People love to categorize in order to understand, and though the writing field doesn’t have many recognizable periods like art does with its Renaissance, Romanticism, Modern, Contemporary, and whatnot, I think that there might eventually be a name for a short span, maybe a decade or so, of writers who wrote, or more importantly, got their start, in the two decades to either side of this century. Call them transitional writers of the 21st century, maybe? See, I got to thinking this morning.
I learned to type on a typewriter, but delivered my first manuscript on paper run through a printer, and my latest delivery was by email. Research was done in the library or bookstore, now it is on the web using questionable sources. Promotion was the realm of the NY professional when I began, and now if a writer doesn’t have an internet outreach of their own, she is considered impersonal or perhaps hard to market.
When I first published, bookstores would allow you to come into their store and sit for two hours and sell eight books–now if you can’t move a book a minute, you can’t come in. Bookstores were brick and mortar when I began–all of them. There was no Amazon, no electronic book, no self-publishing that wasn’t looked down upon. You wrote a book and hoped to God that someone in NY liked it enough to push it through their marketing system.
Agents were mostly men, and they did their deals over martini lunches with other men. Now your average agent and editor in genre fiction is young, female, and probably got her start doing what she did for those old guys, old guys who are becoming as hard to find as a bookstore in a mall.
Writing used to be a civilized situation for the introvert you needed to be to write the book in the first place. You wrote the book. You gave the book to an agent. Agent sold the book. You did a book tour if you were lucky. You got a big/small screen deal for the movie of the week if you had been in the industry forever and your name was in everyone’s lexicon. Today it’s a bit different as household names are often made in six months, not developed over twenty years, and that works too. Perhaps that’s the point. Publishing has changed, but it still works.
Still . . . there are only going to be a limited number of writers who worked in the old system and adapted to the realm of websites, electronic books, virtual tours, book trailers, and entire manuscripts lost because of a bad hard drive. I slipped into this group as I usually do, by the skin of my teeth, right at the end when the turnover in NY began with the advent of personal computers becoming more personal. Did I see it all? Heck no, but I did deliver my first manuscript using the US postal system with no electronic copy attached. I did have the luxury of being able to develop my website myself slowly over time because back then, no one expected much. I have had the chance to work with an old school agent, a new school editor, and an aggressive publishing house, thereby getting the best of both worlds.
Was it harder to become published in this transitional phase? I have no idea. It’s never been easy, but with all the changes that have occurred, it’s clear that there are more ways to accomplish it. Me, I’m glad I got a taste of history, because there was a beauty there that I’m seeing slowly slip away under the crass quickness that the internet and computer foster. But you can still find islands of calm professionalism, and it’s the islands that will endure, adapt, and continue to shape through and beyond the transitional writers.