Transitional Writers

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.

47 Comments

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47 responses to “Transitional Writers

  1. Dorothy

    There are times when I look at my children and since I work for a college I am in the great place to watch the changing lives of our younger generation. Some parts of those changes are just amazing, but I still miss the go out side and have adventure time. I remember all the great adventure me and my Brother had outside with nothing but our imaginations to occupy our time. We became pirates or renegade Indians (being Native American) we fought many a great battle or just became whatever was on Saturday afternoon Matinée. I think in some ways our lives will change for the better, but don’t you wish you could just outside and become Jenks or Rachel. Become the whatever your mind could think up? When a tree house was a wonderland and a feild was a magic kingdom. Now my Grandchildren look at books and watch TV and that is todays babysitter. It makes me wonder who will be the Buccaneers of the future and will we give our future generation the thrill of finding themselves instead off becomming what they see and hear on the internet. Maybe I am just feeling the loss of a childhood that younger children will not have unless we are able to give that gift to them.
    Sincerly
    Jenk’s future wife🙂

  2. Martin

    Thank you Ms. Harrison, for stimulating thoughts.
    Martin

  3. Watching the publishing industry going through these changes in many ways seems like a repeat of watching the music industry shift 15 or so years ago. After lots of angst and anger and adapting, the music world has more or less settled down. What’s interesting to me is that not only have CDs stayed around, although in much smaller quantites, but vinyl is making a bit of a comeback. In the future maybe everything but digital downloads will disappear, or maybe there will always be some of the old-fashioned methods still in use. Fortunately, new ways of delivering the music didn’t really hurt the creativity and passion and talent of the musicians. There are lots of good bands out there playing all kinds of great music!

    I’m guessing something similar will happen with books. People will always want good stories, so what I really hope is that the delivery method will soon stop being the main story, and the quality of the writing and the stories can be the focus again. Oh, and I also hope there’s always some way for people to get the stories for free the way they’ve always been free in libraries.

  4. Times.. they are a changin.
    I can’t relate to publishing. I’ve never written a book, but then again.. I’ve never tried. I like to write my thoughts from time to time. I’ll even jot down ideas here and there, then hide them. Either to forget about them or find them later and reminisce.

    But what I can relate to is change. It’s constant. Especially with technology.
    I remember playing with big bulky apple comps in Elementary School. Learning dos and storing anything I could on funny looking floppy discs. Playing Oregon Trail was a highlight after all my work was finished. Always hoping to finish the game so that my family wouldn’t get dysentery and what not. High School really helped me with programs and my typing skills. And of course playing video games after school with my brother and sister was always a blast.

    But none of it felt rushed… that is, until I had my son. When he was 2 he was typing his name on the computer. And that is when it really hit me. Everything is so different.
    So props to you for having had a taste of something more personal.. then what it may be now.

    Cheers to good writing!

  5. jkh

    Wonderful essay. I learned so much about the process of “getting published” as it was not too long ago, and as it is becoming now.

  6. I echo Brian’s sentiments about your willingness to share thought processes and to create a bond between author and reader.
    I also enjoy reading the other replies – your fans are as caring and sharing as you are – one of the perks of internet technology. We’d never have built this type of connection otherwise.

    • Thank you, Jeannie. I always home that my ramblings might be useful. 🙂 And yes, you are absolutely right about the connection it fosters.

  7. I’m completely in sync with you on this, Kim, though I’m on the other slope. I’ve published two works for Nook and Kindle (a novel and a novella) all on my own, but I’m still trying to publish my series through more traditional channels. While it’s thrilling to be published in any capacity, I’ve only made about $40, not having any sort of promotional machine. Not exactly a career, yet. Before I start to ramble, I’ll close with this: in this transitional period, it’s a struggle regardless of which school (old or new) one uses.

  8. Zeenat

    I recently have read quite a bit about how new authors are becoming successes because of self-publishing. The work they put in seems tremendous, and I cannot imagine how it was 10-15 years ago!

