Friday, March 20, 2009

Paper v. Electronic

Through the comment section a reader recently asked why so many agents request hard copies of a manuscript via snail mail when most editors prefer email.

Now the first thing I need to tell you is that all editors and agents are different and we do different things for different reasons. But there are a couple of different answers to your question. In no particular order...

  1. Not all agents and editors have ereaders, and for those who don't it’s easier having a hard copy manuscript to read from because, frankly, reading off a computer screen is difficult.
  2. Editing is easier, for me anyway, to do on hard copy. When reading submissions I will often read off my Kindle. When doing edits, however, I will often read off hard copy.
  3. My interns and assistants don’t have Kindles. I handle every single submission I get, but I am not necessarily the first reader on every single submission I get. I have interns and a fabulous assistant for that. In addition to generally keeping me in check, their jobs are to give me a first read and a reader’s report on many of the submissions I read. And, since they don’t have ereaders, and I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to try to read on a computer, I often request materials via hard copy.
The reader also suggested that paper manuscripts were easier to ignore and take longer to reply to. Maybe, maybe not. I guess that would depend on the agent. For me, I put all electronic queries and submissions in a special folder in my email program. A folder that’s very easy to ignore. Submissions are in tall piles directly in my line of sight on the other side of the office. As easy to ignore as I want them to be.

I don’t think it matters how your material was requested or why it was requested in a certain format. What you should keep in mind is that all of us are different, and while some agents are happily embracing new technology, others are a little more old-fashioned and prefer to read the same way they’ve been reading for years. I don’t think one is right or one is wrong. In the same way, there’s no difference between those reading books electronically or paperbound. Hey, at least people are reading books.



Anonymous said...

You know, it really becomes a question of cost for the writer. Yes, it's a business. Yes, we need to bear the expense. Yes, it just takes one yes. But for some of us, getting to that one yes means querying 40 or 50 agents. For those of us lucky enough to have a great query and some decent first pages, that means getting asked for maybe 20 partials and 10 fulls.

Paper, ink and postage on a 50-page partial runs $7-8. That's about $150 to send out 20.

Paper, ink (usually a full cartridge plus) and postage on a full ms runs about $25. That's $250 for 10.

There's $400 right there, not to mention the time and effort each submission takes. With no guarantees of even a reply, much less representation.

$400 that we won't see deducted till next year. In this economy.

What I would say to an agent who accepts only hard copies who is on the fence about my work? Please don't request unless you REALLY think the project might indeed be right for you. A writer's profit margin, should there even be one, is thin enough as it is...

Anonymous said...

I honestly think agents and editors should be doing digital on everything except fulls. I understand the need/desire to edit on hardcopy for a full. I have a very difficult time reading excessively long documents off my computer. Just from an expense perspective, I wish everyone in the industry had ereaders and could edit digitally, but that's not a practical expectation. And though anon points out the expense above, how many folks have to send out ten fulls at once? Hell, I'm happy when I get one full request. The couple full requests I've had on my current ms have been digital. I'll deal with the few bucks it costs to print out and send a full. As for queries, if an agent/editor doesn't accept email queries, I've gotten to the point now that I believe they should, and I only send to those who do. Yes, I realize it cuts out a few I could otherwise submit to, but I believe folks should be with the times to a certain degree.

Taire said...

I just don't read electronic words with the same patience or regard as the printed variety. How can I blame you for feeling the same way?

I think my novel is worth the time and money of sending a query letter by snail mail. Look how much time and money I've already spent on workshops, editors, content research, agent research and publishing trends. I hope to find another bibliophile on the other end of my query letter's journey that think it is worth opening it, unfolding it and reading it, not just deleting it with a click.

Kimbra Kasch said...

Electronic is obviously easier for the writer - but if you get a request for a partial or a full - be happy, that's my motto. It means you're doing something right.


Anonymous said...

I print my MS for the final edit. It's amazing what you spot on a printed document that you couldn't on the computer.

Yes it's expensive (I do use both sides of the paper) but this is a business and a certain amount of investment is required.

L.C. Gant said...

I've seen agents comment on this issue before, and many of them mentioned the same concerns you did. I never thought about the ereader factor though, so thanks for that insight!

I would also add ms quality as a reason I've heard for why agents request hard copies. Meaning, since email is so easy and convenient for writers, the quality of queries agents receive tends to go down.

Any Joe Schmo can whip up a query and send it via email, but since snail mail takes more work, it tends to weed out a lot of writers who are too lazy to make the effort. That's what I've read, anyway. The logic makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Great topic!

Writermomof5, you're totally right....I see more mistakes on printed copies than electronic. So, I do a lot of printing.

It's worth it. But you're right, this takes a bit of investment on the writer's side just as the future editor/agent will put in our book once it's picked up!

Cowgirl in the City said...

I agree with Taire, although it costs us a small amount initially to mail out hard copies, don't we thinkg both ourselves as authors and work is worth it? We have to acknowledge the investment, but I'm a firm believer that it'll all pay off in the end.

Thanks for the insight into the difference between digital/hard copies!


Anonymous said...

