Though I do not enjoy writing “moral tales” for the young, I do it because it pays well
Louisa May Alcott offers some advice to a young writer
One September evening in 1867, 34-year-old Louisa May Alcott opened her journal and wrote, “Niles, partner of Roberts [Bros. publishers], asked me to write a girls’ book. Said I’d try.” A year later, in September of 1868, the fruits of that attempt were unveiled to the public in a book that would almost instantly become a classic, titled Little Women. This coming-of-age novel, in which the lives and trials of four sisters growing up in Civil War-era America are vividly portrayed, soon struck a chord with countless readers and helped establish Alcott’s literary reputation. A decade after Little Women’s publication, Alcott replied to one of many letters she regularly received from young women keen to follow in her footsteps, and offered some invaluable, refreshingly honest advice about such a career.
Xmas Day 
My Dear Miss Churchill,
I can only say to you as I do to the many young writers who ask for advice—There is no easy road to successful authorship; it has to be earned by long & patient labor, many disappointments, uncertainties & trials. Success is often a lucky accident, coming to those who may not deserve it, while others who do have to wait & hope till they have earned it. This is the best sort & the most enduring.
I worked for twenty years poorly paid, little known, & quite without any ambition but to eke out a living, as I chose to support myself & began to do it at sixteen. This long drill was of use, & when I wrote “Hospital Sketches” by the beds of my soldier boys in the shape of letters home I had no idea that I was taking the first step toward what is called fame. It nearly cost my life but I discovered the secret of winning the ear & touching the heart of the public by simply telling the comic & pathetic incidents of life.
“Little Women” was written when I was ill, & to prove that I could not write books for girls. The publisher thought it flat, so did I, & neither hoped much for or from it. We found out our mistake, & since then, though I do not enjoy writing “moral tales” for the young, I do it because it pays well.
But the success I value most was making my dear mother happy in her last years & taking care of my family. The rest soon grows wearisome & seems very poor beside the comfort of being an earthly Providence to those we love.
I hope you will win this joy at least, & think you will, for you seem to have got on well so far, & the stories are better than many sent me. I like the short one best. Lively tales of home-life or children go well, & the “Youth’s Companion” is a good paying paper. I do not like Loringas he is neither honest nor polite. I have had dealings with him & know. Try Roberts Brothers, 299 Washington St. They are very kind & just & if the book suits will give it a fair chance. With best wishes for a prosperous & happy New Year I am your friend
Excerpted from Louisa May Alcott: An Intimate Anthology (New York Public Library Collector’s Editions), published in 1997.
In 1864, A. K. Loring published an early novel of Alcott’s, titled Moods. Then, in 1870, keen to capitalise on the success of Little Women, he reissued it without Alcott’s blessing (not that he needed it) with illustrations she didn’t like. She never forgave him. Years later, she was able to buy the copyright back from Loring.
What a thoughtful and generous response. Lovely.
That is so touching.