20 seconds!

I've posted ad nauseum on why I don't take e-queries but I always feel like I’m on the defensive about it. Well, no more!

In today's issue of the New York Times magazine, an article about interruption science (who knew!) MEET THE LIFE HACKERS by Clive Thompson (page 43) offers up this:

In 1997 Microsoft recruited (Mary) Czerwinski to join Microsoft Research Labs, a special division of the firm where she and other eggheads would be allowed to conduct basic research into how computers affect human behavior. Czerwinski discovered that the computer industry was still strangely ignorant of how people really used their computers. Microsoft had sold tens of millions of copies of its software but had never closely studied its users' rhythms of work and interruption. How long did they linger on a single document? What interrupted them while they were working, and why?

To figure this out she took a handful of volunteers and installed software on their computers that would virtually shadow them all day long, recording every mouse click. She discovered that computer users were as restless as hummingbirds. On average, they juggled eight different windows at the same time -- a few email messages, maybe a Web page or two and Power Point document. Most astonishing they would spend barely 20 seconds looking at one window before flipping to another.

The bolding is mine, to highlight what I see is the critical point.

I’d be very interested to hear from agents or editors who take e-queries about how long they read something, or how much they read, or if they batch all the emails and read them at a certain less-busy time of day.

I know there are agents (good ones too!) who prefer e-queries, and those in fact who take ONLY e-queries. Given a choice, with this information, I'd send a letter.

20 seconds!


kaolin fire said...

When I was a fledgling editor, back in the day (I've since crawled back into the shell and am awaiting a second hatching; the world was too scary, and my nest burned down), I worked on a magazine that only accepted submissions through a web-based interface. I wouldn't necessarily set aside time each day, but I _would_ make sure I was not going to be distracted whenever I _did_ sit down to read through available slush. Reading while distracted gives everything a jello-shot's chance in hell.

Bernita said...

Statistically, an insuficient sample?

Bill Peschel said...

I could have answered this one:

How long did they linger on a single document? What interrupted them while they were working, and why?

Usually, it was because Windows crashed.

Ira Rosofsky said...

My sample: I sent a load of equeries, about which I received some attention but not offers. I sent a small number of snail mail queries. My offer came from an unsolicited snail mail submission of my whole proposal. Of note and relevant to Snark's post, when things got serious my agent asked if I could please send an email with my proposal as an attachment. Seems like it's harder to pass around the office and make notations on hard copy.

Miss Snark, I'm surprised you didn't make mention of the Edmund Morris op-ed in today's Times, "Beethoven's Paper Trail," which is about the effects of electronics on writing as opposed to reading.Speaking about a re-discoverd manuscript of Beethoven, warts and all, Morris writes:

"Writing does not, of course, rate high on the tactile scale of things. But a screen of glass impregnated with pixels now gleams in front of practically every young person who wishes to commit words to - I was going to say paper, but will avoid the anachronism. Today's words, dit-ditted downward, flash off somewhere at the speed of light and assemble themselves in electronic limbo. Seen through the glass darkly, they look seductively perfect, every character proportional, every paragraph in alignment. Why mess around with them? In any case, if their orthography is not quite correct, a default "word processor" (ghastly phrase) will alter them to its liking.

"A couple of years ago I had a disillusioning residency with students at the University of Chicago who wished, or thought they wished, to master the art of narrative nonfiction. Cyberspatial innocent that I am, I was at first puzzled by the weird uniformity of their written "style," if that's the word for prose equally composed of I.M.-speak and catchphrases downloaded by the megabyte. At last, like the girl in "Stage Door Canteen," I caught on. But what was even weirder was the way these not-unintelligent seniors looked at me as I lectured them on Tolstoy's frenzied chicken-scratches all over proofs of "War and Peace," Capote's yellow-paper drafts of "In Cold Blood" and Nabokov's exquisite watercolor diagrams, illustrative of metric schemes in poetry yet at the same time touchingly reminiscent of butterfly wings.

"What freaked me out was the students' collective gaze, not uninterested, but uninvolved. They weren't listening so much as watching. To them, I was just the latest in a lifetime's succession of images, another talking head.

"I doubt I'll see any of them when I go to look at the "Grosse Fuge" manuscript next month. Why should they bother? They can already "access" it on the Internet. But without seeing the real thing, with actual light falling on its scuffs and blotches, will they ever feel the desperate energy of a dying Beethoven, imprisoned in the cavern of his own disability?"

I'm sure there was similar teeth-gnashing on the effects of the typewriter or even of the effects of pens that didn't need to be dipped in an inkwell every few words.

Maria said...

It doesn't matter to me whether an agent/editor accepts email queries or not--as long as they SPECIFY and stick by their own claims. I've met 3 agents whose websites say they take email queries--In person, Agent 1 and 2 said, "My website says that, but I don't read any that come in." Agent 3 said, "I prefer hardcopy. The agency I work for has a main page that says we take them, but on my page I think I say I don't accept them. At any rate, I ignore them." If agents/editors don't want email queries, just say so (like Miss Snark!) There are enough problems in the process without agents pretending to take a form of query they don't want.

kaolin fire said...

There are enough problems in the process without agents pretending to take a form of query they don't want.

That's pretty horrid, and good to know. :/

Catja (green_knight) said...

Did the twenty seconds account for people tabbing through various windows in search of the one they wanted, thus making each window 'active' for less than a second?

Never trust a statistic.