Sending Submissions the Old-Fashioned Way

Monday, October 19, 2015

I’m making my second round of submissions for Desert Jewels, and all five publishers want hard copies. One wants the full manuscript and the other four will take a query letter and three sample chapters, but even that requires spending money on paper and ink and postage. Fortunately, the expense is not a problem for me. But what about those starving artists for whom it is?

Once upon a time, postal mail was the only way to send a manuscript. The speed of delivery improved as gasoline-powered vehicles replaced horses, but submissions still cost the writer money for paper and postage.

Today we can send long documents through the ether without spending any additional money. Sure, we have to pay for the computer and the Internet connection, but we would be doing that anyway. And with the advances in security and virus protection, some publishers have realized that e-mail submissions are more convenient for them, as well. So why haven’t the rest reached the same conclusion?

If an editor accepts e-mail submissions and wants to read a manuscript on paper, then the time and expense of printing it off rests with the editor instead of the writer. Still, that may not happen very often. Most submissions are rejected after the editor reads the first few paragraphs (or less), and this initial sort could be done easily enough on a laptop or tablet or even a smart phone.

It also hasn’t been very long since a postage pre-paid envelope guaranteed that a rejected submission would be returned. In the days before computers and printers and personal photocopiers, publishers had empathy for writers who would otherwise have to make time-consuming replacement copies each time they submitted their work. Or maybe the publishers worried that they would lose out on the next best seller because the author didn’t have a copy left to send them. Either way, they found the time to stick the manuscript in a pre-addressed envelope and drop it in the mail. Now three out of the five publishers say they won’t return the submission under any circumstances.

Personally, I would rather print off a new manuscript for the next publisher. What if the returned copy is marked on or dog-eared or has coffee stains halfway through? (Coffee stains halfway through might tell the next editor that the first one liked it enough to read that far, but they also say that I’m not very professional.) I could page through the material, but I might still miss something. So even when a publisher is willing to return the manuscript, I tell it not to. But again, what about those writers for whom money is tight?

I can sympathize with the editors. Researching publishers takes time, and some writers think that free means they have nothing to lose. If the manuscript isn’t ready or the publisher isn’t a good fit, it will probably be rejected. But maybe the editor will think the story is so outstanding that he or she will publish it anyway. (So goes the thinking of these inexperienced writers.) Requiring hard copy submissions and refusing to return them is one way publishers can cut down on unsuitable submissions. But it isn’t the only way. An editor can easily delete any submission that is sent to multiple e-mail addresses or is clearly generic.

Sometimes the good old days had their advantages.

But this isn’t one of them.


The Pony Express poster is in the public domain because of its age.

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