    I do miss the bookstore/library culture a lot. It was nice to be able to curl up on a comfy chair and read all day long. No one would say anything.

    I still go to barnes and nobles sometimes (especially because their cafe has cheesecake factory cheesecake), but it’s not as it was when I was a kid🙂

  9. You pushed a few dozen of my hot buttons with this posting!!

    I love your books and the world you create. I love your people. You’re a brilliant author and I’m eternally grateful you ARE published. And glad you got into the market when you did.

    I was an editor at Doubleday through the mid 1970s … the halcyon days of publishing … the end of an era. We actually read manuscripts and were given TIME to read — even re-read — promising material.

    I moved from typewriters to computers with joy. I was part of the development team for DB-1, the first relational database that revolutionized the information world. I rode the high tech wave until I became obsolete when it became official that “no one reads manuals.” Simultaneously with databases, “artificial intelligence” (aka “bots”) came of age and have replaced many people, especially in publishing. I helped build a world in which I am obsolete … the irony is not lost on me.

    Gone are human acquisitions editors. “Bots” search emails for key words. No key words? Tough luck, cookie.

    Max Perkins would never find a job In publishing today, Thomas Wolfe wouldn’t get a reading, much less mentoring. Would anyone publish Hemingway? Faulkner? Or for that matter, Tolkien? Many fewer publishers exist and far fewer readers.

    Bookstores? My town doesn’t have one. There’s a Barnes and Noble 20 miles away at a mall, but it’s not a “real” bookstore anymore. For example, they only have 2 or 3 of your books and only in paperback. In all of New England there are probably fewer than a couple of dozen honest-to-god bookstores and that includes Boston.

    I wrote a book. Nothing earth-shaking, but that’s not the point. I sent proposals, sample chapters, letters, whatever anyone would accept to countless agents and publishers.Turned out that marketing was the key, not if the book itself had merit.

    Thus my book was never rejected. No human editor read or even glanced at it. I got an F in marketing. When at last I got an introduction to a human editor, he died before I could meet him. I took that as a Sign … and self-published. At least I had the experience — and specialized software — to put together a press-ready book. Too bad I didn’t also have a proof-reader!

    I love the Internet, but miss live people. We no longer look one another in the eye. We can’t read each others’ faces, judge meaning by intonation or body language. We can’t hug. We don’t get to ‘pitch’ ideas. Not every can fit their ideas into 500 words or less to be read by a bot. Ironically, I am one. Karmic payback?

    It’s a strange world. It’s no less strange than Rachel’s world. Where do reality and fantasy split? Where does technology end and magic begin? It is a world I helped build so how can I complain? We ride this bus called life, but we do not drive. The best we can do is harass the driver!

    • You’re right about the marketing angle. If the publishing house doesn’t know how to market it, it can be the best piece of work in the world, and they will not buy it.

  10. Brian

    You are my favorite author. And this thread strengthens my choice and my argument for why you are the best in the market.

    • Brian

      Also…please forgive my sleep addled brain. I should have said something from the very get-go. Thank you for sharing this with us, for telling us a little more about yourself and making the relationship between author and fan that much tighter. You are the best.

    • Brian, thank you. I really appreciate that, more than you might know.

  11. Howdy ma’am,

    The funny thing about tech is, it’s supposed to make our lives easier and more stress free. It’s a double edged sword though. It seems the more people get done, the more they want to do. A job that took a week to do back in the day can be done in less than a day. Therefore more can get done and soon a driven person is doing in week what used to take us months.

    The one thing that does scare me about tech is each generations dependency on it. If there is ever a tech crash, a lot of younger people will have a very difficult time. Many of them can’t even read an analog clock anymore.

    I remember being taught to read a slide rule. It was at about the same time affordable calculators were just becoming available. My teacher insisted on us using that slide rule. “Calculators were just a fad” Now a few decades later, I carry a cell phone that has more computing power that the computers used by NASA to put men on the moon. I guess they all had really good slide rules.

