Book Proposals

Be a Luddite, Not a Lunkhead

I recently read a letter to the editor in a writers magazine in which an aspiring writer of advanced years bemoaned those publishers who accept only electronic submissions (via email or website).

“Surely I am not the only soul who still works with a typewriter,” the correspondent wrote. “Possibly it’s because I’m eighty-eight, but don’t accuse me of being completely out of touch.”

Well, no. Not exactly. It has little to do with age. After all, I just finished reading William Zinsser’s lovely memoir, Writing Places, published in his eighties, in which he describes the limits of his technological advancement while still maintaining a prolific output in the age of computers, blogs, websites, and ebooks.

One can be a Luddite without being a lunkhead.

Luddite is a term borrowed from early 19th-century English workmen who destroyed laborsaving machinery as a protest. Today the word is used to describe someone who is generally opposed or resistant to new technologies.

Lunkheads, on the other hand, are people who (by my definition) expect the rest of the world—including agents, editors, and publishers—to accommodate their lack of technological adaptation.

Luddites can be published but lunkheads usually can’t.

James Michener typed his tomes with two fingers on a manual typewriter. He edited his drafts by literally cutting-and-pasting (with a sharp utility knife and Elmer’s glue) drafts together. But (after the advent of computers in publishing) all was eventually submitted to his publishers in electronic form. (By the way, I consider James A. Michener’s Writer’s Handbook a treasure, which very helpfully depicts his processes for writing and rewriting).

Robert Ludlum didn’t even type and claimed not to know how to even turn on a computer. He wrote his books in longhand on yellow legal pads. But he had his secretary convert his handwritten manuscripts to computer before submitting them to a publisher.

We can’t all afford to employ secretaries, of course. But we can employ good sense in writing for publication. So go ahead and be a Luddite, if you like. Write longhand. With a fountain pen, if you like. Or write on a 1922 Smith-Corona. Or an IBM Selectric. Or rock-and-chisel. Or bamboo pen and homemade rice paper. Suit yourself in the writing process. But when it comes to submitting your work for publication, Jack, join the 21st century and do so according to the agent, editor, or publisher’s specifications—even according to their preferences, if they state them. Otherwise, you’re just a lunkhead.


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