But what of the little girl who dreams of writing her story? What do we tell that little girl who knows above all else, she was meant to be a writer?
The way they were in publishing …
The way they were and the way we are now could be seen by today’s writers as the difference between Mars and Venus.
In the day … you suffered over a pad and pencil … or if you were truly lucky … a typewriter. You crafted your story for months or years and when you were done you walked into a publisher’s offices and sat politely for a few hours. The scene in Garp when Jenny walks into an editors office and tells him to publish her book is not just fiction … it happened.
By end of business, an editor of sorts greeted you and ushered you into his/her office. Mind you … it wasn’t always that low-level guy or gal with no authors in their stable … nope … often it was a prominent editor who listened to a pitch that was a great deal longer than an elevator pitch, didn’t cost you a dime and resulted in not a sample, it resulted in the editor taking your type written hard copy of the entire manuscript.
You are at a party with friends. If this were a fifties movie … you’d be having cocktails on the patio in Connecticut or on the balcony of a plush East Side apartment. Someone points out their cousin or friend and tells you they are an editor with Random House. And after your third martini you amble over, make a pitch and land an appointment … to which you bring the entire hard copy of your book.
There were dozens of scenarios that produced the same results. That little girl could go to the post office and mail her completed manuscript (often hand-written) to a publishing house and someone would read it.
Editors were available and their numbers were such, they had the time to read your manuscript. Although there were agents, they often came as a result of already having an editor. Editors out-numbered agents more than ten to one.
The way they were put your book squarely on an editor’s desk.
So what happened to it once Ms or Mr. Random House read your greatest American, epic, saga? You went to more meetings or had phone calls. If you lived in the “boonies” editors sometimes came to you or you worked with snail mail.
The story of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is not a romantic fiction. Margie lived in the backwaters of orange country in Florida. In the day, her editor traveled to see her. Between trips, he read all her stories, rejected them all, until Jacob’s Ladder and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1930, Scribner’s accepted two of her stories, “Cracker Chidlings” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” both about the poor, backcountry Florida residents who were quite similar to her neighbors at Cross Creek. Wikepedia
Even in the sixties or seventies … stories such as how Stephan King sold his first book or got paid for his first magazine story, read to many aspiring authors like a fantasy story … too surreal to believe.,
Or the fascinating story of how Nora Roberts published her first romance novel. Okay I’ll tell you …
Nora was trapped inside with two small children during a record breaking snow storm. She was a newly divorced single mother living in a house on a hillside in Maryland. She took out a yellow legal pad and pencils and wrote a romance novel because she loved to read them. She then put in the post and mailed it to Harlequin.
They rejected it.
She wrote a second novel.
They rejected it.
She wrote a third novel.
This time they wrote her a letter that they “would” have published this one but they already had their “quota” of American writers for that year and referred her to their American cousin … Silhouette … and once more … the rest is history. BTW … Ms. Roberts subsequently published the second book and keeps the first as a memento.
When your parents told you that life was simpler “then,” they weren’t just spouting the wet-eyed longings of an old person … they were telling you they way it was then.
And it was indeed simpler.
Is change always good ??
I will not list the massive changes in publishing in the last three decades. The last five years alone have changed the landscape permanently. Publishing houses began to shrink, editors became agents and the ratio of agent to editor is now more than ten times.
Many of the top agents receive and read over ten thousand queries each year. And with a half-dozen exceptions, no one can send an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher or editor. (You can still send your entire MS to Harlequin.)
Changes flooded the industry, the big six became the big five, actually more like the big four. And the cottage industry of indie publishing grew like a giant mushroom.
Companies such as x-Libris and iUniverse were merged with Author House. Author House was purchased by Penguin. Two major publishers have begun indie imprints.
The upstart, Amazon, went from challenging the brick and mortar to dominating the book selling industry and then became the largest indie publisher on the planet.
For nothing more than time and energy, or perhaps the price of special editing and graphic services, you can upload that same manuscript onto the Amazon web site and BINGO you are published.
There is a TV commercial with an 800 number where you can sign up to publish your own novel. You can go on U-Tube and find instructions, lessons and workshops for free. The air waves are joined by the internet and they are glutted with dozens of ways to self publish
Traditionalists find these changes disturbing, unsettling, unnerving … okay … some of the old school don’t like it one damn bit.
Sorry to say, the old has gone out and the new has moved in for good. Analog is dead. No one needs an antennae on their roof to see TV. We don’t even have those clunky, ninety-pound black AT&T rotary phones. We don’t have rotary phones either.
Whoot … but we can bake a potato in five minutes.
Agents and publishers are starting to encourage writers to create a hybrid approach to their careers. Many agents actually facilitate self-pub’d shorts between novels.
Traditional publishers also encourage shorts between novels, or ask their writers to create prequels to their next book in a series.
It is becoming more common for authors to self-publish one or four books before seeking an agent. Many writers are convinced that they are much better off running the entire show on their own. Others want the security a house provides; i.e. a roof over your head against the storm of more change.
What do we tell that little girl ??
Like good parents or grandparents, we tell her to follow her dream wherever it takes her, to never quit striving for excellence, to go for the gold.
And what can I say to you, my readers?
Write a good book and send it out. If it gets rejected.
Write another good book and send it out.
Find whatever it is in this brave new world of publishing that works for you and keep doing it. I know dozens of writers up-close and personal and dozens more in cyber space.
Rarely have they followed the same path to publication.
Oh, why do you fret so little girl? Has your mama left you all alone? Are you afraid of the dark? Don’t hide under the cover when the storms come.
Better to throw open the windows and feel the rain or snow or wind on your face. Listen to the winds. Watch the wonderful chaos of nature as she brings us more changes. It is true that before you find comfort in the new ways, they will change yet again.
The way they were worked for them.
The way we find ourselves in the ever moving landscape of our world is how it will work for us.
Pray tell … what is your way?