100 Years of Writer’s Digest

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Show Notes

Writer’s Digest Editor-in-Chief Amy Jones opens the magazine’s archives to take us back to a time when typewriters were king, paying markets for short stories abounded, and song sharks lurked in the literary waters. Tune in to learn what has changed in the last 100 years for writers—and what hasn’t. (Spoiler: Rejection is a constant. Typewriters and SASEs? Not so much.) In the process, explore the history of Writer’s Digest magazine, which has been headquartered in Cincinnati since 1921.

To see images from the February 1924 issue of Writer’s Digest discussed in this episode, visit “The Life of a Writer in 1924.”

In this episode:

Amy Jones headshot: Jason Hale Photography 

Excerpts

Transcript

Amy Jones (00:00):
Every once in Aa while, I get a contributor who will address her article to me as something really flowery and lovely like that <laugh>. And I always put a little comment like: "Thank you. I appreciate this."

Laura Maylene Walter (00:12):
"Yes. I am the Queen of Writer's Digest. Thank you. Thank you."

Amy Jones (00:15):
Exactly.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:20):
Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates, and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're taking you back to a time when writers worked without the internet, eBooks, novel writing software, MFA programs, or the distraction of social media. In the process, we'll explore the history of Writer's Digest magazine, which is and always has been headquartered in Ohio. We're joined today by the Editor-in-Chief of Writer's Digest, Amy Jones. Amy, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for being here today.

Amy Jones (01:08):
Hi. Thank you for having me.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:10):
I am really excited about this episode. Our listeners should know that in preparation you sent me a scan of an issue from Writer's Digest Magazine that is 100 years old, so we're going to get to that soon. But first, I imagine a lot of our listeners are familiar with Writer's Digest. I consider it an institution in the industry. It's been around for so long, it has many different components to it. But can you just share with us a bit about Writer's Digest and also a bit about the history?

Amy Jones (01:41):
Sure. Writer's Digest was founded in 1920 as the magazine called Successful Writing. And then very shortly after that first issue, they changed the name to Writer's Digest. Our mission is "writers helping writers", and we do that by offering instruction by way of articles in the magazine. And now beyond the magazine on our website and our online university, our conferences, we have our own podcast where we talk to writers and we try to help writers of all kinds...writing all genres, all formats of writing from the start of their writing journey throughout.

Laura Maylene Walter (02:24):
Yes, and I will be sure to link to the Writer's Digest podcast in our show notes among many other things. And Writer's Digest famously had published for years, the Writer's Market, which was a huge publication full of markets for writers, publishers, places to send your work. I grew up with the Writer's Market kind of hanging around my house because my mother was an aspiring writer and she would get it and study it. So it's sort of a core memory for me as a writer. But now in 2024, I have to imagine that has changed quite a lot. So what exactly happened to the Writer's Market?

Amy Jones (03:04):
A lot has changed with the Writer's Market. So for a long time it was those huge books with hundreds of pages of listings. In 2019, our parent company F+W Media went bankrupt and sold the assets to different companies. So all of our books, the Writer's Digest books imprint, including the Writer's Market books, were sold to Penguin Random House and our current parent company, Active Interest Media, we have the magazine and our, you know, website and online education and all of that. So the Writer's Market books are now kind of separate from Writer's Digest. Penguin Random House, they aren't doing a yearly release of those books anymore. They're doing them, I'm not sure how often. I think they've put out one new edition since they purchased the imprint in 2019. And that was released I think in the winter of 2021 into 2022. And we did help with those, but they don't quite belong to us anymore.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:13):
It makes a lot of sense. I mean, Writer's Market was full of publication listings, you know, for writers who are trying to get published or try to find an agent, try to find a publisher or place pieces in magazines. And of course now everything is online in different places, everywhere.

Amy Jones (04:27):
Mm-Hmm.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:27):
So that makes sense. And, and I think that will really relate to our conversation today about what has changed in the industry in the last century, which is wild to think about.

Amy Jones (04:36):
So much.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:37):
Can you tell us about your tenure as editor of Writer's Digest? How long have you been editor? And tell us about how you ended up in this role.

Amy Jones (04:45):
I took over as Editor-in-Chief of the magazine in March of 2020.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:52):
Oh my goodness.

Amy Jones (04:52):
Yes, which was a really special time because the issue that we were working on was all about travel writing.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:01):
Oh my goodness. Amazing.

