Viewpoint On Amateur Journalism

by Sheldon C. Wesson

  • Originally published in the January 1970 (Vol. 34, No. 2) American Amateur Journalist.

Amateur journalism isn't for everyone. It isn't for everyone who writes, who prints or who publishes. However much we write in our recruiting brochures, however much we try to orient new members, we forever come to the point where each member must find his own individual niche in this hobby. We cannot, as an organization, mould the individual hobbyist to a "conception" of amateur journalism or to the "character" of the AAPA. Nor can the individual insist that the association adapt itself to his own style or aims.

That is the weakness of the AAPA. And that is the strength of the AAPA. For, above all, it preserves the individual, and encourages him to find his place among us.

And so we see a sort of revolving-door operation: new members come in and others drop out. A nucleus of deeply involved members remains; and new blood is continually added to that nucleus.

All that the AAPA can do, and all that it should do, is to bring the new member to the buffet table, as it were, and offer: "Help yourself!"

Each of us who publishes an amateur journal does so first to please himself, and secondly to attract the attention of a number of other members whom we consider to be our audience. Kindred spirits, perhaps. (How many members out of 200 are really interested in the list of types which I printed in the back cover of the January issue of Pamela's Peko's Pages?) So it is always a surprise and a delight to receive one or two notes of comment from a member who hasn't been considered a part of the "prime audience" for whom a publisher imagines he is producing his amateur journal.

By the same token, the amateur poet or writer who looks to the membership of the AAPA for an audience may be dismayed to find that he is not universally appreciated. He may find that his prime audience is a fraction of the membership. But he, too, may occasionally receive a note of appreciation from someone whom he had thought to be on the outer fringes of his audience.

I go through this quasi-philosophical exercise because it is something that has to be stated every once in a while -- especially for the benefit of new members. Few are the newcomers who discover themselves (or are discovered) quickly in this association. A printer or publisher becomes known and appreciated (or criticized!) relatively quickly, because he can project himself into the attention of the membership quickly.

The writer who casts his works upon the waters of the Manuscript Bureau, or directly to the attention of a publisher, soon finds that it is not easy to acquire quick recognition.

The reader who picks up one bundle and finds little to enthrall him this month must be warned that the contents come from a diverse membership and are addressed to a diverse audience. He cannot judge the association from any random group of two dozen journals. It takes time for the new member and the AAPA to learn to appreciate each other. No one who recruits a new member should promise instant joy.

In the last AAJ, we found displayed the traumas of a new member who said he had read one bundle, found it not to his liking, and so never opened another. Then he resigned. If this man was recruited with the promise of instant joy, he was misled. But he revealed an incredibly closed mind as well. And a closed mind does not go well in a hobby organization which offers, above all, exercise for the intellect and for the creative spirit.

Amateur publishers are a leisurely lot. They develop spurts of activity at times, and grind out astonishing numbers of pages. Then they disappear into a haze for a while. The Manuscript Bureau copes with these individuals as best as it can. It offers them material which the manager believes suitable for the tone and character of their journals. Material sent to the Bureau in January may go to two or three publishers by the end of February, and be accepted in March...only to languish until the Fall issue of a journal...or later.

We are hobbyists...leisure-time practitioners of our crafts. Schedules are anathema. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply not oriented to the pace of a hobby. To promise new-member writers otherwise is wrong. The writer must work to place his material with publishers (either through the Bureau or independently) just as he would to place it with professional publications.

And let the new member not be deceived. Neither the hobby of amateur journalism nor the AAPA specifically is a pen-pal happy-poets' organization. Each time a new writer-member appears, all of us quietly hope that he will get the publishing bug. Because the ultimate satisfaction is in publishing your own -- seeing your words presented on the page in exactly the way you want to see them.

There is no obligation on my part, as a publisher, to seek other people's work for my pages. I cannot get into print the number of words of my own that I want to put out. Egotistical? Of course. Publishing is an expression of ego just as is painting or any other form of expression of inner thoughts.

It is good that we become introspective now and then. It does no harm that a disillusioned new member should tell us off occasionally. For we are reminded that we must explain ourselves -- the AAPA and that unusual breed of people who are amateur journalists -- for what we are. Honestly.

The beauty of it is that we like what we are. We find that the organization offers a great deal. We do not even partake of all that is offered. So, to the new member we must say only: "Here it yourself!"


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