Note: M.R. James of Whitefish, Montana, founder and editor of "Bow
Hunter Magazine," has a master's degree in English and a minor in
Language Arts. He released the first issue of "Bow Hunter Magazine"
in August of 1971.
Question: Why did you start "Bow Hunter Magazine?"
Answer: At that time there were three archery publications -- "Archery,"
"Archery World" and "Bow and Arrow" magazines. They
devoted about half of their magazines to field archery and tournament
archery and about half to bow hunting. I was really getting serious into
bow hunting, and I thought it would be neat to have a bow magazine that
was 100 percent bow hunting. That's the basic reason I started it.
Question: How did you start it? What did you do?
Answer: I talked to a number of people to make sure it wasn't just
me, thinking the idea was good and making sure there was a market for
that. I talked to a number of archery clubs in the Midwest. At the time,
I belonged to the Indiana Bow Hunters and several groups that shot N.F.A.
The more I talked about it, the more people said they would buy a magazine
like that. So I did a little research. At the time, I was a communication
manager at Magnavox Company. I was working with several guys, and we had
just started an archery club for employees. We were sitting around talking
one day, and I said, "You know, I sure would like to start a magazine
for bow hunters. But I'm an editor, not an ad salesman." My friends
Don and Bob said, "Heck, if you ever do that, we'll sell ads for
you, and we'll keep track of circulation and subscriptions." Another
friend Steve said, he'd be glad to lay the magazine out. Not knowing any
better, we went ahead and did it.
Question: So it has been in existence since when?
Answer: We incorporated in February 1971. We wanted to come out
ahead of deer season. People wanted to buy advance issues. In August of
1971, we released our first issue.
Question: Are you trained as a journalist?
Answer: Yes, I started when I was in college. In fact, I worked
for the school paper, but I also started with as a part-time sports writer
and city editor for a small daily in southern Indiana. For a year after
I graduated, I worked in journalism.
Question: How long were you an active editor?
Answer: I started selling material when I was 19. All through college
I wrote, which included some editing. I wrote and edited material for
at least three to four years before I turned professional.
Question: What mistakes do beginner writers make?
Answer: There are a couple of mistakes. You have to know the rules.
I taught creative writing/advanced composition and writing for publication
part time for 10 years at a university level. The number of journalism
students who couldn't handle the basics amazed me. They didn't know the
difference between a subject and a predicate, and they couldn't diagram
a sentence if their life depended on it. They didn't know how to spell.
A parallel to this would be handing foreigners, who didn't know a baseball,
a ball, a bat and a glove. They might figure the game of baseball out.
They might have fun. However, they wouldn't be playing what we know as
baseball. You have to know the rules. You have to know English frontward,
Secondly, I think people have a preconceived notion of
how writers are supposed to write. Most of us have favorite writers, and
we think we want to be like so and so. I think that is a mistake. At best
you are going to be a pale imitation of the writer you emulate or look
up to. What you should do is strive for freshness and originality. Discover
your own voice. Know the basics. Do not have a hackneyed, trite way of
presenting material the way other writers are, you be the original. I
can tell you this as an editor. One of the biggest things I enjoy is getting
a manuscript that is fresh and has something to it, not like every other
manuscript I read. That turns me on, and I think that turns a lot of editors
Question: In your opinion, what does it take to
become a freelancer?
Answer: When I taught creative writing, I said my definition of
a successful freelance writer was anyone whose husband or wife was independently
wealthy. It's a tough, tough business. To be specific, you have to have
a couple of things. You have to have talent. You have to have ability.
You also have to have a thick skin. You have got to understand that a
lot of the people out there are not your friend and that includes editors
and your reading audience. You have to convince readers that you are a
darn good writer. You have to convince yourself of that first. It is awfully
easy to get discouraged if you keep getting rejected. But if you have
faith in yourself and your ability as a writer and you have that fire
in your belly, that is a great start. You can succeed.
There are two kinds of writers. One is the guy who becomes
essentially just another writer -- a hack writer. You can make a living
at it. You can get into journalism or freelancing and make a go at it.
But if you have this originality and confidence in yourself, these are
the kinds of guys who are worth their weight in gold to the editors.
Question: What sets apart one manuscript from
Answer: Well, one of the things, which a lot of writers don't understand
from an editor's standpoint, is the necessity or need. Freelance writing
is, of course, a business. You have to provide a service that fills a
need. Maybe I have just gotten a manuscript, which isn't as good as the
one you've written, but I've just bought it. I paid whatever the going
rate is, and I'm not going to buy yours. You have to understand that.
It is not personal. You have to again have the confidence in yourself
that if you don't sell it to magazine X, then you will sell it to magazine
I used to feel challenged if I wrote something that I
knew was good, but the magazine I sent it to rejected it. Often I received
a printed rejection form. I would say, "I know I can sell this."
Eventually, I would sell it. At that time, I was almost tempted to send
a copy of the check to the editor who had rejected me and say, "Take
I was cocky, confident and had writing ability. I think
all writers have to have three things. They have to have talent obviously.
They have to have discipline, which means they have to be able to sit
down in front of that machine, look at this blank screen and fill it with
words. And the third thing, which is the bad part because they have absolutely
no control over it, is timing. You have to meet that need. You need the
ability to put that talent and that discipline to work to create a manuscript
that is going to turn an editor's crank.
Question: How important is photography, especially
in the outdoor field?
Answer: It is very important. Say I get two manuscripts, both equally
well-written and both fulfilling on focusing on a subject I want. One
has illustrations, photos and art, and the other one doesn't. You know
which one I'm going to buy. If I buy one, I'll pay more for the complete
manuscript. I prefer to get the whole package from a writer, rather than
to have to go to the photo file and start pulling out material that will
fit. I can get pictures of white-tailed deer or bull elk or whatever,
but if that fellow fills that need completely and gives me everything
I want, he's my kind of writer. I'm much happier working with some guy
like that than someone who can crank out words.
Question: What would you say to a young writer
who is downhearted from receiving several rejection slips?
Answer: Again, they have to have that stick-to-itiveness. The best
writers I know are not only good writers, but they know they are good
writers. Until you start selling, obviously it can be discouraging. To
be a writer, you need what I call, "the fire in the belly."
It's only a matter of time. Once you break through and prove to yourself
that you can sell material professionally, then it is going to happen.
And it is going to happen with increased regularity. You can be a darn
good writer and never sell much of anything. You have to know the magazines,
know the market and fill the needs. Otherwise it's like shooting in the
dark. You may hit something occasionally, but you must take careful aim
and hit your target more often than not.