the search after a publisher.
Every literary man expects to receive every week or two a letter, generally from a woman, containing some sentences like the following:
I have lately written two stories for the — which, to my great disappointment, were returned.
Could you not recommend me to some paper where such stories would be accepted?
I think, comparing them with even the literature of the best magazines and papers, that they will not fall below it much.
I have some longer stories that I think might be accepted by some papers or magazines if I only had some good friend to speak a word for me. Now my health is better, and I could write constantly if I could only receive encouragement.
I would gladly write a year without payment, if at the end of the year I could commence to receive remuneration for them.
Please, dear sir, to answer me, and give me some hints.
Oh, if I could write, and after a time get payment for my articles, I should be a most happy being!
and if you can secure me a place in some paper, so that I can have a
chance to rise higher, I will bless you all the days of my life.
I have had much to keep me down --poverty and sickness; but for the next year I can write constantly if I can only get encouragement.
This is taken literally, except that the spelling is corrected, from the last letter of the kind that reached me. They come almost invariably from small towns or inland cities, and this one is from a village on the Pacific coast
It is based, as they usually are, upon two utter delusions.
These are, firstly, that publication, like the proverbial kissing, “goes by favor,” so that all one needs is a friend at court; and secondly, that literature is the one vocation that needs neither training nor practice nor gradual preparation.
Let us consider these two errors a little.
First, as to “influence.”
If there is a class of men on the face of the earth who may be said to know their own minds, it is, I think, the editors of American periodicals.
They may not aim at the right thing, ,but they at least know what they aim at. What they seek is what their public desires; but their own interpretation of this is a matter of life and death to them, and they stand by it. So far as I have seen, no men are less influenced by the ties of personal friendship or by the judgment of others.
In a considerable experience of literature
I have known but one editor over whom any literary recommendations of mine appeared to have the slightest influence; and even this was not, after all, a real influence, but consisted only in knowing him so intimately as to foretell pretty accurately what his judgment would be. As to coaxing him against his judgment, it was impossible.
In truth, literary men are secretly rather distrusted by editors, and with some reason, as. having too many favorites and being too lenient.
The late Professor Longfellow
, for instance, would soon have bankrupted any publisher who should have accepted the intellectual work that he praised, for he was so amiable that he praised almost everything; and there is evidence that Holmes
, as they grow older, are growing almost as tolerant.
If the best literary endorsement thus goes for very little, what can the second-best be worth?
Moreover, the editor is constantly looking out for new names; he hungers and thirsts after the genius of the future.
Just as the great trotting horses of the turf fare often those which the keen eye of a jockey has rescued from a dray or a coal-cart, so it is the editor's dream to detect a coming Mark Twain
or Bret Harte
in some nameless young aspirant.
Past celebrities, he knows very well, go rapidly off the stage; what he wants is a fresh one.
The difficulty is to know his rising genius when still harnessed to the coal-cart;
and here he must trust only himself and take his own risks.
Now as to entering the profession of literature.
My correspondent who writes the above letter knows that, if she has a son or a brother who wishes success as a physician or a watch-maker, he must take time to train himself for his work-must educate his observation, his memory, his very sense of touch, for that pursuit-and the education will involve time, patience, tools, and a teacher.
Why is it that she herself expects to enter at once on a profession involving wider observation and more delicate forces than either medicine or watch-making, without any special preparation whatever?
This is the discouraging thing about almost all letters of this class, that they are so rarely accompanied by any sign of personal humility.
What the most successful writers have won by years of early study, followed by other years of incessant practice, these aspirants expect to gain at a grasp.
The very letter from which the above quotation is given contained eleven misspellings, so little attention had been given by the writer to the very rudiments.
Like the country girl who came to consult Mrs. Fanny Kemble Butler
about her career as an elocutionist, and explained frankly that what she wanted was not to learn how to read in public, but how to get her audiences together, so these mistaken persons
are looking out for external success, when they should be busy with the training that leads to it.
What success commonly stands for is this, that a writer has either done really good work-work excellent in itself-or else has done the kind of work that the public demands, good or bad. This last is a lower standard of success, of course, though it often brings greater pecuniary rewards; but it is a clear and definite thing, nevertheless, and needs as distinct a training as the other.
In either case triumph usually follows merit, though often slowly.
“There never was a good tongue,” says old Fuller
, “that lacked ears to hear it.”
“Excel and you will live” (excelle et tu vivras), says the prince of French aphorists, Joseph Joubert
There are grades in merit: it is merit to produce a work of genius; but there is also a great, though lower, merit in studying the taste of your time, watching its tendencies, and thereby producing just the work that is currently demanded-just what readers want and children cry for. This also needs labor and special preparation.
The advice I should therefore give to every young person who asks me how to find a publisher, would be, if I dared — for we are all weak --“First produce something so good that no publisher can afford to do without it.”