Amy Jones (05:03):
So it was really trial by fire <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:06):
Oh, yeah.

Amy Jones (05:07):
Editing a travel writing magazine right as everything shut down for, you know, global pandemic. So that was a real lesson for me in being able to adapt to sort of whatever is thrown our way. We were so far in, we couldn't change everything about the issue, but instead we just put little caveats like when this is over.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:31):
Yeah.

Amy Jones (05:31):
By the time you read this, hopefully things will have changed <laugh> and well, we all know how that turned out. But before I took over as Editor-in-Chief, I did work on Writer's Digest books imprint before they were sold to Penguin Random House. I actually learned about Writer's Digest when I was in college at Miami University. I took a class called The Literary Marketplace, and the professor mentioned the Writer's Market Books and Writer's Digest, and that it was based in Cincinnati and I wanted to work in publishing. So I thought, well, I can't really afford to move to New York, but there's this great company, F+W Media based locally so I sort of made it a goal to work there. And long story short, I worked with someone who then worked at F+W and she got me connected. And so I got a job working on the art instruction books for another imprint and sort of made my way roundabout to the Writer's Digest books.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:32):
I think a lot of writers know about Writer's Digest and just don't think about how it is based in Cincinnati. And since this podcast celebrates all things literary in Ohio, I think it's a point of pride that we've had Writer's Digest here for well over a hundred years. So that's great.

Amy Jones (06:50):
Yeah, and it's interesting because while there is a group of us that still work in Ohio, we are kind of a remote team now. People have during the pandemic moved away and started working from home. But I think we will always consider Ohio and Cincinnati the home of Writer's Digest.

Laura Maylene Walter (07:08):
Well, let's talk a bit about that history we have. The issue that you shared with me from February, 1924 and Writer's Digest has been publishing since 1920, as you had mentioned. Can you tell us a bit about your archives? This century worth of history, of Writer's Digest magazines?

Amy Jones (07:29):
I have spent a lot of time in the archives. I love them. They're so fun to look at. There are these huge hardbound books that have each year's worth of issues all bound together. So you'll be flipping through and all of a sudden there's a cover for the next issue. And it's really a surprise what you see every time you turn the page, because suddenly there'll be an article written by, you know, somebody who was incredibly well known at the time, but perhaps we have sort of, you know, moved away from their work. Like, one of the things in this particular issue that I was just shocked to see was there's an ad in which Dashiell Hammett, the fellow who wrote THE MALTESE FALCON, is advertising his critique service and it lists his home address.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:17):
Wow.

Amy Jones (08:18):
Just his home address hanging out in the magazine. The pages of the bound archives are really brittle. They've kind of survived a lot, moved from building to building over the years. And because of that, we have had them all scanned to be preserved going into the future, thank goodness.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:40):
Well, so we have this issue that I love, and in some ways I felt a lot of this 1924 issue kind of held up. There were some parts that I thought, oh, I could see reading this in Writer's Digest today. But there's also a lot that has changed.

Amy Jones (08:57):
Mm-Hmm.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:57):
A lot of things that are either wild or just funny or confusing even to me at first, I have to realize.

Amy Jones (09:04):
Yes.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:04):
Oh, photoplay. Okay. I, I get it. I know what that is now. There's so much we could cover in this issue. So much good stuff. Where would you like to start?

Amy Jones (09:12):
I really have to talk about the typewriters.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:14):
Yes.

Amy Jones (09:16):
So much of this revolves around typewriters. There are dozens and dozens of ads for typewriters detailing their benefits and how every writer needs to have one and how to pick one out. There's an article in here about how to pick out the best typewriter for your needs. And I thought that was charming. And then of course there are the ads offering for people to type your manuscript for you if you don't have a typewriter. So it sort of indicated to me just how new that still was. Or you know, sort of like when not everyone had a computer in their home and you would have to go to a place to borrow a computer or you know, go to a library to use their computer. That's sort of how it felt to me with the typewriters. Not everyone has one, but here's where you can make use of one. I thought that was a delight.

Laura Maylene Walter (10:11):
I love the typewriters as well. And right in the beginning there's an ad for the typewriters. There's many ads. But this first ad in the beginning I wrote down how much the typewriters cost, and then I used the trusty inflation calculator and it actually was really surprising to me. So let's see. You could get a Remington for $53 in 1924 money, which would be about $944 today. For an Underwood, they were charging $73, which would be about $1,300 for that typewriter.

