Carbon Copy: The Secret Home Life of an Authors’ Typist

A typist copying out a page in the 1940s. Few other jobs offered the possibility of work from home.
A typist copying out a page in the 1940s

You’ll learn here how one girl’s spare-time work at home became a full-time job—a “specialty” that she finds very satisfactory


“COMANCHE yells split the air as Dan Drew peered around the clearing before the shack. Suddenly, bang ! Bang! Pow—”

An Indian raid or a double murder, it’s all in a day’s work for Myra Rice, author’s typist.

Rip-roaring Westerns or romantic love stories, scientific features or juvenile tales— all are grist for this typist’s mill, in an occupation that brings satisfaction and independent incomes to hundreds of excellent typists in both large and small cities throughout the country,

WORKING at home, Myra paid taxes on a $2268 income last year, proof that “crime pays—at 40 cents a thousand words,” as she says.

Her regular clients include a well-known mystery novelist, a college professor whose textbooks are used throughout the country, two “pulp” magazine writers whose work appears under any of a half-dozen names, and several short-story and freelance feature writers. Some of her customers she has never met in person, and knows only through their correspondence, since fifty per cent of her work is for local authors and the rest for those who live elsewhere than the Midwestern city where she lives.

BEGINNING in 1932 when job openings were rare and salaries low, she did part-time typing for a cousin who augmented her husband’s income by writing children’s verse. Other free-lancers, anxious to have their manuscripts as neat as possible for presentation to editors, brought occasional pieces to Myra, who admits that she often did twenty-page manuscripts for as little as a quarter, providing the paper, and now and then a stamp, for some hard-pressed writer. Today, two of those same authors still give her all their work, although at somewhat higher rates!

By 1935, Myra, who is an avid reader, decided that being an author’s typist would be more interesting than her job in the home office of an insurance company.

“I was a little frightened at first. I imagine it was the thought of leaving a regular job, even if the salary was pretty low. that made me wonder if I could make a go of it.’’ she said. “Things have worked out well, though, but I would advise anyone thinking of doing any kind of typing at home to try a long trial period first. Mine was three years, but I’m not at all sorry.”

MYRA keeps “office hours” at home, from 9 o’clock to noon and 1 o’clock to 4 :30, unless, of course, “something comes along that I especially want to do. Then I rearrange my time to suit myself.” Rush jobs, especially on seasonal magazine material. get special attention and take extra time, “but that’s the kind of job this is,” she smiles.

She solicits work by inserting one-inch advertisements in each of the three leading writers’ magazines each month. The cost is nominal, and results are good. An occasional reminder in the Mimeographed bulletin of a local authors’ circle also brings in local work.

“As in any other business, though, satisfied customers are the best ads.” she says.

A typical Rice ad is simple, and looks something like this:

Neatly, accurately, and promptly. All work mailed flat. One Carbon free. Minor editing. 40C per 1000 words.
Myra Rice
1239 Longstreet Bigcity, State

AT first unfamiliar with writers’ magazines, she found some in a local public library, along with a book or two on freelancing. with chapters on the preparation of manuscripts. A refresher reading-over of a chapter on proofreading symbols was also helpful, she found.

As a rule, all the manuscripts she types follow the same general pattern. However, she is willing to use whatever form an author prefers. Most often, however, she types manuscripts with a one-inch margin on all sides, using sixteen-pound bond paper of good quality and inexpensive yellow second sheets for the carbon copy. Pages are numbered in the upper right-hand corner. All typing is double-spaced.

On the first page, most important from the author’s point of view, his name and address are typed in the upper left-hand corner like this:

John Manywords
406 Lonesome Road
I.ittletown, Ohio

The number of words in the manuscript is put in the upper right-hand corner. Half-way down the page the title is typed, centered, and an inch or so below that, the story begins. On request, Myra types two or three extra copies of the first page, since material does not always sell on its first trip to editorial markets, and an extra first sheet comes in handy if a manuscript is to look neat after perhaps a half-dozen trips in the mail. A “messy’’ manuscript creates a bad impression on an editor. While typing. Myra makes minor corrections in grammar and punctuation; nothing to change the context of a paragraph. however, or the meaning of a sentence. “After all—I’m not an author— not yet.”

She has become something of a critic, though, and admits that it is not too hard to tell a salable manuscript from a dud. “I think what I enjoy most about this work is watching my customers break into print, and seeing the words I’ve typed hit the newsstands in national publications.”

MANUSCRIPTS newly typed are returned by first-class mail to the author as soon as possible, along with his original and the carbon copy. Myra pays the postage on all work, except that which goes air mail and is charged to the author. Most work is prepaid, a check or postal note coming in with the material. Her regular customers, however, especially those who turn out material in large quantities, are billed at bi-monthly periods.

The regulars also receive slightly lower rates on quantity work. For example, book-length material for a customer of several years’ standing is done at the rate of thirty cents a thousand words. “For one thing, I’m familiar with their style, and the work goes more rapidly. Then, too, they’ve been good to me and I don’t mind returning the favor.”

WHEN declaring her income for Uncle Sam each year, she is allowed to deduct her business expenses, including the upkeep of two typewriters. a portable and a heavy standard model, supplies of paper and large manila envelopes (for mailing manuscripts flat), cardboard inserts, and business stationery.

Many author’s typists charge higher rates, but Myra feels that for the forty-three weeks’ work a year she averages, she is being well paid, both in satisfaction and in money. “What more do I need?” she asks.

From The Gregg Writer, February 1948

If you like this, you might also like my earlier post about a pulp model.

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