Clement Wood—the most prolific American writer ?

clement-wood picThere are differences of opinion regarding who are the most prolific English writers—that is, who have written the most words. Some would argue that Charles Hamilton, the creator of Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, tops the list. He is supposed to have produced around 100 million words in a writing life of over sixty years of contributing school and adventure stories for The Gem, The Magnet and many other magazines. Another contender—who is still very much alive—is the that extraordinary man from East Dereham, the Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe, who cut his teeth as a writer of pulp science fiction for’ Badger Books’ in his late ‘teens ( at one stage he was penning a book each fortnight ) and went on to write prolifically on the supernatural and paranormal—that is when he wasn’t presenting Fortean TV, gaining awards in swimming and judo , being a management consultant, and riding around the UK on his powerful motor bike with his wife. He certainly holds some sort of record for the number of titles he produced. I interviewed him twice—for Book and Magazine Collector and Mensa Magazine—and I can honestly say that of all the hundred or more people I have got on tape, he is by far the most unusual figure.

But then we have Clement Wood (1888 – 1950) who, according to his own publicity, may be the most prolific  American wordsmith. This poet, erotic novelist, biographer, journalist, short-story and pulp-fiction writer, and compiler of multi-volume encyclopaedias, also gave talks on writing and it is in one of these talks– to the Writers Club of Gloversville, New York in June 1938– that he made the astonishing claim that he had written over 25 million words! Here is his claim.

Published:  10 volume encyclopedia…………………………… 2, 400,000.

The equivalent of 100 printed books averaging

300 pages each, including 5 vol. History of

The World, Outline, Games, Rhyming Dictionary    9, 000,000


55 Little Blue Books for E. Haldeman Julius           1, 000,000

Short stories, c.200 at 5,000 words…………………1, 000,000

Reviews & newspaper columns……………………..2,500,000


Unpublished: 90 full erotic novels,100 plus pages each, to order,

all sold                                                                    3,000,000

Unpublished volumes, some of my best work,

About 50 300p.volumes altogether.                         4,000,000

Unpublished short stories and essays, c. 400 at

5,000 words each                                                     2,000,000

9,000,000 more

Total             25, 000, 000.

Well, we’ve done the ‘math’ and it all adds up, but can we take Mr Wood’s figures and words for granted, especially regarding the ‘unpublished‘ works. What does he mean by claiming that the unpublished ‘erotic novels’ were ‘all sold’. How can unpublished novels be sold?  Or is he saying that they were typewritten—like those ‘Soho scripts’ of the fifties that were sold to men in dirty raincoats from under the counter in clip joints?

Anyway, here’s Mr Wood again. He’s a modest man with, no doubt, much to be modest about. Poor bloke, he never had a day off, either. For his pulp work he probably wrote for dimes, rather than dollars, a bit like the teenage Fanthorpe, but according to another source he was paid reasonably well for his novels. All told, since he did not become rich, despite his hard work, he’d have made more money selling gas or frying steaks in a downtown diner. But he did not return to the law, for which he had been trained, and genuinely seems to have been addicted to words. I wonder how many typewriters he got through.

‘I have been writing and publishing since 1917 (though wholly devoted to it only since 1922). Assume the whole 21 years, during this time, without a day’s vacation, I have written on the average:

1,250,000 words a year

104,000 words a month

3,425 words every day—more than 11pp.

FINISHED copy ( I omit all first

drafts in these figures) which means

a full length novel every 17 ½ days,

without a day’s let up for 21 years.

I have written serious novels, detective novels, sexy novels over various names, fiction for the slicks and for the pulps, essays for both, some 2,500 published poems and almost as much published light verse, full length biographies, volumes of criticism, histories, books on science, omnibuses of rhymes and poetcraft, games, jokes, English, history band a 10 volume encyclopedia. And I’m young yet and beginning the hang of writing.’

Evidently, though, all this industry took its toll. Wood died in 1950, aged just 62. [RR]


4 thoughts on “Clement Wood—the most prolific American writer ?

  1. Jot 101 Post author

    I once had a lot of ephemera associated with the prodigious Clement Wood. It consisted of poems sent to him and his critiques of them. It was obvious one of his sidelines. A dollar a poem. He could be quite dismissive. At one point we had his copy of Frank Harris’s Life & Confessions of Oscar Wilde (1918); we catalogued it thus: “Clement Wood’s copy with his bookplate and copious pencilled notes. Clement Wood – versatile and prolific U.S. poet, journalist, etymologist and minor pornographer appears to have been himself a sort of American Frank Harris. Among other things he wrote ‘Lady Chatterley’s Friends.’ He has been cited as co-author of the 1932 book ‘The Private Life of Frank Harris’ . The acknowledged author is Samuel Roth and Wood is the dedicatee – ‘Clement Wood, the only man I know in America capable of turning this trick.’ The notes in ‘Oscar Wilde’ tend to concentrate on Harris’s experiences, with the note ‘use’ in the margin as if for some later work. There are also some ill-tempered remarks such as ‘asinine rot’ and ‘nuts’ and the damning ‘Nothing could prove Harris’s juvenile ineptitude as critic more than this..’ when Harris dismisses the latter half of Dorian Gray as ‘insignificant.’ Wood was also the author of ‘The Sensualist, a novel of the life and times of Oscar Wilde.’ At one point a lot of his library turned up in Berkeley, California with Serendipity and the late, great Ian Jackson.

  2. Roger

    “What does he mean by claiming that the unpublished ‘erotic novels’ were ‘all sold’. How can unpublished novels be sold? ”
    In an essay Gore Vidal mentioned a poet of the 1940s and 50s who was commissioned to write “made-to-measure” pornography for a wealthy politician. In the end, the unfortunate author had a nervous breakdown from the stress of wondering who his patron was. Perhaps Wood was working in the same way.

  3. David Redd

    Clement Dane might be a good possibility as the most productive USA author – I like Roger’s suggestion of commissioned one-off novels for individual clients. Do such things ever surface in the antiquarian book trade? Meanwhile though, perhaps America’s Lauran Paine was even more prolific. If we make a conservative estimate of Paine having written say 600 Westerns and others (1,000 claimed), allowing only 50,000 words each, his output surely totals at least 30,000,000 words.

    Similar cautious arithmetic would put Lionel Fanthorpe’s 250 books at about 12,500,000; for comparison Georges Simenon’s 350 to 400 (estimates differ) would total 20,000,000; and Kathleen Lindsay’s largely pseudonymous 500 books (900 claimed) could reach 25,000,000+.

    Charles Hamilton/Frank Richards was certainly more productive than any of these, albeit in periodicals rather than in books. George Orwell after initial doubts accepted that by the early 1940s Hamilton had written 45,000,000 words over thirty years. Hamilton claimed that he could type at fifty words per minute and that his annual output was no strain: “Frank Richards always had an easy day’s work. He could easily have passed the 2,000,000 million mark had he chosen to give up other things.” (Quoted in Mary Cadogan, Frank Richards, 1988/2000.)

    Thank you for many things, Team Jot.
    – David Redd


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