The following article offering advice to would-be crime fiction writers first appeared in the April 1930 issue of Writer’s Digest. Thanks to noted pulp historian and philosopher John Locke for sending it along.
The 17 Detective Magazines
By The Editor
The still raging fad for mystery stories has quadrupled the number of magazines on the newsstands catering to this type of fiction. Before us are seventeen different magazines which we have just purchased off the newsstand. They each cover a distinct section of the mystery field. Eleven of the magazines are the standard pulp paper size of seven by ten inches while the other six of the larger standard smooth paper size of eight and a half by eleven. All are making a bid for mass circulation with flaming covers chuck full of action and drama.
Like any business based on a fad, most of the mystery fiction magazines come and go with such rapidity that it is hardly possible to give the style rules and editorial requirements of one of them without having to receive several hundred letters the following month from irate subscribers who begin their letters with “You poor saps – don’t you even know that Who Killed Cock Robin? was discontinued last week?”
On the other hand a magazine may continue, but the editorial policy does a complete back flip as executed recently by the crime magazines who now whoop it up loud and long for the Law while heretofore they thumbed countless pulp paper noses at the police. Having thus hopefully strung up an alibi about this article we cautiously proceed to enumerate the present mystery magazines.
Complete Detective Novel published at 381 Fourth Ave., uses one long novel, and several shorts based on factual accounts of crime dutifully embellished with life and drama. The stories are not the last word in literature but make facile reading coupled with action, robbery, and pretty girls. Few newsstand buyers can resist such a triumvirate.
Black Mask, 578 Madison Ave. The last time we saw it, Black Mask was trying to make up its mind whether or not to go mystery story whole hog or none. A page ad signed by Joseph T. Shaw, the editor, asked the readers to signify their favorite stories. At present they use western, detective, and adventure stories with an approximate length of twenty pages or 12,000 to 40,000 words. Mr. Shaw has a penchant for character interest, and a general convincing tone to a story. Most of the stories do not stress murder. Killings are incidental. “What I want first and last is a real story,” says the editor.
Clues, at 80 Lafayette St., New York, is a Clayton magazine, as is All Star Detective Stories. Both of these are discussed by W.M. Clayton their publisher in another part of WRITER’S DIGEST.
Dragnet, at 67 West 44th St., New York, is one of the Magazine Publishers Inc. group. They use the good old time detective and crook stories. You must be modern, however, and know the most recent uses and ramifications of tear gas et al.
Fiction House, Inc., has two in this group, namely Detective Book and Detective Classics, both at 271 Madison Ave., New York. Here are some instant summaries of stories in the former; “Sinister as sin are the Dark Eyes – blind masters of Crime House. When the night is dark and the shadows deep, they cast their murder net.” ... “A country village tasted terror when the killer of James Rowand walked its shadowed lanes unseen,” ... “He staked his life against gangster lead – to track the hidden factory of bogus wealth.”
Fiction House has a reputation to keep up. They want good material, pay good rates, and cater to beginner or professional as long as the story is all there. Detective Classics contains one novel about ninety-five pages long, several shorts based on fact, and one short mystery.
Detective Story Magazine is a Street & Smith publication at 79 Seventh Ave., New York. It carries two novelettes, one serial, five short stories, and three or four miscellaneous items about crime such as “Women Smugglers Fined,” and “Prison Made Articles.” There is also one poem with a galloping lilt and plenty of slang.
Weird Tales, 2457 E. Washington Street, Indianapolis, Ind., carries the most ungodly stories a starved writer in a garret could concoct even if inspired by stale cheese and rye bread with no beer. Here are some of the summaries for May:
A strange tale about Nycea, the lamia who had her dwelling-place beneath the ruins of the Castle of Faussesflammes – a weirdly beautiful story.
A thrilling novelette about a race of people living in the interior of a gigantic sun – a startling weird-scientific story of a tremendous doom threatening the universe.
Back from the gates of hell came Jerry’s grandfather – a grim story of black magic and evil rites.
A strange fantasy, a bizarre extravaganza about a weird and wonderful country, and the terrible beings that beset it.
Startling Detective Adventures is a Fawcett Publication at Robbinsdale, Minn. They are making a play for true mystery stories illustrated with actual photographs from life. Doubtless Captain Billy who was recently off shooting in the tropics has seen another mirage cast up by the golden True Stories, and aims to rival it in the crime field. The April issue contains eight true features about crime including “My Seventeen Years Among Prison Rioters,” “How I Captured Topeka’s Girl Bandit,” and “The Clueless Crime.” Looks like a fine opportunity for a shrewd writer to interview some successful detectives and go in for collaboration. (In such cases, unless one of the two collaborators is unusually famous, the split is 60-40 with the writer getting the major receipts.) Startling Detective Adventures also contains two serials, and two detective adventure stories. All yarns must lend themselves adequately to illustration.
