From The Stories Editors Buy and Why (published 1921):
Adventure (editor - Arthur S. Hoffman)
We regard it as vitally important that the illusion should be kept up. We want the reader to leave his own world and to live entirely in the world of the story. For this reason we dislike too pronounced mannerisms of style, too unusual names for characters, misstatements in local color, improbability in plot details. We also wish that the author would avoid the obtrusion of his own personality into the story, too much surface cleverness, the specific call upon the reader to philosophize (thus making him think, rather than keeping him in the receptive mood), a too cynical or sophisticated attitude on the author's part.
We have in addition certain types of story that we try to avoid: those that involve international or political questions; we dislike stories of opium smuggling; stories in which all of the main characters are "natives"; stories which feature intermarriage. Generally speaking, we do not care much for a villain in the role of central character.
[Pure escapism. Don't make the reader think. Don't challenge. Don't be political. Don't feature anyone that's not white. Ah, the "golden age" of genre literature!]
Below the jump, editorial guidance from The American Boy, Detective Story Magazine, Saucy Stories, The Atlantic Monthly and more!
The American Boy (editor - Walter P. McGuire)
Something to be borne in mind by those who essay to write for a boys' magazine is the distinct difference between stories of boys and stories for boys. The story of boys is particularly popular just now in adult magazines. It tells of a boy from the adult viewpoint. To the adult, what the boy does is often distinctly humorous. To the boy, it is serious business, and he would be properly offended should one poke fun at thim in his own magazine. The story for boys must be handled from the boy viewpoint, not from the adult viewpoint. This does not mean that the story should be "written down" - quite the reverse.
[This still seems good advice for would-be YA writers.]
The Atlantic Monthly (editor - Ellery Sedgwick)
My selection is made according to the whim of one individual.
[The puzzle story] is the easiest type of detective story to write, and, as is quite obvious, it is written backwards. We mean by that, an author first evolves an ingenious method of killing some one, or of removing some one, and then builds about this a story, leaving the disclosure of the method of killing or removal to the end of the story.
We think a far better way to do this story, and a way that interests more people, is to have the motive the predominating feature. The method by which, we will say, a young woman disappears, either through her own efforts or through the efforts of others, is interesting enough in its way, but that which interests the public generally, and her friends in particular, is now how she disppeared, so much as why.
It is, perhaps, needless to add that in a crime story the author must be fair to his readers - that is, he must not explain the mystery by introducing a reason for the commission of the crime of which the reader has not been made aware.
[Interesting in a couple ways - first, like the American Boy, this still seems like good advice for those writing in this particular genre. Second, the discussion of 'fairness' in crime writing predates the famous oath of the Detection Club by nine years.]
Mystery Magazine (editor - Luis Senarens)
A slight touch of comedy is permissable, but dramatic climaxes are the rule. Long drawn descriptions tire. Large numbers of characters confuse, and too much dialogue is irksome. These [stories] must be distinctly, as their name implies, detective stories, and they must cater to girls as well as to men.
[The only non-romance genre magazine to admit to a female readership.]
As a matter of fact, it is easier to say what we do not want than we we do want - here are some of the constant rejections:
- First and last, nothing that is risque.
- Fillers in which the mysterious he, she or it turns out to be a cat, dog or baby.
- Stories in which the husband, wife or fiance fails to recognize wife, husband or fiancee masquerading in any guise.
- Stories in which the mysterious man whom husband suspects turns out to be the brother, or the unknown lady whom wife suspects turns out to be the sister.
- Stories in which the denouement explains that the entire plot is merely a rehersal for the movies or a play.
- Stories in which the supposed farmer's daughter turns out to be a famous movie star.
- Stories in which the starving heroine is persuaded to play the part of an imaginary wife in order that the rich relative will leave his money to the nephew whome he wanted to see marry before passing on.
- Stories in which a will demands that two people who hate each other marry and they do fall in love with one another.
- Stories in which all complications are explained by the unknown existence of a twin.
- War stories.
- Suicide stories. [Who submits a saucy suicide story?!]
We realize that this list is quite incomplete, but we hope that it will act as a suggestion to would be Parisienne and Saucy Stories contributors that they consider very carefully before submitting a story, whether the plot answer our first requisite: novelty.
[Nice to know that, almost 100 years ago, some of these were already cliché!]