Why do agents still go from a five-page sample with a query, to a partial, to a full? I understand the wisdom of taking samples and partials when submissions arrive primarily in dead tree form, but in this day of electronic submissions and vast inboxes, storage doesn't seem like it would be a problem. What other function does the system serve for agents?
I'm to combine the answer with an answer to this comment by someone else:
Yes, Priority + DC is what I use. I was callling that "Express," without realizing that express actually means overnight.
So, when facing a dinosaur (i.e. they insit upon snail mail), then I respond with Priority mail + DC. There is never a reason for overnight. If they want it that fast, I'd say they need to accept emailed attachments.
Furthermore, it's becoming an environmental taboo to use paper and fuel-hogging snail mail--I don't want to be repped by an environmentally insensitive company, so if they don't take e-mail, they're probably not going to work out for me, anyway.
Mionions, I have spoken.
So this may be shocking to some people, but some people have problems reading manuscripts on a computer screen. The computer screen was not designed to be easy on the eyes and e-Readers are still ludicrously expensive. So is printer ink and paper and we don't like spending money on a client until they are actually a client, because then it's just lost money. So, when we ask for something in hard copy, it's so we can read it without our eyes starting to burn. Granted I'm on the internet a lot, I do read things online, but if I had to do it all day every day for novels, I would be wearing glasses a lot sooner. Yes, it's not environmentally friendly. You know what's not environmentally friendly? Basically everything we as human beings do on this planet. So until they invent an e-Reader that's like $20 and everyone in the publishing industry buys one to save paper, deal with it.
Moving on and assuming the agent asked for hard copy, most agents don't ask for 5 page partials. they ask for at least 30 or 50 pages, or three chapters. I knew an agent who asked for 5 pages, but she made a lot more partial requests than the average agent, knowing the writing would just knock off most of the submissions and she could tell that in 5 pages. It wasn't very paper-efficient and I don't know if she still does that.
If you feel really bad about the environment, watch the show Life After People, which relieves some of the collective guilt by showing just how quickly nature will reclaim the earth after we're gone.