Macfadden is by no means left behind in the rush for public favor in mystery magazines. He has two, and both are good. True Detective Mysteries is as Macfadden as its glorious sister True Stories and also just as moral. Here are some of the summaries for April stories.
Beautiful Edith May Thompson – who has not heard of her – social favorite at the White House during the McKinley Administration? But – how many know the inside story of her brutal murder at a lovely spot near St. Michael’s, Maryland, that was cloaked in such deep mystery? Don’t miss The Man With the Twisted Foot, next month. It will tell the real story of this notorious case!
In the realm of astounding impostors who have been accepted publicly in the United States and Europe as well-known persons, George Gabor, alias “Baron Von Krupp,” stands out pre-eminently as the most absorbing story of this master dupester by the detective who caught him! – a story that, if it were told in fiction, you would say: “It could never happen!”
A well-known minister in Illinois fell by the wayside in sin. The story we have of this case is sensational in its details – but the facts justify its publication as a lesson to us all!
The Master Detective, the second Macfadden publication at 1926 Broadway, New York, is sensational and exploits every opportunity to use dramatic pictures and big names. Looks like it would be best to query the editor before sending in material. The mere mention of “skyline” in a story sends this particular editor off in a spasm of illustrations of all the famous skylines in the world. The magazine is probably aimed at those newsstand buyers who grab anything that has enough pictures of New York, Fifth Avenue, Greta Garbo, Houdini, Jack Johnson, Harry Thaw, and other equally famous sources of interest. At any odds take our advice, query the editor before sending in material.
Prize Detective Magazine is published at 1133 Broadway, New York. Production costs have possibly cast dismal shadows across their audit books and the paper used is not exactly of the Conde Nast grade, although the half-tones show up well. The cover states that “amazing mysteries” are carried.
Scientific Detective Stories is published by Hugo Gernsback who tells in this issue the type of material he wants. The address is 98 Park Place, New York.
The publisher of College Humor has taken a voyage in the mystery field with his Real Detective Tales. The April issue has a knockout cover, and the inside is almost as good. There are two novels, several long short stories, and a number of features, true articles, and short stories about crime. Office at 1050 N. LaSalle st., Chicago, Ill.
Detective Fiction Weekly at 280 Broadway was formerly Flynn’s and still has a good following. It is a weekly with the emphasis on plot and contains four short stories, a serial, two true stories, and some feature and fact articles. Established years ago, Detective Fiction Weekly will, no doubt, outlive its present lusty contemporaries and once again be supreme in its weekly field. As with all magazines that have stability and expect to do business next decade as well as this one, Detective Fiction Weekly has a good reputation among writers.
Scotland Yard is a new one, and published by Dell at 100 Fifth Avenue, New York. In the issue we have, pages 63 to 78 got tangled up in the bindery and are topsy turvy. The magazine deals with international crime as its title suggests. The title, by the way, is a keen one. The editor uses one short novel, one long short story, and about six short stories.
Whatever you do, thoroughly inspect a copy of one of these publications before writing for it.
Generally speaking, none of the publishers except Macfadden have put out a good-looking book, although Lansinger has managed to put some good covers on Real Detective Tales. The inside paper of most of the group is pretty lousy, and black and white drawings look like they must have cost at least five dollars apiece. The only good art work in any of the entire group is on the cover where, of course, it counts most as far as the sales go. The stories are pretty poor, although every magazine manages to have at least one good one. Writers have consistently stressed plot, and generally neglected character interest, while humor might be an undiscovered metal as far as its use goes in this group. It is difficult to predict which ones will last but WRITER’S DIGEST puts its two dollars on True Detective to lead the pack at the end of three years.
Rates run from three cents a word to three quarters of a cent with the majority paying on acceptance. Naturally the most prosperous and professional looking of the lot pay the best rates. As seven-eighths of the mystery stories on the market today are sponsored by important publishing companies, writers need have no fear concerning payment. If you have a rattling good detective story with a fast peppy plot, plenty of horror, and a ton of action, all you need to sell it is a two-cent stamped envelope.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.
Material not reprinted from Writer’s Digest copyright © 2006 by Steve Lewis. All rights reserved to contributors.
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