28 September 2015

Changes Are a Coming--Part 1

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

I seem to have a hard time coming up with articles lately. I  suspect I'm growing older and lazier. Been thete and said that. But don't think I'm senile yet. But aren't we the last to know? I've  been racking my brain pan all week and the only thing I thought of that remotely might be a reasonble subject was to write about the changes in publishing. There have been many changes since I first began trying to get a book published. Back in the early days we had to send our manuscripts to New York City by Pony Express.

 Oh, okay, I'm  not that old but some days it rather feels that way. However, we did have to send the mss in printed on white printer paper, double spaced, one inch margins all around.  we had to write a sparkling letter to an agent or an editor hoping our query caught their attention. Most agents and a few editors would read unsolicited manuscripts. You packaged everything all up and included a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope.) One of the best ways to keep your mss neat and make the return easier was to put it in a printer paper box, slide that into a very large mail envelope, being sure to include another SASE envelope with enough postage for the return.

I had an electric typewriter at the time and wasn't a very good or fast typist. I did have a friend or two who would type the mss for me but I couldn't ask them to do the work for free. I generally paid something. You also had to have more than one copy. What if your precious book got lost in the mail? So you went to a copy shop and ran off two extra copies. Fairly high price for such  and I certainly didn't  have much spare money in my purse. Then the postage itself wasn't cheap and you had to include enough in the SASE to get your copy back, all the time hoping the editor didn't mess up that copy so badly that you couldn't  send it out again immediately.

Every aspiring writer back then thought there was some big magic secret to getting published. I was at a writer's conference in Houston sponsored by a Houston University and a woman who was a big time editor for a major publishing house told us of talking to a writer's  group and someone asked why she wouldn't tell the secret of getting published. She told us how she made a big deal out of it. Saying we absolutely could not ever tell anyone the secret. She made sure all the doors to the room were closed and no one was lurking outside. Then she told us what she told that other group. When you put the postage on the envelope to mail the mss to NY. You must put the stamps on upside down. Everyone laughed but she told us over 50 percent of all mss that came in that summer had the stamps on upside down.

You also didn't  dare query more than one agent or editor at a time. They really frowned on such hubris. They could keep your mss for weeks or months only then, send you a form rejection slip. However, if they did like your book and had started the process of convincing the purchasing board and tried to offer you a contract only to discover you had just accepted a contract from one of their crosstown rivals. In which case, you're name would forever be mud with that editor and maybe with the rival editor. So you suffered and when you began getting rejection after rejection you realized you could paper the bathroom wall with rejections slips.

As we all know changes were coming and things were going to be easier.
Tune in next time for some wonderful remarks from my friend and fellow mystery writer, Noreen Ayers.


  1. I remember those days! But must disagree that things are now easier. Yes, easier to put a book in print maybe one way or the other, but not easier when you think that back in the bad old days publishers really did plan to edit, copy edit and promote one's work and that newspapers and magazines were willing to review the books that were published.

  2. Changes have come and will keep on coming, Jan. Some are good, some less so. But ultimately it will all shake out and a new equilibrium will settle in...until something else new comes along and shake it up all over again :)

  3. I remember I started out with a regular typewriter and then I bought - oh the expense! - an IBM selectric! Wow! Remember Secretary's White-Out? Carbon copies? I like computers better, but I also preferred the hard-copy submission days.

  4. You make me feel nostalgic for the days when I first started writing short stories, Jan! Oh, for the 90s, when we were paid a decent sum per word, and everything looked pretty rosy. Hey - I must be getting old too :)


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