Saturday, October 21, 2006

i had to walk ten miles through six feet of snow to mail my first manuscript

i've been thinking about how much publishing has changed, especially when it comes to information and relationships.

i sold my first book -- a paperback original -- in late 1986 to Pocket Books for $7,500.00. my agent at the time told me that i didn't have an editor. I was to write the book, mail it to the publisher, and it would be given to someone to edit. i had zero contact with anyone at the publishing house. i wrote the book and mailed it in. Never heard anything. Months later I received a revision letter from the editor who'd been assigned my book. I couldn't even tell you her name. There was nothing about getting the revision back by a certain time. Nothing about discussing the revision. I revised the material, returned it, and heard nothing. about a week before the release date a cover flat arrived in the mail.

(cover by the amazing and wonderful morgan kane)

the book was supposed to come out "in october", so in october i started checking stores. no book. every week i checked every store within driving distance. well, maybe it's not coming out until November. Maybe not until December. yep, i was an idiot. i called my "agent" and told her the book wasn't anywhere. she just said that's the way it was in the business. if i wanted a book to be in stores i should write category romance. I asked what the print run had been. She said there was no way to find out.
later i figured it was around 5000 - 7000, but i was never able to get any figures. somehow the book generated fan mail and gained a cult following through word of mouth. the fan mail was sent to Pocket Books where it was opened and read and forwarded to me months later. Just an envelope filled with tattered, opened letters that were up to a year old.

my experience wasn't unusual for the time. friends who were getting $30,000.00 advances per paperback original had limited contact with editors. it wasn't unusual for an editor to take two months to reply to a question, if at all. the degree of editor/author contact varied depending on the house.

the publishing house was also supposed to be a buffer between writers and readers, and readers didn't know much about their favorite authors.

now there is no mystery. i think that's one of the reasons booksignings have lost popularity. readers pretty much know all there is to know about the writers all the way down to toilet paper preference, so there's no curiousity to simply see the writer in the flesh. today there is no us and them, and i LIKE that. but i wonder if by killing the mystery we've killed some of the magic. i think this also goes back to what we were talking about last week: more people are writing and realizing that getting published isn't something remote and uattainable. we're all in this together.


Anonymous said...

Wow, the 80's system must not have been very good on the nerves. I imagine a fair number of authors ended up with colostomy bags.

Oh, BTW, the roll in your upstairs hall bathroom is almost empty.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

I think there's still a fair amount of mystery, but I think you're right in the blurring of the lines that give people the sense that they too can be a famous writer.

I think the mystery is less of particular authors, and more regarding the system. Hang out at any writer's conference and you'll see hundreds of the clueless, wandering around trying to figure out how it all works. Like me.

Oh, and Charmin? Again? Have you considered Cottonelle? Nice for the tushy.

bekbek said...

I was talking with my Dad on the phone the other day, and he started in with the old praise thing for my blog writing. He worked as a reporter when I was a kid, and he's always had a thing for those really great Op-Ed writers.

He has this idea that I'm something special. But things have changed, I told him. Anybody and his little brother too can start a blog and post an "opinion." Yeah, okay, not everybody can actually form a coherent sentence, but the point is that there are just vastly more writers on the playing field.

I don't know where it's all headed. I can't really picture a world where we don't have authors like yourself, who write for a living and make us go oooh and aaaah on a regular basis. But on the other hand, something clearly has shifted, and writing as a profession is bound to change in some significant ways.

I'm more worried about the texting thing. Maybe I shouldn't be worried. Maybe texting is good for the future of professional writing. Keep those masses from learning how to form coherent sentences; keep them busy typing code words into their cell phones.

It doesn't sound like the most honest way to do business. But who said writers and publishers were honest?! *grin*

Jaye Wells said...

Anne that's fascinating. I'd be a nervous wreck with no information. Of course, I'm a nervous wreck now because of too much information. ;)

anne frasier said...

jason and stephen: i knew i was asking for it when i mentioned toilet paper. :D

bekbek: "Keep those masses from learning how to form coherent sentences; keep them busy typing code words into their cell phones." haha! i've actually thought about that!

jaye: for me it was "ignorance is bliss" until i realized the damn book wasn't in any stores. and was never going to be. until that point, i was just kind of skipping along, lalala. ah, i miss those days. :D

Bill Cameron said...

Evil blogger killed and et my witticism! Which wasn't much since I've spent the last three days burying my head in a pillow hoping my head cold would go away. Which it still hasn't quite. Ow. Anyway, I said something about being nervous now, because I still haven't heard too much from my publisher, at least on an editorial level, and I'm at five months out. Except I now realize it could be MUCH worse.

Also, whatever's on sale of the good stuff, but never the one-step-up-from-sandpaper generic "tissue".

anne frasier said...

bill, blogger is especially evil today!
sorry about the cold. :( i doubt you'll run into anything like i described. i doubt that kind of thing exists anymore. writers are too savvy, and the internet has really changed the writer/editor relationship, and even writer/agent relationship.

angie said...

