I was editing a proposal for a client recently and thinking how much has changed in the fifteen years since I first started working in publishing Really I was thinking about how slow things used to be, and while I know many of you will say things are slow now, you should have been around fifteen years ago.
Fifteen years ago an author would finish a book proposal or manuscript. She would proofread, revise, and edit. Then she would head down to the nearest office supply store, buy paper, and print out 50 to 400 pages. She’d then carefully bind it together with either a rubber band or binder clip, place it in an envelope, drive to the post office, and mail it off to her agent. The material would arrive on her agent’s desk roughly 2 to 5 days later.
Now the author finishes the book proposal or manuscript, proofreads, revises, and edits. She then hits “Save,” opens her email program, types in her agent’s name, hits the “Attach” icon, and then “Send.” The material arrives on her agent’s desk roughly 2 to 5 minutes later.
Fifteen years ago the agent would unwrap the package, pull out the pages and a blue or red pen, and read while making notes and marks all over the pages, and possibly composing a letter in a notebook at the same time. Once finished, the agent would sit down at the computer or typewriter (and yes, this is what we had in the office when I first started in publishing) and compose her revision letter using the notes in the notebook. The agent would then bundle up the entire package in an envelope and send it off to the author for arrival 2 to 5 days later.
Now the agent opens her email, opens the attachment in Word, or some other word-processing program, turns on track changes, and begins reading and editing. She make her notes in the margins of the manuscript and tracks any changes she makes. While making the changes the agent (or me) writes notes on overarching problems in an email to the author. When she’s finished editing, the manuscript or proposal is attached to the email and sent off to the author for arrival 2 to 5 minutes later.
Fifteen years ago, when a manuscript was ready to go out on submission, the agent would send a copy to the printer and have roughly six copies made. Once those copies were back from the printer, they would be collated into boxes with a query letter that had been written six different times and printed. The manuscript boxes would be placed in envelopes and hauled to the post office for mailing. The submission would arrive in the editor’s mailroom roughly 2 to 5 days later, to be delivered to the editor a day or so later.
Now the agent prepares six different submission emails and attaches the manuscript to each email. The emails are then sent off to the editor for arrival on the editor’s desk 2 to 5 minutes later.
I have to admit, I don’t miss those days.