Meeting the editors – Butterick & Hersey

I CAN’T say truthfully that I received any immediate practical benefit from my visit to the editorial offices of Adventure Magazine, toward the end of my stay in New York City. I gathered, in fact, that Adventure’s policy rather discourages personal visits from authors, although it is entirely possible that I am mistaken in this assumption. However, as I had been warned by another editor that “they’re hard to see, those people,” said editor being a chap who writes stories pretty frequently himself, I think I am safe in stating that Adventure as a usual thing prefers to deal with its contributors by mail.

The Butterick Publishing Company, which is responsible for Adventure, Everybody’s, The Delineator, and the famous Butterick patterns, is housed in a tall, old-fashioned office building at the corner of Spring and Macdougal streets, toward the lower end of the island of Manhattan.

It is perhaps the most isolated of all the magazine offices in New York; at least it seemed so to me, a stranger who found it easier to get lost in the great metropolis than to find a given address. Moreover, its surroundings suggest anything but the publishing business. Apparently it is in one of the city’s vast wholesale districts, the adjoining structures being given over to lofts and warehouses, the narrow, crooked streets teeming with population of the most heterogeneous kind.

As I recall it, the Adventure editorial offices are on the ninth floor. A stately moving elevator, manned by an elderly man, carried me thither. I stepped forth into a long room, and a young woman at a desk inquired my business. I told her that I craved speech with one Arthur Sullivant Hoffman, editor of Adventure.

But Mr. Hoffman, it appeared was out of the city. This was just a few days after the purchase of the Butterick company by new interests. Several other gentlemen whose names had been signed, at sundry times, to letters I had received from the magazine, were equally unavailable for personal interview. Finally the lady suggested that “Mr. Cox” was in and might see me.

MR. COX came in a few minutes. We stood at the side of a desk and talked; or, rather, I did. Mr. Cox had little to say, beyond answering my questions courteously and briefly. I found myself curiously tongue-tied. Many things I had wanted to know I failed to find out, for the simple reason, I suspect, that I forgot to ask about them. Mr. Cox was kindly and cordial, but there was that in the atmosphere which seemed to suggest, unmistakably, that I was taking up somebody’s valuable time. It is an uncomfortable feeling. The time of an editor is certainly more valuable than that of a casual visitor.

Up to that time I had sold just one story to Adventure; and, now that I think of it, the manner of its acceptance and purchase indicated a system that spelled the elimination of waste of time at every angle. The letter of acceptance was a printed form, with spaces left for filling in such items as the name of the story, suggested changes and corrections, etc. I give you my word, I didn’t know I had sold a story at first. It was fully five minutes after opening the envelope that my good fortune dawned upon me; and even then I had to submit the whole proposition to a friend, and get his affirmative opinion, before I could be convinced.

The letter stated that Adventure’s editors do not make changes in an author’s manuscript without first notifying the author. They prefer to let him do it himself. I was invited, as I discovered from further perusal of this and subsequent form communications, to contribute something to “The Camp Fire,” that meeting place between authors and readers; to copyright my yarn if I cared to; to read galley proofs on it, so as to catch any errors that might have crept in; and to do other things the nature of which I have forgotten. For a long time after selling that yarn I was receiving other form letters, acquainting me with Adventure activities I had not dreamed of. The check was a generous one, inscribed on paper so stiff that it would stand alone; and when the story finally was printed, two copies of the magazine came to me with the editor’s compliments.

Adventure had gone back to the two-a-month plan a short time before I went to New York, and announcements sent to contributors revealed that there would be a consequent let-up in purchases for some time to come. I asked Mr. Cox about this.

“Things are just beginning to loosen up,” he said. “We are starting to buy again.”

And that, virtually, was all I learned from my visit. After all, I reflected, the editors of Adventure have for years gone to more trouble to keep contributors informed of their needs, perhaps, than almost any other magazine in the country. Personal interviews seem superfluous, when you come right down to it. No magazine is more prompt in answering inquiries by mail, and readings of manuscripts are thorough and conscientious. What is there to tell the author who calls personally?

In this connection I might add that since the announcement of a change of policy for Everybody’s, by virtue of which that magazine, beginning with the December issue, will be an all-fiction magazine similar to Adventure. A story which I had submitted to Adventure, following my visit, was accepted by the editor of Everybody’s. In his letter of acceptance Mr. Oscar Graeve, editor, said: “Your story did not quite make the grade with Adventure and was turned over to me for consideration for Everybody’s. I like it a lot and enclose,” etc. That seems to mean that manuscripts submitted to either magazine will be considered by both.

