Pub Rants

How Technology Changed Submissions

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STATUS: Yep, it’s late and I’m still working. I’m trying desperately to finish getting caught up. I have two clients who have waited longer than they should have to get feedback from me so I’m pulling some late nighters. My goal is to finish both by Friday—but I’ll probably need the long weekend. Incentive though. If I finish before, I might just take a mini-holiday.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? GOODBYE STRANGER by Supertramp

Now that I started ranting, you might not get me to stop.

Here’s another technology connection I think few writers realized.

Because technology advanced enough to make communication pretty seamless (mobile phones, internet, email, FedEx next day), a lot of agents realized that New York was no longer an anchor that had to exist. They could do this job from just about anywhere as long as they had the publishing contacts, a solid reputation, and used technology to their advantage.

And what a lot of writers also don’t realize is that a lot of editors started thinking this way. I can name 20 editors, off the top of my head, who don’t work mainly out of the New York office. They work remotely or only come into the office two days a week and it wouldn’t surprise me if that number is growing.

But back to the agents. Many decided to leave town and even some of the bigger houses have agents who don’t work in the New York office. Regardless of what you think of Friedman’s book, you can’t deny the argument that the world of publishing is getting flatter in many ways he defines in his book.

So Agents moved. Set up shop in California, Colorado (did you know that there are three fairly well- known agents living and working in the Denver area now and one of the most well-known agencies for the Christian market is in Colorado Springs?), Texas, Georgia, Florida, and I can’t even begin to list all the other states that have reputable agents with solid reputations. It’s not quite every state in the nation but a good portion are represented.

And we got tired of shipping full manuscripts—even with the relatively cheap rates of UPS.

So we started pushing. With each submission and for each editor, we would start asking whether we could send that manuscript electronically. Until it became common place. Now it’s the assumptive standard and if a hard copy is desired, it has to be specially requested.

Now obviously the New York agents started asking for this stuff too (because why wouldn’t they) but the big push came from those of us doing the biz outside the New York box—where we had to actively look for processes that made our lives and our jobs easier.

And it all starts with embracing technology that makes new possibilities available in this job.

Not to mention the savings to the clients because here’s another juicy secret that most writers don’t realize. Editors are very much like agents. Even if the full manuscript is sent, it’s very unlikely that editors will read it in its entirety if it’s not right for them. Most editors know within 50 pages whether a project can work for their list or meshes with their taste. Chances are good they are doing a quick read on screen or simply printing out 50 pages for the train and that enables them to come to a decision.

(And yes, some editors do end up reading the full before coming to a decision so yes, that does happen still.)

Those are some important first 50 pages. Sorry. It’s probably something more that y’all will start obsessing about.

27 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    As an author published through a small but legitimate e-publishing house, I can honestly say that we do almost nothing by mail. The vast majority is done by email. It’s an incredibly fast and efficient way to get a manuscript around from author to editor to publisher. Just be aware that sometimes errors crop up as the file is transfered from computer to computer. If one of your authors wonder how the heck THAT got in her manuscript, because it’s not in the original file, that’s probably why.

  2. Maggie said:

    It shocks me that some people can not embrace technology that would help them.
    As far a agents not being tied to NYC that makes sense; not all writers live in New York.

  3. McKoala said:

    Not all writers live in the States either. Hoping that the warm and snuggly embrace of modern technology will make life easier for me, based in Oz!

  4. Kimber An said:

    Aw, the first 50 pages are easy! It’s the first page and Chapter 18 which just about killed me. If I could have jumped into the story, I would have shoved the heroine aside and wrung Ariez’s neck myself!

  5. Gina Black said:

    GOODBYE STRANGER by Supertramp

    Oh my. I haven’t heard that song in y-e-a-r-s. I had all of Supertramp’s LPs. Thanks for the memories. 😉

  6. Robert Devereaux said:

    Just a general thanks for your blog. We’ve met at Pikes Peak, I’ve enjoyed your workshop wisdom, and I drop in here nearly every day for more gems. Robert in Fort Collins.

  7. Catja (green_knight) said:

    As a writer outside the US, the ability to submit and communicate by e-mail levels the disadvantage – no more worrying about stamps, no more checking of timezones, we’re all equal before e-mail.

    Writers benefit from electronic editing – I love Word’s comment feature, where you can mark up _exactly_ the bit you want to talk about and talk about it at great length – no more scribbles in the margins, no unreadable cryptic comments, this is *so* much easier. And DTP means that once the text is edited and polished it goes straight to the printer, which means one less stage where errors can be introduced.

    How did we do *anything* before we had computers?

  8. Termagant 2 said:

    With all this tech-wonderment available, it still snarks me that so many agents (see Miss S, but don’t look long, ’cause you can’t submit to her anyway) and editors exclude authors from e-submission. What agents can, authors apparently can’t, in many cases.

    One more reason to have an agent exerting him/herself on your behalf…


  9. Ryan Field said:

    If you’ve been in publishing for even a short time, you’ll understand there are specific reasons why some agents and editors don’t accept e-queries, and, usually these agents and editors are the very best. Not always; but usually. It has nothing to do with not wanting to embrace technology.

  10. Anonymous said:

    I don’t mind doing the submissions this way–heck I hear back a whole lot faster (this being good since I’m a tad bit impatient)!
    I think having a smoother process can only benefit all who are involved (author, agent, editor).


  11. Annie Dean said:

    “…usually these agents and editors are the very best.”

    Are you implying that accepting e-mail queries and pages somehow lessens the quality of an agent or editor. I would take issue with that.

