I'm trying to work on Book 6 in the Black Horse Campground series by doing NaNoWriMo this month, so today's post is a re-run from October 14, 2013. Now back to upping my word count....
Not long ago, I was talking to a friend about how I "had" to get an e-reader... something I once vowed I'd never do. I contended that I loved the feel, the smell, the sight of paper and ink. And I still do. I've used my Kindle (first generation, gently used, no color, no pictures, and I have to push buttons) to read one book and the experience was not horrible, but I still prefer a real book. However, I have started doing reviews on soon-to-be or recently released novels and the truth is that publishers rarely send out ARCs (advanced reader copies--cheaply bound printed copies of novels) for reviews anymore. It's faster and much less expensive to make the book available for download on to a computer or reading device. The reading device is far lighter and easier to use for reading than my laptop, so here I am, the reluctant Kindle owner!
Reading a book is the one thing I never expected to see go electronic. I should have expected it to be inevitable, given how the way a book is written and published has changed dramatically over the last few years. If you want an example of the way the publishing business used to be (about 20 years ago or less), read the late Olivia Goldsmith's novel, "The Bestseller". Drama aside, you read about the business of publishing that most young writers these days can't begin to imagine: TYPING the manuscript on a TYPEWRITER. Making copies (several) on a copy machine. Sending a printed manuscript (all 400 pages!) to a publishing house or agent with an SASE (do I have to explain what that is?) Waiting 4-6 months for a response (usually a bulky manila envelope with your address written in your own handwriting... that SASE) and not being able to submit to more than one publisher or agent at a time. Getting an edited manuscript with red ink and notes all over it, changes that have to be made by the deadline. And let's not even talk about marketing the book.
Nowadays, submitting a manuscript is as easy as hitting the "Send" button. Editing the work, checking for spelling errors, making corrections and changes is all easier than it's ever been. And publishing has become a do-it-yourself project. There isn't even a need to wait for a publishing contract. You can be published on-line in a matter of minutes.
Sadly, this hasn't exactly resulted in a boom in good books. Since there is little effort involved in simply getting published, many writers have succumbed to the temptation to put little effort in writing. The main goal is no longer to write, it's to get published. Or as I put it, few authors want to write, they want to have written. Writing, as I've said before, is hard work. Writing well is a mammoth task.
Even on their best days, the best writers in the world have had to edit their work. Just getting it on paper isn't enough. Traditional publishing forced writers to do their very best, to double check, not once or twice, but as many times as it took to get their story and characters to be the best they could be. Because the opposite of a successful book wasn't just a story floating in cyberspace with no readers--it was piles of unsold books being returned to a publisher, an advance not being earned out, and the possibility of a contract not being renewed.
I know there are hundreds of writers whose work was good enough to be published traditionally, but the deck was stacked against them--publishing houses with small budgets, competition from big name writers, a shrinking market for their genre (or conversely, an exploding market with an equally large number of submissions), and many other obstacles. So they turned to other publishing options. But here, too, their work rarely receives the credit it deserves. Many "publishers" unscrupulously prey on struggling writers and charge exorbitant fees to read or publish their work. Others will publish anything and gain a not-so-reputable reputation that reflects badly on even their best authors. And many still get published by print-on-demand or e-book publishers and hit a brick wall when their book receives little marketing and doesn't reach the audience it should.
Things are not going to change back and in some ways, that's good. Having to retype a 400-page manuscript because of one correction is something I'd never wish on anyone (before you curse your word processing program, think about that for a minute.) Neither is sending that same manuscript in a double box with return postage (I still have issues of "Writer's Digest" where you could order five such boxes for $19.95!) But I think it would be well for writers to write as if those nightmares were still true. There are still small publishing houses and editors and agents who are looking for quality fiction for which THEY are willing to pay. Even if a writer chooses to go the self-publishing route, it would be well for them to make their writing the best it can possibly be, as if their work were being scrutinized for the Nobel Prize in literature.
Or better yet, write as if they were writing for that one person in the bookstore who stops, picks up their book, and is drawn into the author's world and wants to return again and again.
These authors all did for me.