Amy Jones (10:44):
Wow.

Laura Maylene Walter (10:44):
And you could get these typewriters on a payment plan for $3 down, but $3 back then was apparently about $50. So barely pricey. The same as going and buying a new laptop maybe, maybe more expensive. So these were an investment definitely.

Amy Jones (11:00):
Absolutely. And that article, you know, made sure to tell you how to take care of your typewriter.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:06):
Yes.

Amy Jones (11:06):
And that dust was the enemy of the typewriter <laugh>, which took me back to my childhood thinking about like the old video game consoles that we have and make sure you blow your dust off!

Laura Maylene Walter (11:17):
Yeah. Yeah. Did you ever use a manual typewriter?

Amy Jones (11:21):
Oh yeah. My grandma had one. She taught me how to use it and how to change the ink in it. I loved going to her house and typing stories on that typewriter. It was blue and it had a cover to prevent the dust. I loved it.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:36):
When I was a kid, my family had one. And I also loved it. I typed stories on it. You could remove the ribbon and put a red ribbon in there. And so I would do that to get just one word in red for emphasis.

Amy Jones (11:48):
Nice.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:49):
The keys would stick and...

Amy Jones (11:51):
Mm-Hmm.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:51):
Oh, I'm still so upset that I didn't keep it, you know?

Amy Jones (11:54):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (11:54):
It probably wouldn't be in very good working order, but it was, it was really satisfying to clack those keys, you know?

Amy Jones (12:00):
It absolutely was. My mom had a typewriter too, and hers was different. And it was a little more closer to what our computer keyboards are now, and it was not nearly as satisfying.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:11):
I had an electric typewriter when I was a kid. I still remember that. And that could erase. So that was amazing. It would like back up and erase that was high technology <laugh>. I swear I'm not a hundred years old, but sometimes it feels like it.

Amy Jones (12:22):
Me either! <laugh>

Laura Maylene Walter (12:24):
But yeah. I loved the article about caring for your typewriter, talking about the different weight of paper. And carbon copies, which was a thing I haven't thought about in years, that people would make carbon copies.

Amy Jones (12:37):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:38):
I have a line from the article I wrote down, because I just love this sentence. And it gives you a taste of the style, I suppose, of the writing at the time. "Willy-nilly, a machine must be kept in strictly first-class shape", which is just great.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:53):
There's a subhead that just said, "Then there's the ribbon", like that's the subhead, you know, as you're reading along. So I, I really loved it, you know, caring for your typewriter, especially if you're, you know, going to spend a thousand dollars in today's money on a typewriter. You have to keep it in good shape. And there's other mentions throughout the issue of, you know, to be professional, you should be submitting your work that is typed and not handwritten.

Laura Maylene Walter (13:16):
So writers were getting that message. Yeah. So other things, just to give listeners an idea of what is in this issue, there are articles on everything from split infinitives...that was a funny piece. A lot of humor in that piece. A lot of pieces about either photography and how to take good pictures or photoplays, which would be just scripts, I suppose for movies, because that was so new back then.

Laura Maylene Walter (13:42):
That this seemed to be a big thing. A lot of songwriting. So I guess lyrics were a big...

Amy Jones (13:47):
Right.

Laura Maylene Walter (13:47):
Do you have any information on that? I guess at the time people could sell songs.

Amy Jones (13:51):
Yeah. I mean that was something that Writer's Digest covered even until the past decade or so when I was working on the Writer's Digest books. We had a couple of books about songwriting, but it's not something that we cover anymore. But yeah, I was surprised at how many articles and references there were to songwriting. And there was one, some of this issue was a little confusing. I think part of what I'm thinking of was written by the editor of the magazine and it was responding to a letter to the editor from a couple of issues prior where a person had been scammed by a pretend songwriting company that would buy your song or song publisher.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:38):
Song sharks, I think they were calling them.

Amy Jones (14:40):
Yes.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:40):
The scammers.

Amy Jones (14:40):
That's what it was. Yeah. And I thought, you know, that must be the equivalent of some of the scams that we still see today where people, you know, these companies try and take advantage of, of writers by posing as literary agents or posing as publishers if you pay so much money.

