A Look Back in Publishing


Joni Evans, formerly of the publishing world, has written a terrific little piece in the New York Times Jobs section of the good ol’ days in publishing.

Remember typewriters? Rolodexes? Carbon paper? Wite-Out®? Take a trip down memory lane to the early 1980s, before the advent of the PC, iPhones, and e-mail. Says Evans of her early life:

I started out at William Morrow as a “manuscript girl” — a promising title in the ’70s — reading everything that came into the office and distributing it to the correct editor, copy editor, proofreader, art director or sales manager. I was buried in paper: onion skin carbon paper, three-ply message pads, and manuscripts bound by three-ring binders or stuffed into oatmeal boxes.

I remember reading when Carolyn Chute submitted her manuscript The Beans of Egypt, Maine, back in the early 80s, she submitted it in an empty diaper box because she’d never heard of manuscript boxes. Do manuscript boxes still exist? Or have they gone the way of the IBM Selectric? I learned to type on one of those beasts.

Hey look what I found! A picture from an old class trip! I wonder what those guys are up to today?



18 thoughts on “A Look Back in Publishing

  1. the chaplain says:

    Believe it or not, I have an IBM Selectric in my office. I still use it occasionally to fill out forms that haven’t been computerized but require that the responses be typed.


  2. Digital Dame says:

    Hiya Chappie! If I’d known you were coming I would have baked a cake 😉

    I still own an old Brother portable electric. I guess there are a few of us left who still know how to use one of them thar’ things.


    • Digital Dame says:

      I haven’t used mine for awhile, I think I have some spare ribbons and correction tapes but once those are gone I’m probably going to be S.O.L. We forget how noisy those things are, the clicking of a computer keyboard is nothing compared to the sound of a typewriter.


  3. gypsyscarlett says:

    My first stories were written on a manual typewriter. I’d love to have one now. Not to write full, final copies. But it would be great for first drafts: no continuously going back to edit, no internet distraction.


  4. Digital Dame says:

    You know, there’s a lot to be said for that (the no internet distraction part). My little portable Brother has kind of small ribbons, though, I found I ran through them pretty quickly. I’ve often thought I need a computer separate from the one I have connected to the internet. I’m currently looking for a replacement (the one I have now is 10 years old!!) and I’m thinking of going with a laptop. That way I can take it AWAY from the internet connection to work.


  5. Rosie says:

    Hey, I recognize myself in that class picture you posted!!! 🙂

    My younger child has to take a “practical art” as a requirement for HS gradutaion, and since she is a Sr. this fall, she was foreced into something called “Computer Applications.” She is the only Sr. in the class — which isn’t too bad except one of her classmates is the little brother of a peer, and the last time she noticed him he was sitting in a booster seat at MacDonald’s. After the shock of seeing him in need of a shave wore off, she realized that she could probably teach this class herself — she’s been generating power point slide presentations herself since 6th grade and taught her parents how to upload photos and use video.

    I think it would be infinitely more practical to teach young adults how to use these old-fashioned, off-the-grid modes of technology — like typewriters and slide-rules — just in case we ever lose power/batteries/the grid goes black/(insert favorite apocalyptic fantasy here). As a believer of Murphy and his laws, I believe in the security of a back-up plan.


    • Digital Dame says:

      Yeah, Rosie, we had the whole gang there for that trip. Isn’t that McC in the background? 😉

      I’m with you on keeping the flame burning (so to speak) on how to live without power and technology. At the very least you’re prepared when power goes out during winter storms which it frequently does here, for a week or more. But we’ve discussed this before.

      Something just went horribly wrong with my computer at home, or at least one of the programs. I had loaded a calendaring program which included an address book (I don’t have Outlook at home). Well, for some reason the other day I started getting an error message I’d never seen, that “file is of an older style and needs to be converted” which it promptly did. Lo and behold, it wiped out ALL the calendar and address book entries. Gone. I’m going back to a paper day planner. 😦 I don’t even know how many addresses I lost.


      • Rosie says:

        Oh no! A mugging by technology! I keep an Outlook calendar for the office only, but still buy a bound leather date book/calendar for my real life. (which I start cruising for at Marshall’s in Oct.)

        I keep them in perpetuity as a kind of journaling. Since they come in different colors they just hang out on a bookshelf — maybe my future grandkids will find them quaint and amusing — like the diaries of folks who lived in previous centuries.


      • Digital Dame says:

        Hah, that’s cute, ‘mugging by technology’! 🙂 Luckily I have most addresses still in a real address book. The thing is so old, it’s a piece of history in and of itself. There may have been one or two in the electronic version that I hadn’t taken the time to put in the paper one, but I don’t think I lost too much.


  6. maryjblog says:

    I still have a paper rolodex, just in case. Geez, Didge, I wish you lived closer, ‘cuz the guy who tried to fix my laptop over the summer (remember when the motherboard died & the hard drive crashed?) said that for the cost of $300 worth of parts, he could get it up & running just fine. On a similar note, one of my co-workers this summer said that the Apple store near us sells refurbished laptops, and that if you tell the staff what you need the I-book for, they’re willing to find you a re-furb that will suit your needs. I went w/a less expensive, new HP, but for the purposes of basically word-processing and storage w/no internet, it might not be a bad way to go…


    • Digital Dame says:

      Well, I think it’s just kind of time to upgrade anyway. This thing is so old now, and the hard drive is so small (20 GB, yes, twenty) that I can’t even upgrade any software programs because there’s no room left on the hard drive, and I’m starting to run into problems not being able to open files that are saved in newer versions of Word. It needs RAM, probably a newer video card, bigger hard drive… by the time I get all that into a 1o year old machine… I’m just not sure it’s worth it. I’m really close to just springing for the VAIO laptop I’ve been eyeing on Amazon, but I may check around for a refurb, like you suggest.


      • maryjblog says:

        In terms of avoiding distractions, the laptop might be the best of both worlds: my new laptop is wireless-ready, and I can use it at school, or the public library, or Lucky’s, but my router at home crapped out (it was my summer of failed technology) and since I haven’t purchased a new one or persuaded the old one to cooperate, right now I use the laptop for wordprocessing only (maybe to watch the occasional DVD), and go online on my husband’s desktop. It’s a tiny bit inconvenient if I want to check a schedule or some other university info posted online, but I must admit, I waste a lot less time browsing when I should be creating documents for work. Plus, as the guy at Best Buy pointed out last summer, even the relatively cheap, middle-of-the-line machine of 2009 is way faster and has tons more memory than a top-of-the-line computer from 5-10 years ago.

        Only one question – are you paranoid, as I am, about using wireless to shop on-line, or anything that involves providing a credit-card number or personal info? I know hackers are everywhere, and if they want the information, they’ll find a way to get it, but my understanding is that its much easier for them to hack into a wireless connection. It’s only an issue, though, if we retire our desktops completely.


      • Digital Dame says:

        Yeah, even just basic browsing would be so much faster with a better graphics card and more RAM. That alone would save me time, it’s torture doing much of anything online at home with the dial-up connection.

        Even with the laptop, I’d still be hardwiring in to the net at home. I know they all come WiFi ready now, but I don’t plan to set all that up. If I want I can go to a bookstore or coffee shop and use their wireless occasionally.


      • maryjblog says:

        I really think that’d be the best of all possible worlds. Plus you can watch movies in bed, or anywhere else in the house if you want.


  7. David Kasprzak says:

    I am still looking for old machines, my printing business still uses the varitypers and composer. Any help could be greatly appreciated.

    We just dont like the computer age here at NCC Printing.


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