The World of Jack London
Birth Pangs of a Writer
By Russ Kingman

A young Jack London". . . Jack London had many liabilities and no assets. He had no income, several mouths to feed, and a poor widow as a landlady whose needs demanded that he should pay his rent with some degree of regularity. This was his economic situation when he attempted to sell his work to the magazines.

He knew nothing about the writing game. He lived in California, and the great publishing centers were in the East. He had no idea what an editor looked like. Nor did he know a soul who had ever published anything; nor yet again, a soul who had ever tried to write anything, much less tried to publish it.

There was no one to teach him the writing game, no one's experience to profit by. So he sat down and wrote in order to get experience of his own.

He wrote everything—short stories, articles, anecdotes, jokes, essays, sonnets, ballads, villanelles, triolets, songs, light plays in iambic tetrameter, and heavy tragedies in blank verse. All of these creations were put in envelopes, with return postage enclosed, and dropped in the mailbox. He was prolific. Day by day manuscripts piled up until the finding of stamps for them became as great a problem as that of supporting his dependents.

All of his manuscripts came back. They continued to come back. He would drop a manuscript into the mailbox. After a lapse of a certain length of time, the manuscript arrived back in his mailbox. Accompanying the manuscript was a stereotyped rejection slip. A machine, some clever arrangement of cogs and wheels at the other end, (it couldn't have been a living, breathing man with blood in his veins) had transferred the manuscript to another envelope, taken the stamps from outside, and added the rejection slip."

Source: Kingman, Russ. A Pictorial Life of Jack London (Crown, 1979) (By permission)
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