For the past year, we’ve enjoyed sharing our countdown to a Writer’s Digest milestone 90 years in the making. To wrap up our anniversary celebration—whether you’re just joining in or have been following all along—you can view the whole retrospective, organized by topic, here:
And for the grand finale, don’t miss our roundup of “90 Secrets of Bestselling Authors” in the January 2010 Special Anniversary Issue of Writer’s Digest, available here (COMING SOON!).
There’s not much we love more than hearing from our readers, and as the anniversary has approached, all of us here at WD have so enjoyed the letters we’ve received from those who can say they “knew us when …” . One essay in particular stood out from the rest, and we’re so pleased to share it here, spotlighting a longtime reader whose family’s history with WD goes all way, way back—all the way to the beginning.
Have your own story from WD’s history? We’d love to hear from you! Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Reader Mail” in the subject line.
Generations of WD: A longtime reader shares how 90 years of Writer’s Digest is all in the family.
by Brenda R. Curtice Wei
In my youth, I put on little plays for the neighborhood children much like the young sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women did. Once in high school, however, I found my penchant for drama found its way to the written page. Sometime in my senior year, my grandmother, aware of my interest in writing, brought out some surprises from old boxes she had stored away.
I was surprised to learn my grandmother had once also been an aspiring writer, and she had collected old issues of Writer’s Digest and an assortment of other books on writing. In fact, one of those was a 1921 Writer’s Market. Not much more than a ¼” thick and measuring a mere 4” x 6 ½”, with some 90 pages, it was a far cry from the more than 1,000 pages now found in Writer’s Market books. She also showed me an old manuscript she’d written and saved. She had never been successful in marketing her work, but as she handed me these old issues of Writer’s Digest, she said, “Now you may be the next writer in the family, and I hope you will stick to it.”
As Writer’s Digest looks to celebrate 90 years, it reminded me of these old issues that are still in my possession at an age when I am now called a senior citizen but am still writing—and have been published many times.
Years after my grandmother passed away, I found time to leaf through the old books and magazines, eager to take the journey into the past, and found I was surprised to learn that throughout the years, many things had not changed all that much. There were still the letters from readers, then written to the “Forum;” similar advertisements and personal ads offering hopeful writers typing services; and articles offering much of the sage “how-to” advice given to new writers today. The biggest change I noted? The prices!
In 1922, the price of Writer’s Digest was 15 cents, and in 1944 it rose to 25 cents an issue. Market listings in the old Writer’s Market of 1921 listed such categories as Technical Articles, Essays, Jokes, Music Publishers, Serial Stories and Photoplays. Market listings were well detailed, but rarely listed payment rates. With those that did, rates typically ran from a half-cent to 1 cent per word. Some magazines that reflected the times were American Blacksmith, Auto & Tractor Shop and the American Threshermen & Farm Power, all of which reflected our more rural/agrarian society at that time. In 1922, one issue had an article titled, “What the Farm Publications Want.” Some 27 newspapers and periodicals were listed as farm markets in the piece. One monthly feature column in 1922 was “The Songwriter’s Den.” Also in 1922 was a market listing for The American Hatter, “using anything of real interest to retail hatters.”
Other magazine titles back then stood the test of time and are still familiar to most of us today, including Boy’s Life, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Grit, Ladies Home Journal, Popular Mechanics Magazine, Scientific American and The Saturday Evening Post. In a 1944 issue, in the “New York Market Letter” column was news of the debut of a new monthly magazine for young women between the ages of 13 and 18 years, Seventeen, created for “an enormous potential reader group, to whom no publication seems to be appealing directly.” The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1921, the “Writer’s Forum” was not in the format of letters to the editor, but more an informal “notes” column, offering bits of information to readers. One such note was: “Spring is Rudyard Kipling’s favorite season, in rural England. He always plans to spend it at Batemans, his farm of 500 acres on the Sussex Downs. In his study up among the gables of the rambling old Elizabethan house he spends three hours every morning in writing, but the afternoons are devoted to his admirably managed, well-stocked farm.”
It was fun and interesting to take that journey back in time. Throughout my adult life, I took my grandmother’s advice and continued to write. I continued to sustain my inspiration and knowledge by reading writing magazines, taking a college writing class and attending several fine writing conferences. I’ve also taught writing classes at my local community college.
Although I have not yet sold the Great American Novel, I did accomplish what my grandmother was not able to do. To date, I have sold and seen in print around 20 pieces, including magazine articles (religious, general, travel, business and regional), a few newspaper feature articles and children’s nonfiction and fiction. Throughout the many years, busy with full-time jobs, raising three children and a divorce, it’s been a slow process, much like that of the tortoise who plugs along, but I think my grandmother would have been pleased that I never quit, and that I have been published. I am now retired from full-time work but still writing, and I continue to learn from and enjoy Writer’s Digest today.