Laura Maylene Walter (14:59):
That was really interesting. Those song sharks were mentioned in a few different ways, I think, throughout the issue in different sections. There's one section that was interesting. It looked like a...I haven't seen this in so long, sort of a confidential section where the writer is responding to inquiries or writing that was sent in for feedback. And they would get a confidential little blurb of feedback. And a lot of it was really harsh. A lot of it was, "You have no originality. This is commonplace. Any publisher who says they want to publish this is trying to scam you because it's not good." So that was <laugh>, that was pretty interesting. And of course the ads were really, really fascinating. We mentioned the typewriter ads. The typist ads. There's an ad for a thesaurus. Which costs $2.50, which sounds very reasonable, but that's like $44. So I guess like a big hardcover maybe. I don't know.

Amy Jones (15:52):
I'm glad you looked into the inflation exchanges because that really puts it into perspective.

Laura Maylene Walter (15:57):
Right, right. But I mean, I still have a paper thesaurus that I sometimes use.

Amy Jones (16:01):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:01):
Even though, you know, there's online options. But yeah, the thesaurus, a rhyming dictionary was also in there. I saw a home correspondent school so that you could, I guess, learn to write through the mail, which was something. And there was one ad I wrote down the copy for the ad, which I will just read. This is for someone who will, I suppose, type or format your manuscript to make it look professional before you send it out. And it says, "Authors! Your ideas—your children. Your manuscript—their dress. We will dress your children to please you and your publisher." <laugh> Which just gets me. Yeah. So that was really fun. And I think you had said you had an ad that you wanted to point out as well.

Amy Jones (16:46):
Well, it was that Dashiell Hammett ad. I was just scrolling through and I saw his name and it was on page 51, I think. And it was just a tiny little ad. Yes. It said "Dashiell Hammett criticism of prose fiction, $1 each thousand words, special rates for manuscripts of more than 25,000 words". And then it lists his address, 620 Eddie Street, San Francisco. And I screen shotted it and sent it to the other editors and I said, this can't really be the Dashiell Hammett who wrote THE MALTESE FALCON.

Laura Maylene Walter (17:23):
Right. <laugh>.

Amy Jones (17:24):
But we looked up that address and sure enough, that is exactly where he lived. And I think this was clearly before he had written that and just needed some extra money or was offering his, his services.

Laura Maylene Walter (17:37):
Yeah. The classifieds and the ads in this are really both a sign of what has changed and what is not. Which is that writers need feedback and they need professional advice. And working writers need money.

Laura Maylene Walter (17:51):
And so they'll often take on editing work, freelance work, critique work, and, and then of course the writer who's purchasing these services has to do their homework and make sure that they're getting someone who's good and professional and not going to scam them. So it's a lot of that is I think actually very similar to what writers have to go through today, just in a completely different method and format. And everything's online now. So.

Amy Jones (18:14):
It is, and I really wish I could pick the brains of the editors who are working on this at the time to ask, you know, like, did you vet all of these advertisers? <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:24):
I'm sure not.

Amy Jones (18:24):
Did you look into them to make sure that they're okay? Because I will say we spend quite a bit of time doing that now.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:32):
That is good to know. Listeners, pay attention to that because you want your professionals to be vetted before you give them your money. Yeah there's one woman who gave $40 to, I think it was a song shark. Someone scammed her.

Amy Jones (18:44):
Yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:44):
And they were actually, I think another reader started a fund to contribute to help this, I think she was a single mother or something, but to help this poor woman get her money back, which would've been, I looked it up, either $750-ish or something.

Amy Jones (18:58):
Wow.

Laura Maylene Walter (18:58):
Which could be, you know, a lot of money.

Amy Jones (18:59):
A lot.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:00):
I also enjoyed the ads for either stationary or like different packs of envelopes. So you have your exterior envelopes, you mail your work in, and then your smaller SASE self-addressed stamped envelope envelopes. I remember those days. I used to use SASE's all the time. And that's another kind of callback that people don't really do anymore.

Amy Jones (19:21):
Oh, you'd be surprised. The physical mail that we get to our office.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:26):
Oh, really?

Amy Jones (19:27):
We get so many of those. People sending their story ideas to us, and we don't publish stories or sending our poems to us. And I guess this is another way that the magazine has changed over time, is we don't include, you know, just random poems here or there. We have a column called Poetic Asides that occasionally includes a poem, but it's very specific in explaining this is the style of poem.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:54):
Right. Right.

Amy Jones (19:54):
And here's an example. But I am surprised at how much physical mail we get with the self-addressed, stamped envelopes. It's a lot.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:04):
Yeah. Well, you do you still have contests, correct? A lot of contests. But this is separate from that.

