Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Changes in the Business and Working from Home

I'm having a lot of work done on my home, which in it's own way, is impacting on my office, because I work from home. But if I didn't work from home, I'd have to take time off and work from home as best I could, to supervise the work in my apartment.

I've been an agent for 20 years, and a lot has changed in the way we do business over those two decades. When I started in 1987, there were only a handful of people who could type well enough to finish a 300-page manuscript, so there were so many fewer query letters. Now, everyone with a computer thinks they can type a book. We used to get 2000 to 3000 query letters a year. Now, we get 30,000 (this is a true amout - half via emai and half via snail mail).

With the advent of the internet, I've seen the business tranformed from a paper business to an electronic one. Where once I had entire bookcases of finished manuscripts littering my office (I just cleaned out the last of them), now I just have discs.

A recent correspondence with an editor made me realize just how much things have changed.

I have just submitted an exciting two-novel series, which is well over 600 papges. I'm pretty sure I've got something really special and expect it to sell quickly (I'm actually surprised I have't sold it already, but it does take editors time to read, and then they have to have their colleagues read for approval). There's an editor I've done a lot of business with, whom I'm particularly fond of, at this one publishing company, so I assumed she'd want to see the books, but it turns out she's just not that fond of one of the books' elements, so she recommended another editor. I don't know her, but I know of her, so I called and left a message about the novels. She called back and said she wanted to see them, but that she didn't accept electronic submissions.

That gave me pause. The books were already being read at the other houses. I hadn't printed out mansucripts and made copies in years. When I did, I made it the author's responsibility, but my author was out of the country. It would be days before the copied masnucripts arrived on the editor's desk. I called her back and explained that I understood her position, but that I no longer submit manuscripts via snail mail. And I sent the book electronically to another editor at that house.

In this day and age, when you're selling at least 100 books a year, it is truly a waste of time, money and paper to do things the old-fashinoned way.

I can hear you now. What about agents who insist upon full manuscripts? I think most of us are moving toward the electonic age, but you have to be the judge of how badly you want that agent to read the ms. Weigh it like I did. For me, I'm established and there are many other editors who could read that book at that house.

8 comments:

Liz Wolfe said...

I just sent out a bunch of queries to agents and this time, I noticed that just a little more than half of them accepted email queries or had an on-line form at their website. When I started getting requests, most of the agents who requested a partial wanted it by email. Only one person requested a full by email, the others wanted it by snail mail.
It seems like just a year or so ago, querying was much more paper-intensive. I'm happy to see it becoming more electronic.

Amie Stuart said...

I remember 3 1/2 years ago when I sent out my first query there were very few agents who would accept equeries and now...wow! Talk about times a changing Don't laugh and yes this is off topic--my first computer had a 2 gig hard drive and now you can get iPods and flash drives with 2 and 4 gigs of space on them.

Zoe Winters said...

It saves the writer a lot of money in shipping at least. I've got this minor paranoia about my stuff getting "out there" somehow drifting along on the internet ether if I submit electronically, but I'm sure I'll get over it lol.

Despite this mild paranoia I am really glad to see so much going electronically. It saves so much money for the writer with paper and ink/toner and postage. I understand those are the costs of doing business, but the "starving artist" stereotype is a stereotype for a reason. And anything that lowers the cost of doing business is a good thing. :)

R.J. Crowther Jr. said...

Good God, this post was eye-opening! Thank you for putting it in persepective, and for being a champion of e-submissions. I never imagined the volume of manuscripts you receive. 30k!? Staggering.

The change to e-submissions appears to be gaining momentum on all fronts. In the past year many the SF/F/horror magazines have gone to accepting e-queries and manuscripts. Many now only accept submissions in that form. Not a surprise that SF/F editors are ahead of the curve. I met an editor that reads most mss. on her Ipod now, which allows her to do a lot of work on the subway.

I wonder, with the massive increase in submissions brought by wordprocessing and the like, does the weeding-out maxim still apply? 90% of manuscripts demonstrate no writing/grammar skills, of the ten percent that make the cut, 90% don't tell a coherent story, etc. Has the quality of submissions significantly declined now that many more people are submitting manuscripts?

Thank you for the insights.
--Rob

Rashenbo said...

I just have to think that electronic submissions are more effective and efficient. They are easier to transport and save. If you need hard copy (maybe they just like having the paper to hold and make notes on) you can get it... but for a quick scan. I'd think electronic is the only way to go.

Demon Hunter said...

Well, for me, the agent that is really interested in my series, wants me to snail mail her my full, which I am going to do! I prefer not to spend the money, but I will do whatever it takes...period!

Jenny Rappaport said...

I'll just add in, as Lori's associate, that I still request fulls in hard copy because of my vision. My vision is truly atrocious, and I have an active campaign to keep my eyes useful for as long as I can. It's a lot easier for me to read on paper than it is to read on a computer screen, which is why I suppose I'm "old-fashioned" in this aspect.

I'm not ruling out, however, that the technology will improve in the next few years, to the point where reading a full manuscript on the computer doesn't hurt my eyes. At which point, I'll happily join the electronic revolution... =)

The Editors said...

Gah!
If, once the situation was explained to her, the editor refused to make an exception and accept the ms electronically, she's only hurting herself. Even if she didn't want to print it all out, she could have at least had a look on-screen to see if it grabbed her.

We prefer hard copy too but we're not about to shoot ourselves in the collective foot just to be stubborn.