I dunno, I still find booksignings tres cool. I like meeting authors and hearing them talk about whateve the hell they feel like talking about. And I do find it kinda mysterious. Yeah, yeah, it's dumb to ask where writers get their ideas from...but where does ANYBODY get a good idea from & how the fuck do you find the stamina to write the damn thing out?! Veddy, veddy interesting.

bekbek said...

That's where the toilet paper comes in. You get the kind with the fresh idea on each sheet.

They do sell that, right?

anne frasier said...

angie, that's good to hear. it could just be that i'm looking at things for a very limited viewpoint and also from the inside out. maybe it's like standing in the middle of a hospital and saying, man, there are a whole lotta sick people in here. did that make any sense? haha! the hospital was a bad choice.

bekbek, i'm liking this tp idea. and it would also supply a ready answer to the idea question.

okay, will blogger eat this? will it allow me to post? that's the big mystery.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

Yes, there are more writers out there, but I don't necessarily think there are substantially more authors.

Blogging has given anyone with a net connection a soapbox. Most of them are soapboxes in empty rooms, but still. The ones who succeed are the ones who can form coherent thoughts, raise valid arguments and make people feel/get/understand what they're trying to say.

I don't think texting is ever going to replace that.

I think what's changing is the idea of author as, hmm, not celebrity, but brand.

In some cases, with some people's careers, though the books are the thing, it's the person who is the brand.

Take Jennifer Crusie, for example. New York Times bestselling romance novelist. Didn't have a book for two years. But she continued her career by selling herself as her brand. She didn't simply disappear.

So when her latest comes out, a collaboration, she's still got a career. She has cultivated fans. And they aren't buying "Don't Look Down", they're buying a novel by Jennifer Crusie. An excellent book, yes (and really people should go read it), but she had a fanbase and a cultivated brand going into it.

Just as Anne Frasier is a cultivated brand. I see 81,300 hits for "Anne Frasier" for example. Not sure what that means from a career/numbers perspective, since we need to take into account the number of bookbuyers who aren't online. But it's certainly something that shouldn't be ignored.

I had a point somwhere in there. Really. Maybe I shouldn't have had all that cough syrup this morning.

stay_c said...

I met Sarah Strohmeyer last summer and Nancy Martin. Because of the Internet, when I told them who I was, they "knew" me. That was really cool. Thank God for blog links.

I'd highly recommend the new Scotts tissue. Major savings and it's better than the stuff at work.

anne frasier said...

stephen, that's a good point about jennifer crusie. i didn't even realize she'd gone two years without a book.

and you're point? maybe to nicely tell me to quit my bitching? :D i'll do that pretty soon. i swear!

stay-c: i know what you mean. i wouldn't have known anybody at bouchercon if not for blogs. and that is cool as hell and very, very strange -- like stepping into a jetson world.

i use scotts!!! the secret is truly out!!

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"i use scotts!!!"

Don't their kilts get in the way?

emeraldcite said...

Astute observation, Anne. I agree, there is no mystery.

Although, this is good and bad...

Helen Brenna said...

Never having done a book signing, yet, I can't speak to the loss of mystery, but it makes sense.

What I find interesting is that advances haven't changed all that much in the last twenty years. Why do authors not get cost of living adjustments? Is it in the cost of the books and therefore royalty rates? Are print runs bigger?

Or are we just severly underpaid?

Kelly Parra said...

Wow, I can't believe the lack of communication and how much has changed in the past 20 years. I have to know everything and always feel like I'm entitled. lol! I would have been pissed off a lot. =D

anne frasier said...

stephen: back away from the cough syrup.

emeraldcite: i agree it's probably both good and bad.

anne frasier said...

helen, i wondered what new writers would think of that figure. i get the idea advances have actually gone down over the years. book sales are down and cost of everything else has gone up.

kelly, i know you'll find this hard to believe, but it used to be i pretty much took things as they came and never bitched about anything. now bitching defines me. :D

AKA: bitter hag

Daniel Hatadi said...

Maybe the internet has taken away some of the mystery, but the need for talent and hard work to produce quality output will never change.

When technology in the audio industry allowed people to record albums at home, everyone thought it would be the death of studios. The numbers have dwindled and it's true that the market has changed, and change is a fact of life. But one thing remains the same: good music is no accident. Not everyone can do it.

Video, photography, and desktop publishing have all gone through the same process, and perhaps it's time for the written word to join them.

But still, I think the truly great works of art are few and far between. The way they are delivered to us doesn't change that.

Oh yeah, you need some new soap. That sandalwood and cinnamon bar just didn't last.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I went to a booksigning for Kate Atkinson the other night. I don't think she has a blog presence. I thought it was very interesting, I loved the excerpt she read and felt great relief to hear she's as scattered as I am in her 'writing process' (whatever the hell that means.)