Amy Jones (20:09):
We do.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:09):
You're just getting unsolicited manuscripts?

Amy Jones (20:10):
Yes.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:12):
Well, I did laugh at, I think it was just a small classified near the end. So I'm in Cleveland and it mentioned, I wrote it down, I think there's like a writing group or a poetry group in Cleveland, Ohio that basically had this small ad saying, hey everyone, we don't publish people outside of our own little collective group, and we don't pay anyone. Like, we're not a paying publication that you can submit to. So it was basically saying, hey, please stop sending us manuscripts, like we're not going pay you and publish you. Which really made me laugh because it felt like that hasn't changed maybe of writers not doing their research by reading Writers' Digest and like just sending their workout to where it doesn't belong. And these editors are just swamped with things. So I thought that was kind of funny as well.

Laura Maylene Walter (20:58):
Is there anything else in this issue that you think points to what has changed over the last hundred plus years for writers? Anything else? Any other articles or moments of note?

Amy Jones (21:10):
Well, I would say there was a lot more humor in this than I expected. I always thought that, you know, looking back on the archives, I would find a more serious literary style magazine. But it seems that I was mistaken. And the magazine really wanted to be accessible to people. I read an article that was written when I was refreshing my memory about the history of Writer's Digest. It was written by Richard Rosenthal, who was a descendant of Ed Rosenthal, who founded the magazine. And he said that the goal was to take the writer out of the garret and into the marketplace where the demand for his wears had never been greater. And so I felt like the tone of that, of the magazine did in fact meet that goal. It's not some highfalutin magazine that people can't understand. It really was trying to explain what this stuff was and do it in a funny way that would make it entertaining for people while being educational. And now I wonder, maybe we should include a little more humor <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (22:19):
Yeah. It was, it was really, there were some very funny moments. Some of them were clearly meant to be humor. The split infinitive piece was really funny. Yes. Some of them I couldn't tell by the tone.

Amy Jones (22:31):
Right?

Laura Maylene Walter (22:31):
Like, is this meant to be funny? Or are they just being sincerely kind of harsh or kind of, you know, it's, it's sort of hard to know. That might be my failing. But I thought it was funny. And I think this was meant to be humorous, but there's one moment where...there's a really interesting piece about young writers and learning to accept feedback and a confidence as a writer, which is really interesting. And in one part, the author of the article is talking about how while sometimes work by young writers stories, they might be considered like ethereal or have a spark of genius, right? But goes on to clarify that...not always. And then says most of them, in fact, most of these stories by young writers, in fact, are very bad. And some should be "strangled at birth" <laugh>. Right.

Amy Jones (23:16):
<Laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (23:16):
Which just imagine hearing that actual feedback as a writer. And there's another one, this was a February issue. So there was a section on Valentine's Day poems, which was interesting. And the author says, "I do wish aspiring authors would not send me new verse or free verse, or whatever the name that is given to absolutely incomprehensible lines, which do not rhyme." Which I thought was funny, because poetry, I think the aesthetics have changed quite a bit in the last hundred years.

Amy Jones (23:44):
Oh yeah. But going back to that article about young writers, the one note I made about that was some of that advice still holds true.

Laura Maylene Walter (23:55):
Absolutely. Yeah.

Amy Jones (23:56):
Because the author was making a point of, you know, if you take advice from everyone that you get it from, I mean, how on earth are you going to decide what the heck to do with your manuscript? You have to, and this is advice that we still give now, you have to take that advice with a grain of salt and think about who you are receiving it from and what your intention is with what you're trying to do. And then make the choice of what you think would work best for what you are trying to accomplish. I really love that advice.

Laura Maylene Walter (24:28):
Yeah, I did too. And it's actually, I think it's one of the most difficult things for a writer to learn. And a lot of us have to learn it over many years, which is what resonates with you. What can you take and change in your own way? So you have to be open to that feedback, but also self-assured enough and confident enough in your own work to not just change everything based on someone else's input. You have to have the confidence of knowing what you want and what your vision is. And so I thought that advice could just be plucked right into a current issue and it would fit in.

Amy Jones (24:58):
Oh, absolutely.

