Book Review: Writing For The Magazines

Writing For The Magazines, by J. Berg Esenwein

Every once in a while [1] I enjoy reading about writing, and particularly those writings that are geared towards writers with a mind toward publication and profit.  Being a writer whose efforts have thus far been of modest to insignificant material reward thus far, I often find it greatly intriguing what sort of writing was viewed as popular in different periods of time.  For example, this particular author states that about half of the people of the United States at that time were interested in writing but that most of them had little or nothing to say–nothing has changed there in our contemporary age of blogging.  On the other hand, the author also shows at his time that plays and poetry were well regarded in publishing, and those are certainly not the same.  Indeed, there appear to be far fewer literary magazines now than there were a century ago when this book was published in 1916.  Be that as it may, this is a good book and still has something to offer writers in focusing on quality and reminding writers that the quality of one’s work will eventually be evident, no matter how obscure one’s current situation.  The demand for good writing is sufficiently great enough that those who can write well and write often will eventually be recognized.

The contents of this “little book” (4) run to a bit under 300 pages and manage to cover a lot of useful material for those who wrote for magazines like I do.  The author gives the justification for his book and gives notes to those who teach journalism and then begins sensibly enough by defining magazines and newspapers and discussing the different types of magazines that existed at the time.  The author then gives a broad discussion of different material for magazines including personal essays (under a different name), short stories, plays, and poetry.  The author discusses the sources of a writer’s material in experience, observation, reading, and conversation, all of which are fruitful for writers.  The author discusses how to write paragraphs and the equipment one needs (principally notebooks and the like to record ideas and keep them organized) and then discusses in some detail the various genres of writing that were popular in the era for magazine writing:  short articles, full-length articles, humorous writing, poetry, light verse, short stories, and plays.  At this point the author shifts gears and discusses editorial work on magazines, the art of preparing and marketing magazine work, and then there are four appendices that provide guidance in prose writing, self-criticism, easily confused words, as well as a reading list for ambitious writers.  Many of the chapters contain examples as well as questions for practice and reflection by the reader.

Clearly, there is a lot in this book that is somewhat outdated and obsolete.  There are new categories of writing that the author likely could have never conceived of, and the world for writing is vastly different than the writer imagined.  All of this is entirely understandable, although it should be noted that as recently as twenty or thirty years ago books on writing were obsessed with the point of encouraging writers to submit self-addressed stamped envelopes with one’s writing, something this author emphasizes repeatedly.   However, there is much that rings true in this book even for today–there is still a great demand for good reading and quite a lot of bad material that is published in the absence of better material, there is still a great deal of work that has to be done by writers who wish to succeed, including being very observant to the sort of material that exists both for an understanding of the proper tone and also to gain a sense of niches that can be filled that are not being explored.  Additionally, the author notes that writers tend to ramble and that being able to pare down one’s work is always to be appreciated.  Some things never change.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: Writing For The Magazines

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Real Artists Don’t Starve | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Where Do You Get Your Ideas? | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Scoop | Edge Induced Cohesion

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