I am reading The Novel, a fictional book written by James Michener in 1990 about a writer and the publication of his novel, written at a time when his typed or word-processed words were put on to a floppy disk to be sent to the publisher, who would mark up the typesetting and printing instructions and send the floppy disk to the printer who would translate the floppy disk onto his printing machine to do the rest. The result was a book – paper, ink and either hard or soft cover. Those were the options then.
A story and some articles I wrote in the late 90’s were sent on floppy disk to the magazine which had accepted paper versions of them, and they eventually appeared in the magazines.
But the writing was already on the wall. Michener wrote in his novel, prescient at the time, but vieux jeu now:
“If the essence of my manuscript resides in the electrical impulses on that floppy
disk, the narrative could be lifted off and distributed in almost any form that has been devised. Indeed, the time may come, and very soon, when there will be no necessity to bother with the intermediate form of a book; the material on the original floppy disk might leapfrog in some mysterious way right into the home
of the intended reader. No writer in 1990 can visualise what form his or her book might take by the end of this century.”
It took only a very few short years before his prognostication became reality, and a writer submitted his words as an email attachment, very often in the typeface and layout of his choice. Published in tangible form, on paper, or whizzed through the ether straight to an electronic device, be it computer, tablet, or e-reader.
A truly rapid revolution has enabled many writers to bypass the whole
publishing process and, by DIY, bring their work straight to the reader – directly or via the intermediate stage of paper and ink and booksellers real and electronic.
When I was studying creative writing in the early years of the century, a study buddy Harry Nicholson was writing a historical novel, sharing it via a private internet forum with a small group of fellow-students. We batted ideas, questions and suggestions back and forth daily, proofread each chapter as it came to us courtesy of the communications explosion.
When, in 2011, the parcel arrived here in France containing a pristine paper copy of Tom Fleck, the thrill was intense. It had seemed like a long process at the time, but it was nothing like as long as it would have been using traditional publishing methods. And now Tom Fleck is available on my e-reader, a truly remarkable transformation which my grandchildren take for granted, but this book-lover and poet is eternally grateful.
This rambling post was sparked by a discussion at the dVerse Poet’s Pub about what we are reading.