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lack of faith with which American publishers should be charged.
In submitting a manuscript, there is, as a rule, nothing to be gained by the author in securing a personal interview with the publisher. Of course, there may be many considerations which will render it desirable for authors and publishers at some time to come together, but it is very seldom that any thing is gained by such personal word at the time the manuscript is first handed in. A literary work, in the few minutes' time that it is proper to allow for a call in a business office, can not receive such attention as authors usually expect for their productions. It is not, like a Chatham-Street hat, to be cared for “while the owner waits."
There is also no advantage in taking time to point out to a publisher the particular merits or peculiarities of a work. If the purpose and value of the work can not be made clear to the examiner of the manuscript without a personal explanation from the author, it is not likely that the volume is in shape to be of much service to the general public. It is probable that there are to-day but few writers so unsophisticated as to undertake themselves to read their manuscripts to the publishers to whom they submit them. Any such would, of course, promptly be told that there is no time in a business office for any thing of this kind, and it might also be explained to him that, irrespective of the question of time, a publisher's mind is not apt to be, during business hours, in a sufficiently free and receptive state to render him appreciative of the beauties of literature; and such consideration as he might be induced to give, would, under the circumstances, be most likely to prove unfavorable.
In fact, as is now very generally understood, with all the larger publishing houses the business of making a first examination and analysis of the manuscripts submitted is in the hands of assistants, who are called “readers."
The production of manuscripts for publication is being actively carried on by thousands of literary aspirants throughout the country: from Maine to Texas, from Florida to Alaska, the cacoëthes scribendi, accompanied by a greater or smaller amount of inspiration, is keeping in motion thousands of earnest pens; while the manuscripts which are the results of all this hopeful scribbling are, with the exception of a small portion finding their way to Chicago, poured into the publishing offices of three cities : New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. These three cities thus form the literary sisters and the literary clearinghouses of the continent. As a result of such concentration, the leading publishing houses receive each (exclusive of magazine material) from one hundred to several hundred manuscripts per month. The task of taking care of this mass of material is quite a considerable one, and involves no little outlay of time and money. The cash value of the manuscripts, if calculated on the basis of the authors' estimates, would be enormous, and even with such considerable discount as it might be proper to make on these estimates, is still quite large, and the labor of keeping the records of the manuscripts, of the correspondence connected with them, and of safely returning to the owners the greater portion of them, calls for the services of a large number of “manuscript clerks.”
The manuscripts, when recorded and numbered, are sent out to the examiners, being usually divided among these according to their subjects, fiction going to one class of readers, science to another, theology to a third, etc. The written reports which come back from the examiners refer to the manuscripts by their numbers, and it may often be the case that the examiners have no knowledge of the names of the authors whose material they are reporting upon. The publishers then give to the returned manuscripts
such further consideration as is warranted by the reports of their examiners; but while a favorable report secures for a work careful attention, a decidedly unfavorable one is usually accepted as final.
It will be seen that under such a system a work has every opportunity of securing the thorough examination and the impartial consideration upon which writers (not unnaturally) lay so much stress, and that in connection with such an examination of manuscripts identified by their numbers, much less weight can be given to personal introductions and recommendations accompanying manuscripts than writers are apt to imagine.
As we have before said, publishers are always on the look-out for good material, and for the first efforts of the young writers who are to become the leading authors of the next decade; and each day's supply of manuscripts is carefully, if not hopefully, scanned in the chance that it may include a “ Jane Eyre" or an “ Uncle Tom.”
With a few further words of suggestion to those submitting for the press their first productions, we will bring this introductory chapter to a close.
Do not, in a publisher's office, quote the opinions of friends as “ having induced you to offer your work for publication," or speak of your friends as being themselves“ ready to purchase a first edition.” Publishers have learned to attach little weight to “opinions of friends ” as to the literary merit of a work, and such merit must, in any case, if it exist, be open to demonstration ; and sad experience has further taught publishers to place still less faith on the general promises made by “ friends” before the publication of a book, to purchase a large number of copies when it is ready. If an author is fortunate enough to be in a position to further the sales of his book, it is wiser for him to refrain from arousing the publisher's expectations
(or his scepticism) at the outset, and to let such co-operation come as a pleasant surprise afterward.
It is also not likely to be of service, to lay stress upon the fact that your “ acquaintance with the press ” will ensure for your volume favorable consideration at the hands of the literary critics, as publishers are fully aware, that the reviews in journals whose opinions carry weight and effect sales, cannot easily be influenced by personal relations or by suggestions from authors.
Finally, before submitting a manuscript at all, it may often be worth while to take the opinion of judicious friends as to whether it is in satisfactory shape for publication. Hundreds of manuscripts have to go through the grist-mill of publishing offices, the writers of which have never mastered the first principles of English grammar and could not stand an examination in Webster's Primary Speller. Hundreds more, which are smoothly written and which show a due regard for the English language, are absolutely devoid of ideas. The writers had nothing to say to the public, and yet expect fame and profit for saying it. Much loss of time, and much bitterness of hope deferred and of expectations disappointed, could be spared to these writers if they had, in the first place, taken counsel of some of those about them who were in a position to judge whether the material had any value and was in decent form. In country towns, the librarian of the town library, the bookseller, the minister of the parish, or some other neighbor of education or experience would, in most cases, be willing and able to give wise counsel, and counsel which, if followed, would save much waste of effort.
Finally, if you are planning to become an author, it will be wise to remember the advice of Punch to the young man contemplating marriage: “Don't.” That is, don't, if you can avoid it. Don't, unless the pressure is so strong
upon you that you can recognize yourself as really being “called,” and that literature is to be the “ calling.” Books must be written out of that which is in you, not made up; and if without such calling a man sits down, and says to himself: “Go to, let us make a book," so surely will the end of that book and of that man (or woman) be disappointment and emptiness.