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).