And The Changes Keep Coming Faster

In 2010, Red Room asked writers to write about getting older...and, as it does today, when the discussion swung to publishing, many lamented the changes that they were seeing. I had a slightly different take. I still do.  That much hasn't changed.

Give Me New Tech

I love that episode of NCIS where the power is knocked out and the team has to go all "old tech" (Polaroid cameras, visually comparing fingerprint cards, etc) to solve the crime. The boss is gleeful because he hates the computers and the rest of the crew are frustrated. At the end, they all acknowledge that they can indeed get the crime solved this way. It just takes longer and the work is much harder. 

One of the things I've seen as I grow older is how much easier publishing has become with "new tech." During my college days, a software package called Pagemaker was changing how newspapers and magazines were created. A number of my early editors and bosses swore that the computer and the Aldus software would never catch on with serious publications. The typewriter, the Linotype machine, the hot wax machine (for sticking down copy on layout boards), and so on were the only professional way to produce printed materials.

After college, I worked on one of the last magazines in town put together in the "traditional way," a  weekly covering the waterfront industry. I burned my wrists continually on that waxer, had to wait for the linotype guy to show up to make a one-word correction to the copy (unless I could slash together something with a judicious cutting of the exacto blade), drove flats across town to the printer (including one memorable night when I shoved a flat under the wrong delivery dock door and down an elevator shaft), and, in general, produced a magazine in the way that my grandfather, a newspaper editor during the Depression, would have recognized.

Today, of course, that's all gone. Along with many of the newspapers and tiny magazines where I wrote my earliest stories. I miss the printed pages, but I don't miss the waxer, the linotype, the typewriter, and the other slow ways of putting together newspapers, magazines, and books.

These days, one small laptop can handle all those chores and, then, with press of button, go whoosh across town to the printer. No more shoving flats under doors at midnight and losing them down the elevator shaft!

Do You Remember the Daisy-Wheel?

My attitude of changing technology being good for writers may be inherited.

When I was growing up, my mother typed her novels on a Smith-Corona with carbon paper copies. In those days, those smudgy pages were the back-up. If the editor dumped coffee on your precious pages or lost your book in the mail, you had to retype it into a clean copy and send it back to the publisher.

Eventually, Tandy came out with a dual-disk personal computer that we brought into our house with much excitement. My mother even paid extra for the daisy-wheel printer to make her publisher happy. (For the writers of this century:  The computers of the early 1980s came with dot matrix printers and nobody in New York would accept "those" print-outs as submissions. So professional writers  paid extra for a daisy-wheel that mimicked the Selectric typewriter. And thus the editors saw that the manuscript had been professionally "typed" and were happy).

But my mother was handling "hard copies" of manuscripts as required by her NY publishers (Dell, Avon, Scholastic, and so on). There, somebody else retyped the complete manuscript into a format that could be turned into a book. These transcription typists were very good, but errors could creep in.  So paper galleys were sent back to her and the editors, which had to be marked with a pen, bundled up into a box, mailed  back, retyped, requiring more waiting,  then "blue lines" (final copy, blue ink on blue paper) were mailed out to check to see if the editor had caught all the corrections and the typist had typed them into the manuscript, more marking, more mailing, and then more waiting until the book was done.

When I started writing books about collecting children's books with my mother, we were overjoyed to find a publisher who let us submit our manuscript on a floppy disk! This speeded up the process, although we still had to send a print copy as well as the disk through the mail. We still waded through the usual rounds of galleys being mailed back and forth. Also, our scans of book covers couldn't be submitted on the disks available to us (the digital files were too big) so we had to send actual color prints to be rescanned on their end. Which caused a number of color correction headaches, but was less difficult than shooting film and submitting negatives.

Eventually we both invested in zip drives, and then CD drives, that let us mail off an entire book, graphics and all, contained in one slim envelope.

These days, I write my books on a laptop. My mother grabbed rights back from her NY publishers, converted her old paperbacks into digital copies, and now republishes them herself as ebooks. Neither of us wants to go back to the "old days" of producing books. And the typewriter is just a hipster decorating item on the top of the bookcase.

Can't wait to see where this revolution goes....



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