" 1)0E11S, short stories, essays, sketches, also a serial story, wanted from amateur authors for an established maga- zine; also for book publication. Remuneration, half-a-guinea a page." So runs, with variations, a series of advertisements which for several years past has been appearing intermittently in most of the London daily papers. Sometimes, however, the magazine is described as " newly projected," instead of "old- established," the mention of book publication is omitted, and the remuneration either put at the low rate of four shillings a page, or left to the imagination. As these advertisements (which, though they have a strong family likeness, obviously emanate from divers sources) cost money, and frequently appear for many days together, it may be presumed that amateur authors are a numerous class, and that those who appeal to their vanity or credulity find their account in doing so. wanted from amateur authors for an established maga- zine; also for book publication. Remuneration, half-a-guinea a page." So runs, with variations, a series of advertisements which for several years past has been appearing intermittently in most of the London daily papers. Sometimes, however, the magazine is described as " newly projected," instead of "old- established," the mention of book publication is omitted, and the remuneration either put at the low rate of four shillings a page, or left to the imagination. As these advertisements (which, though they have a strong family likeness, obviously emanate from divers sources) cost money, and frequently appear for many days together, it may be presumed that amateur authors are a numerous class, and that those who appeal to their vanity or credulity find their account in doing so.
But here we are met with a difficulty. What is an "amateur author?" The dictionary defines an "amateur" as "a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science, as to music or painting, without regard to gain or emolument." If this definition be correct, and we have no reason to doubt its accuracy, the advertisements in question are a contradiction in terms, for the moment an amateur takes pay, he loses that character and becomes a "professional." In fact, the pro- minence given to the offer of remuneration shows that the scribes whom these advertising anglers for authors desire to catch are anything but amateurs, and that the last idea in their heads is to work " without regard to gain or emolument." They are would-be authors because they want to gain money, and possibly get themselves talked about. This presumption is con- firmed by the language of the circulars with which the adver- tisers favour inquiring correspondents. Literature, tliey point out, is one of the most lucrative of callings, as witness the large fortunes acquired by Scott, Dickens, George Eliot, and sundry other authors of renown. On the other hand, the difficulty of entering on the career of letters is described as being almost insuperable. Editors are notoriously blind to the merits of obscure writers, however brilliant may be their performances ; and it is a well-known fact that publishers simply decline to look at the manuscript of a man who has not already made his mark. Moved by this deplorable state of things, a number of ladies and gentlemen have formed themselves into a Society for the encouragement of amateur authors, and for smoothing their path to fame and fortune. To this end, they have established a monthly magazine (copy for- warded on receipt of seveopence), and entered into rela- tions with sundry publishers. All manuscripts forwarded to their secretary will receive immediate attention. If found suit- able, the tale, essay, or what not, will be inserted in the magazine (remuneration, half-a-guinea a page). If the writer would prefer to have his work produced in some other shape, he has only to signify his pleasure, and arrangements will be made accordingly. In order to profit by these privileges, all that is required from the literary aspirant is to take the magazine for a year, subscription half-a-guinea (payable in advance), and become a member of the Society, yearly subscription one guinea (also payable in advance).
Our amateur, fondly believing that the chance for which he (or she) has so long yearned is now within his reach, remits the money without delay, and follows it up, a day or two later, with a big bundle of manuscript—a poem of five thousand stanzas, or a novel of a thousand folios—for "publication in book form," or, it may be, some lighter effusion, deemed suitable for the pages of the magazine. After impatiently waiting a month or so for an answer, the amateur addresses to the secretary a courteous letter, inquiring whether his manuscript has been received and how is it being dealt with. The reply comes in due course. It is to the effect that the manuscript is in the hands of the Society's literary adviser (or editor, as the case may be), that he is extremely busy, but that so soon as he has a little leisure, he will carefully read Mr. Neophyte's novel, and lay before him a proposal in relation thereto. The proposal is a long time coming, however; perhaps it never comes at all, or in a shape which renders it utterly unacceptable. The Society's publishers are prepared to bring out the novel, provided the author will defray the cost of production, estimated at, say, £150, and they will account to him for sales, or otherwise pay bins a royalty of half-a-guinea each on all copies sold. If the would- be novelist, blessed with more money than wit, should close with
the offer, we cannot tell (never having met with anybody who had tried the experiment) what the result would be ; but we greatly fear that it might not quite come up to his expectations. As for the magazine article, he would have reason to consider himself fortunate if he got back his manuscript intact, and bought his experience at no greater outlay than the original £1 lls. 6d.
The luaus operancli is not, however, always the same. The magazine may be defunct and in course of resurrection, or a new amateurs' magazine may be in active preparation, or there may be no magazine whatever. The aim of the Society may be merely to act as intermediary between editors short of copy or pub- lishers in quest of new authors, and literary aspirants as yet unknown to fame. Bit of one thing the amateur may be quite sure. He will be asked for money. He may pos- sibly be asked for a great deal, for oue of the dodges practised by some of these advertising gentry is to " want " as editor for a magazine, any lady or gentleman of literary tastes, and possessed of a few hundred pounds. On making application in the quarter indicated, the lady or gentleman with these cinalift. cations is told that the sum required is £500, to be advanced by way of loan, ou which 5 per cent. interest will be regularly paid, and the principal returned at the end of five years. In the meantime, the successful candidate (lady or gentleman of literary tastes) will receive remuneration for his or her services at the rate of £250 per annum, paid monthly. Should the applicant desire to see the magazine whose proprietors have made him this generous offer, he will probably be shown the copy of a periodical which died a natural death a few years previously, and will be told that, with the help of his money, it will be revived and become a prosperous concern. The lady or gentleman of literary tastes who swallows so palpable a bait must be green indeed ; but human folly is even a more incalculable quantity than the ingenuity of knaves, and as care is taken to make no flagrant misrepresentation, the victim's sole chance of redress in the very probable event of the magazine again coming to grief, would be an action for debt against people not worth powder and shot.
