I think that the question of are there more manuscripts circulating is a good one, and the answer is "yes."
Lots of reasons for this, but the most obvious are as follows:
- The rise of college creative writing classes. This is where many writers who can't make enough money to live on from their writing (which is most of them,including me) make their "day job" money. Writers needing money isn't the cause of the rise, however, it's the increase in interest that creates the courses in the first place. Colleges offer elective courses like Creative Writing only when there is enough demand to make money from them. And that's just the tip of the iceberg: writing camps, writing conventions, writing seminars, online writing courses, weekend retreats and a host of other new writer distilleries have proliferated. There are more people writing.
- Ease of the mechanics of writing. When writing involved threading paper through a typewriter, and then carefully whiting out mistakes so you could type over them, and copies were done with carbon paper, the whole process of preparing a manuscript was much more work intensive. Now, writing appears in beautiful phosphors at the touch of a key, and manuscripts print with offset press quality from cheap ink jet printers. Looking professional has never been easier or quicker.
- Ease of submitting manuscripts. The rise of markets willing to accept e-submissions really streamlines the work investment for the writer. An attached file is on the way to a publisher in less time than it would take a writer to stuff a manuscript into an envelope (and certainly less time, energy and investment than preparing a SASE, putting a stamp on it, and taking the whole bundle to the post office). For the project I'm doing now, there are a couple of authors who are submitting stories as fast as I reject them. Several times I've sent the reject and received a new story from them before I even close out my mail program. That's an easy submission process!
- Readily available market information on line. One word: Ralan.com. Of course, there are a lot of other market sources too online, but before the Internet became the go to place for info, you had to trek to the library to get a copy of The Writers Market or The Literary Press and Magazine Directory, which were always out of date by the time you saw them, so you had to subscribe to the Gila Queen and cruise through the "new markets" in the writing magazines, like Writer's Digest. Now, with a couple of knowledgeable clicks, I have dozens of marketplaces at my command.
- You folks can probably think of other contributing factors to the rise of writers also.
- I don't think the rise in numbers is necessarily bad news, though. What you have to worry about, if you see writing as essentially a competitive business, is a rise in the number of really good (and publishable) writers. Good writing still requires a modicum of talent and a huge investment in time and energy, even if some of the related work is easier. I think there probably are more good writers, but the increase in numbers isn't as drastic as the increase in the raw number of writers would indicate.
- The dynamic hasn't changed. You write because you are highly motivated. You improve because you really care about getting better. If you persevere (and have that modicum of talent I mentioned), you will outlast the less dedicated.