You know - what goes on our blogs is kind of on our permanent record. I think that at a booksigning, authors are more free to be themselves.

bekbek said...

word verification: btrhag

haha, just kidding!!! had you going though, didn't I?

bekbek said...

Dear lord.

The real word was:


Blogger really knows about the junk in your trunk.

anne frasier said...

daniel, i've thought about the comparision to home recording. it really is similar. here we're seeing some movement back to studios, which isn't really what you were talking about, but i did wonder if you're seeing the same thing in australia. i've always seen a lot of similarities between the music and book business.

sandalwood and cinnamon!! hmmm.... that was a good one.

anne frasier said...

mindy, i'm taking notes. permanent record. permanent. permanent. must remember that.

bekbek, i fell for that!! is the second one real? that's just freaky. :D

Daniel Hatadi said...

In Australia it was the medium sized studios that closed down. The big budget stuff is still used for the 'big budget' music (which nowadays means: Australian Idol).

There's still the little grassroots studios that knock stuff together for the less tech-savvy bands. The electronic based ones do it all by themselves of course.

And yes, I'm always comparing the two industries as before the writing bug hit, music was my first love. I keep coming back to the idea that the publishing industry needs a 'killer' bit of kit, ala the iPod.

Companies have tried and failed on that, but I'm hoping Sony or Apple take up the slack. Sony seems terrible with its marketing these days, so I'm hoping it'll be Apple.

So did I get the soap right? :)

anne frasier said...

daniel, in the minneapolis area the big studios folded. the small one have faired much better, probably because there are so many small, local bands.

i think it was the sony reader my agent was really excited about 8 months ago, and i really haven't seen much about it. that must be the poor marketing your talking about. apple could certainly pull it off, which would be fantastic.

the soap? yes, dammit!!! :D

actually, that sounds like a great combination of scents. must go to whole foods tomorrow....

M. G. Tarquini said...

Yeah, permanent. I mean, you don't want to be calling anybody a bimbohead, or telling 'em they couldn't write their way off a left-handed desk. Second you do that, along will come the Evil Wayback Machine to make a permanent record. There it will sit, moldering until the day 60 Minutes shows up at your door dragging the dead body, wanting to know what you have to say about it.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I like there being no 'us' and 'them' for the most part. Although I think some booksignings still do well, although if more groups worked together they'd do better. I used to belong to a local mystery writer's group and as much as I don't have anything to do with them, I was suprised none of them attended Mark Billingham's events or Michael Connelly's that I saw. And I was by the door watching people come and go for quite a while at one of them, and Michael's was contained enough to see everyone.

If you can't even get the local writers to support author events in your area, they'll stop having them. But that's one thing about Wordfest - they put it up against other events and compete. If they worked with local organizations, I think they'd be even more successful. You really don't gain a leg up by stepping on the people who should actually be supporting you.

Hence my spouting off about them, though. All these local things work against each other and none of them really seem to give a damn about supporting local authors. Just seems to be one big competition. And that isn't good for anybody- it automatically splits the target audience in half and people like me who don't like shit like that only go when friends are on.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

This is fascinating, Anne. All I can say is thank god it has changed.

By the way, you seem to be blogging like crazy lately. I can't keep up.

briliantdonkey said...

Hey Anne,

I find this topic quite fascinating as well. I am afraid even with all the information out there I would be just as stumped now as you were then. If not more so.

Dangit Jason you sooooo stole my thunder. I guess great minds really DO think alike. That or you are as weird as I am. lol


Anne McAllister said...

It was a fun book, though, for those of us who actually found it!

anne frasier said...

mindy, it would be more like geraldo or springer at my door. :D

sandra, local writers here are really bad about attending signings and events. it's pretty sad.

rob, i seem to blog more when i'm on deadline!!!

anne frasier said...

briliantdonkey: so nice to see you out and about! i think it's really impossible to figure out this business, even for the people who are right in the middle of it. that's really what it comes down to. you have to do what works for you.

anne: thanks! that book wouldn't hold up now though. wow -- talk about DATED!

JA Konrath said...

I believe the more information all parties have, the better off they all are.

I also believe that we're in an age when Internet precense can fuel celebrity, whereas even five years ago writers could only become famous by writing books.

I'm curious if I'm known in the community as the writer of the Jack Daniels series, or as that crazy self promotion guy who has that blog and visited all those bookstores.

anne frasier said...

joe, you've branded yourself. i think people know you first by your name, then as the writer of the jack daniels' series, then as the crazy genius who visited all those bookstores. i don't know how you did it, and it may take you some time to recover, but i think the payback will be huge. it's going to be fun and interesting to see how far this summer takes you.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Joe, to be completely honest, I think those who have read your books know you as the author of the Jack Daniels series and those who haven't know you as the crazy promotional guy. But that's expected, isn't it?