Sunday, 29 January 2017

We’ve Never Had It So Good!

Earlier, the thought was posed to me that the process of submission for the working or prospective writer is so very much more doable now than it used to be. I remember photocopying manuscripts and sending them off in envelopes many years ago, and if that model is applied to the present day the equation changes – a lot.

There are still places which accept printed submissions, but they are in the great minority. The electronic revolution has streamlined everything – not only do we have the means for instant submission via email, we have escaped the whole cycle of printout, package it, post it, then wait for a physical response. Now, obviously, the time saved is the first thing you think of, but what about the cost?
Assuming at least a dollar’s worth of paper and ink for a fairly typical short story, you can add on the cost of an A4 envelope plus international postage by air… A cursory check of present postal services did not find the old “large letter” rate and services for packages by economy air from Australia to the US, where most of the market outlets are, begin at over $15. If manuscripts were unlucky enough to fall into that category, well, you can already see it’s an expensive game. Let’s say it was only half that, it’s still steep enough the average writer would be rationing submissions to a certain number per week, and feeling the pinch. The submissions I’ve made in the last year would have set me back thousands, and thus been impossible.

Email has changed everything. Functionally free from one day to the next, instantaneous – one can make submissions without any constraint on cost or time. We live in the age of the overnight rejection, which is a stressor all by itself, but at least we don’t suffer a hefty price tag associated with it, because the evaluation criteria would be just as stringent. Perhaps the simplicity of modern submission means editors are bombarded with material as never before, but at no time in the past was it exactly easy to get into print. The crestfallen writer papering the walls with rejection slips might be a stereotype but it was rooted in a very common reality.

The internet is a dimension of our lives we could not properly imagine back in the 90s, when so much was still traditional. I’m composing on a computer which is internet-linked, and will post this text on a “web-log” and then advertise it on “social media” to reach my readers with reflections on how I use the same tools to create and channel product to outlets… It’s almost a science fiction story all by itself, a scenario the old-time writers did not predict, though by the 1980s the “personal computer” was starting to appear and it was confidently expected a day would come when everyone had one in the house. How times change! Where will the next twenty years take us? There’s a challenge for the current generation of writers: what’s next?

Cheers, Mike Adamson