ON the way back up town I dropped in again at the Street & Smith offices and asked to see Arthur E. Scott, editor of Top-Notch. There was something about which I desired to consult Mr. Scott. I had never sold him anything—have not even yet, for that matter—but I had hopes.

He came out to the reception room in response to my message. Mr. Scott is, as I have stated before in this series, a very large man as to up-and-down measurements. Horizontally speaking, he is about average. How he missed being commandeered for the New York police force is a mystery to me; for the New York police commissioners take pride in having some of the biggest, as well as the handsomest, policemen in the world. Mr. Scott would meet all requirements as to both size and pulchritude. And yet, for all his bulk, he writes a hand so small and fine that it is the envy and despair of most feminine chirographists.

“Suppose,” I asked Mr. Scott, “I send a story to one of the Street & Smith magazines, and it is rejected. Is there any chance that any of the other Street & Smith editors might buy that yarn, if they knew of its previous rejection?”

“There is just as good a chance to sell it as though it had come straight to the second editor in the first place,” he assured me.

And then he cited a case in point:

“A New York author brought two stories to me recently,” he said. “I read them over, and they didn’t make the grade. So I returned them.

“A week or two later he came in and informed me that he had sold them both to another editor in this building. This other editor, you understand, is liable to favor a yarn developed somewhat differently than the ones I favor, even though we may both use stories of the same general character. I am frank to say that I would not have purchased the two stories in any case, even had I been in the other fellow’s place. But he did; the fact that I had rejected them made no difference to him.”

Mr. Scott added that he has often bought stories rejected by his fellow editors in the Street & Smith organization. His magazine, Top-Notch, is one of the veterans of the organization. I should advise any writer who contemplates trying Mr. Scott to make a very careful study of his book before putting paper in the mill. His requirements are closely drawn, as his illuminating articles in The Author & Journalist will reveal, and only an analytical perusal of the stories he prints will make clear what they are.

There was just one more editor on my list at this time.

That one was Harold Hersey, of the peppy Clayton publications, which include Ace High, Cowboy Stories, The Danger Trail, the new magazine, Clues, added since my visit, and Ranch Romances.

Mr. W. M. Clayton, the publisher, started his business several years ago with one lone magazine, “Telling Tales,” now extinct. It was a distinctly different magazine from the usual run at that time, and attracted attention from both readers and authors. I believe it attained a considerable circulation. Then Mr. Clayton and his associates began to branch out, with the result that Telling Tales eventually went into the discard. The other magazines of the celebrated Clayton group are of a different, and, in this fast-moving age, more popular type.

I had sold Mr. Hersey several stories in the past. For a time he appeared interested in my work, purchasing promptly at moderate rates. It happens that while I write Western stories, they do not all have cowboys and cowboy activities in them. I turn out quite a number in which I try to portray other picturesque Western characters, such as prospectors, miners, Indians, sheepmen, etc. There are other phases to Western life than cattle raising only, and a demand among readers for stories developed from them.

But Mr. Hersey wants cowboy stories. And as the rates he was paying did not especially attract me I had not written anything strictly for his magazines. Only stories that had been rejected by my regular market went his way. If they happened to be cowboy stories he sometimes bought them; if not, he didn’t. And the time came when we ceased doing business.

To tell the truth, I nearly passed up the Hersey visit. It didn’t seem worthwhile to bother the gentleman. But as I still had several hours before my train was due to depart, I decided to go.

HOW glad I am that I did! For as a result of that visit, I have sold Mr. Hersey quite a bunch of stories, at just double the rate he formerly paid me, and have contracted for a series which is already running in Ace High. In fact, to date I have not had a single rejection from him. And all because a half-hour’s conversation supplied me with some specific information as to his requirements.

Mr. Hersey was about as different in appearance from what I had pictured him as could be imagined. I had visualized him as a smooth-faced youngster with light-colored hair and a collegiate style of raiment, retiring in disposition and behavior. I gathered the latter impression, I suppose, from the fact that Mr. Hersey’s letters are usually very brief and to the point.

I was scarcely prepared, therefore, for the reception that awaited me at the Clayton offices. I had waited in an outer room ten minutes or so when the door flew open, and a muscular gentleman with a shock of dark hair and sleeves rolled almost to his elbows, disclosing hairy forearms, came out.

“Why, hello, Stone,” he cried, seizing me by the hand and pumping it so vigorously that he almost jerked my arm out of the socket. “Come into my office. Sit down. When did you get to New York? Ever been here before? How are you, anyway?”

He fairly pushed me into a chair, and settled into his own swivel, regarding me with a broad grin. Hersey is an impressively masculine man, with his heavy shock of gray-streaked hair, his close-clipped mustache, his athletic build and his vigorous bass voice. The latter fairly booms.

