Most popular magazines of the Regency period accepted submissions from readers. In fact, many magazines found a significant percentage of their content from reader contributions, including fiction, essays, and poetry. Some magazines also devoted a great deal of space to lengthy letters from readers. Most fiction, especially in ladies’ magazines, and all poetry in just about every magazine, was penned by readers. When editors of The Lady’s Magazine announced in 1820 that all reader-supplied fiction would be replaced by fiction written by professionals, amateur writers lost one of their best forums.
One of the primary roles of a magazine editor was to sort through reader submissions and determine what was suitable and what was not. Most magazines maintained only a small staff of writers, generally those who penned monthly columns, like The Old Woman (later changed to the Busy Body) in The Lady’s Monthly Museum, who was one of the earliest agony aunts, answering readers’ questions about life and love. Other staff members would gather up information for sections on marriages, births, and deaths, or political and parliamentary news, or dispatches from the wars. Staff writers might also pen reviews of books and plays. Almost all other content was from reader submissions.
But Regency writers had to be thick-skinned. Unlike today’s publishers who send private rejection letters to an author, a Regency magazine’s acceptance or rejection of a reader’s submission was made public. Most magazines included in each issue a section called Notes to Correspondents, or something similar, in which receipt of materials, as well as acceptance and rejections of same, were printed for all to see. Rejections were sometimes rather scathing. Granted, initials were typically used instead of full names, or sometimes only the title of the work submitted was used, but the writer would nevertheless feel that sting of public rejection.
Some Notes to Correspondents were brief and painless, such as this example from La Belle Assemblée, January 1807:
Received Verses from Edinbugh, from Stella; Verses on the Battle of Jena; and an Ode to a Coquette; and likewise some very valuable essays. We shall make a selection from these favours and insert them in our next number.
La Belle Assemblée was a new publication at this time, not even a year in production, and was still maintaining a polite tone with its correspondents. It was also actively soliciting content from readers, as noted in this Note to Correspondents in the February 1807 issue, warning readers that rejected material will not be returned:
…Such as are disposed to honour us with communications (which we desire it to be understood that we solicit, and from which the greater part of our Magazine is composed every month) must submit not only to the risk of having their favours rejected, but of losing them altogether, unless they keep copies, a precaution we anxiously recommend to them.
La Belle Assemblée’s rejections continued in a polite, general tone throughout the life of the publication. Other magazines were more direct, and often extremely witty, in rejecting a submission, as the following examples demonstrate.
The Verses to Belinda, entitled The Enjoyment, cannot be inserted. Their indelicacy would wound the Feelings of the Fair Sex.
– New Lady’s Magazine, December 1790
In answer to A. B. who enquires why his verses (as HE calls them) were not inserted, we beg to say that such STUFF will not suit us.
– Lady’s Monthly Museum, December 1811
How far Crito may be right, we presume not to determine, but are sure that we all shall be in the wrong were we to give his work a place in our pages.
– Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, August 1813
The Razor Strop Maker handles his subjects with dexterity, and cuts up the sharpest in the trade; but we must decline the insertion of his favour, as we do not wish our fair readers to meddle with edged tools.
– Lady’s Monthly Museum, May 1808
Hilario’s contribution is inadmissible, for reasons which we doubt not will easily suggest themselves to the author.
– Lady’s Magazine, August 1803
The lines on The Comet possess no brilliancy, though to our great satisfaction we at length found they had a tail.
– Lady’s Monthly Museum, December 1807
We apprehend that the insertion of the Lines on Miss Stevens and the Ode for the Birth-Day of the Princess Charlotte would afford little gratification to any except the writers.
– Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, January 1815.
And my personal favorite:
The account of an Extraordinary Transaction is so extraordinary that its insertion would likewise be extraordinary.
– The Lady’s Magazine, December 1795