April 2, 2016 is a milestone anniversary for me. It was on April 2, 1991 that Tracy Farrell from Harlequin Historical phoned to tell me they wanted to buy my first book, A WARRIOR'S HEART. I had volunteered in my daughter's kindergarten class that afternoon, so I didn't get the call until 4 pm. It remains a vivid memory to this day.
So, what's changed most in publishing in those 25 years? The arrival of a little thing called the internet, with both good and, from this author's point of view, not-so-good results.
First, the good:
No more having to reach for that dictionary, thesaurus or research book I may or may not have handy to check a word or a date. No more spending days isolated from other writers, waiting until the next meeting of romance writers or a critique group to find a sympathetic ear. The world of research and writers is at my finger tips -- and so are a vast array of writing and marketing tips.
Self-publishing. Although I haven't ventured into self-publishing (except for a free novella on my website), this has opened the door to a wider variety of stories for other authors. No more having to be subject to editorial notions of what will or will not sell. Mind you, before I sold my first book, a medieval historical romance, I was told many times by many people that medievals will never sell. My latest book (SCOUNDREL OF DUNBOROUGH) is a medieval and I've written many more medievals in between, so those dictates were never really carved in stone. Nevertheless, it sure could be tough finding an editor willing to look at something "different."
Digital sales. It used to be that a category romance had but one month to be available on store shelves (a concept that I had to explain many, many times, often to no avail). Now they can be available in digital format forever. Unfortunately, not all of my backlist books are available, including A WARRIOR'S HEART, but many of my older books are.
Reader reviews. Back in the day, when there were only one or two publications that reviewed romance, it was easy to believe that whatever a particular reviewer thought, all readers would think. And thus a bad or mediocre review was to die a thousand deaths. One thing the online world has shown me is the sheer variety of reactions to any particular book. And that's a good thing.
Reaching readers. In the olden days, if an author wanted to have a newsletter, that meant printing and mailing and a lot of time and effort. Now it can be done online. And there are blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and more ways to reach readers. It's a do-it-yourself PR bonanza! And it's (relatively) FREE.
Saving trees and fees. Back in the day, a finished manuscript was a big pile of paper that had to get to the publisher either by mail or courier. That went for revisions, copy edits and author alterations, too. I didn't want to trust my precious manuscript to the mail, so I used FedEx. One year my total billing from FedEx was over $800. Kinda makes the cost of internet service not so bad, eh?
But for all the good about the internet when it comes to a career as a writer, there are some things not-so-good, at least for me.
Too much information. What's hot? What's not? You must do this, you ought to do that, your story needs this, you shouldn't do that. And on and on. There have always been plenty of people willing to give writers well-meaning advice, but never have writers had so many sources. But unless the advice rings true to you, I say write what ya gotta write, because at the end of the day, it's your name on the story. And too many cooks really can spoil the broth by diluting your "voice," a writer's single most precious asset.
PR pressure -- whether from the publisher, agent or other writers, writers are being asked to do a lot of PR online. Here's the thing: I'm a writer, not a marketer. If I wanted to work in marketing, I'd work in marketing and (presumably) have a steadier income. (Sidebar: I will never forget the look on the face of a financial planner when I explained that I had no idea how much I was going to earn in any year. "No idea at all?" asked he in stunned disbelief. "Nope, not a clue," I replied. "None??" "Nope." He may still be in shock.)
I made the decision to do only what PR I was comfortable with and that wouldn't take away from my writing time or my family time. Should I have done more? Could I have done (or do) more? Oh, yes -- but at what cost in terms of time and attention? Still, one of my major regrets is not doing more PR at certain points in my career, when I think it could have made a difference. But that's water under the bridge now.
Reader Reviews. Geez Louise, they can be brutal!
Reaching Readers. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, right? My readers really don't need to know too much about me -- or indeed, anything -- to like my books, and there have been times I learned something about a favorite author that made me cringe and forever tainted the way I viewed their work.
What else has changed in 25 years? Forty-seven more books and novellas, covers, word counts, the editors I've worked with, bouncing from category to single title and back again, my kids grew up, my husband retired, I'm a foster grandmother and I'm going to have another grandbaby soon.
Whatever else has changed in the past 25 years, though, one thing has not and never will as long as I'm writing: I still try to tell the best possible romance I can about interesting, believable characters in a realistic, believable setting. And no, it doesn't get any easier.
This is the original cover for my first book, sold April 2, 1991, on the shelves March, 1992. It also was the first manuscript I ever completed.