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Changes in Publishing

One of the frustrating things about being a new writer is that you get different advice depending on who you ask.  I remember my confusion that the wisdom of Big Name Pros, the people who had been doing this for decades, was sometimes completely off-base.  But it makes sense — publishing is a changing field, and some of the rules of 20 years ago are different from the rules today.

Imagine my shock when it occurred to me that I started writing 15 years ago … that my own experiences were different than those of new writers today.  (Not to mention the fact that many of my fans hadn’t even been born when I started writing.  Eep!)

I sat down to take a look at some of the things that have changed since I penned my first story in 1995.

1. Electronic submissions.  All of my early stories were printed and mailed.  I went through boxes and boxes of manila envelopes.  Submitting by that new-fangled electronic mail?  Unheard of.  International submissions were sent with an IRC (International Reply Coupon).

2. Electronic markets.  There were few online ‘zines and publishers, and those that did exist were small and often amateurish.  (Strange Horizons showed up in 2000, and was the first professional-looking online ‘zine I knew of.  Happy 10th Anniversary, SH!)

3. Web sites. A web presence wasn’t required, though some of us were experimenting with pages and online journals. I put up my own page on that fancy new Geocities site.

4. Submission guidelines advised you to always use a fresh ink ribbon in your printer.

5. Market Research. You still had to do your research, but my first round of agent hunting involved several hours in the MSU library, reviewing the current Literary Agent Guide.  (I can’t recall the actual title of that tome.)  I also subscribed to Speculations, a print publication, to keep up with the short fiction markets.

6. E-books.  Wait, e-what now?

7. Standard Manuscript Format was 12-point Courier.  Two spaces after periods.  Underline to show italics.  Does anyone even use Courier anymore, or is it hanging out with other forgotten fonts, drinking and talking about the good old days?

8. I could walk into a bookstore and introduce myself as an author, and the staff wouldn’t instinctively flinch or hide.  (Also see: Vanity presses, explosion of.)

9. SFWA pro rate for short fiction was 3 cents/word.

10. My hair came down to the middle of my back.  (I maintain that the hair loss is writing-related, caused by stress!)

11. There were agents charging a 10% commission.  I’m not sure exactly when the switch to 15% happened, but pretty much every agent is working for 15% these days.

12. People were bemoaning the Imminent Death of Publishing, as opposed to the present day, when … um … never mind.

Strange to realize that even though my first book with DAW came out a mere four years ago, much of my experience as a new writer trying to break in is already a bit outdated.  And if that’s true, imagine what it’s like for someone who broke in even further back.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to professional authors who talk about this stuff.  However, it’s good to be aware that publishing is constantly changing, and some advice from ten years ago might not hold today.  It’s also good to pay attention to whether the author giving the advice is aware of and in touch with those changes.

So what’s changed since you started writing?  Contributions to the list are welcome (as are regular old comments and discussion).

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 114 comments — Leave a comment )
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cathshaffer
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, I forgot about International Reply Coupons! I started in 1996. Let's see...Well for one thing there was not the proliferation of residential writing workshops. There was Clarion and Clarion West. Not Clarion South or Odyssey or whatever else is out there now. The concept of an online writing workshop was very novel. And you know, in spite of the Imminent Death of Publishing, there seem to be a LOT more pro markets out there now than back in the 90's or even early 2000's. A lot of these are online magazines. (Must be Publishing's last gasp before it really, really dies. Yeah, that's it.)
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
I believe Critters was around in those days, but that's about it. Their site claims that Critters was the first workshop on the web. I don't take everything Burt says at face value, but in this case, I suspect he might be right.

You know, I should see if I can find one of those old issues of Speculations and compare the number of pro short fiction markets to what's out there today.
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Aug. 4th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shekkara - Aug. 4th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Aug. 4th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
barbhendee
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)

Oh, Jim, #8 just cracked me up. That soooooo true. I couldn't figure out the problem at first. Now, JC and I just get a stack of our hard covers from the shelf, take them to the information booth, and ask the employees if they'd like us to sign the books. That really does get a much happier, more excited response (smiles).