    Thanks for making the transition. The reading world wold not be the same if you hadn’t. Let’s hope that the CW’s Hollows makes you an ‘over night’ success! 😀

    V^^^^V

    • Oh, I know for a fact that the only reason I made it was because of the computer. I’m not that detail oriented, and the incredible flexibility the computer fosters lets me work the way I work best.

  12. Hi Kim,
    I’ll be shortly at the APB spoilers page posting my questions, but I wanted to drop a note here. Personally, I can’t understand what you went through in the whole publishing process that has brought you and us to this time and place, with changing means of writing, communicating, presenting etc. But I can tell you that you are not alone here. Your readers, I guess I can call us devout too, are here enjoying every word you have put in those books and you post here. I hope you are enjoying being here with us as much as we do. You definitely earned this. I would say sit back and enjoy, but please don’t sit back🙂
    Thank you for sharing your dreams with us. Thank you for the effort you gave to make it possible. And thank all those people who helped you on the way.

  13. James R. Fox

    Hi Ms Kim-Its Jim From Warren. I Know exactly what you mean,but the more things change the more they remain the same, to quote somebody or other. I was a psychiatric social worker who was going to be a rich lawyer. While in law school, I got a job at Children’s Services caring for kids who had been pimped out by their parents to pay drug bills.(This was during the heroin epidemic of the early 60’s,even then you could get a hundred dollars a trick for a fresh kid from a chicken hawk.)One of my girls who was 13 managed to sneak into the admin office and jump off the 4 story roof,being carefull to land on her head. I was the only one at her funeral, she had no family except the ones in prison so she was cremated and dumped in a flowerbed at the state school for children with IQ’s under 20.(With penicillin a number lived even then)I changed majors to psychology.
    My last case was a girl who was 15 and out of Children’s Psyciatric for 2 days,grabbed her mothers gun and was going to kill her boyfriend and herself. I was called about 3:30 AM and went after her. It was 1986,and winter,and with windchill it was recorded as -52F. I cornered her behind the dumpster at the local Arab store, and spent 20 min talking her into giving me the gun (Which was loaded,cocked, and aimed at me with the safety off,simce the girl knew her 9mm) and going back to the hospital.
    Had my first attack of heart failure the next day, and retired 2 yrs later. The moral of the story is never trust a kid, give them an inch and they’ll steal your heart. The more things change,the more they remain the same….
    .

    • Wow, that’s one hell of a story! I have a friend in Michigan with a similar history, except she finished her law degree, but never practiced law. She spent her life trying to help people fight their way through the legal system. I don’t think she ever wound up facing a gun, however. There’s a story there. A LONG story that I would love to hear.

    • James R. Fox

      Hi Ms. Kim-Smudge and I are having lemon chicken,with 4 different kinds of fresh-ground-peppercorns,herbs,and seasalt(Its the octopus poop that makes it good) cooked in our microwave! Snerkle,snerkle.The more things change etc etc

    • James R. Fox

      Hi Ms. Kim-we, of course would have had to kill the chicken,pick our herbs and done without lemon juice and peppercorns, while cooking over an open fire w/o the technology change,so sometings do change

    • Martin

      Hi Jim,
      I hope you found a way to deal with the post-traumatic-stress-disorder that must have afflicted you from your career. However much they paid you it wasn’t enough. I know you spent a lot of time today saying the more things change, the more they stay the same. But, when you changed from a high-powered lawyer to a social worker, you changed a small part of the world. You may not even know how. But other people are different because of your influence, and the influence they will have on others can magnify into something profound. I am a volunteer correctional chaplain; have been for 15 years. Some of the stories I have heard could turn you hair gray. When I see three generations from the same family incarcerated in the same prison at the same time, there is no doubt about the level of addiction and dysfunction that we deal with. I know change is possible. I have seen people change. But it will take generations for the micro changes we are stimulating to translate into change that is recognizable on the cultural level. Pat yourself on the back. You changed the world. We just don’t see it yet.
      Martin

    • Jim, I’m sorry that your history is still heavy on your mind. I hope you can shake it, or share it, or somehow find a way to take lessons and move on.

