The Awl’s Nate Hopper wrote an great piece concerning authors who got their start behind the scenes. For every one of you who toll away editing for others, fixing grammar and adjusting typos, there is, apparently, hope. Keep writing!

Six Authors Who Got Their Start as Copywriters:

1. F. SCOTT FITZGERALD – Of his copy-writing days, Fitzgerald said, “I wrote for the Muscatine Steam laundry in Muscatine, Iowa—’We keep you clean in Muscatine.’ I got a raise for that. ‘It’s perhaps a bit imaginative,’ said the boss, ‘but still it’s plain that there’s a future for you in this business. Pretty soon this office won’t be big enough to hold you.'”

2. SALMAN RUSHDIE – “As I look back, I feel a touch of pride at my younger self’s dedication to literature, which gave him the strength of mind to resist the blandishments of the enemies of promise,” he wrote later. “The sirens of ad-land sang sweetly and seductively, but I thought of Odysseus lashing himself to the mast of his ship, and somehow stayed on course.”

3. DOROTHY SAYERS – In a 1922 letter to her parents, Dorothy Sayers wrote, “I’ve no idea whether I shall make anything of this business.” She was in London, in the midst of a month-long trial period at the advertising agency Benson’s. Her letters from this period are filled with fretting over whether she’d get cut from the job, which paid four pounds a week, a salary she needed to supplement earnings from Whose Body?, the first of her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.

4. Don DeLillo – DeLillo said he’d only taken a copy-writing job after he couldn’t turn up one in publishing. After working at the agency for five years, he quit and, as he put it, “embarked on my life, my real life.” But the transition away from writing print ads (he never worked in commercials) wasn’t so he could write, he’d later tell Guernica: “Actually, I quit my job so I could go to the movies on weekday afternoons.”

5. JOSEPH HELLER- In his new biography of Heller, Just One Catch, Tracy Daugherty recounts how Heller once successfully wooed the Simmons mattress company to buy ad space in Time by using an image of the Red Queen from an old edition of Through the Looking Glass and the quote, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place!” in a presentation—a success that got him his first raise.

6. HELEN GURLEY BROWN- Throughout her time working as a copywriter, she sent in advice articles for women to Glamour, Playboy, and Esquire, without success. But then came the bestselling Sex and the Single Girl in 1962, and Brown said “Poof to that!” to the ad world when she took over as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan three years later.


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