The American Scene: Magazines for Would-Be Writers Crowd the News-Stands. but Are They Any Help with Getting Published?

By Sutherland, John | New Statesman (1996), January 16, 2006 | Go to article overview

The American Scene: Magazines for Would-Be Writers Crowd the News-Stands. but Are They Any Help with Getting Published?


Sutherland, John, New Statesman (1996)


It is a moot point whether Americans take books more seriously than the British. What is undeniable is that they take the actual writing of books more seriously. Would-be authors in the US need only go to the nearest news-stand, a few dollars in hand, for practical, sure-fire guidance on how to join the ranks of the published.

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You can even choose your rank. For $5.99, F+W Publications offers Spiritual Writing: how to write to inspire. "Share your faith," the magazine piously instructs, "through fiction, essays, articles, and more." And make an honest buck (or more) while sharing. The December issue of Spiritual Writing splashes an interview with Jerry B Jenkins, co-author of the bestselling Left Behind series (the Book of Revelation fictionalised, for those not into spiritual writing). F+W also publishes Personal Writing ("Turn ordinary moments into extraordinary reading")--a magazine for tyro memoirists, essayists, diarists and bloggers.

Altogether, F+W puts out 20 such magazines, covering specialisms such as "romance", "westerns", "science fiction" and (most hopefully) "bestsellers". All are gathered under the house's master title, Writer's Digest (motto: "Write better! Get published!").

These how-to magazines have roots deep within American traditions of self-reliance and self-improvement. F+W's publications are descended from the "Funk and Wagnall" manuals of proper usage (the US equivalent

of Fowler) that first appeared in the 1900s. Even more venerable is Kalmbach Publishing's Writer, which proudly declares itself on its masthead "the essential resource for writers since 1887". Henry James could have read it, but probably didn't. The September issue carries advice on "How to avoid four common 'plotholes'". Kalmbach also publishes The Writer's Survival Guide, the latest issue of which advises on how to "write killer queries" (that is, grab your editor by the eyeballs).

The articles these magazines contain fall into half a dozen general categories. …

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