Letters of Note: You must deliver marketable goods

Late-1914, an aspiring young writer named Max Fedder sent a copy of his manuscript, “A Journal of One Who Is to Die,” to Jack London, the author responsible for such works as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and, most relevantly, Martin Eden — the bleak story of a young man battling to become a writer.

The brutally honest response he received can be seen below.

(Source: No Mentor but Myself: Jack London on Writing and Writers; Image: Jack London, via Answers.)

Oakland, Calif.

Oct. 26, 1914

Dear Max Fedder:

In reply to yours of recent date undated, and returning herewith your Manuscript. First of all, let me tell you that as a psychologist and as one who has been through the mill, I enjoyed your story for its psy­chology and point of view. Honestly and frankly, I did not enjoy it for its literary charm or value. In the first place, it has little literary value and practically no literary charm. Merely because you have got some­thing to say that may be of interest to others does not free you from making all due effort to express that something in the best possible medium and form. Medium and form you have utterly neglected.

Anent the foregoing paragraph, what is to be expected of any lad of twenty, without practice, in knowledge of medium and form? Heavens on earth, boy, it would take you five years to serve your apprenticeship and become a skilled blacksmith. Will you dare to say that you have spent, not five years, but as much as five months of unimpeachable, unremitting toil in trying to learn the artisan’s tools of a professional writer who can sell his stuff to the magazines and receive hard cash for same? Of course you cannot; you have not done it: And yet, you should be able to reason on the face of it that the only explanation for the fact that successful writers receive such large fortunes is because very few who desire to write become successful writers. If it takes five years work to become a skilled blacksmith, how many years of work intensi­fied into nineteen hours a day, so that one year counts for five-how many years of such work, studying medium and form, art and artisan­ship, do you think a man, with native talent and something to say, required in order to reach a place in the world of letters where he received a thousand dollars cash iron money per week?

I think you get the drift of the point I am trying to make. If a fellow harnesses himself to a star of $1000 week, he has to work proportion­ately harder than if he harnesses himself to a little glowworm of $20.00 a week. The only reason there are more successful blacksmiths in the world than successful writers, is that it is much easier, and requires far less hard work to become a successful blacksmith than does it to become a successful writer.

CONTINUA.

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