A quick followup to my recent post about hack writers: this story, from the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, about a woman writer setting up “a small letter-writing stand in Union Square.”
She sat behind a small Lettera typewriter and a cardboard menu listing your options: you had to first chose your language (English or Spanish), type of letter (regular letter for $2, love letter for $3, illicit love letter for $5, postage included), and type of paper (blue, yellow, or onion). Some customers sat down in the chair opposite her and dictated a letter in full; most gave her a few key bullet points and let her abstract the rest. A man stopped by to discuss a business inquiry he was working on—Hofer said she would write it later and send it to him by e-mail.
Compare this to an advertisement written by Laetitia Pilkington, one of the subjects of my dissertation, about her own letter-writing abilities:
If any illiterate Divine, from Cambridge or Oxford, has a Mind to shew his Parts in a London Pulpit, let him repair to me, and he shall have a Sermon, not stolen from Barrow, Tillotson, or other eminent Preachers, as is frequently the Practice, with those who have Sense enough to do it; but Fire-new from the Mint. If any Painter has a Mind to commence Bard without Wit, and join the Sister Arts, I also will assist him. If any Author wants a Copy of commendatory Verses, to prefix to his Work, or a flattering Dedication, to a worthless Great Man; any poor Person, a Memorial or Petition, properly calculated to dissolve the Walls of Stone and Flint which inviron the Hearts of rich men, Prelates in particular; any Print-seller, Lines to put under his humorous, comic, or serious Representations; any Player an occasional Prologue or Epilogue; any Beau a handsome Billetdoux, from a fair Incognita; any old Maid, a Copy of Verses in her Praise; any Lady, of high Dress, and low Quality, such as are generally the Ladies of the Town, an amorous melting delicate Epistle; any Projector a Paragraph in Praise of his Scheme [Ed. note: LP, the original promiscuous blurber!] ; any extravagant Prodigal, a Letter of Recantation to his Honoured Father; any Minister of State, an Apology for his Conduct, which those Gentlemen frequently want; any Undertaker a Funeral Elegy; or any Stone-Cutter an Epitaph; or, in short, any Thing in the Poetical Way; shall be dispatched in the most private, easy, and genteel Manner by applying to me, and that at the most reasonable Rates.
The New Yorker blogger calls this ghostwriting, but I hope the writer setting up her stand in Union Square wouldn’t mind being called a hack, particularly if that meant she could claim literary allegiance with someone as saucy as Mrs. Pilkington.