Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Today I sat down with a copy of a magazine. Well, actually, several copies of it. It was a magazine for authors so the topics are for the most part familiar.
Is erotica ruining the genre? Is modern fiction less skilled? Is the market over crowded? How much do writers make? Why do writers make so little? Why do celebrities get published when I can't? Couldn't romance be better written? How can authors avoid bad publishers? Shouldn't writers help each other avoid bad publishers? Why does retailer, or the publisher, make so much more off a book that the author? How bad is slush pile?
The magazine is "The Author", the year of publication is 1890. Every quote is from a different article.
"...it would be fatal to literary art to exclude from legitimate use those facts of life and character which the erotic novelist turns to illegitimate account."
"I don't wish to discourage anyone from starting a really good periodical if he has the correct knowledge..."
"These figures, I think, will do more to answer the problem, "Does poetry pay?" than all the essays that could be written on the subject."
"One of my friends ... remarked to me not long ago on the great number of low-priced volumes containing impure fiction which were flooding the market ... he was surprised to learn ... the demand for this sort of stuff comes chiefly from ladies..."
"It seems to me that one of the greatest functions of literature at this moment is not merely to produce great works, but also to protect the English language." (Echoes of the editorial of the copy of Affaire de Coeur I just received except that work seems to make at least one of the errors it so disdains.)
"But how do you tell if your publisher is honest?" (Followed by naming some good and bad publishers with observations about what pay and contract terms are fair--much the same now as then.)
"You may write like Shakespeare and go begging ... simply because your Shakespeare."
"No romance is any worse, but far better, for being well written."
"Why is there no society of authors ... to keep the author out of the clutches of the dishonest publisher... the dishonest publisher is not such a rarity that the author need not beware...."
"...a lady who handed her manuscript to a publisher, and was told the cost of printing a specified number of copies would be $800 .. direct to a printer ... that number if copies [would cost]m $80" (Also covered, contests as a dishonest way to get manuscript submissions cheaply from novice writers).
"Authorship ... its money rewards are not so great as other occupations."
"an American author ... ten percent ... the bookseller ... fifty percent..." (Also mentioned that to earn a good living an author is pushed to be prolific).
"the widow of General Grant ... paid .. ten times what the unknown writer of a good story would receive, and even much more than a writer of considerable celebrity could demand."
"Of the vast multitude of manuscripts offered to book publishers each year, probably 75 percent, are worthless."
"Had he typewritten his manuscript, the novel would have thrown him into debt..."
"One has very little sympathy with authors who grumble at the publisher's getting his share."
...and so much more on the same tried and true themes that I wonder of all our current magazines and blogs could not, with a little judicious find-and-replace, be replaced with Victorian-era reruns--and no doubt material from even early than that.