Laura Maylene Walter (24:59):
And I think it was the same piece, but just in general, I was getting themes of, you know, how to boost a writer's morale, how to encourage writers...like writers need encouragement. They, they want to learn how to get published. You know, they want to learn, how do you make your way in this industry that can seem so, you know, difficult to get a foothold in. And so I thought that all, nothing has changed. Now I do think judging by reading this, the short story market was quite different. Where there were tons of places to publish short stories and get actual money for them. So that was a little bleak to think about how much that has changed.

Amy Jones (25:34):
That was something that was interesting to me too. Just how much of the magazine was dedicated to writing short stories or novelettes, which was something that, I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of a novelette until a few months ago when a writer mentioned it in an article for us. And I said, I'm sorry, I don't, I know novellas and I know novels, but I don't know that I've heard of a novelette. I think that's part of why I picked this issue to send to you, because I saw that and I was like, wait a minute. There's this whole form that somewhere in the middle of a short story and a novella. And it was big enough that there was a whole article about it, and it appeared on the cover of this issue. And the number of contests for short stories noted in this. That was impressive and surprising as well.

Laura Maylene Walter (26:27):
Yeah. There were a lot. Yeah I noted the novelette, I can't remember what the word count is for novelette. I had heard of it before, but it doesn't seem like people use it very often. I think maybe some science fiction magazines might, and I'm not as familiar with those publications, but I think they might buy novelettes. But I did write down the first line from that article, which I really like. Just the language of it is not something you would really see today. "The eminent presiding genius of the Writer's Digest has suggested that I lift my voice in regard to the mechanics of the novelette" <laugh>. So just very flowery. And I couldn't really tell, is that voice completely serious or being a little self-deprecating? I honestly can't tell. But I enjoyed it.

Amy Jones (27:11):
Every once in a while I get a contributor who will address her article to me as something really flowery and lovely like that <laugh>. And I always put a little comment like: "Thank you, I appreciate this."

Laura Maylene Walter (27:23):
"Yes. I am the queen of Writer's Digest. Thank you. Thank you."

Amy Jones (27:25):
Exactly.

Laura Maylene Walter (27:26):
Yeah, that was really great. And I noticed also just another similarity, something that hasn't changed over the years, is simply writers need community. So there are a few classified ads, or just small notices, basically saying, do you live in Indianapolis? Like, we're trying to start a club of writers, you know, and it was very different back then because you couldn't just meet online, but trying to find people within your community and get together with them. So it's no different from today how writers need to find their people in their community. So I thought that was really interesting.

Amy Jones (27:58):
Oh yeah. You know, one of the other articles that I was really interested to see was the rights in literary property, which was about copyright and something that we constantly get questions about today. Because I don't think it's any clearer than it was in 1924. But you know, the advice that was given, which was explaining that you don't need to copyright something before you publish it. Which is something like, I still see that as a point of confusion for writers now they're worried about, do I need to copyright it before I send out my manuscript to agents and no, because it's going to change.

Laura Maylene Walter (28:43):
Right, right.

Amy Jones (28:44):
It's absolutely going to change. And it is inherently yours already.

Laura Maylene Walter (28:48):
Exactly. Yeah. I noted that article too, because it starts by painting the picture of a writer afraid of sending, you know, their story or, or whatever their writing is in the mail. And it was very different back then because you don't have a copy saved to your Dropbox or wherever on your computer, but you're putting it in the mail maybe with one of those carbon copies. I don't know. And this worry that, I think they used the word "nefarious."

Amy Jones (29:12):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (29:12):
Like, nefarious forces could get it. And yeah, I hear from writers too, who are worried about people stealing their work or copyright. And so that was really interesting. Just these eternal questions that writers have.

Amy Jones (29:25):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (29:25):
I also enjoyed the piece of a writer who basically thanked all the editors who had sent rejections on her work.

Amy Jones (29:33):
Yep.

Laura Maylene Walter (29:33):
And listing them out, thank you to the editor who told me my story was too slow or not right for their magazine because of X, Y, or Z. And it really painted a picture of how rejection is also timeless, I guess.

Amy Jones (29:46):
Yes.

Laura Maylene Walter (29:46):
And how we need that to learn and and learn from that. Is there anything else that we didn't discuss about this issue that you wanted to make sure to bring up?

Amy Jones (29:55):
There was an article about how to write humor. I mean, we had a whole issue in November/December of 2023 that was dedicated to, it was called Making Readers Laugh. And it was various articles about humor writing and writing romcoms. So it was another one of those topics that, you know, is going to come up time after time, and you know, across decades. But there were some jokes or what were supposedly jokes in this article from the 1924 issue that were really uncomfortable.