I don't know about new writers, but one element for writers working with a publisher that has changed at a rapid pace in the last two years is that *nothing* is snail mailed anymore. We do copy edits electronically in Word now, and starting with HUNTING MEMORIES, my publisher even sent the galleys electronically.

I have a few older writer friends who hate this--a few of them have barely mastered email. They really hate doing copy edits electronically in Word, and they long for the days of a blue pencil. I feel bad for them. I love doing copy edits electronically.
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cathshaffer
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
I went from double spaces after periods to single spaces a number of years ago, after finding out that this was preferred. In fact, I may be wrong, but I think that publishers will take out all of your double spaces and change them to single spaces, nowadays. When I took typing class, we learned to double space after periods and it was a hard habit to break.
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sarahmichigan
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC)
I like the idea of the Death of Publishing somehow being tied into the concept of the "divine within" but I think you mean "imminent" ... ;)
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
Yep. Fixing that now, thanks.
mtlawson
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC)
So what’s changed since you started writing? Contributions to the list are welcome (as are regular old comments and discussion).

Back then, there was this fancy thing called 'fire' that people were grunting about.

Okay, I'm curious as you are as to what people will post. That said....

8. I could walk into a bookstore and introduce myself as an author, and the staff wouldn’t instinctively flinch or hide. (Also see: Vanity presses, explosion of.)

How much of that is also due to the decline in the number of bookstores, notably the independents, and the rise of the large monster stores close to the major highways in the exurbs.
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
"How much of that is also due to the decline in the number of bookstores, notably the independents, and the rise of the large monster stores close to the major highways in the exurbs."

Very little, as far as I've been able to determine. From talking to bookstore staff, it's very much about the rise of vanity presses and the ease of print-on-demand, meaning there are a lot more authors going into the stores and demanding they order their books.
(no subject) - mtlawson - Aug. 4th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
barbarienne
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
Re #7: ME! I still use 12pt Courier, and I still use underlining instead of italics. This is because I work in the industry and the reasons for those formatting preferences haven't changed. Even working onscreen, those are easier to see/read than godawful Times New Roman.

Actually, that should be particularly onscreen. TNR is horrible when rendered in pixels. And don't get me started on sans-serif fonts delivered at 72dpi and glowing.

The one bit of oldster advice that always annoyed me was the "you don't need an agent to land a book contract." While that is technically true--people do still sometimes sell a book without an agent--the world of novel submissions is completely different from what obtained in the 1970s and 80s. Back then the phrase "agented submissions only" didn't exist.
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:57 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Most of my manuscripts these days, both book-length and short stories, end up going to DAW. It's possible I'm overgeneralizing based on the formatting preferences I've learned there.

And yeah, it's still possible to sell a book without an agent, but that path has been on a downward trend for a while.
(no subject) - nathreee - Aug. 4th, 2010 02:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
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adamheine
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Courier will always have a home with programmers. It's the only readable way to discuss code online.
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
That makes sense. TNR has spacing issues, and adds more "flair" to the individual characters. I could see that making it harder to read code.
merriehaskell
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
Re: #1. I'm still on my first box of manila envelopes, and seriously wonder why I bought a hundred! I think I've done maybe 2 IRCs.

I embarked on this seriously just over 7 years ago, FWIW.
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:00 pm (UTC)
Don't worry, you'll need the manila envelopes eventually for mailing back all of those contracts for novel deals and foreign sales ;-)
(no subject) - merriehaskell - Aug. 4th, 2010 04:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
mtlawson
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
You want to know something that has gone the way of the dodo?

Typing classes in high school.

There used to be typing classes at the kids' high school up until a couple of years ago; the classes had long since switched to computer keyboards, but even with that the classes have disappeared.

I'm thinking of getting the kids typing tutor software so that they can practice without doing the hunt-and-peck for the rest of their lives.
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
I'm betting most kids can type faster than adults these days ... using nothing but their thumbs.
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shekkara
Aug. 4th, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
As late as 15 years ago people were using printers that used ink ribbons? (I was an early laser printer user.)

