How to Become an Author

Originally published
August 1996

Recently when picking through the dollar bin at the Argosy Bookshop in Manhattan, I found a copy of The Bookman from March 1927 and bought it for a dollar. The soiled, orange cover barely hung on to the rest of the magazine, with its crumbling binding.

Paging through its dusty pages and trying to stifle a sneeze, I came across an item titled “How to Become an Author” — letters written by prominent authors to one Mr. Alan Jones. Jones eventually became an associate of W. Somerset Maugham and later wrote a biography of him. But, in March 1927, he was as anonymous as you or I.

The Bookman’s introduction is reprinted below. The letters follow.

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A  Y E A R  A G O when in London, poking about as is my custom in a bookshop, I came across a large envelope on the outside of which was written, “How to Become an Author.” Its contents were a batch of holograph letters which instantly challenged my attention, and I bought the lot. Examination showed that they were all addressed to a Mr. Alan H. Jones. Who Mr. Jones is, I have never discovered; indeed, I never pressed my investigations, since the nature of the letters made it unnecessary, and I had no wish to cause anyone embarrassment.

A young man had, evidently, addressed a letter to a number of the most important living English authors, asking them to advise him upon the wisdom of adopting a literary career and how to go about it. That Mr. Jones had so carefully composed his letter as to bring kindly and considered replies from busy men was immediately apparent. What tempted him to dispose of them, I do not know.

The letters require no comment: they tell their own story, and are published as voicing the critical opinion of the successful writer upon the intricacies of his art. It is believed that they will be of interest to the general reader, and of especial interest to those thinking of adopting a literary career. There has not been a change of a single word, unless perhaps I have made an error in transcription. –R.D.F.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The letters here printed, sent to The Bookman by a subscriber, are fully authenticated.

The Letters

E. V. Lucas
Arthur Quiller Couch
Arthur Pinero
H. G. Wells
William Archer
H. de Vere Stacpoole
Lennox Robinson
George Bernard Shaw
Compton Mackenzie
W. R. Raleigh
A. C. Benson
W. Pett Ridge
Stephen Leacock
Frank Swinnerton
George O. Trevelyan
Wiliam Somerset Maugham
John Galsworthy
Henri Belloc
Rudyard Kipling
R.B. Cunninghame Graham
Arnold Bennett
R.B. Cunninghame Graham
Gilbert Parker

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