  14. Angela Elliott

    As we get older, it seems like technology is making leaps and bounds. When I was young, we still had b/w TV. No cell phone. If you ran out of gas or had a flat, you walked.

    I don’t have any book stores close anymore. Thankfully, I do have a Kindle
    I can order anything I want and it will come instantly to me. Who would have tthought?

    I agree with the last comment. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. That is why I ordered all of your books in paperback as well. What if all the computers crash….I’ll still be able to read my favorite author over and over again, and so will my kids.

    Thank you, love what you do.

    • James R. Fox

      Hi Angela,its Jim From Warren. When I was a kid, we used to run home to listen to the Lone Ranger on radio.Einstein was still working on T.V.(His most deadly invention,reality T.V will destroy civilization, try Snooki vs. the H-Bomb, see who wins. AND she’s reprodicing,shades of Ms. Kims genetic disaster).The more things change, the more they remain the same….

    • Thank you, Angela. 🙂 I really appreciate that.

  15. I am just starting off my writing career or attempt at it. Love the move to electronic. I was writing back in the traditional but had to many anxiety issues to try and publish anything. I am working through that, and have been posting my children’s series of poems/stories on my blog. They may never see the printing press of a traditional publishing house, but the web has enabled me to share my stories with thousands of people. If that is all it ever is, I think I will be good with that.

  16. mudepoz

    I love this. I was not a fiction writer, but I go back to the days of the male dominated publishing world. My father was a national sales rep for several of the large publishing houses in the ’60’s. As a child, I grew up with ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ that just happened to write books that were on the bestseller’s list. Harold Robbins, John Jakes, Robert Heinlein were among the people that came to our house in New York (did you know that release parties were often celebrated in large homes back then?) Different times. In many ways, there are a lot of advantages to the now. Much more access to indie writers via self publishing. There are also a lot crappy books out there. It takes more time to learn how to find the diamonds, but again, the internet can be an awesome tool. Like all tools, it needs to be learned and followed. Technology freaked out the cavemen, too.

    • James R. Fox

      Hi Mud- the dude who thought up the bow and arrow to replace spears was responsible for over-hunting,population explosion,ecological disasters and mass warfare and genocide,you know.The more things change,the more they remain the same.

    • mudepoz

      *snort* and the person who left the fuzzy biohazardous waste with pseudopodium in the autoclave was just cleaning out the fridge🙂

    • James R. Fox

      Hi Mud again-The Huns that invaded the Empire were so primitive they were using bone and stone to tip their lances and arrows But they had the coumpound bow, Hun “twang Roman soldier ürk

    • mudepoz

      *Shakes head* <–total pacifist. However, I am acquainted with most poisonous plants in the US and know how to prepare them.🙂

    • You do know I’m insanely jealous, Mud. 🙂

  17. Kelley Donaghy

    So true and writing isn’t the only profession that is being warped by the computers. Warped can be good and bad, the word different didn’t seem to cover it though. I am glad that I saw the change over in my own field in much the same way you have. I’ve witnessed the sophisticatino of history with the speed of the future. The words of Dickens still prevail, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

    Have a great day and I really enjoyed your perspective on this today as I write my speech this morning which has overtones of the Wild West and my own experience with being presiding officer of our College Governance!

    Thanks for everything you do!

    • Dear Kim:
      For my writing I needed the help of my tutor at the learning skills dept. at S.R.J.C. since I had trouble making paragraphs and had about as many commas as Proust. The story was eventually published in a fanzine called “Galaxy Class”. I no longer write since proving to myself I could do it.

    • That’s wonderful, Sandra. 🙂 Congratulations!

    • I hope your speech went well, Kelley! 🙂 An thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed my ramblings.