History of Publishing. . .according to Earl

Long, long ago, a bunch of us were sitting around the cave telling stories to each other and a guy we called Hiero came up with an idea.

“Hey,” he said, “we should preserve these stories on rocks.”

So Hiero came up with a bunch of symbols for animals and fish and birds and people and other things. We invented a hammer and chisel and started chiseling our stories on rocks using the symbols. Since Hiero made up the symbols, we called them Hieroglyphics.

I was just a kid then, but I studied hard and became a chiseler.

Then one of the women fell on a basket of grapes and squashed them into liquid and one guy said, “Hey, we can use that to draw our stories on the cave walls.” We took some hair from a mastodon’s leg, tied it to a stick, and used it as a brush. Soon we learned to drop women on other fruits and berries and came up with other liquids. We named it ink, and soon were drawing our symbols all over the cave walls.

That went fine for a while until some guy invented something he called paper. He said, “Hey, let’s paint our stories on paper.”

A guy over in the corner named Webster said, “Hey, that’s fine, but enough with the symbols. Let’s use words. I just made up a whole lot of them and someday everybody will be using them.”

So we invented pencils and pens and started drawing words on paper. That became very popular, once you got the hang of picking the right words.

Now, some people were better than others at picking which words to use. Webster came up with a word for what we were doing. He called it writing. The ones who were good at picking the best words became known as writers. I was tired of chiseling, so I studied hard and became a writer. It was tedious work doing one page at a time, though.

A few months later — and you’ll notice I’m condensing the time frame to make this move a little faster – a guy named Gutenberg invented a machine he called a printing press. What a boon that was! Put words in a flat plate, smear ink on it, and print thousands of pieces of paper. Oh, my. We were on a roll.

Then another guy had the idea of putting those pieces of paper in a pile and gluing them together. His name was Booker, so we called them books.

About the same time, a couple of guys named Royal and Underwood invented gadgets called typewriters. That made it a lot easier for writers to write books.

That was great. Soon we had stacks and stacks of books. Remember Webster, the guy who came up with all those words? Even he got into the act. He gathered up all his words, put them in a book, and called it a dictionary.

But what to do with all those books? A guy named Barnes said, “Hey, I have an idea. I have a friend named Noble. We’ll go in together and open a store to sell the books.”

Before long, we had huge companies called publishers cranking out books, and we had bookstores all over the world selling them. The whole system needed more people to make it work, so editors, distributors, shippers, and warehousers were born. Another group of people said, “Hey, we’re agents. You writers send us your stuff, and we’ll sell it to the publishers.”

Yes, a lot of people were involved in the system, but it worked. Everybody was reading books.

Meanwhile, up in Seattle, a couple of kids named Jobs and Gates were putting things together called computers. Not the huge things big companies were using. These were small enough to sit on a desk and soon everybody had one. This made it even easier for writers to write. These machines could even communicate with each other over a web that covered the whole wide world called the Internet. Wow! Talk about progress.

Things were about to change, though. A guy named Amazon started selling books over the Internet. You didn’t even have to go to the bookstore. Just order them through your computer, and they’d be shipped to your door. This Amazon guy went one step further. One day, he said, “Hey, look what I invented. I call it a Kindle. I don’t have to ship the books to you anymore. I’ll just send you the words and you read them on this thing. We’ll call them ebooks”

Remember those guys named Barnes and Noble? They said, “Hey, we have one of those, too. We call it a Nook. Soon, there was a bunch more of them. A lot of people weren’t reading printed books anymore. They were reading ebooks in the palm of their hands. Talk about change!

More changes were coming, though. A bunch of writers were sitting around one day and one of them said, “Hey, we don’t need agents and publishers and distributors and all those people. Let’s publish our ebooks ourselves. Since all those other people won’t be getting any of the pie, we can sell them for only a couple bucks and still make more per book than before.”

And that’s how it all happened and that brings us to where we are today. Writers have a choice of going the traditional way through agents and publishers or we can publish our own ebooks.

No one knows what changes the future will bring. It could be the entire publishing industry will crumble, and we’ll go back to preserving our stories on rocks. If that happens, I’ll be okay. I still have my tools and I can be a chiseler again.

If you’ve read all the way to here, you now know everything I know about publishing.  If you’re still in the mood for reading, here are some things you can read right here.  Just click on them at the top of this page.

MEMORY OF A MURDER.  A mystery novel with a long list of Five Star reviews.  Click on it above and read Chapter One.

SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS.  A collection of 16 of my published short mystery stories in an ebook. A variety of stories ranging from hardboiled to soft to humorous.  Click on “Earls Short Stories” above for more information.  Now on sale for .99 for all ereaders.

Click on “THE DAY I ALMOST BECAME A GREAT WRITER” and read the story some say is the funniest one I’ve ever written.

There’s also “WHITE HATS AND HAPPY TRAILS” about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.

Thanks for visiting.  Good reading and good writing to you, and let’s make 2012 the best year ever for all of us.

About EARL STAGGS

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23 Responses to History of Publishing. . .according to Earl

  1. Good summary, no doubt there are those who didn’t know about all that history.

    As always, love your humor.

