curious

A few days ago I was feeling vaguely cranky that someone had sent me a full manuscript when I had requested only a partial (at a conference). Someone asked me why this would be considered a problem. Since it’s late at night and I’ve just finished reading slightly over 100 queries and I think it’s bed-time or manuscript-time or something, I thought I’d see what reasons others might have to offer in response….

32 responses to “curious

  1. Just a guess, but aside from the question of the space the full manuscript takes up, sending it in fullness certainly demonstrates a less than stellar ability to follow directions. One might wonder what else the submitter has chosen to ignore.

  2. Well, it’s unprofessional. Either they misunderstood you (an honest mistake, but not a good start to a hoped-for long-term professional relationship) or they deliberately chose not to do what asked (not an honest mistake, also not a good start, etc.) If you wanted a full mss, you’d have asked for one. This is inconsiderate of your stated wishes, your business practices, and your reading load.
    Maybe I’m just feeling snippy myself today, though.

  3. I think you answered your own question: i.e., your reading load. Agents, right along with publishers, get piles and piles of queries from the hopeful; you have time to read only so much, and receiving more than you asked for is only giving you extra work.

    • But it doesn’t have to be extra work… can still read just part of the manuscript. Doesn’t justify the author not following directions, but it doesn’t have to mean extra reading.

      • I’d thought of that after I posted my comment, actually! 🙂
        You’re quite right… perhaps I’m thinking of it a bit too much with my Writer hat, trying to theorize that the person who sent in the manuscript might have been hoping to impress her more by sending the whole thing. E.g., ‘Three chapters won’t do my story justice, I should really send it all!’ But there’s an inherent assumption there that would in fact read it all, and that’s not a good assumption to make in the slightest.
        Especially if one has not followed instructions given, which I daresay will make any reasonable person just a little bit less friendly towards reading all of a submission even if the first three chapters are gold.

      • Yeah, but sometimes when it’s *there*, you feel more obligated to keep going — which is an obligation you didn’t ask for in the first place.

  4. I’m not sure whether you want to know from a writer’s point of view why we’d go overboard and send you a full manuscript, or whether you want to know whether the rest of us can come up with reasons on your behalf of why we–in agent-shoes–would find it irritating.
    All I know is I’m making a note to scour your journal for the proper bottle of wine to send with my query. Hey! I won’t even make you read a whole synopsis! Personally, I think a romance would need a dry, full-bodied Shiraz to make up for any sap in the story…
    Hah. Just kidding.

    • Errr, re-reading, it dawned on me that you said you’d requested “a partial manuscript” and not “a full manuscript”– did you use those words? I’m hard of hearing in one ear, and I often mis-hear or don’t hear at all, and only get the gist from the better-enunciated opening sound and miss the final sounds on words. If you’d said that to me–all joking in my previous post aside–at a crowded, noisy convention, I would probably catch “p…manu…” and in the rush of things, say to myself: uh, manuscript. Okay, cool, I can do that.
      When you aren’t leaning on a cane, and don’t look like you’re old enough to have grandchildren, people do not often act considerately when you say, “I’m sorry, I’m somewhat hard of hearing.” At Lunacon, I said that to two different people while trying to have a conversation in a noisy hallway, and both of them laughed. Yes. Because not hearing well is oh-so-very-funny. Nor do I want to look like I’m a distracted moron by saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t concentrate because there are seventeen conversations going on nearby and it’s all a muddle in my eardrums.” So, often people with any difficulty hearing (or even concentrating a la ADD) won’t tell you that straight up, but will hope they can catch the gist and that’ll be good enough.
      Now, if you said to the author, “please send me the first three chapters,” that’s a different story. Awful hard, even catching only some of the sounds, to mistake “fi..thr…cha…” for “manuscript.” In that case, everyone else’s skepticism about the writer’s ability to follow directions probably does apply.

      • Hearing.
        That middle ear muddle, for what it’s worth, is common.
        I lose conversations in crowds – it’s amazing how it all turns into white noise and you can’t even hear the person 3 feet away from you! Very frustrating.
        For me, this is a recent phenomenon, and I think related to aging (I’m 42 this year) but I have been asking around and find a lot of my friends report they too, experience some of this.
        I tend to drag people away to quieter areas, but this, as you know, is not always possible. Maybe we can bring the ear horn back into fashion?

  5. Because it takes up a lot more room in your office; because they didn’t follow your instructions accurately; because it’s a lot easier to handle a sheaf of 40 pages than a 400 page manuscript; because 9.9 times out of ten you’re going to reject it, so why have to deal with all that paper and weight when you don’t have to; and because it saves trees.
    How’s that?

  6. The other reasons people gave sounded good, but I would just be annoyed that it would make my mail heavier. I don’t particularly enjoy carrying in groceries. I imagine carrying in heavy mail on a regular basis might make me grumpy, especially if it were a little heavier than it ought to be because of people who couldn’t follow directions.

  7. From where I sit, it’s a sign that the writer either can’t follow directions or chooses not to, believing themselves to be the exception to the rule. Maybe it’s not a big thing, but it could be a sign that they would prove difficult to work with.
    JMO.
    B.

  8. I’m cheating a bit, having myself been in the position of receiving more material than was requested. For me, it really is mostly a question of whether or not the author pays attention to details. You’re not just looking for great books, but for a person you can partner with to build their career. If you ask for a partial, you want a partial. Not the full manuscript, not three other books and a proposal, not a letter of recommendation from their Great Aunt Sue. And chances are you’d also like them to run spell check, correct their typos, and spell your name correctly in the cover letter. Really, not too much to ask.