What is the recommended font these days?

Regarding ebooks: I remember a cautionary tale that was passed around usenet way back in the days (90s?). The tale told the story of two college students, one of whom could not afford to buy (rent?) her electronic textbooks. The law prohibited people from loaning their e-books. So the student was in a hard place: she couldn't pass her classes without the books, but it was illegal for her to borrow her friend's books. Anyway, as far as I know this predated the actual ebook industry, but did come from a time when many SFF readers did expect ebooks to be in the future. Wow! I live in the future!
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
I had a dot matrix for the mid-nineties, and it was common enough to show up in the guidelines.

Recommended font? I'd say read the submission guidelines. I'm not as up-to-speed as I once was, but my sense is Times New Roman is more standard these days.

"I live in the future!"

Most people's phones have more computing power than early generation spaceships. Ain't the future fun? :-)
nathreee
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:00 pm (UTC)
You know, I often wonder how you writers before me used to do it. I can't imagine using a typewriter, for example. I thank the heavens every day I cut and paste large parts of story, every day I spend editing and revising, for the wonderful invention of rich text editors. I don't even bother sending paper query letters, because I think those agents are going to mind that I live in a tiny European country... And if I had been trying to get published in your time, I would have had to move to New York to stand a chance.

btw, why were they afraid publishing was going to die back then? Television? I guess it's always something.
shekkara
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
I suspect 15 years ago most new and up-and-coming writers were using computers.
(no subject) - nathreee - Aug. 4th, 2010 02:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
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raecarson
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:26 pm (UTC)
I gain about 1.5 lbs per chapter written. That is totally on my list. I'm twice the woman I was when I started out!

The e-thing is interesting. When I went looking for agent #2, I eliminated from my query list anyone who did *not* take e-subs. Not because I didn't want to sub paper queries, but because I felt strongly that I needed an agent who was prepared to fully embrace the e-volution.
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
My agent still doesn't accept e-queries, but he's fairly comfortable online, and he reads manuscripts from his authors via Kindle or Nook or whatever new e-reader he's on this week.

On the other hand, I wonder how many of the paper holdouts will switch over to e-subs in the next five years or so.
(no subject) - jhetley - Aug. 4th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
spiziks
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
Oh fer--! I was going to blog about this very topic on Book View Cafe next week. Now I'm gonna look like I stole from you!

(Mutter mutter grumble gripe . . . bloody telepathic goblin writers . . . time-traveling lesbian princesses who swipe blog ideas . . . )
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
You should definitely still blog about it. Just make sure to include a link to "that brilliant fantasy author who beat me to the punch," or something like that ;-)
(no subject) - klwilliams - Aug. 4th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
jeffreyab
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
Omni Online!
From wikipedia:

After the print magazine folded in 1996, the OMNI Internet webzine was launched. Free of pressure to focus on fringe science areas, OMNI returned to its roots as the home of gonzo science writing, becoming one of the first large-scale venues to deliver a journalism geared specifically to cyberspace, complete with real-time coverage of major science events, chats and blogs with scientific luminaries, and interactive experiments that users could join. The world's top science fiction writers also joined in, writing collaborative fiction pieces for OMNI's readers live online.

Though the website generated large traffic,[citation needed] it did not turn a profit. In 1998, Kathy Keeton, whose vision inspired OMNI, died from complications of breast cancer, the staff of OMNI Internet was laid off, and no new content was added to the website. General Media shut the site down and removed the OMNI archives from the Internet in 2003.
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Omni Online!
Oh, yeah ... I do have vague memories of OMNI's online presence. Don't recall the details, though. Checking my records, I never actually submitted anything to them. But even back then, I was mostly writing fantasy, not SF.
Re: Omni Online! - jeffreyab - Aug. 4th, 2010 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
jhetley
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
Still use Courier and double-space after periods and underline for italics. Habits learned in the long-ago, and nobody done told me otherwise.

*shakes cane at publishing world*
jimhines
Aug. 4th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
These kids need to get off our lawns! And take their shiny new-fangled e-readers with 'em!
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