    Marlyn

  2. You are a funny guy, you old chiseler. I loved this post and would like to reuse it on my blog. It’s too funny not to keep in circulation.

  3. Kaye George says:

    I’d like to turn you loose on the history of the world, Earl! Methinks that last part isn’t all that condensed. I know I’m dizzy a lot lately, thinking about publishing. Fantastic post!

  4. Randy Rawls says:

    Thanks, Earl. Gee, that answered so many questions that have been dogging me since I rode my first mastodon. All except one question that continues to plague me. That word, INK. Why INK? Wouldn’t it have been better to call it SQUISH. Then we’d all be sitting around with our Kindles, Nooks, Sonys, etc. reading in E-SQUISH. Has a much better sound than E-INK.
    P.S. You might remember I asked you the same question way back when you were only a Chiseler Apprentice. You didn’t answer then either.

  5. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    Very enjoyable blog. I love your history of publishing. Now I’d like to see writers make more money!

  6. EARL STAGGS says:

    Marilyn, I’m glad you liked my little bit of whimsey. Without a sense of humor, we’d never survive this crazy writing thing we do.

    Caroline, I’m flattered you want to reuse this piece on your blog. Please do, and I hope your readers get a kick out of it.

    Kaye, the current state of publishing keeps us all dizzy these days. All we can do is hang in and do the best we can.

    Randy, I didn’t answer because you intimidate me with your immense talent and that magnificent Stetson you wear. Just for you, though, if I could go back and do it again, I’d go with squish instead of ink.

    Jacqueline, I’d like to see that, too. When you figure out how, please let me know.

  7. Thanks for giving us a laugh to start the new year, Earl. Great way to start any day. I think I agree with Randy. Squish does sound better than ink.

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      Randy really started something with the squish thing, John. First you, then Kaye George are supporting it;. The more I think about it, the more I like it. I’ll see what I can do.

  8. Polly iyer says:

    Somehow I was waiting for your chiseler to realize that the “grape” juice could be used as more than ink. Imagine reveling by the fire, grunting out stories that would be transferred to stone the following fuzzy mornings. Some things never change.

    Really a fun read. Thanks for starting my new year with a chuckle.

  9. Kaye George says:

    As one of the types who were thrown into the Squish, I’ll vote for e-squish. The two vowels make pronunciation hard with e-ink. Bad planning there! But–If they’s just start using D (for digital) instead of E, we could have d-ink. No problemo.

    Good thought, Polly. I wonder why Earl left that part out. It was obviously there.

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      Dear Kaye and Polly. The idea of using the squished grape juice to create a consumable beverage was left out only because that’s a whole nuther story that hasn’t been written. Yet.
      Stay tuned.

      Truth is, without the creation of that elementary elixir of energy and warmth, we early chiselers and writers might not have survived the cold winters in the cave. We may also not have made it through the hardest part of our job, a chore my old friend Webster decided to call rewriting.

      As Polly so wisely said, some things never change.

  10. Love this story! And I take a little bit of credit for Earl writing it! LOL

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      Sylvia, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you credit for all you do. From your early days as a squisher to your modern day cakes and critiques, you’re the best.

  11. Ginny Melara says:

    Love it! I vote for squish, too.

  12. As I take squish to electronic paper. . . . A fun story, thanks, and one that pretty well covers the subject (in a manner of speaking, um, squishing?).

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Jim, and for having some fun with me. If we didn’t have some fun along the way, this writing thing would be a longer, harder road than it is. Squish on, my friend.

  13. And yet we have all run into those who in our classes erupt whenever the word HISTORY comes up… His Story. Some ladies shout what about HERstory? Clyde in rear of room normally staring out window will shout, “History has got nuttin to do with me.” Some other kid will say, “History, we don’t need no stinkin history (lesson).

    Thanks for settting us all straight, Earl. I am going to place url on my facebook for the WORLD to learn this lesson, man!

    Rob

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      Teaching must be one of the most frustrating jobs of all, Rob. Right up there with writing and finding an agent. Now I understand they’re saying, “We don’t need no cursive writing. We got texting.” All I can say to that is OMG and WTF.

      Thanks for spreading the word to the world, bro.

  14. Earl, squished grapes should only be fermented, not wasted on the written word!
    Taken to the next step, maybe there will be no written words? Readers will go the way of the dodo bird. “Writers” will become speakers, “readers” will listen. Then one day, say December 21, 2012, almost everyone will go up in smoke. A few will survive to tell the story. Maybe chisel it in rock? And then…

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      But, Jinx, all we have to do is plant more grapevines so there’ll be enough squish for fermenting and writing. Problem solved. Anyway, if it all goes up in smoke on December 21 and we’re back to chiseling on rocks, I’ll still have work. I’m one of the original chiselers, you know.

  15. thelma straw says:

    Earl, you are one of the wisest souls I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the mystery writing world! You cut right through to the soul of meanings – and it is refreshing to read your words! Keep up the good work and continue being a beacon for your friends. Thelma Straw

    • EARL STAGGS says:

      Thank you for your very kind and flattering words, Thelma. I’m glad our paths crossed and we became friends. Warm regards to you and let’s keep in touch, for sure.

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