ANY writer who suffers from the hallucination that magazine publishing falls short of being a business, in any particular, should make a pilgrimage to New York and conduct a first-hand investigation. He will discover, among other things, that ‘ the editor who is not a business man as well as an editor has no permanent or important place in the magazine manufacturing industry. I am speaking, please understand, of that class of magazines known variously as “popular,” ‘‘print paper,” “pulp,” “all-fiction.” etc. The kind that sell for from ten to twenty-five cents a copy and depend almost altogether upon virile fiction appeal for their sales, and upon those sales for the major part of their income.
Out at Garden City, Long Island, the famous publishing plant of Doubleday, Page & Company is one of the showplaces of that beautiful little city. Your railroad ticket reads “Country Life Press,” which is the name of the station at which you alight. Three-quarters of an hour are consumed on the journey from the Pennsylvania station in New York. When you arrive you find it difficult to realize that the teeming metropolis of nearly seven million people—not all of them authors, either—is only a few miles away. For Garden City is a place of wide streets, spacious lawns, beautiful trees and all the other things that go to make up a community of real homes.
The big publishing plant covers acres, and is surrounded by groves, lawns and flowerbeds. Great stone steps lead into the high-ceilinged reception hall. A girl at a desk labeled “information” directed me to a huge room flanking the reception hall, and began manipulating the switchboard before her. In the room designated, I sank into a luxuriously upholstered divan and wondered what the editor would do to the contributor exhibiting the colossal nerve to call for an interview. I really felt as if I might be committing lese majesty in invading this temple of luxury.
But I needn’t have feared. In a few minutes a smiling young man came in and looked me over. He held out his hand.
“I’m Bittner,” he said.
A. H. Bittner, associate editor, whose particular charge is The Frontier magazine! I had sold him a thing or two, and corresponded with him a lot. I had read his excellent articles in The Author & Journalist. It may surprise him to know that I stood somewhat in awe of him. And here he was, a boyish figure, either very glad to see me or else simulating gladness with consummate art. He sat down by my side and we began to talk.
When I began to fire questions at him, however, he stopped me.
“Wait until I get Mr. Maule. He’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
IN two or three minutes he was back, with Harry E. Maule in tow. Mr. Maule is favorably known to thousands of writers for his friendly criticisms, his informative letters and his system of developing writers who interest him professionally, he knows how to throw a note of real cordiality into even the briefest missives. He is delightfully informal in his correspondence, even with writers to him unknown. He directs his corps of associate and assistant editors with a skillful hand. Despite his numerous duties and activities as an important directing editorial head, he finds time to travel west occasionally, and to get into intimate touch with the land that figures so largely in the stories at least two of his magazines print.
Mr. Maule is a slender chap whose dark hair is beginning to show threads of gray. In speech he is incisive. I missed the familiar “New York accent,” and in a moment knew why. He told me that he was raised in Denver and educated in the West. He asked me about one or two of his old friends in that city.
“I’m coming out West this summer.” he remarked after a few minutes’ conversation. “Going to join a pack train in Montana.”
I recalled that Mr. Maule has often taken his summer vacation in Colorado and other Western states. For several minutes we talked of these things. Then we took up the business that had brought me to New York.
Mr. Maule likes his stories to be authentic and “close to the ground,” he told me. Being a Western man. he knows what “close to the ground” is. He likes accuracy of detail in stories he buys for his magazines. There must be something more than mere action, plot, atmosphere, characterization. The story must ring true, be convincing and be susceptible of the closest scrutiny with reference to geographical, historical and technical detail. One look at the keen eyes and countenance of this editor tells the observant interviewer that he is a business man in every sense of the word, with a really extraordinary power of perception.
It is not hard to understand why Mr. Maule insists upon authenticity in the stories he purchases for publication. Being a business man, he watches very carefully the reactions of his readers. Subscribers in the cow country, for instance, are exceedingly quick to detect an inaccuracy of detail in a story—and many of them are equally quick to write in and tell the editor about it.
For instance, a cowboy once said to me:
“Whatever yuh do, don’t ever have any cowpuncher in yore stories make camp by th’ side of a crick, or in a draw. Sometime in th’ night there’s liable to be a cloudburst up in th’ mountains, an’ yore puncher’ll wake up to find himself plumb drowned!’’
It is this sort of thing that Mr. Maule insists shall be kept in mind for his stories. The holster must be worn on the proper side of the character’s body; no cowboy is allowed to mount his “hoss” from the wrong side; a rodeo must be described with an eye to fact; gold must be discovered in the right kind of formation; cowboy “lingo” must be in accordance with the speech of the particular part of the West in which the story lies, and so on.
BUT there is another thing required by Mr. Maule of his contributors, if the best results are to be obtained for both writer and editor. That is “volume.”
“Volume of output is essential to the building up of a following for any author,” he said. “An occasional story in any one magazine by a writer will not accomplish this end. The writer’s value to the magazine is determined by the size and character of his following—the number of readers who like his work, buy the magazine partly because of it, and let us know how they feel about it.
“This end is not usually attained by submitting stories to a wide variety of magazines. Perhaps the author may take pride in seeing his name in the tables of contents of a dozen or more magazines; but unless he is extraordinarily prolific, he is not as a rule building up a following in any one of those publications. Hence the editor cannot gauge his value as evidenced by the approval or disapproval of any considerable number of his magazine’s readers.”