Laura Maylene Walter (30:31):
Oh, I know what you're talking about. About the mispronunciation of words.

Amy Jones (30:36):
Yeah, yeah.

Amy Jones (30:37):
So I think, I mean, we're very conscious of what we put in the magazine now and how we, you know, represent different people. But we do have to own up to the things that were put in the magazine years ago when things were different or when people were just mean. Yeah.

Amy Jones (30:57):
We reprinted some articles in the magazine during the year of 2020, which was our 100th anniversary year. And we were very careful about what we chose for that. But then we also found some cassette tapes from the 1970s that we were able to digitally record, you know, preserve those recordings digitally. And they're now for sale in our Writer's Digest shop because they're fascinating. They're such an interesting piece of our history. And you get to hear voices of these writers who are huge in the seventies, but you have to put that caveat, like they say some things and use some words that we are not okay with anymore. It's an uncomfortable part of any kind of publication that has gone on this long. So I think, you know, we just have to acknowledge that it's there and that of course we do better now.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:50):
Right. It was a bit uncomfortable. And of course you can acknowledge that in the times, the different readership, different people in control of publishing too.

Amy Jones (31:59):
Exactly.

Laura Maylene Walter (31:59):
When you really think about it and what it was like a hundred years ago. So I did an episode last year on the original Nancy Drew ghost writer, which was really interesting. And I read one of the original Nancy Drews that wasn't one of the revised editions. And it was the same thing where just in one spot it's like, oh, oh gosh, this character...

Amy Jones (32:16):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:16):
This is not something that would ever exist today. It's always jarring to our modern sensibilities though. For sure.

Amy Jones (32:24):
Absolutely. And I will say, like, on a more amusing side of that, some of the ads instruct you to write, "Dear gentleman" when you are addressing your query.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:35):
Of course. Because why would an editor be a woman? Yeah.

Amy Jones (32:39):
Exactly. But you know, there were so many female writers of these articles in this magazine, and that was pleasantly surprising.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:46):
One of the authors of an article I mentioned, I referred to her as a she, which I don't know, because the author used initials. And I just always assume, well, initials probably [meant] a woman who didn't want to be stereotyped for being a woman writer. So who knows though?

Amy Jones (33:01):
Oh, yeah. Writer's Digest's first female Editor-in-Chief, she went by Kirk Polking, and that was not her name. She used the pen name Kirk Polking.

Laura Maylene Walter (33:12):
Yeah. A whole host of, of challenges for writers. They're being scammed by song sharks <laugh>. They have to publish under different names if they're not white men.

Amy Jones (33:21):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (33:22):
It's rough times. But to put it into context now, you know, you're the Editor-in-Chief of the 2024 Writer's Digest. You've told us a few things throughout this conversation, but what are some of the most popular topics or questions that you get from your readership? What are writers today, in your mind? What do they most need and what are they most seeking, or what do you wish they knew?

Amy Jones (33:47):
Well, I think we focus a lot more now on novel writers than the magazine did during those earlier time periods. As I was reading the article by the Rosenthal from the seventies, from Richard Rosenthal, he was talking about how that shifted as the pulp novels became more popular. And so Writer's Digest shifted the focus away from those short story markets and the songwriting markets more towards the novel. And I think we have not gone away from that at all. I think we cover novel writing more than really any other form, although we are making a concerted effort to also cover all kinds of nonfiction writing. So lots and lots of freelance writing, we cover that. Independent publishing, that's an area self-publishing, where we have tried to provide more information to people because I think there's so much going on with self-publishing right now, and the conversation around it is really fascinating because traditionally published authors are talking more about the lack of support they get in terms of marketing and publicity from their traditional publishers.

Amy Jones (35:04):
And so we've talked to some very successful indie authors who, you know, when it's in their own control, they've found more success and they're able to control the narrative around their stories and what they want to publish and the readership that they want to reach. So I think that's an area that we have specifically tried to grow our coverage that, I mean, I sure it existed back in this time period, but it was much more, you know, if you're a very wealthy person, you can write your novel and have it bound up for you for your family <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:35):
Right, right.

Amy Jones (35:36):
And now it's much more accessible to everyone.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:40):
I will say that before our interview, I was taking a peek at the January/February 2024 issue of Writer's Digest. And right in the beginning was an ad for, it was like a software. It wasn't a software like Scrivener for novel writing, but like for word choice.

