guilt versus available hours to read

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.

6 responses to “guilt versus available hours to read

  1. This means you don’t want to see my 500,000-word epic based on my long-running D&D campaign, doesn’t it? 😦

  2. Honestly, I’m impressed at the amount of time that most agents seem to devote to reading — if it was me (which is why I’m not an agent), if I didn’t love it immediately, that would be it. I don’t know that I’d give any ms a chance to blossom. I mean, if I had 40-50 waiting for me, I just go through them, and any one of them that didn’t hold my attention right then and there would be history…we’re all glad I’m not an agent, I think 😉

  3. Good books never go out of style!
    N.C. Murphy

  4. Oh, great
    Oh great. Now do I not only have to agonize over creating that perfect query blurb that is utterly compelling while describing my characters and story within a couple hundred words, I have to do the same thing with my opening paragraph. Lol. Oh, the joy. I have made about 20 versions of my query thus far, though it is finally getting close. If I have to do that with my opening in chapter one, I may not have any hair left by the time I am ready to submit. Good thing I love being a writer.
    JDuncan

    • Re: Oh, great
      The reality is that there is a lot of advise on query letters simply googling the term will get you hundreds. However, nearly all contradict each other. Everyone is on the lines of “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that” If I took the advise of all of them my query letter would read
      “Dear Agent
      My book has 120,000 words.
      yours either sincerely or faithfully
      Tairis Anders”
      Quite simply the only advise to listen to is that of the agent one is submitting too, but many do not go into detail. The problem I find is that being raised that modesty is a virtue and enthusing about ones own work is hard. Sending a manuscript is like exposing oneself to a stranger saying “Hey what do you think?”
      Many agents say the query let is the first glimpse of writing ability but I would challenge that. I spend a day on a query letter then my wife rewrites it. I could easily do it for others but that old modesty thing is hard to overcome and if you do you can go in the opposite direction and become arrogant.
      In an age where everyone with a computer and a printer writes a book I think 90% of work can be initially rejected with one page. However, agents do not like to offend and rejections encourage continued pursuit of writing careers. According to everyone I have sent my work to the only problem with my work is it is unsuitable for their list.
      Agents should not feel guilty about unread slush piles. Every serious writer knows there chances are slim and if they are offended by an agent’s rejection or delay they are certainly not going to cope when the New York Times reviewer brands there work as garbage. Writing has given me a thick hide and honest criticism is of greater value than polite praise or friendly encouragement. When I finally send of work to an agent I cross them off my list and forget they exist, that way an acceptance is a nice surprise and the rejection is just more junk male to be filed with the $10,000,000 I just won from publishers clearing houses. This keeps me sane and stops me looking in my mail box each morning in hope. One day the right letter may come, but if doesn’t well I will just keep tapping away at my keyboard with my latest masterpiece.
      Tairis Anders

  5. I am dreading the Query letter process. trust me. But Anders is right. I can’t sit here and sweat bullets and google my brains out looking for perfection.
    I can only do the best I can, try my damnedest and all that jazz.

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