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Friday, June 8, 2012


Author Dorothy Francis is back makes a return trip to Book Club Friday today. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, Short Mystery Fiction Society, Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, and the Key West Writer’s Guild. Dorothy’s latest Key West Mystery is Daiquiri Dock Murder. Four books in that series are now available as Kindle ebooks. To learn more about Dorothy, visit her at her website. -- AP 

 My First Steps in the Publishing World

One September many years ago, school was starting WITHOUT ME. I was no longer a student. Or a teacher. I was about to become a stay-at-home mom. Only such women didn’t rate that title back in those days. Housewife was the word. My husband had recently been discharged from the army, and we were lucky that he had a teaching job. So far he had no paycheck. This fateful day I’m writing about, he was at school, and I went to the only place I could afford—the public library.

I picked up a magazine from a reading table.  The Writer. I’d never seen this magazine before and I glanced at the articles telling would-be writers how to write. I’d never considered writing until I read an article concerning Richard Armor. I recognized that name because my parents for years had subscribed to The Saturday Evening Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The American Magazine. I’d grown up reading humorous quatrains by Richard Armor.
And that day in the public library, I learned that people WERE PAID for writing this kind of light verse. Hamm, I thought. I can do that. I won’t say I memorized that article, but I read it very carefully and I copied the market listings that the article mentioned.
That night after supper I started writing.
“What are you doing?” my husband asked.
“Writing a poem,” I replied.
He sighed. “As soon as I get a paycheck, we’ll buy a TV.”
“Really?” TVs were in their early stages of availability, and although I was impressed with his promise, I continued writing my quatrain.
We did own a typewriter, so I typed my quatrain double spaced. That was one of the rules I gleaned from The Writer. Writing on only one side of the page didn’t apply to my situation.
So I mailed the quatrain to The American Legion Magazine. In a short time (really, that’s true—a short time), I received an acceptance letter and a check for $10. I thought that was the way the writing world worked. You sent something in, and soon you received a check. No getting half of the $10 upon signing a contract. No waiting until publication to get the other half of the $10.
I hurried to the bank and cashed that check before the editor changed his mind.
My husband’s comment was “hmmmm. Better write them another one.”
And so I did. But although I never received another $10 for just 4 lines, I did receive $5 for 4 lines from The Wall Street Journal. When I told my dad, he said, “Hmmm.” Don’t think he believed me until I clipped one of my WSJ quatrains out and showed it to him. He said, “Hmmm.” Don’t think he’d ever bothered to read the Pepper and Salt column. 

Lack of family interest didn’t dissuade me. I continued writing, giving up quatrains as I took tenuous steps into children’s short stories for Sunday school papers, and then took a major step into book publishing. But that’s another story.
Please let me add that the writing world has changed since I began back in the
1950s. So far, I’ve never received total payment for anything upon signing the contract. And now my Five Star Author’s Handbook tells me to promote my own books. The author of that handbook had never met my mother who said, “Dorothy, you never need to brag. It’s unbecoming. It’s an embarrassment. If you’ve done something wonderful, people will notice without your telling them.” I hope Mother never learns that I PAID for a website to call attention to the published books in my Key West Mystery Series.
But that, too, is another story.

Thanks for joining us today, Dorothy, and giving us a glimpse of how it used to be. -- AP


jenny milchman said...

I feel it's a double-edged sword, except the opposite. Writers had to do less "back then" but there was also less potential to be discovered and read. For every website that's paid for, there are millions of readers who can discover it. I will not have been published till after the techno revolution, but all told I do feel like this age is one of the best. Except for global warming. That's another story, too ;)

DirtyMartini said...

I like the line about cashing the check before the editor changed his mind...I think I might have done the same, and yeah, things have changed and not all for the better...

Though I do appreciate spell-check and word processors for sure, and I'm quite certain my editors do as well...

About Bobbi C. said...

Hi Dorothy! What memories that brought back to me! Somehow, at the age of 12, I found a copy of The Writer magazine. Never before had I thought about people actually getting paid to write! What a concept! LOL. I even entered a few of their poetry contests, and remember that one of them was about "the human spirit." I wrote the first line "The human spirit takes flight, and flies." LOL. Luckily, my writing got better over the years--I hope.

Kelly McClymer said...

How funny. I think many of us recognize the admonition against bragging. But time has taught most of us that no, people don't really notice (or appreciate enough to pay you) what you do until you show a little pride in what you've done.

I agree with Jenny that it is an opportunity we didn't use to have. But boy is it hard work to walk the line between showcasing our work with pride and bragging/begging/boasting.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

A poem was my first writing that got published. I was in 6th grade, the only thing I remember is the last line, "As for boys, I love them all."
(I was shy back then and hardly spoke to any boys.)

The first book accepted netted me a great advance--that was the last advance. Now I'm with small presses and have to be satisfied with royalties.

Maris said...

Dorothy, I didn't start out as far back as you did, but publishing has certainly changed since the 1980s. When I was first published, Harlequin was giving gifts to its writers and to its book club members. Anyone received a gift from Harlequin lately?

And my mother said the same thing about bragging. Now my husband chastizes me for not promoting myself more. I have a web site and blog, but I still find it difficult to face-to-face brag.

Janie Emaus said...

Life sure has changed, hasn't it?
A fun blog to start my day.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for reading this blog. Yes, times have changed--and some for the good. No more carbons. No more typos that need white-out.

I'd like to hear some of your old-time writer tales, too.

Dorothy Francis

Earl Staggs said...

I think we all grew up thinking all you had to do was write a good book and the publisher did everything else. Now, we have more freedom and control over our work, but a lot more we have to do on our own. I can't say which is better, but one thing's for sure: it still begins with writing a good book.

shelley freydont said...

Lovely way to start my day. It's sounds so nice from today's feverish times. Except for the $10, though now that I think about it, ten dollars for four lines divided into 400 pages of 30 lines. hmm . . . .

Anonymous said...

This was fun! How the times have changed re bragging on one's self!!! Now, it's a constant contest as to how much can you sell yourself and get your face out front there and if you are a shy wallflower time leaves you on the wall in the corner. As a former Girl Scout I find this brag as you go world is hard - anyone else agree with me? Thelma Straw, in the middle of Manhattan Bragville!