“Perhaps you don’t remember me,” I began. “But—”

“Remember you!” he cried. “Of course I do. Why, you’ve sold me—”

And he rattled off the names of the yarns he had purchased from me, faster than I could have done it myself. This, mind you, in spite of the fact that he is now manuscript buyer and editor for three magazines, publishing an average of twenty-seven short stories, a couple of novels, a novelette of two and several serial installments every two weeks out of the year.

“Of course I remember your work,” he boomed. “I’d like to be buying it right now, if you’d send me what I want. I lost interest in you because you quit sending me the stuff I required. What was the matter with you?”

I explained that I had sent him only stories previously rejected by my regular market.

“Well, why don’t you write something directly for us?” he demanded.

“Because,” I said frankly, “I can get more money somewhere else. Your rates have been too low to interest me in original contributions for your magazines.”’

“How could you expect them to be any higher, when you admit you only offered me seconds?” he retorted. “We can, and do, pay as good rates as almost any all-fiction magazine in the field. But we pay them only to authors who send us the kind of stuff we want.”

That interested me.

“For instance, I need a humorous cowboy series right now,” he went on. “If you’ve got anything in mind, let’s hear about it.”

I outlined, roughly, a humorous cowboy character around whom I had written yarns some years ago, selling them to three different magazines that I recall. Mr. Hersey’s eyes snapped.

“That sounds all right to me,” he exclaimed. “When you get back home, suppose you do me a story or two and send them in. If I like them I’ll buy them, and pay you—”

He named a rate double that he had previously paid me.

“And if they go over all right, I’ll do better than that,” he added. “Get the first one to me before the end of this month if you can, as I’m going away on a leave of absence about the first. I want to see what it’s like.” I did so, and he bought promptly. He has been buying promptly ever since.

Mr. Hersey has always pursued the policy of discovering and developing authors, encouraging them at every turn and even placing some of them on contract. One popular writer who has been contributing to his books for some years has a contract which calls for four short stories a month and a serial every two months. This man is drawing close to a thousand dollars a month from the Clayton publications alone. Recently he told me that he hasn’t had a single rejection for a year and a half!

MR. HERSEY likes authors. His enthusiasm is contagious—and lasting. He knows their problems, and he rejoices in their triumphs. He wants stories of the cow country, for Ace High and Cowboy Stories, written in a vein that will interest cowboys as well as readers who never saw the West, and perhaps never will. He likes the rollicking, rough-and-ready, go-get-’em type of yarn, with plenty of humor of the slap-stick variety, but authentic nevertheless. Cowboys are traditionally lovers of the practical joke. Hersey likes that kind of humor for his readers. Plenty of gunplay, cattle stampeding, frontier gambling and dance-hall festivity, hard riding over the range, roundup work, the galloping of hoofs, the clashing of horns, the bawling of calves, the thick alkali underfoot and in the air— that’s the kind of thing this he-man editor wants for his he-man magazines. Fill your stories full of genuine cowboy lingo, if you like. The more the better. Only see that they are stories! Let them be filled to bursting with action!

Never bother Hersey with letters unless they’re right to the point. He doesn’t believe in letters, going or coming, and indulges only in what correspondence he literally has to, professionally speaking. He doesn’t believe in rejection slips, either; if he had his way they would never be used.

“If the manuscript comes back, that means that it failed to land,” he said. “Why stick a printed slip in with it? If the story merits a letter for any special reason, I believe in writing the letter. But a rejection slip—bah!”

I commend Harold Hersey to writers of Western cowboy stories. He’s worth cultivating. But don’t waste his time unless you have something worth putting before him. Be sure, first, that your yarn comes somewhere near the bull’s-eye represented by the type he is publishing. Then shoot it in, and God bless you! You are apt, very apt indeed, to get one of those classy yellow Clayton checks in return.


  1. I wonder if the interviewer was correct in assuming that Adventure discouraged personal visits from authors? Many times in The Campfire letter column I’ve read Hoffman’s comments about authors visiting the editorial offices. He gave me the impression that he encouraged such visits.

    Nice to learn that they followed the policy of authors revising the stories instead of the editors just rewriting. H.L. Gold of Galaxy SF magazine routinely rewrote stories and sometimes even changed endings.

    1. This was just after Butterick/Ridgway had sold Adventure and Everybody’s to the team of Joseph Moore , former Hearst executive, and Stanley R. Latshaw, former Ridgway sales manager. Editorial policy, and possibly Hoffman’s job, was undergoing changes. The timing of his visit was unfortunate.

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