Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oh, Have Times Changed

Today, author Maris Soule joins me with a look back into the history of romance and mystery writing. Welcome, Maris.

Thank you, Terry, for asking me to be a guest on your blog. I tried to come up with something exciting to write and failed, but since I have been around this business for centuries (okay, maybe it’s only been a few decades), I thought I’d mention a few of the changes I’ve seen.

I started writing in 1979 with lots of desire and no experience, not even a major in English. (I have a BA in art.) I didn’t even know what kind of book I wanted to write; I just knew I liked happy endings. And boy were my first two tries terrible. But I was lucky. Within a year I found an agent willing to work with me (yes, they did that back then). She was wonderful, and I learned a lot from her. Because of her help, within three years she’d sold a romance of mine based on a synopsis and three chapters. Nowadays, most new authors need a completed manuscript.

Back when I started, romances were told in third person, solely from the heroine’s point of view. The hero was older and wiser and there to rescue the heroine. They didn’t make love unless they were married, and then it was primarily behind closed doors. My first book was the giveaway to introduce Harlequin’s “hot and sexy” Temptation line. In 1983, this was a big breakthrough; today that book would almost be considered a sweet romance. Today there are no restriction on point of view, the heroine is more apt to rescue the hero than the other way around, and she might even be older than he is.

Keep Reading...

In the very early 80s, RWA and Sisters-in-Crime didn’t exist. Women mystery writers were ignored by reviewers and romances were routinely called “bodice rippers.” Through the efforts of many female writers (and a few men) both organizations have flourished and done a great deal to change the public’s perception. (Not that they’ve completely eliminated the stigma against romances or female mystery writers.) Conferences, contests, articles, and specialized groups within each of those organizations have allowed new writers to learn the craft and hone their skills. What pleases me is rather than being a cut-throat industry, it’s become supportive.

In 1984, I bought my first computer. I was delighted. Cut and paste no longer involved scissors and tape.
My IBM’s 128 K of memory (which cost a mere $4000) allowed me to change or delete sentences at will, and I could save an entire book on half dozen floppy disks. Whoopee! Sending out a “clean” copy didn’t mean using white-out or involve a trip to Kinko’s. By comparison, last Christmas I received a new computer (I’ve gone through 4 so far). This computer has 288 GB of memory, cost much less, and I can copy all twenty-six of my published books (along with several unpublished manuscripts) on a flash drive no bigger than my thumb.

I ventured onto the Internet in 1994. I remember looking for a romance writers group and finding myself in a “chat” room with some rather suggestive types. I wonder where I would have ended up if I’d typed “mystery writers?” Back then, on-line groups were just forming, writers’ Web sites were a rarity, and blogs unheard of. Up until the mid-nineties, correspondence with agents and editors was by telephone or letters. The Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc was just being formed, and anyone could claim to be an agent. (Actually, I’m afraid that hasn’t changed.) For a long time there was no way to check the person’s credentials (other than ask around). Now a new writer can go to Preditors and Editors or check with MWA, SinC, or RWA to see if any complaints have been lodged against an agent. And most agents and publishing houses have Web sites.

The biggest change, in my opinion, is that publishing companies have been gobbled up by huge corporations, massive numbers of small publishers, distributors, and independent bookstores have disappeared. Book cover prices have soared. On the positive side, trade paperbacks have become more popular and e-books are showing respectable sales. However, cuts in staff have left editors with little time to edit, which means that job is being left to agents…and to the writer. Writers are being asked to do more and more promotion and to get at least one book out a year. More if they want name recognition.

In the last thirty years, the Industry has changed and so have I. I’m older and hopefully a little wiser. When I started, I wanted to capture the tension and excitement of a new romance, but I’ve always loved reading mysteries and even my romances started including a bit of suspense. Lucky for me, the mystery genre, as well as the romance genre, has grown and changed. Writers of thrillers have formed a new group. Mystery categories have developed sub-categories and crossed genres. There’s a spot for everyone…even me.

There are times when I think twenty-six published books is enough, but then a new story idea starts playing in my head and characters refuse to be ignored. I know then that I have to write down what they say because the one thing that hasn’t changed is my desire to write.

You can find out more about Maris, her books, including her most recent release, THE CROWS, on her website.


Jodi Lynn Copeland said...

Maris, how wonderful to *see* you!! I hope things are going great for you. :)



Kathy Otten said...

Wow, it's amazing how many changes you've seen in the industry. Hopefully, those of us just starting out will be in your shoes one day. Congratualtions on all your success.

Liane Gentry Skye said...

What a wonderful post. I truly enjoyed your perspective on the growth of the industry. More impressive is your ability to change alongside that growth so that you keep on selling books. WTG!

Maris said...

Thanks for the hug, Jodi.

The industry has changed over the years and to continue publishing, a writer must change, but I think many of those changes have been for the better and have allowed writers more freedom of expression. Maris

Anonymous said...

I started writing in the late 70s too and sold my first romance in the 80s. I've seen all the changes you mention. The biggest change, of course, is that agents now charge 15% instead of 10%. That is such a rip-off. They said they needed it because expenses were going up. but ALL EXPENSES are, and worse for writers. Agents have always been able to deduct office expenses, whether typewriters or computers. But these days writers can't get by with a typewriter and paper. They need a computer, internet access, fire-wall protection, a website, et. etc. I hate to complain, but the truth is agents make more money than the authors. Taint fair.

Anita Birt said...

A very interesting post giving us historical details of the how romance novels have evolved. I don't know Maris but shall look for her books now I've met her.

I remember thinking I could write a romance - dead easy. I wrote a whole book and sent three chapters to Harlequin waiting for the acceptance. Of course, it was rejected. No wonder, it was badly written, etc. etc. I have evoloved!

Mary Ricksen said...

I think writing is an evolution too. The more you write the better you get. So what does that say about your books Maris?
Great post!

Maris said...

Thanks for the additions to my post. Agents had raised their commissions to 15% by the time I started writing. And I paid an annual fee for office expenses. As for my writing, I hope it's improved over the years. It definitely evolved from making love to killing people. (Blame that on my husband retiring.)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Maris,

Great article. As someone who's written for a long time as well, I kept nodding my head in agreement. I also love romantic suspense.

Jacqueline Seewald
THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star/Gale, Wheeler large print
coming this month: THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star--check it out on Amazon and your local library

Ray said...

Great post. I've seen the changes in writing from a reader's perspective. I quit reading men's adventure stories and switched to mystery and romance in about the mid eighties. Before that it was a mix. Some of the writers I found are still with me year after year.

I just checked out The Crows. I think I just found a new author.


Linda LaRoque said...

I so remember reading those bodice rippers and watched how romances changed through the 70s and 80s. I didn't start writing until the 90s and it took 14 years to get published. I enjoyed your post.


Maris said...

My thanks to all who read my post and left a comment. Good writing and reading to all.