When I prep a manuscript for submission, I stock up on ink and paper and make sure I have multiple hard copies of the first 3 chapters and/or 50 pages along with copies of the synopsis, outline, et al, plenty of envelopes, etc., as well as setting up the appropriate electronic files so I can mix and match no matter what the request.

That way, when I get requests, they go out the same day.

I set up the business writing in a similar fashion -- I've got my clip file ready in both electronic and hard copy versions. When I pitch and need to submit samples or the portfolio in whatever format, all I have to do is attach the correct file or pull the clip out of the correct drawer.

Taking the time and investing the money upfront saves me time during the submission process.

I always have a hard copy of the full ready at the beginning, but I don't run extra copies unless requested. I need one as a reference copy for myself, but there's no reason to have shelves groaning will full copies.

When I take on editing or critique clients (or working on my own edits), it's much easier for me to do edits on a hard copy than on screen. My eyes just won't hold up for those kinds of hours on screen.

So, whatever the editor and agent wants, it's fine with me; I just try to be prepared and have all the variations ready at the top of the process.

As it is, I'm usually writing a new book, working on galleys for the one about to release, and marketing whatever's out there as well as juggling anthology stories, business writing, and other client work. It's got to be streamlined.

Sookie said...

While reading, I remembered the idiom, not unrelated to this subject: Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

I wonder about many things involved in publishing, but not this. While submitting work, concessions are needed, as clear and bittersweet as they can be to some. Going up, or going down, publishing is one tough hill. There is no wisdom in making it harder on ourselves.

Confucius says; to make egg roll, push it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the issue being brought up is around a 1-page query and a few sample pages, but about entire manuscripts.

Still, I would argue editing online is a skill that can be learned. Much like the writer is asked to develop skills in query writing, the agent (or writer) can develop skills in online editing.

Like any skill, it takes practice and discipline. But it can be done quite painlessly. I know. I edit book-length proposals at my day job and went from paper to electrons a couple of years ago. It's faster, it's greener, and there's never any confusion when I hand off my edits to a writer as to what a comment says because the handwriting isn't clear or what a particular editing mark might mean.

I also stare at a computer screen for 14 hours a day between the day job and writing. If the agent is concerned about eye-strain then perhaps an investment in a better monitor will help.

It seems writers are the ones who must bend over backward for agents to help make THEIR jobs easier. Shouldn't it be agents who help make their clients' (or potential clients') jobs easier?

Another Anon

Anita said...

I know this post is about fulls, but there's been a lot of writer chatter lately about whether we should be sending out hard queries to agents who don't except email queries...I think they'll be a push in snail mail queries in the next month, as writers try anything to get an agent, even {bites nails} going to the post office!

Regarding fulls: I sent an electronic full to you, Ms. Faust, and now I'm sweating that I should've mailed a hard copy. If my laundry was in an electronic folder, it would never get done. But "tall piles directly in my line of sight" will get washed.

Will my second-guessing never end?!

Traci said...

I prefer to read a true paper copy too. :-) I printed out my manuscript not too long ago and it took a whole black printer cartridge plus a quarter of another! It's only about 75,000 words (290ish pages) at this point. Any ideas for cheaper printing options?

Anonymous said...

I completely understand the hard copy preference. I can't stand reading off a computer myself and when I edit I always do it on a hard copy. In fact, I write my first drafts longhand. You can get so much more comfortable reading from a hard copy so it's not just a question of how hard it is on the eyes.
I really think this is something writers just have to understand. When you put things in true perspective, being a writer, for most of us, costs money on balance anyway. This is one of the costs, a rather miniscule one compared to the cost of our time and effort versus the income.

Anonymous said...

to Litgirl:
If you're talking about a copy you'll use for editing, I sometimes reuse earlier drafts by printing on the other side.

Rick Chesler said...

Thanks for another week of informative posts!

Buxton Kemp said...

Show me a good book that hasnt been published!! Doesn't fucking matter how you submit it grow up!!

Anonymous said...

I agree w/ the first two posters that e-mail is the way to go, esp for a short partial. My first three chapts only amount to 20 pages but they still sat on an agent's desk for months before being read.

How long does it take to skim a page or two? Not very efficient and a colossal waste of time and energy IMHO. Obviously a hard copy is just as easy to ignore.

Kathleen Dante said...

Litgirl01 wrote:

I printed out my manuscript not too long ago and it took a whole black printer cartridge plus a quarter of another! It's only about 75,000 words (290ish pages) at this point. Any ideas for cheaper printing options?

If you mean for editing/proofing purposes, I print two pages per side and use both sides (duplex printing), which would bring you down to about 150 sheets of paper.

I do most of my editing on screen, but my last pass is done on hard copy whenever possible. It's amazing the problems/repetitions that jump out at you on paper, especially when you see two pages side by side. After going through a 400+ manuscript more times than I'd care to count, the memory gets confused on what got left in or was deleted from the current version.

Word verification: bigogi
Sounds like food.

Denise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Agents are going to run their business in a way that allows them to work efficiently, and take of their clients effectively. Their job isn't to make our jobs easier. (Now, if you're a client, then you can have a conversation with your agent about how you can mutually help each other out. But that's different.)

I do understand that some writers truly are scraping by, and really can't afford mailing costs. If that's the case, I would select agents who request only e-queries and electronic submissions.