Some Good News?

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Don’t you think it’s time for a dose of good news? I’ve been thinking a lot about the industry lately and I think there’s more good news than bad these days. So many long for the “good old days,” but when is that last time you handwrote a whole manuscript? Or typed it on an old Underwood?

During the last century, in order to be published, an author would have to type his manuscript with a carbon copy, or in the pre-carbon copy days re-type his whole manuscript, and deliver it to one mysterious editor at a time. And wait. You’ve heard us use the term “over the transom” submissions referring to unsolicited manuscripts but in those days, the bundled manuscript was sometimes literally launched over an open transom into the cramped editorial office of a publisher.IMG_6874

Business etiquette was of a more genteel nature so most likely the hopeful author would have received a personal hand-typed reply. Washington Irving received the following rejection letter when he asked a long-silent editor if he could have his materials back. (Taken from the preface to The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.)

My Dear Sir,
I entreat you to believe that I feel truly obliged by your kind intentions toward me, and that I entertain the most unfeigned respect for your most tasteful talents. My house is completely filled with work people at this time, and I have only an office to transact business in; and yesterday I was wholly occupied, or I should have done myself the pleasure of seeing you.
If it would not suit me to engage in the publication of your present work it is only because I do not see that scope in the nature of it which would enable me to make those satisfactory accounts between us, without which I really feel no satisfaction in engaging–but I will do all I can to promote their circulation, and shall be most ready to attend to any future plan of yours.
With much regard, I remain, dear sir,
Your faithful servant,
John Murray

Translation: Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. I’ve been swamped. No matter how I crunch the numbers the bottom line on the proforma doesn’t work for our house. 

Much has changed over the years. Although, looking at the letter above, much has stayed the same. But let’s talk about the changes. . .

IMG_6404Since the advent of the home computer manuscripts can be printed with one keystroke and sent to legions of agents or editors at one time. For those of us on the receiving end this has exponentially increased our submissions to the point of not even being able to personally respond. They say the age of gentility ended in 1910 but in publishing, it ended with the age of the home computer.

But here’s the good news: The computer ushered in a world where the agent or editor is no longer an ominous figure locked away in a shabby walnut-panelled office somewhere in Manhattan or London. The publishing world is now transparent via the internet. Publishers, editors and agents are blogging daily, revealing all– insider secrets, systems, work-arounds and preferences. It’s all there for the taking! Can you imagine the choices Washington Irving could have made with information like this?

And there’s more good news: With social media, finding an agent is no longer a one-way street. We are constantly connecting and observing writers online. It wasn’t too long ago I commented to Janet Kobobel Grant that I was impressed by everything written in the comments section of our blog by a certain writer. I told her I was thinking of contacting the writer because if her book was half as good as her ability to connect, she’d be a great success. Janet just laughed. One of my colleagues at Books & Such had already snatched this writer up.

I can’t imagine anything like this happening a century ago unless you met an agent or an editor in person at a soiree, a salon or a dinner party. It’s an exciting new world filled with opportunities to connect in fresh ways.

Even more good news: A century ago, people didn’t travel like we do today. Writers, agents & editors gather together in person more than ever before. Forget the dinner party, you can now spend an entire week with your favorite publishing professionals, practice the craft and learn about the business of writing. Agents and editors are committed to making ourselves available at writer’s conferences. It’s my favorite way to meet writers who are willing to invest time, energy and fiscal resources in their careers.

Your turn to offer some good news. What changes have you seen that make connecting to agents and editors easier? As we become more transparent, more human hopefully, do you feel more comfortable approaching us? Do you follow any good editor or agent blogs or twitterers you’d like to recommend? Please comment below.

And yes, the first photo is my own Underwood typewriter and the second photo, my new kitty, Molly, playing on her kitty-sized typewriter.