While cleaning out files over the weekend (ah, the glamorous life of a literary agent), I came upon the following quote in an article I was hanging on to called “The Mystery Novel from the Editor’s Point of View” by Ruth Cavin:
If you had forty or fifty manuscripts waiting to be read and chronic guilt about not being able to get to them – or through them – fast enough, which of the opening paragraphs below would encourage you to take the manuscript home to read for the evening? [Paragraphs not included here for purposes of brevity.]
If my notations are correct, the book this article was included in was published in 1992. As the saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. And, if anything, the volume of incoming queries, partials, and manuscripts has increased over the years rather than decreased. I don’t presently have 40 or 50, but I do have a never-ending supply. The guilt quotient varies. Sometimes it’s based on how high the piles get. Other times, it’s how old the oldest unread item might be. Occasionally I must admit I feel no guilt at all — sometimes other things going on in my life justifiably demand my evening and weekend time so that I cannot devote those hours to reading. There’s a part of me that feels it is a shame that I cannot read everything sent my way; that I must attempt to glean what is best based on queries and just a few pages. Of course, that was her point back then, too. That the writer has only, perhaps, an opening paragraph to convince the editor/agent to give up personal plans or time with family and friends or even a favorite television show in favor of taking the risk to find something new which was worthy of publication.