Grace's Mosaic Moments

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reminiscences of Controversies

For those who are still wondering what was wrong with the romance cover 
featured in my previous blog: the lovely, languishing heroine has three hands.

 ~ * ~

Reminiscences of Controversies

In my life before the Romance Writers of America, I must admit to a controversy or two. I can distinctly recall telling people in Connecticut, when I was a young wife and mother, not to put me on any committees as I was inclined to be too vocal. (Which, alas, was all too true.) And I got into it on an environmental issue when a neighbor (on Long Island Sound) wanted to build a deck on a rocky outcropping, which was partially below mean high water. Had to go all the way to Hartford for a hearing on that one. I won, by the way. But mostly I lived a pretty peaceful existence until I joined RWA somewhere around twenty years ago. And began to discover how far outside the box I really was.

I had been editor of a small publishing company for a number of years, and when I learned RWA chapter contests were still advocating Courier 10 at 25 lines to the page, I nearly choked. Courier, a hold-over font from the 19th century? They had to be kidding. I admit we'd had word processing computers only about ten years at that point (not counting the ones before PCs), but, well, really . . .? 

I sighed and tried to conform, but using ugly old Courier with underlines for italics when the modern author could write in Times New Roman with real italics . . .? My solution? I only submitted to contests which did not specify a type font. And I gritted my teeth every time some other author complained that people using TNR were able to submit more words! Well, boo-hoo, so could they if they'd just get up out of their rut. (The johnny-come-latelies to publishing are undoubtedly dropping their jaws in astonishment. There was a time when TNR was frowned upon, considered "cheating"??? Oh, yes, a very long time, in fact.)

And then I discovered the multiple points of view I'd used in my first three books were a no-no. Since just about every book I'd ever read had multiple points of view, this was a shocker. But, according to RWA, romance readers wanted to concentrate on the hero and heroine, so that's what New York publishers were buying. Oops. In this particular case I struggled to remake my style—after all, we all like to make money, and the income from e-books at that time was pretty slim.  The almost immediate result, a sale to Kensington. And then at an RWA conference workshop, I learned that Signet (a division of Penguin Putnam) was looking for traditional Regencies, and, lo and behold, I'd found my niche. In that particular sub-genre of romance, I could write Regency and use multiple POVs!  [Of course that didn't last long. I was sailing along at Regency #6 when sex shoved the closed bedchamber door into Never-Never Land. Translate that as : both Signet and Kensington dropped their traditional Regency lines, and I was unemployed.] 

To get back to multiple POVs, over the last decade some publishers have become more flexible about POV, but the controversy hasn't gone away. Only a year or so ago, I had a Romantic Suspense rejected by a major e-publisher because it had more than four POVs. (Although another major e-publisher accepted it without a murmur.) Note to all authors out there - be careful you write in the style expected by the publishers to whom you're submitting.  

As you've guessed by now, I'm not a conformist. To laws of the land, yes, but not to traditions that need to be broken.

And then came the moment my mother, a very successful author of children's books, handed me a newspaper article on e-publishing. What? But it helped prepare me for what would happen only a year or so later. I had entered RWA's Golden Heart contest (for unpublished authors) with a Regency Historical titled Tarleton's Wife. Evidently, one of my judges was about to start an e-publishing company, and about two months before RWA's national convention, I was asked to help inaugurate the company by allowing them to publish Tarleton's Wife.  There was no way I was going to turn down such an offer, of course. I felt like a true pioneer. And, after all, if my highly knowledgeable mother thought it might be the wave of the future . . .

Tarleton's Wife finaled in the Golden Heart. I went to Chicago for the RWA convention (1999, I believe), where I met my publisher and her gal Friday. And on the night of the awards, my publisher was the person I chose to sit with me "down front." All finalists were asked to prepare an acceptance speech so we wouldn't be caught flat-footed before the microphone. And I did exactly that. Which is how I happened to stand before the entire assembly of Who's Who in RWA and proclaim that Tarleton's Wife had already been contracted and would be published that December by the e-publisher, Wings Press.  To tell you the truth, I had no idea I would provoke the enormous gasps that rang through the auditorium. No idea I was treading on sensitive toes or that it would be literally years before RWA recognized e-publishing, and even more before the true significance of e-publishing began to sink in.

Controversial? Oh yeah!

Those were tough years, while authors involved in the early days of e-publishing attempted to help others understand this great new medium of expression. I joined EPIC, the RWA of electronic authors. I wrote articles, which were posted to my website. (Blogs hadn't come along yet.) And everywhere we had to contend with put-downs from people who confused e-publishing with vanity publishing. No matter how frequently we told people we got royalties from a legitimate publishing company . . . Well, you get the message. To wean over readers, e-pubs had to go the paperback route as well as offering downloads, and to many skeptics POD (Print on Demand) became a dirty word. Poor e-publishers, they just couldn't win. 

