Saturday, 18 June 2016

Behind the scenes - how the editorial office worked at Adventure magazine

[This article from Arthur S. Hoffman originally appeared in the February 1, 1927 issue of Adventure magazine. I thought it was an interesting behind the scenes look at how the magazine worked.

If you worked on a magazine, let us know what you saw.]

IT MAY be that some of you think our asking so often for your suggestions on the making and shaping of our magazine is only an empty performance. Here is exactly what is done in the office:
First, there are your letters that come in because of no specific request made to you but merely as a result of the general reader interest in our magazine, of the friendly, active, we-are-part-of-Adventure feeling that has grown up through the years. Those letters are read word for word. One editor is especially assigned to the duty of keeping an exact card-index record of every single comment on any of our writers or any of their stories, even a mention of such, favorable or unfavorable. Every six months he makes out a carefully tabulated, detailed report, ranking our whole list of authors on the basis of our readers’ ‘Votes.” Every member of the staff pores over that report.
Allowance must be made for the number of times an author appears during the six months’ period covered, for serials or novelettes versus shorts, and so on. But the ranking of authors from that summary of readers’ votes becomes at once a guide in the buying of manuscripts during the next six months. Also it brings about a new assessment of our writers as to their relative values to this particular magazine and consequently as to the rate of payment each should have.
General comments on other phases and features of our magazine are not card-indexed. The multiplicity and variety of points commented upon, from typographical details to the general policy of the magazine, make this impracticable. But it is the duty of the editor in charge to note down any pronounced amount of comment on any one point and, if comment continues heavy, to begin tabulating “votes” on that point, meanwhile of course calling the attention of the rest of us to the point on trial.
Comments on any particular department—"Camp-Fire,” “Ask Adventure,’’ "Information services", “Travel,” “Straight Goods,” “Books,” “Old Songs,” “Lost Trails,” “Trail Ahead,” “Looking About” —are turned over to the editor in charge of that department, to be read, summarized, filed or used in his department.
Any reader’s letter claiming one of our authors has been inaccurate or incorrect in the use of any of the fact material in his fiction, or any of ourselves or our service editors in anything printed in the magazine, gets particular attention. If a final verdict on the claim, for or against, can not be authoritatively given in the office, the letter is mailed or turned over to the author or editor involved and it’s up to him either to confess error or to convince the reader the criticism was not soundly taken.
The results in this case are apparent. Adventure prides itself on an earned reputation for accuracy and reliability in the local color, setting and atmosphere of its stories, in all fact material, historical or otherwise, used in its fiction. It wasn’t the editors who earned that reputation for our magazine. It was the readers who earned it. And they did it by the method above. No set of editors in the world could be final authority on all the subjects and places covered, but, whatever the subject, there are always at least a few among our readers who are very competent authorities. Writers and editors have learned that it is not healthy to come before Adventure's audience with fact material that isn’t bullet-proof. None of us is infallible, but when we slip we acknowledge it frankly in type so that there can be no uncorrected misinformation laid before our readers.
Another result is interesting topics, investigations and discussions for Camp-Fire. Will older readers ever forget the argument royal that arose among Camp-Fire over Talbot Mundy’s interpretation of the character of Julius Caesar in the Tros stories? Had to stop it finally because it wasn’t leaving space for much else, but I think most of us learned more about Julius Caesar than we had ever known before. We’re still getting occasional requests to have the contributions to that argument issued in book form. Well, maybe we can some day.
Of such results as the above you will be finding plenty of proof in the magazine as you go along, but another result is not so obvious. Nearly all the comments and criticisms are in friendly spirit and the replies are in kind. Therefore in hundreds and hundreds of cases real personal friendships have grown up between readers and writers, or among readers, and the real fellowship of Camp-Fire is very appreciably promoted.
All the foregoing applies to general letters from readers. Your letters not read? All of them are read. At the top of some will be penciled three or four names— authors or editors—which means that the owner of each name must see that letter.
As to opinions on specific points, specifically asked for. Well, take the request for readers’ suggestions and advice on the new form of our magazine.
The response from readers in this case has been splendid. Our summary of your suggestions has now been put into final and complete form. Not only has every one of the active editorial staff studied it thoroughly but carbon copies have been passed on to each of the following for his equally careful study—the publisher, the assistant publisher, the heads of the Circulation and the Promotion Departments.
We’re going to give you an exact copy of that report in full. With one exception. Some of the information you have given us is much too valuable and important to broadcast for the benefit of other publishers. Accordingly in at least one place we’re going to scramble the report a little, but any such places, and the nature of the scrambling, will be indicated for your benefit. Other publishers of course get an occasional formal referendum from readers, get questions for specific answer. No other magazine gets from its readers anything like such a response of voluntary, independent opinions and suggestions as Adventure’s readers give to it. We do not see why we should hand over to other magazines all of the valuable information thus received, information meant for us, not for them.
I think we can give you the report in “Camp-Fire” of the issue following this one. If not, as soon as it can be done.
And to the very sincere thanks of my own department I am to add those of all the other departments cooperating in making Adventure a magazine that meets the desires of the majority of its readers as closely as is humanly possible to do.
Oh yes, we really want your suggestions and criticisms! And we really read and consider them when we get them. If you don’t like this or that in the magazine, tell us so. We can’t please everybody on every point, but we can please the majority and so far as it’s at all possible we naturally want to do just that.
Lots of people never write to any magazine about anything. But this is different. Adventure isn’t just a magazine. It’s Camp-Fire, readers, writers and editors working together to make for themselves the best magazine and clearing-house of ideas and information that they can, and to have as good and friendly a time as possible while they’re doing it. Do your part. Don’t just take from the rest of us without contributing your share in return. There’s always a bit of time now and then when a letter or post-card and a few marks with pen, pencil or typewriter can send in a criticism or suggestion that may bear good fruit for all who gather around the Fire. You’re not writing to a magazine—you’re writing to Adventure.—a. s. h.


  1. This article explains why ADVENTURE was such an excellent magazine. A lot of the credit goes to the editor, Arthur Sullivant Hoffman. He thought the magazine was a quality fiction magazine, not just a pulp.

    1. I was struck by how much this resembles a content creation business today, except for people being replaced by computers.