Friday, January 29, 2010

In My Day...

A lot of you know that The Body Finder wasn't my first book. I was practically a baby when I finished my first manuscript, a full-on horror novel that actually landed me a real-live, honest-to-goodness agent. Or at least someone with business cards who passed as an agent.

Seriously, though, things have changed A LOT since I wrote that first novel:

1) When I first started writing my Horror Masterpiece at the ripe old age of nineteen, I was writing on an old-fashioned electric typewriter. The kind where if you made a mistake you had to unscroll the paper, uncap your white-out, and wait for it to dry before starting again. No computers for us, we were real writers...with the paper cuts to prove it.

I remember getting my first word processor. It was ENORMOUS! And awesome!!! It had this tiny little screen with dot-matrix letters, but I could type my entire manuscript and store it on a floppy disk before printing it out. It was like I'd died and gone to editing heaven.

2) I didn't have agentquery.com. Or the internet at all. I spent hours and hours...and hours...scouring through the pages of The Writer's Market, highlighting agents (and publishers) that would consider both first-time authors AND horror novels.

Again, more paper cuts...

3) Email? What is this E-M-A-I-L you speak of??? We had good old fashioned Snail Mail. Always. No instant gratification for us. I would mail my query letter and wait for days. Weeks. Months, maybe.

Okay, maybe that part's not so different.

4) I couldn't cyber-stalk anyone. I couldn't check the Twitter/Facebook/blogs of the agents and editors I was waiting on to see if their status updates had changed. I couldn't look to see if they'd posted an update that they were reading "the scariest book ever written" by a new author they were planning to "pluck out of obscurity". I couldn't read what they'd eaten for lunch. They were on the East Coast and I was on the West Coast...and there was nothing but a good old-fashioned plane ride to bridge that gap.

So, what hasn't changed? In all the years between my doomed horror novel and today, there are a lot of things that have stayed the same:

1) Like I said before, agents and editors still make you wait. They're buried in those e-queries and submissions, and the wait-time doesn't seem to have changed a whole heck of a lot.

2) Query letters are hard. You need to find that balance between professional and not-boring, stand-out and not-cheesy. Basically, you need to knock their socks off...or at least keep them from nodding off.

3) You want to make sure your manuscript is in its best possible shape. You want a tight, finely tuned draft. You want it as error-free as possible. You want drama/action/intrigue/romance...whatever it is that will keep a reader's attention. You want show-not-tell. Make sure it's ready before submitting.

Because...

4) Publishing is still tough. After all these years, that much still hasn't changed. It's tough, tough, tough.

Even the internet couldn't change that.

13 comments:

PJ Hoover said...

it's funny to this how little has really changed when it seems so much has. And yikes on the typewriter and white out. I'd be doomed.

Heidi Willis said...

I identified with so much about the first half!! I remember getting a typewriter with a self-correcting ribbon. I had to take out the ink ribbon and put in the self-correcting one, backspace, and type the letter again, and it would white out just that letter. Ah! Amazing progress that was!!

And the writer's market... don't get me started on the utter out-dated uselessness of that monstrous book!

You're right... the publishing industry IS still hard, but I think we have a much better idea of how to be successful now, how to find what they are looking for and how to write good queries and where to send them that hasn't already been outdated. Maybe that makes it harder though, too. It evens out the playing field between the people only sort of wanting it and those who really, really want it.

Very interesting post! (so sorry i rambled so much.... I don't have it in me to write just a little, unless I'm working on my WIP)

Lisa and Laura said...

I think the next logical step here is for someone to develop either an app to speed up publishing or an app to give me the patience of a saint. Come on Steve Jobs! Figure this one out. Now.

Tam said...

Oh, how I loved my IBM Selectric - it was so Space Age I was sure life wouldn't get any better than that.

Kimberly Derting said...

PJ- You and me both, sister, I could never go back to my typewritin' ways!

Heidi - I forgot about all the hours I spent at the library looking up articles on *how* to write a query and just on the publishing process in general since I couldn't Google every little thing. I think I'm in LOVE with the internet!!!

LiLa - A patience app...yes, please!

Tam - OMG, yes! My office had an IBM Selectric and I loveloveloved it!!!! And then I got my word processor (the one that took up 1/2 of my dining room table) and I realized how "outdated" the IBM really was.

Shelli said...

*sigh* tell me about it...the waiting is agony!

Elie said...

Great post, time and technology pass quickly. What will the next 10 years hold?

ReggieWrites said...

All I can say is...I STILL have a typewriter in my room next to my computer...I'm 14, but the typewriter feels nice to write on...it creates sort of an oldish writing atmosphere that I love =)))

jessjordan said...

What?? The Internet isn't a superhero that makes publishing easier? Gosh darn it, Kim--you're such a dreambuster!

Little Ms J said...

I'm still stuck on the whole query letter thing. It is like dating or showing up at a meeting with crap in your teeth. Why can't I just be honest and not have to worry what the popular kids (agents) think? I think I'm going to start with, "This shit is dope," and see if I get any bites.

Oh, and thank goodness for the "interwebs" as LiLa refers to them. I'd be like, "You want me to look up what? Book sales, who?"

I'm kinda lazy like that.

Shelli said...

hey did you steal my processor. I had one of those - yikes I am so hold.

Guinevere said...

Although I'm old enough that we had our first home computer by the time I was in school, I was obsessed with the 1950's typewriter and 80's era word processor that my parents kept around, and commandeered those for my incipient writing career. I learned to type on those things! Ahhh.

But by the time I was ready to start REALLY writing, I switched to our home computer. I can't imagine the pains of writing an entire novel on those monoliths, fun as they are.

Sassy Brit said...

WOW! When you put it like that, they're big, big changes. Although, it's not quite the same, there were a lot of networking features on the web that hadn't started when I first started my own blog! So, I can see where you are coming from! :)