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Tales from Ye Olde Dayes

There are several conversations that recurred with almost alarming frequency back at the bookstore. We're talking 1988 here, so no big chains (there were some pocket-sized Waldenbooks and the beginnings of Crown), no internet (Arpanet was old, universities and many companies had email, but it would be years before we faced Eternal September) and verbing nouns was not yet a thing.

Any question booklovers had was likely to come up over and over again, to the point where I had some streamlined answers just as useful as any sweeping generalization is when discussing complex situations. (That is, not very, but can be amusing.)

How to Get in Touch with an Author
Unless they were that rare breed that regularly showed up at conventions and socialized, the most commonly successful method was the Three Envelope system.

Innermost is a friendly and professional letter from you to the author, briefly covering what your interest was (invite to a convention? request for an interview? set up a signing? help with your homework (more common than one would think)?). Alongside it is a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope so that if the author chose to reply and didn't want to phone they could easily do so.

Those both go into an envelope with proper postage, and the authors name, but the address area left blank. A polite note goes alongside this, requesting the publisher to complete the address and send the envelope on its way.

Those go into the exterior envelope, which is addressed to the publisher of the author's most recent books, or one you feel will be likely to pass the package along.

This method was by no means foolproof, as the outer parcel sometimes never made it out of the publisher's hands, and the second envelope sometimes just joined the drifts of unopened mail at the author's house. but it worked more times than not.

That was back when there were about 15 publishers producing speculative fiction, and perhaps 100 to 150 titles per month on the outside.

These days I have trouble estimating the number of new titles coming out, and the pool of authors to contact is at least orders of magnitude larger. Thank goodness for the internet.

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alicebentley
Alice Bentley

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