But gradually e-pubbing grew, and in another effort to lure traditional readers, the e-reader was born. The first one, with its backlighting, was a marvel. I loved it. But like the legendary Tower of Babel, e-pub split into what seemed like a hundred directions, each new e-device putting out books in its own exclusive language. And causing e-publishers no end of anguish as they struggled to make books available in whatever computer language their readers needed. No wonder so many of the early e-pubs didn't make it.

But I get ahead of myself. I searched for some of my early articles on e-publishing and found them interesting, and sometimes amusing. How much I got right - and how much I got wrong!  Here are some excerpts from an article written sometime around 2000-2001 (unedited except for an occasional note):

"When Gene Roddenberry created the world of Star Trek, he envisioned a future where all information was retrieved from computers. Whether displayed on a monitor screen, a hand-held device, or spoken aloud, information on paper had become obsolete. Classic printed books were treasured artifacts.

TV viewers lapped it up; imaginations caught fire. A generation weaned on Star Trek set about making Roddenberry's vision a reality. Yet I doubt if anyone expected the changover to all-electronic information to gain a serious foothold in our lifetime.

But it's happening. Just look around. The Web, no longer tethered to a wire, surrounds us, providing instant worldwide communication and information. Is it the great marvel of our age? Or are we caught in an infinite spider's Web, irretrievably tangled with no hope of escape?

Do we want to escape? Do we want to escape television, airplanes, the telephone, cars, electricity, flush toilets—each, in its day, a startling innovation?

You get the message.

Bill Gates in his 1995 book, The Road Ahead, declared that the Internet—the Information Highway, as he called it—would become a dominant force in our lives. Not in the negative sense of Big Brother, but as a connector to a vast world of information, services, and communication. If you're reading this article, you are "online." You are already part of the Information Highway, the World Wide Web—the Internet. Would you give it up? Lose your ability to have instant communication with distant children, parents, your old school buddies? [Note: This was written, I believe, before Facebook.] Lose your instant ability to check the sports scores, research clothing in Medieval Times, print a map, order a gift basket for Aunt Tillie, download a book to read, chat with someone in New Zealand, even Anatarctica?

In 1997, when the Internet was a scant six years old, a group of experts got together to predict the dollar amount which would be generated by the Internet in 1998. They decided on a figure of eight billion. When the numbers were totaled at the end of 1998, the actual figure was one hundred two billion." [Note: What the figure is now, is beyond my imagination!]

[Several paragraphs skipped here about music downloads and What are e-books & e-readers.]

And then I wrote:

". . . . Until the major tech companies settle on a universal download format and produce e-readers at a reasonable price, most people who want to cuddle up with a book are going to stick to print."

[Note: I scorned the Kindle when it first came out because it wasn't backlit, but it was the device that won the blue ribbon from the public and pushed the e-book industry into an age of exponential growth. I've had one for more than two years now and never read books any other way.]

I went on to write:

"The catch phrase to remember? . . .
The Internet is not a fad. The Internet is the future. The future is NOW."

 I ended my highly controversial (at the time) article with a quote from Bill Gates:

"We are watching something historic happen, and it will affect the world seismically, rocking us the same way the discovery of the scientific method, the invention of printing, and the arrival of the Industrial Age did. . . . Some people will seize upon the setbacks and proclaim that the [information] highway never really was more than hype. But on the highway, the early failures will just be learning experiences. The highway is going to happen."

Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. New York: Penguin, 1995. 

 ~ * ~ 
 "Reminiscences of Controversies" will continue next week.

Blair's Free Book Schedule on Amazon Kindle

Death by Marriage                                 Tuesday, May 14

Florida Knight                                       Tuesday, May 21

Limbo Man                                           Tuesday, May 28

Orange Blossoms & Mayhem                   Tuesday, June 4 

For covers and blurbs of the books above, click here.

Thanks for stopping by.


1 comment:

  1. Grace, that was wonderful! I am finding as I get older, that I love to go back and read things I wrote when I was younger. Such enthusiasm! Such opinions! Such bullsh--well, sometimes I was a bit full of myself. ;-)

    I do remember the scorn hubby & I met the first e-readers with. Oddly enough, at the time, I was reading fan fiction online. I always claimed, though, that I liked a "real, honest-to-God paper" book to read, that nothing beat the feel of it in my hands, the smell of the paper, the look of it.

    Hubby is still (ironically, as he works with computers for a living) a paper book holdout. I currently do a lot of my reading in two places--the treadmill and the bathroom. In the bathroom, I have my paper books, because I have an onus about bringing electronics into the "place of much water". However, on the treadmill, I use another of my "finally broke into the 21st century" devices, my smartphone. I downloaded the Kindle app and happily read away for an hour while I walk--learning about finances, about writing, and also just enjoying a good fiction.

    BTW--Thanks for telling us what was wrong with that last cover. It's amazing how our minds just sort of fill things in to what is correct sometimes. I never saw the third hand until you pointed it out and now it's all I can see. LOL!