  9. Not following directions. Simple as that. Fasted way to annoy an editor/agent/publisher and yet so many authors can’t wrap their head around it.
    Now, I will add the caveat that being a verbal conversation, there may have been a misunderstanding and/or poor recall of the conversation. Would you have prefered, assuming this was the case, that the author contact you (phone/e-mail/mail) to clarify before sending, or just to send the whole to forestall any “Why didn’t you send me the whole thing?” demands?
    Zhaneel

  10. On the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.composition, there have been several posters who were certain that 1) proportional fonts were easier to read than fixed fonts, 2) editors were reasonable people, and 3) therefore, if the truth was explained to them, editors who had asked for certain fonts would convert and be more than willing to read manuscripts with proportional fonts. None of them were swayed by the obviously fallacious arguments of old fogies on the newsgroup.
    I think it might be a bit difficult to explain to such a person that his manuscript needed some revisions. (All those I remember were male.) If I were an editor or agent, I would prefer to work with writers who were better at listening.

  11. Here’s some easy answers:
    The author was afraid their dog would eat the manuscript.
    The author DID only send you a partial.. it’s a very big book.
    By partial, they thought the first book in the trilogy should be sent..
    OK, they were just lame, feeling very full of themselves, and just KNEW that you would want it and now you don’t have to ask for the whole manuscript, — You have that potential best-seller in your hot little hands already!
    How’s that?

  12. What they all said.
    (And if I’ve never introduced myself, I’m Jodi. Hi. I crept over here from Bear’s journal some time ago.)

  13. ::grins::
    That, having convinced you they’re right and you did ask for the full manuscript, you a) consult doctors, b) stop taking on clients/reading MS in case the memory loss is a symptom of something serious.
    Or, since their name and MS now trigger a cycle of thoughts about why they sent it — whether they might have misunderstood or done it deliberately, what they hoped to gain — these thoughts distract you and influence your reading of the MS in strange and subtle ways (Aha – the hero asked for half the kingdom, bet he’s going to get all of it. Bit of an obvious plot twist that!).
    Oh, you probably meant serious answers ::giggles::

  14. There is a published author who gives workshops (I’ve been to two of them) and in them, she tells people to send the whole manuscript, even if only a partial has been requested. She tells them that the editor/agent is likely not to remember who they met at the conference or remember what they asked for and they might as well get as much of their compelling writing in front of the e/a as possible.
    I believe she does this to cut down on the competition.

  15. I’m saying this as a writer – but I feel that sending your whole mss, when you’ve been explicitedly asked for a partial shows a lack of confidence in your own work. If then the opening is strong enough I’m sure any agent who is worth having will ask for more. Sending the whole thing at the first stage makes no positive difference. It’s more postage for you – and more for the agent to house and possibly lug back to the Post Office (if you’re not sending disposable pages.) I do appreciate the cut to the chase aspect, where a writer might want to push things forward and assume the agent will ask for the rest, so why send two lots – but I’ve always suspected this annoys rather than anything else.
    I used to always phone,email or write a letter to enquire if the agent was looking for submissions in my area. Nowdays I’m in the weird position of agents saying no and reccommending me to another agent (I’ve still to hear from the latest one.) I feel rather like a parcel in a children’s game. 🙂

  16. Did the writer just send the entire manuscript, or did they include a synopsis as well? While it does show a lack of courtesy (assuming you weren’t misunderstood), one reason a writer might want to send the entire manuscript is if they have no confidence in their ability to write a synopsis. The partial is supposed to be representative of the book, but it’s not the book — it’s a sales pitch. Writing a synopsis that does justice or better to the source material is a separate skill. Not all writers have it in equal measure.

    • Yeah, but that’s why the partial is requested — to get a feel for the author’s writing. You can tell in 50 pages whether an author has writing chops or not. The synopsis serves to let you know where the story is going. We know that not everyone is skilled at writing a good synopsis, honest. 🙂

  17. Putting on my amateur armchair anthropologists hat here:
    My guess on why it bothers you (as agent) is that it is an attempt to jump the level of the relationship prematurely. Requesting a full manuscript implies a greater level of interest than requesting a partial (specially as requesting a full usually comes as a request for an exclusive read, right?). It’s a very sublte attempt to take control bu trying to speed things up, where the control at this point, is on your side. Rather like a salesman rushing you into doing a test drive, when you’re still reading the specs on the window.
    Am I right or way off the mark?

  18. Mea Culpa
    Should I be embarrassed for stirring up such a fuss or flattered for creating such a great exchange?
    Either way, thanks for all the thoughts. It’s been very enlightening, and were I a writer, I’d probably be staring at my pile of rejection slips now and muttering profanities at myself for my shortsightedness. Assuming I’ had ever made it so far as to receive a request, of course.
    –Brian

  19. Maybe it’s the military in me, but that sounds like either FFI (Failure to Follow Instructions) or a serious GCE (Gross Conceptual Error). Then again look at is as the opportunity to become: agent who claims to have launched more first time authors(‘ unsolicited manuscripts into the round file) than any other agent in the world.
    -=Jeff=-

  20. Hell, I would say “Jebus, what kind of tree-killer ARE you, submitting manuscript person?” is a good start…

  21. Forwarding a full
    Seems to me the author is a tad bit pushy. And unprofessional. And their listening skills leave a lot to be desired.
    On the other hand, they are obviously a little excited about the request and chose overkill.
    Grins*
    chryscat.blogspot.com

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