Editing for the Best Magazines

THE editor who reads such delightful little disquisitions on his foibles as that “On Writing for the Best Magazines,” in the Contributors’ Club in your April number, instinctively wonders, “Which of those charmingly effervescent young persons who have occupied my visitor’s chair so often has done this thing, and why, oh, why does she not write stories as prettily and as spontaneously as she has poked fun at me?”

And then follows the question, “Is there anything which I can tell her which will convince her that I at least am thoroughly human, that I loathe the printed rejection slip quite as heartily as she does, and that I should like nothing better than to spend my remaining years in writing delightful notes of acceptance, or at worst the flattering rejections in which she so rejoices ? ”

The rejection slip is a survival of barbarism; but consider my problem. Each year brings to my magazine, in round numbers, 20,000 manuscripts. The magazine publishes in a year something less than 300 contributions. From this discrepancy between the number of manuscripts received and the number published, it appears that 19,700 manuscripts of one sort or another are yearly declined.

And here you have the reason for the hated slip of rejection. The editor has an enormous constructive correspondence, and really has not time to write 19,700 notes.

This is regrettable; but, even though he employ able note-writing assistants, the problem remains a difficult one, for the editor has sometimes a conscience, and he is not always willing to have his editorial opinions expressed for him by some one else.

It goes without saying that every editor who has chuckled over your correspondent’s merry little fling has said to himself, “Ah, when she speaks of the ‘dear, Best Magazine,’she means us;" and when he reads that familiar letter about “our disinclination to publish stories associated with college life, and stories which treat of writers and artists as such,” he says, “This young woman is doing a great and good work in spreading this idea broadcast, and we should be grateful to her.”

I believe (in common with every other editor) that I wrote that letter, and I’m glad of it.

I recant in one particular only. It should have been made clear that undergraduate college life is what is objected to in stories. Naturally there can be no valid argument against stories dealing with the lives of the cultivated and charming people of the college set in any of our university towns.

And why not the story of the undergraduate ? The answer is simple enough. It is this. The college student lives in a very, very little world of his own. He is surrounded by innumerable local conventionalities, important to himself, but infinitely uninteresting, and ofttimes scarcely comprehensible, to the outsider. He is in the “calf period” of mental development, and is playing one of the very smallest of parts in the serious drama of real life. More than this, he is a person of innumerable technicalities, and his interests are trivial and artificial.

Some of these latter arguments apply also to stories of “writers and painters as such.” Here you are applying one art on top of another, — you are getting one move further away from nature, and, above all, you are again dealing with lives and motives of special interest only.

Du Maurier, in Trilby, deals with artists and the artistic life, but not with artists as artists, but with artists as men. Thomas Hardy, in A Laodicean, has an architect for his hero, but his profession only serves as a method of introducing him into the story. We care little for the art, but much for the man.

But, after all, this editor has but one really important thing to say to the fair contributor. No great magazine can ever put its ban on any type of story. It is largely a question of quality. College stories have been written which would pass any editorial door, and so will a really big story on any theme, provided it does not embody sentiments or picture scenes which may prove offensive to any intelligent and thoughtful portion of a magazine’s constituency, and to its best and most valued friends, “the old subscribers.”