I've been thinking a lot lately about how the process of submitting to an agent has both changed and remained very static with the advent of the internet. Specifically, I'm wondering about the tradition of agents requesting a partial manuscript and then, if they like it, a full.
Now, I understand why this made sense in the old days, when writers had to print out and mail everything; it would be a waste of paper and effort to send an entire 400 page manuscript if the agent was only going to look at the first 50 pages before rejecting. However, now that many manuscripts are sent using the internet, there doesn't seem to be a difference between sending a complete manuscript vs. a partial. Wouldn't it save agents time if they simply requested full manuscripts for every query that interested them? That way if they liked the first 50 pages they wouldn't have to request that the author send them more materials and they wouldn't have to wait for the rest of the manuscript to arrive. And it's not as though they would have to read the entire manuscript; the agent could still just read the first 50 pages (or less) before deciding to reject.
Is the process really more for the author's mental health? Meaning, the query-->partial-->full process has several indicators to the author of the agent's interest before ever reaching the point of offering representation, one of which would be taken away if partial requests were eliminated?
Interesting question, especially since it comes from the author’s perspective. I am constantly rethinking my submission process and how I personally do things. I have to admit, though, most of my decisions are based on my own mental health and not the author’s (although I do try to take the author’s mental health into consideration when writing my rejection letters).
I know there are some agents who will request the full right out of the gate for that very reason: they don’t have to wait for more. And there are agents who are entirely electronic as well as those who prefer hardcopy in all things (including queries). I fall somewhere in the middle. My interns and my assistant do a lot of great preliminary reading for me. I find their reports invaluable in helping me review proposals. After all, it never hurts to get a second opinion. For that reason I still request about 50% of my submissions via snail mail. How those requests are made have little to do with my enthusiasm for a project and more to do with timing. If I’ve requested a lot via email the next batch of requests will be snail mail. And honestly, these days my snail mail proposals are getting read at a faster rate because I have the interns to keep up with.
I do agree that it makes perfect sense to request a full instead of a partial, but I can’t get myself to go there yet and it’s entirely psychological. The sight of a stack of fulls (even if they are sitting in my Kindle inbox) is intimidating. That’s a lot of reading. The same stack of partials feels much more manageable. And I guess I’m also a little old-fashioned at times. I like the idea that a full request is still something special and means that you’re getting to that next level. I know, that’s silly, but sometimes I’m silly.