  12. Janny said:

    Ryan, many of us have been around publishing for way more than a “very short time,” and we still don’t get why certain agents don’t deal in 20th century technology, much less 21st century. So maybe these very specific reasons are listed somewhere?

    Of course, we all understand the usual excuses: spam, viruses, junk mail, proposals to hold money for someone in Nigeria… 🙂 We all have those things to contend with. In that, we’re all in the same boat. And I’ve heard that “it has nothing to do with not wanting to embrace technology” phrase before. But nowhere have I heard what it DOES have to do with, and frankly, I’m as curious as the next person about that.

    I especially wonder what the holdup is in the case of all these high-profile people, all these “best” people on the block, when the bottom line is, THEY wouldn’t be dealing with all the junk in the first place…that’s why they have assistants!

    So…one has to wonder. I don’t begrudge sending anything to an agent or editor in hard copy form, but I do love to be able to do it electronically. It’s so much easier, so much faster, and anything we can do to prod the 12-ton behemoth of publishing to move just a teensy bit more efficiently, to me, can only help us all.


  13. Ryan Field said:

    Most of the time it’s nothing more than a comfort issue: When you read constantly it’s hard on the eyes…hardcopy is easier. I find it interesting that’s never taken into consideration. And, the only thing with which most of us have to content is not ending a sentence with a preposition.

    And Annie:

    Quote me correctly, please. I said, “Not always; but usually.” There’s a difference. Some excellent agents take e-queries. There’s no need to read between the lines. I’m just stating a simple fact, and you can take your issues with this to any book or web site that lists agency submission guidelines.

  14. Annie Dean said:

    “I’m just stating a simple fact, and you can take your issues with this to any book or web site that lists agency submission guidelines.”

    There was no reading between the lines necessary. You chose the word “best” to describe those who only accept snail mail queries; that carries with it these definitions: of the highest quality, excellence, or standing, most advantageous, suitable, or desirable. If someone is best at something, that means everyone else is lesser, in varying degrees. Your word, not mine. If you meant skilled, qualified, belonging to the upper tier of the profession, then “best” was not the best word choice. I have no quarrel with those choosing not to utilize technology in their professional sphere; that is their right, as it’s mine not to work with them, and I find your invitation that I should “take my issues with this” to those folks snide at best.

  15. kis said:

    Heck, even if you submit hard copy, the technology makes it all easier. Wasn’t too long ago an author wouldn’t know what a disposable manuscript was.

  16. Janny said:


    “And, the only thing with which most of us have to content is not ending a sentence with a preposition.”

    Ending a sentence with a preposition is no longer a no-no, Ryan. It hasn’t been for some time!

    I agree that reading hard copy is easier on the eyes. It’s also easier to catch mistakes and such on hard copy; it never ceases to amaze me that we can copyedit something for days and miss errors on the screen that, when we print up page proofs, show up like the proverbial sore thumb.

    I’m just saying if these high profile people would SAY that up front, we wouldn’t be so snarky about their seeming to drag their technological feet. It’s when they have these terse little sentences on their sites or in print saying, in effect, “Don’t even bother to send e-queries or electronic submissions of any kind. We consider those a blight on the cyber landscape and will delete them unread, block your e-mail address for future submissions, and tell everybody we know that you’re a lazy lout who doesn’t want to spend money on paper” that some of us get a little upset.

    To loosely quote Churchill, that sort of attitude is the stuff up with which we writers should not put.



  17. BuffySquirrel said:

    I thought Miss Snark gave a very cogent reason for why she doesn’t accept e-queries: she’s aware that she gives paper queries her full attention, but that when reading e-mail she gives it less than half. Therefore, her approach is fairer to the writers querying her than you acknowledge.

  18. Ryan Field said:

    Ending a sentence with a preposition is no longer a no-no, Ryan. It hasn’t been for some time!

    I guess that depends on who you are and whether or not you use the word “hopefully”. But I’m glad you got it.

    Maybe Churchill should have said this: That sort of attitude is the stuff we writers should not put up with. 🙂

  19. Janny said:


    Of course I use the word “hopefully.” I look hopefully to the sky every December, because I love white Christmases.


    As for the ending a sentence with a preposition…Churchill’s quote was making fun of a woman who lambasted him for doing just that, as you probably know.

    And as for whether it’s “proper” or not to do it? Hey, ask the editors of Copy Editor and other publications for professionals. Or ask people who’ve been involved in the latest evolutions of usage in our ever-changing dictionaries whether it’s “okay” to do that sort of thing.

    (And then step out of the way, because fireworks will ensue.)


  20. Ryan Field said:

    Of course I use the word “hopefully.” I look hopefully to the sky every December, because I love white Christmases.

    There a punchline to an old joke that says: “Isn’t that nice.”

  21. S. W. Vaughn said:

    I’m thrilled to hear that agents and editors are beginning to use technology to their advantage!

    Sometimes it seems that real change in publishing is so slow, it’s like waiting for a mountain to erode. This is fantastic. I had no idea editors were agreeing to accept e-mailed manuscripts from agents.

    Perhaps there is hope for this industry yet.

    *runs off to find one ‘a them there fancy Tablet PCs*

  22. Kanani said:

    Yes, one of my first pieces was published in Oz. I never met the editor, and it was all done via e-mail.

    I think it’s always a good thing when an industry de-centralizes. New voices, new perspectives, different ways of approaching things, influenced in part by regional style.

    I’ve read Michael Korda’s book about his years at Simon and Schuster. That’s an extraordinary glimpse into a time gone by.

    How do you (anyone here) think technology has changed writing?