Amy Jones (35:56):
Yes.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:56):
I think it had a lot of different elements with, you know, kind of a thesaurus or rhyming element, all sorts of things involving word choice. And it was really interesting because on one hand, it's so different from a hundred years ago, the first ad was the typewriter ad for this kind of clunky, physical, delicate piece of machinery, right? And now it's for the software. But at the same time, when you think about the ads for the thesaurus and the rhyming dictionary and the old one. It is still, it's still kind of the same, which is just fascinating how much can change, but also stay the same.

Amy Jones (36:27):
Yeah, writers still have the same needs a hundred years later. We still are looking for that perfect word to get across the exact feeling that we want. I think that's another timeless situation for writers.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:39):
And I believe you said that you're working on eventually making your archives available more widely.

Amy Jones (36:47):
Yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:47):
Can you talk a bit about that?

Amy Jones (36:48):
We're so close. We hired a company last year to scan all hundred and four, a hundred and three, a hundred and four years of our archives and digitize them. So we are in the process of having the website built that will house those archives where we can provide them to schools or to libraries or sell them to individuals who just want access to a hundred years worth of...A hundred years or more worth of Writer's Digest. But the cool thing about those is that they're going to be searchable. They'll be broken down by year, and then each individual issue. But then you can search for a person's name or a topic, you know, novel writing, although if you type in novel writing, you're going to get more results than you can possibly sort through. But you'll be able to search for a topic and it will pop up all of the articles throughout our history that relate to or mention that topic.

Amy Jones (37:51):
And I think we've been talking about the ads a lot, and I think that's something that I find fascinating looking through our archives, it's a little piece of history that we don't think about. I mean, unless you're watching Mad Men where you know, you're thinking about the creation of these ads. But that's what I find so fascinating about these older issues, is it's a snapshot into time. The Cleveland Public Library probably has these issues on microfilm or microfiche, but how often are people grabbing that film and looking through this issue? And I think it will just make it so much more accessible to, you know, scholars who are interested in what writing was like in whatever set decade. But also, you know, for literary scholars who are trying to look up a particular writer, there's probably an article about, or related to or mentioning this person, this author, that might have otherwise kind of been lost to the archives that people aren't really looking through anymore. I know I would've loved to have something like that when I was in college and writing my papers on older writers. So I'm very excited about it. I don't have an exact date for when the archives will be available, but it will be this year, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Laura Maylene Walter (39:07):
Well we will be sure to spread the word whenever that happens, because I just think it's so fascinating, and I'm sure a lot of writers out there will be interested. It's really fun to look at these old issues though. You can kind of feel the history just breathing off the page, which is fascinating. My last question for you, as you're thinking about that 1924 issue, what is one thing that you are glad has changed about writing in the last hundred years? And maybe what is one thing that you wouldn't mind if we went back to that?

Amy Jones (39:37):
Some people still do it, but I would love to have typewriters more prevalent again. I think there's something, there's some sort of nostalgia about stepping away from the computer and the internet and all of the distractions that come with that, and being able to just sit and listen to the noise as you're typing. So that's not necessarily about the craft, but more about the experience of writing. I guess I'm kind of glad that we, as Writer's Digest, don't really cover photography anymore <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:09):
Right, right.

Amy Jones (40:09):
Selling photos with your writing or for photoplays. There are specialty magazines that can tell you much more about that than we can. And I'm glad we don't have to worry about that.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:19):
I would love the typewriters to be back too, but I think just maybe the market for short stories and just circulation numbers for print publications would be nice to go back to.

Amy Jones (40:29):
Oh yeah.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:29):
And things are far, far, far from perfect now, but I think we can agree that in the last hundred years, it has become a lot more equitable than it was in 1924 in terms of who can write, who is given opportunities to write. So I think that is one, one plus that we will keep working on hopefully into the future.

Amy Jones (40:49):
Absolutely.

Laura Maylene Walter (40:49):
Amy, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a fun trip down a very long memory lane of the past century. But thanks for sharing more about Writer's Digest with us today.

Amy Jones (41:00):
Of course. Thank you so much for having me.

Laura Maylene Walter (41:06):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcasts. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Instagram @ohiocenterforthebook or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email ohiocenterforthebook@cpl.org and put "podcast" in the subject line. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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