This brought up a point about which I had always been puzzled.
“How do you ascertain the feelings of readers about an author’s work?” I asked. “Do you receive enough voluntary letters from them to sound the general attitude?”
Mr. Maule smiled.
“Well,” he replied, “magazine publishing, you understand, is a science. We have been in the business a great many years, and in that time we have learned many ways of gauging the re-action of readers to any single issue.
“It is quite common for the circulation of a magazine to fluctuate by thousands of copies. One number may be several thousand below another in sales. Or it may be several thousand above. There are times when we have extraordinary drops, or jumps, in circulation; and naturally a variety of reasons are assigned. Many times these reasons have to do with the reading matter; a new serial by a popular author, for instance, whose name is printed on the cover, may shoot the sales skyward.
“The fact that the author has a following is responsible. Readers have read his stuff and like it. The mere announcement that he is in the table of contents will create a demand for the magazine. That is why I stress the importance of volume in an author’s output. He is a highly important factor in the financial success of the publication.”
Mr. Maule also pointed out the importance of volume of output as a factor in rate of payment.
The larger his output of acceptable material, the larger the word rate he may command from the treasurer’s office, Mr. Maule implied. The occasional contributor may be in no position to demand an advanced rate since he has no definite following in that magazine. When he has demonstrated his worth, however, from a reader-demand standpoint, the editor is likely to raise his rate voluntarily. He must first demonstrate his pulling power as a box-office attraction; otherwise he must content himself with a rate of compensation somewhere near the minimum.
The titles of Mr. Maule’s three magazines tell the story of their separate requirements in a fiction way, with reasonable clarity. Short Stories wants short-stories of adventure, novelettes, serials. They may be laid in the West or anywhere else where adventures are had. Frontier and West both use Western stories, but those in West are more of the rollicking cowboy type than those in Frontier.
Mr. Bittner takes a genuine, enthusiastic interest in writers and their wares. He is a young man of demonstrated capability in choosing the right stories for his magazine. He loves a good story as some men love their wives. When he buys, his letter of acceptance inevitably reflects the joy he has experienced at once more discovering “pay dirt.” He can get as excited over a thrilling situation in a story as a debutante over her first coming-out party.
You will never lose, gentle writer, by taking infinite pains with a story you purpose submitting to Bittner. He has a keen appreciation of painstaking work, and never forgets to let you know it. If he can send you a check, he does so with almost hilarious satisfaction. I don’t mean that he is easy to sell; far from it. He is an excellent judge of a good story, and a story must be pretty good to get by him. But once the yarn has passed the test, Bittner is almost ready to fall on your nfeck for letting him buy it.
Owing to a luncheon engagement in New York I had to cut my visit short. Mr. Bittner escorted me clear to the depot, and as the train was pulling out, shouted: “I’ll be looking for your stuff!”
ON the way out I was introduced fleetingly to Anthony Rud, the author-editor of West, whose stories appear with considerable frequency in other magazines. Mr. Rud’s huge hand completely enclosed mine as we shook hands. He has the tonnage displacement of a football star, and, like Bittner, he is young. There is only one other editor on earth who approaches him in avordupois, so far as I know, and that is Arthur E. Scott, editor of “Top Notch” of the Street & Smith publications. Not fat, mind you; just big. And both mighty capable editors.
Mr. Bittner took me through the vast Doubleday Page basement on the way to the depot, as a short-cut. It looks to cover about five acres, although of course it is not so large as that; and it is literally jammed with millions of books, all neatly covered with paper. I gasped when I saw them.
“What do you intend to do with all these books?” I demanded. There were enough to fill two or three gross of ordinary Carnegie libraries, it seemed to me.
“Sell ’em” Bittner replied with a grin. “What did you suppose?”
A look at that immense stock of books would bolster up the waning hopes of any discouraged author. If one publishing concern can do business on such a mammoth scale, the demand for material from writers must almost exceed the powers of calculation of expert mathematicians. And to see the truckloads of magazines snorting away from the plant—trucks piled as high as old-fashioned loads of hay—cannot fail to impress any observer with the magnitude of this vast industry. Someone has estimated that about ten million story manuscripts find their way into the editorial offices of New York magazines annually, of which a goodly number are sent winging back to their creators with more or less promptness; nevertheless, consideration of the huge bulk of business done by the publishing companies will give rise to the query:
“What would become of the business if all the writers were to quit?”
The kindness shown me by Mr. Maule and his associates strengthened the conviction that most editors believe in encouraging the author, however insignificant he may be. For I am just one of the little fellows. In the rank and file of the army writers I am a mere private, a “doughboy,” hardly more than a raw recruit. Many a rejection comes my way, accompanied by a jovially sarcastic letter—or even by a rejection slip. Is this the best I can do?
Call on a few New York editors of the caliber of those I have thus far described, and note the change that takes place in your consciousness. Heretofore you have been sending stories to “institutions,” manned by vague personalities whose printed rejections or cold, one-line letters declining your wares may have had the effect of a shower of cold rain upon your writing enthusiasm.
From now on, however, you are sending your stories to live, keen individuals who know your problems as well as you know them yourself, and who are as anxious to see you succeed as even you could possibly be. If they have never told you so, it is because they literally haven’t had the time.
Take my word for it!