The same old story…

Vanity press advertIn the fascinating Thousand Ways to Earn a Living (1888) the section on ‘Literary Work’ covers journalism, authorship, and something called ‘compilation’. In the journalism chapter modern-day readers might be surprised at the high rates of pay awarded to humble London hacks ( up to £10 a week in 1888—more than a skilled surgeon or a junior barrister might earn ), but few could argue that in late Victorian Britain , as in 2017, in the newspaper world ‘ the majority of new ventures are promoted by newspaper men who have been underpaid or unfairly dealt with by their employers ‘.

Nor, it seems, has the world of vanity publishing changed much. After praising the commitment to potential authors of such a serious publisher as Bentley (who brought out the early work of Dickens), the dangers of unscrupulous publishers is addressed:

‘Advertising sharks should be avoided. Their only aim is to obtain money from unsuspecting writers of inexperience, and they generally manage to rob those whom they get into toils considerably. During the past few years they have been exposed in many papers; but, as their advertisements still appear, there is no doubt that they are still engaged in their nefarious work. Their advertisements may easily be detected. They generally address their announcements to ‘Authors, Amateurs, and others’; sometimes it is fiction, at others poetry that is wanted. But in every case it is plunder that is meant. Mr Walter Besant has laid down the axiom that no one should pay for the publication of his literary work. In the majority of cases this is a good rule, though like many another good rule, it has its exceptions…’  

The rewards earned by novelists has perhaps changed a little in 130 years. Back then ‘the novel-writer ‘, we are told, got’ £50 to £1,000 for a book’. To us this seems rather generous, considering that in 2017 an average first-time novelist would be lucky to receive an advance of £500. What has changed greatly since 1888 is the demise of the serial.’ The modern novelist’, it was reported, ‘ usually manages to run each story he writes through a magazine and a number of provincial and colonial newspapers before issuing it in book form ‘. Incidentally, note the gendering of this modern novelist at a time when the most popular novelists were likely to be writers like Rhoda Broughton and Marie Corelli. Continue reading


Amateur Journalism and Vanity Publishing (1880)

Found - Journals and Journalism (with a guide for literary beginners) published by the Leadenhall Press (London 1880.) The author is stated as 'John Oldcastle' - a pseudonym of Wilfrid Meynell (1852-1948) who became a newspaper publisher and editor. It is likely that the book appeared because at the time journalism was all the rage, like photography in the 1960s or developing apps now…It is full of good advice, occasionally caustic in tone, and starts out with a warning to 'amateurs'. The final part of this extract from the first chapter deals with vanity publishing scams, and refers to an amusing scandal when one scammer sued another. These 'bubbles' were then common and are still with us on the internet. The entire text can be found at Brewster Kahle's incredible expanding Internet Archive.

Even more fatally amateurish is the practice, not uncommon with beginners, of addressing a more or less gushing note to an editor, disclaiming any wish for remuneration, and intimating that the honour of appearing in his valuable paper is all the reward that is asked. A contribution that is worth printing is worth paying for; and to an established paper the trifling sum due for any ordinary article is a matter of no consequence whatever — a mere drop in the bucket of printing and editorial expenses.In the case of a new paper, not backed by much capital, it is different.Gratuitous contributions may there be welcome ; but such a paper will hardly live; nor, if it did, would there be much prestige attached to an appearance in its pages. Besides, the offer of unremunerated labour to an experienced editor will often, and legitimately, be resented. He feels that an attempt is being made to bribe him, and, however absurd the bribe, the idea is not pleasant. There is, in a word, only one fair and sufficient test of capacity in literature as in the other arts, and that is the test of competition in the open market. Our old friends Supply and Demand ...are the only trustworthy umpires in the matter...

As to the style of amateurs, though we have just spoken of freshness as their possible characteristic, the curious fact is that, contrary to natural expectation, they generally write more conventionally than the hacks of journalism. The amateur sets himself too energetically to keep the trodden ways ; he is too timid to allow any originality which he may possess to assert itself; and it is only when he is familiar with the necessary laws that he gives himself a desirable ease and liberty in non-essentials.

Finally, let amateurs beware of " amateur magazines," and of agencies for the profitable placing of literary work. These are generally bubbles — bubbles that will burst as soon as they are pricked with a silver or a golden pin. Some years ago an action was brought by one of these amateur associations against another ; and a number of dreadful young men of nineteen, with long hair, and spectacles, appeared in court as plaintiffs and defendants. No doubt the original promoters of such an organisation traded to good purpose on the credulity and ambition of the provincial and the young, beginning with a profession of philanthropy, and ending with a request for a subscription. They soon had their imitators, however ; the monopoly was broken, the spoils divided; and what with the exposure resulting from their internal dissensions, and the bitter individual experience of the thousands who lent willing ears and purses to their allurements, we may hope that their occupation is now gone.