for the _Gas Fitter's Gazette_, will
furnish you with experience in your own trade, and set you ahead a step
on the long road that leads to the most desirable acceptances. The one
thing to watch zealously is your own development, to make sure that you
do not too soon content yourself with achievements beneath your
capabilities. Start with the little magazines, but keep attempting to
attain the more difficult goals.

Meanwhile, you need not apologize to any one for the nature of your
work, so long as it is honest reporting and all as well written as you
know how to make it. Stevenson, one of the most conscientious of
literary artists, declared in a "Letter to a Young Gentleman Who
Proposes to Embrace the Career of Art," that "the first duty in this
world is for a man to pay his way," and this is one of your confessed
purposes while you are serving this kind of journalistic apprenticeship.

Until he arrives, the novice must, indeed, unless he be exceptionally
gifted, "pay assiduous court to the bourgeois who carries the purse.
And if in the course of these capitulations he shall falsify his talent,
it can never have been a strong one, and he will have preserved a better
thing than talent--character. Or if he be of a mind so independent that
he cannot stoop to this necessity, one course is yet open: he can desist
from art, and follow some more manly way of life."

In short, so long as you _keep moving_ toward something worth attaining,
there is nothing to worry about but how to keep from relapsing into
smugness or idleness. The besetting temptation of the free lance is to
pamper himself. He is his own boss, can sleep as late as he likes, go
where he pleases and quit work when the temptation seizes him. As a
result, he usually babies himself and turns out much less work than he
might safely attempt without in the least endangering his health.

When he finds out later how assiduously some of the best known of our
authors keep at their desks he becomes a little ashamed of himself.
Though they may not work, on the average, as long hours as the business
man, they toil far harder, and usually with few of the interruptions and
relaxations from the job that the business man is allowed. Four or five
hours of intense application a day stands for a great deal more
expenditure of energy and thought than eight or nine hours broken up
with periods when one's feet are literally or metaphorically on the desk
and genial conversation is flowing. Most of the men and women who make a
living out of free lancing earn every blessed cent of it; and the amount
upon which they pay an income tax is, as a rule, proportioned rather
justly to the amount of concentrated labor that they pour into the
hopper of the copy mill.

You who happen to have seen a successful free lance knock off work in
mid-afternoon to play tennis, or to skim away toward the country club in
his new motor car are too likely to exclaim that "his is the existence!"
Forgetting, of course, the lonesome hours of more or less baffling
effort that he spent that day upon a manuscript before he locked up his
workshop. And the years he spent in drudgery, the bales of rejection
slips he collected, the times that he had to pawn his watch and stick
pin to buy a dinner or to pay the rent of a hall bedroom.

Young Gentlemen Who Propose to Embrace the Career of Art might be
shocked to learn--though it would be all for their own good--that a
great many writers who are generally regarded with envy for their "luck"
take the pains to follow the market notes in the Authors' League
_Bulletin_, the _Bookman_ and the _Editor Magazine_ with all the care
of a contractor studying the latest news of building operations. Not
only do these writers read the trade papers of their calling; they also,
with considerable care, study the magazines to which they sell--or hope
to sell--manuscripts. They do not nearly so often as the novice make the
_faux pas_ of offering an editor exactly the same sort of material that
he already has printed in a recent or a current issue. They follow the
new books. They keep card indexes on their unmarketed manuscripts, and
toil on as much irksome office routine as a stock broker. A surprisingly
large number of the "arrived" do not even hold themselves above keeping
note books, or producing, chiefly for the beneficial exercise of it,
essays, journals, descriptions, verse and fiction not meant to be
offered for sale--solely copybook exercises, produced for
self-improvement or to gratify an impulse toward non-commercial art.

For instances I can name a fiction writer who turns often to the essay
form, but never publishes this type of writing, and an editorial writer
who, for the "fun of it" and the good he believes it does his style,
composes every year a great deal of verse. A group of six Michigan
writers publish their own magazine, a typewritten publication with a
circulation of six.

These men are not content with their present achievements. They regard
themselves always as students who must everlastingly keep trying more
difficult tasks to insure a steady progress toward an unattainable goal.
"Most of the studyin'," Abe Martin once observed, "is done after a
feller gets out of college," and these gray-haired exemplars are--as all
of us ought to be--still learning to write, and forever at the
crossroads.

       *       *       *       *       *

FINIS

       *       *       *       *       *





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