Then and Now

- by Patricia Rosemoor

In doing a Q&A for a writer’s group, I was asked what changes I experienced in publishing since I sold my first book in 1983.

Oh, let me count the ways…

I wrote the first three novels I sold (and a few I didn’t sell) on an electric typewriter. One of those novels was with a co-author. We traded pages, did one revision and used a lot of white out to correct mistakes…and then we bought our first computers.

Anyone remember 5″ floppy disks? We wrote our chapters and traded disks for the other partner to revise. Each chapter had to be a separate file because the computers couldn’t handle bigger files. Eventually the 5″ disks made way for the 3″ disks and publishers suddenly wanted authors to turn in a disk with their paper manuscript so the house no longer had to pay someone to keystroke in the story.  The only benefit to the authors–no pay, of course—was that we knew there would be fewer mistakes we had to catch in the line edit/copy edit/galleys.

My partner and I  wrote our first eight books—romantic comedies—for the Dell Candlelight and Candlelight Ecstacy lines. At the time, every major house had a category romance line. Or several. Harlequin was distributed by Simon & Schuster, which owned Silhouette. Bantam had Loveswept. Jove had Second Chance at Love. There were others, but after the big romance boom in the early-mid-eighties, they died, one at a time, until Harlequin—having bought Silhouette from S&S—stood alone publishing category romance. We also wrote for Harlequin and then Silhouette. There was no romantic suspense (booksellers wouldn’t know where to shelve it, for heavens sake) until Harlequin started the Intrigue line in 1984, after which single title RS took off.

As the market changed, the types of romances I/we wrote changed. During the first paranormal romance craze, my partner and I wrote for Shadows. And we wrote big romantic historical soft horror for Harper. I was writing romantic suspense for Intrigue by then, but I wasn’t allowed to add a paranormal element for years. I kept pushing, though, and eventually started writing paranormal romantic suspense.

The industry seemed to be in turmoil in my view—new editors, agents, lines dying and being created, more new editors (I’ve had 30 for 86 books).  And then my professional life changed even more drastically when my partner left writing behind to pursue a career teaching at a University.

I continued to write for Intrigue and took opportunities for a little variety by writing for Blaze and Bombshell. Then two years ago, a former grad student  and I developed a true cross genre series—an urban fantasy thriller with a romantic subplot. And an historical thread, as well. We were fueled by the success of urban fantasy, once known as dark fantasy, a subgenre of horror. And as we know, romance (and the two Bombshells I wrote) took to urban fantasy, as well. Another big change in the market.

There were more changes on the technical side, too. 3″ disks gave way to CDs and the Internet took off. Eventually agents and editors accepted files attached to emails. Paper line edits and copy edits became Word files with Comments (Del Rey/Random House) or PDF files (Harlequin). And authors were faced not only with doing their own publicity but creating an internet presence for themselves.

Web pages were joined by blogs and now social networking. The amount of responsibility on the author to produce and sell her book tripled. And as traditional book publishers were taken under fewer and fewer corporate umbrellas (i.e., media giants), both small press and Internet e-publishers began multiplying. And now the spectre of “assisted” (read: vanity) publishing has raised its head again, but with publisher support.

Even with all the changes I’ve gone through—market, author responsibility, technical—I have no idea of what my professional life might be like in another twenty-some years, assuming I can hang in there that long. Will traditional or commercial publishing hang on by its nails and continue to provide some of us a living?

Or will we be responsible for every single phase of bringing a story to readers, including being required to pay rather than being paid for our work?

When that happens, I’ll gladly retire.

One comments

  1. Patricia, I could relate completely with everything you said. I sold my first book in 1982. When I went from writing on yellow pads & an electric typewriter to a computer with two floppy disk drives, I had to get a loan on my car. Computer and daisy wheel printer cost $5000, and that was back in 1984.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.