Monday, 27 September 2010

An editor's visitors - 1890

It's my turn to blog on Strictly today, but a few hours before this post is due to go up, I, as an international woman of mystery, will have just (I hope) arrived home from a top-secret mission to the Middle East. (Well, it's not really top secret, but it sounds cooler and more enigmatic that way.) I am, therefore, scheduling this post in advance. I'm handing it over to one Arthur Lockyer Esq, a Victorian editor who gives a glimpse into the process our writerly forebears had to endure when submitting their work. This is an excerpt from a piece he wrote for The Graphic newspaper in April 1890.


The editor probably suffers more than any other professional man from the visits of people whom he has no desire to see, but who are eager for a personal interview with himself. In this respect, therefore, his ideal of bliss lies in the two polysyllabic words, inaccessibility and invisibility. In the case of an extensive and highly organised concern, it is possible to achieve the first of these two substantives.

Let us give an example. You want to see the editor, or one of the editors, for in such an establishment there are often several of them. But you have learnt from private sources that the name of the particular editor whom you wish to see is Marmaduke Johnson, and so, with your manuscript in your hand or concealed somewhere about your person, you climb a steep narrow staircase until your progress is arrested by a sort of sentry-box, wherein sits an undersized, but preternaturally intelligent, youth. He has a manner as if the name of Johnson was entirely foreign to his ear; nevertheless he is fairly civil, and after inspecting your card, and holding a colloquy with an invisible person through a flexible tube, he hands you over to a commissionaire. The military hero, after conducting you along several passages, suddenly says 'In here, sir,' and ushers you into a small room containing nothing but a desk, two chairs, and a rather ancient map of London.

You inspect the map for about five minutes, when the door again opens, and in comes an elderly gentleman in spectacles, who asks you to be seated, and listens to your statement with patience and courtesy. You say to yourself, 'What a nice fellow Marmaduke Johnson is!' Unfortunately, however, this is not Johnson at all, but only his deputy, for presently the elderly gentleman says: 'Your manuscript shall have Mr. Johnson's best attention.' He then bows, touches a bell, the inexorable commissionaire appears instantly, like an Arabian Nights' genie, and in another two minutes you are politely marched off the premises, without having even seen the great man's coat-skirts. This is a specimen of the Inaccessible Editor, and a very enviable mortal he is, in this respect.

But, as spacious premises and a large and well-trained staff of subordinates are required to render an editor triumphantly inaccessible, some editors, who do not possess these advantages, strive, often with indifferent success, to render themselves invisible. Some accomplish this by notifying to their would-be interviewers that they are to be seen on Fridays between 4 and 6 P.M., and by taking care always to be absent on those afternoons; while others have a couple of doors to their den, and when they hear in the outer office the voice of a well-remembered bore they bolt incontinently through the inner doorway down the staircase, and hide themselves until the bore's patience is exhausted, and he reluctantly departs.

3 comments:

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Argh! Having just this minute sent an email to an agent asking if they did receive my sub (something I'm not in the habit of doing) I suspect that even now such a scenario is being heartily wished...
I loved the bit about keeping the ms 'concealed about his person'.
Susiex

Debs Riccio said...

I love the idea of "bolting incontinently through the inner doorway" - times may change but it's good to see that a sense of humour remains a constant.

Caroline Green said...

Priceless...and times don't seem to have changed too much, with respect to how apologetic we writers feel!