Another proof of the existence of a widespread desire to figure in print, and turn an honest penny by literature, is the popu- larity of guides to authorship, literary manuals, and the like. These things are nearly all got up in the interest of commission publishers and printers, who are anxious to publish books at the writers' risk and cost ; and beyond the technical in- struction they give as to preparing manuscript for the press and correcting proofs, are of very little use. The art of author. ship can no more be acquired by reading these manuals than the art of horsemanship by watching a man ride. Anybody with a fair education and some brains may easily pen a pass- able newspaper paragraph ; but there is as wide a difference between this and writing a leading article good enough for the Times, or a book that a discriminating publisher would be likely to accept, as between breaking stones and building a house. A man who would succeed in literature or journalism must possess a certain natural aptitude, a fairly well-stored mind, indomitable perseverance, and a liking, or at any rate a capacity, for hard work. He must, moreover, be willing to work on for years without any striking result, and despite his utmost efforts, may never rise above the rank and file. In other words, an appren- ticeship must be served to literature as to every other profession. Even in the case of writers who seem to have achieved success at the first attempt, it will generally be found that they have written much that has either never seen the light, or perished still-born. The difficulty of getting articles accepted and books published is grossly exaggerated. An editor, unless be be a fool (and the fact of his being an editor may be taken as proof to the contrary), is only too glad to print a paper of exceptional merit, and publishers are as anxious to enlist a new author of merit as to sell a new edition. The trouble is rather the other way ; it is so easy nowadays to get books published, that the market is flooded with stuff that should never have been printed, and which will never pay the cost of production. On the other hand, a publisher, being no more infallible than any other body, may make a mistake, and refuse a work which be had better have accepted; but be more often does the reverse, and accepts works which it would have been better for him to have rejected. Happily, however (or, as some may think, unhappily), publishers are many, and if the amateur is repulsed in one quarter, he can easily offer his wares in another, and still another. Yet, though perseverance is greatly to be commended, we should not recommend him to go on for ever. If three or four publishers in succession refuse his novel or poem, or what- ever it may be, let him go home, commit his manuscript to the flames, and begin afresh. If he shrinks from the sacrifice, or is unequal to the effort, he may be sure that he has not in him the making of a successful author.
Another point as to which much misconception prevails among would-be authors and journalists, is the profit of literary work. For the most part, the work is very hard, and the pay comparatively poor. We believe we are right in saying that, out of London, there is hardly a single editor, even of a daily paper, whose salary exceeds six hundred a year ; while, in London, the prizes of the profession may almost be counted on the fingers of the two hands. An unattached journalist who is clever, who works hard, who has a good connection and enjoys good health, may possibly make seven hundred. But if he take a longer holiday than usual, is temporarily disabled by an accident, or laid up a few weeks by illness, his earnings are proportionately diminished; and the average is probably very much less than the sum we have named.
As for the gains of authorship, they vary so greatly that no trustworthy estimate concerning them can be attempted. Very few amateurs, we imagine, have any idea of writing on history, philosophy, or science. These are subjects whose successful cultivation requires a special training, years of study and re- search, and, it may be, years of waiting for any pecuniary result. To the aspiring amateur, fiction is by far the most attractive department of literature, and the one to which his efforts are generally directed. But even here the blanks are many and the prizes few. Think of the multitude of novels which are published. every year whose authors are never heard of again, and which must needs have landed somebody in heavy loss. A sale of four hundred copies in the three-volume form is by no means bad, and decidedly above the average; yet the outcome for the author would be only about £75, and he is a clever man who can produce two novels a year worth reading. Unless a writer even of fair repute is able to dispose of the serial right of his novels to advantage, be had better, so far as money-making is concerned, give his atten- tion to something else. He would probably earn more as a curate, a cab-driver, or a compositor. There is, of course, always the off-chance of his making a hit, like the late Hugh Conway. But the extraordinary success of " Called Back," and the host of imitations it called into being, show how very remote that chance is. Success is more generally won slowly, and by dint of pegging away, after the manner of Anthony Trollope, who before he "struck oil," wrote several novels and a good many articles for nothing, and ten years of hard work brought him no more than £55.
But whatever method a novelist may adopt or fortune pro- vide, he must make a name before he can make money. The nameless writers of novelette-fiction are as ill-paid as washer- women and seamstresses. The ordinary price for a novelette containing as much matter as a one-volume novel, varies from £5 to £10. True, the quality need not be very high, but the mere writing and proof-reading require time, and he would be a prolific author indeed who could produce a dozen of these stories in the course of a year. Altogether, the outlook for the aspiring amateur cannot be considered very encouraging, and unless he- possess a more than ordinary measure both of industry and imagination, the career of letters is about the last which he ought to adopt. But if he has written, and decides to publish, let him beware of bogus societies and literary jackals, who will certainly keep his money, and probably refuse, without farther blackmail, to surrender his manuscript.