Just cause, yanno, we didn't flog the SASE topic enough last week

I've always been curious about this quaint tradition since I first discovered it many years ago (the first time I submitted).I think there's something heroically ironic about the fact that aspiring writers -- some of the poorest people I know (except for those who are REALLY poor) -- have to foot the postage for something they'd really rather not be doing, and then again for news they'd in most instances rather not hear. This irony is only further compounded when occasional (say, every two - three years) postage rate increases mean that the time you've waited for a response has now left your SASE with insufficient postage -- and so it either ends up in the dead letter office, or comes back to you with a request for a few more cents. All for the joy of reading a form letter that says "Thanks, but no thanks."I wonder whether this is because agents/publishers really fundamentally HATE new writers, or because they're simply tight-fisted little scoundrels. Anyone have any insight?

yes, that's right, we hate new and old writers alike. We don't distinguish, we lump them all into that sneered upon pile of festering slush. We'd rather not deal with it at all.

So, let's just reverse the question: what's your alternative?

As I see it there are three ways to do this:

1. you send me a query letter with an SASE and I respond
2. you send me a query letter with no SASE, and I respond, paying postage
3. you send me a query letter with no SASE, and I don't respond.

Are there other choices?
Let's just leave the email option aside for a moment, since in fact some agents DO take equeries.

Now, you tell me why #2 or #3 are better options than #1. Remember that your ability to persuade me will rest largely on answering the questions: what will it do to make my life easier, more efficient or less expensive. "just cause I don't want to pay for postage" is not a persuasive arguement. If you have other points, I'm glad to hear them.


Unknown said...

have to foot the postage for something they'd really rather not be doing, and then again for news they'd in most instances rather not hear

Um... Hello?? "Something they'd really rather not be doing?"

Then why do it?

The way I see it, if a writer just prefers to write and would really rather not submit, just flat don't do it. Period. End of story. Leave room for the rest of us who DO want to.

And I'll gladly send in my SASE!

That Girl Who Blogs Stuff said...

Be thankful they respond.

Many don't.

Feisty said...

Writers can't afford stamps?

You know, this has always puzzled me. Can anyone really be THAT poor that they can't afford thirty nine cents for stamp? Or $5 to send a manuscript.

I don't buy it.

That Girl Who Blogs Stuff said...

I don't believe in Santa or unicorns but I'm pretty sure there are people out there who can't afford postage.

Considering the popularity of 'misery memoirs' I'm surprised this isn't a bigger problem.

Oh wait. . . it's not . . . you just get a rich guy to pretend he has bottomed out.

(Sorry, I'm still pissed about the Frey thing.)

Anonymous said...

Writing is a job. Invest in it if it's important. I spent buckets and took a high interest student loan to do my current day job. (the very one I dream of giving up to become a literary diva) I didn't mind forking over the postage. If the postage stamp cost throws you- get out of the game.

Sal said...

that girl who writes stuff sed, I don't believe in Santa or unicorns but I'm pretty sure there are people out there who can't afford postage.

They should hie down to their local library (because if they can't afford postage, they certainly can't afford an ISP) and use the library's internet-connected computers to send e-queries to agents who accept e-queries. There are more than a few out there. Miss Snark would be off their list, mind you, and yet ... there are e-query-accepting agents who are quite legit.

I was taking an accounting class (for the fun of it, how weird is that?) years back and we had a student in the class who said the homework was unfair because everyone else had calculators and she couldn't afford one.

Puhleeze. At the time calculators were maybe $5 ($2.99 on sale!) at Payless and solar calculators were maybe three times that.

Anonymous said...

Whoaaaaaaaa there, cowboys and cowgirls! This is why civilized countries have courts of law and people who learn to tell fact from inference before they (or their clients) pull out a gun and start firing.

Is it a matter of $.39 for a SINGLE stamp? No, of course not! Is it a matter of paper, ink, mailing envelopes, $XX.00 to mail an ms, and THEN $.39 for a stamp (if one doesn't request return of the ms)? And then multiply all of that by however many queries you're doing? Yup. Sure is! Okay, Feisty?

For most businesses, postage and toilet paper are just part of the cost of doing business. The last time I checked, none of them were demanding that employees start bringing in their own -- TP, at least. Apparently, agencies and publishers do NOT operate on this same principle -- at least where submissions are concerned.

If money were no object for most writers, this question wouldn't even have come up. But it's a BIG concern for most -- and so, some months, it's either eat and pay the rent, or submit.

Sorry, Jen, that I wasn't more EXPLICIT. By "something they'd really rather not be doing," I meant querying. Oh, I know. You LIKE querying. In fact, you'd rather be querying than writing. I get it.

To "that girl who writes stuff": Thanks. I didn't know that. I just dropped in from planet Xenon.

Eileen, I just LUV that kind of macho talk. You must be a poet.

MS, Yes -- of the three alternatives you gave, the best is clearly to pay the money for an SASE and hope that it gets a response. But much BETTER for all parties (it seems to me) would be an e-exchange at the level of a query. No muss, no fuss, no artificially keeping the Postal Department in business. Just an exchange of digits.

I have no more interest in wasting an agent's time than she/he has. Unfortunately (other than to research GENERAL categories in which Ms. X or Mr. Y might be interested), I can't possibly know what's going to flic her/his bic. We can probably answer that question, however, with a quick e-exchange.

Do agents have unlimited time to answer e-queries? No, of course not. But that time is just the general cost of doing business -- just as the time I spend researching and then MAKING the query is MY cost of doing business. I'd rather be writing. The agent would rather be signing deals. Unfortunately, there's a lot that BOTH of us have to give up in order to keep everybody happy.



Anonymous said...

Squid alert!


Anonymous said...

For most businesses, postage and toilet paper are just part of the cost of doing business. The last time I checked, none of them were demanding that employees start bringing in their own -- TP, at least. Apparently, agencies and publishers do NOT operate on this same principle -- at least where submissions are concerned.

Maybe that's because the author isn't an employee of the agency. The agency is a prospective employee of the author. Nor is the author an employee of the publisher.

Miss Snark said...

One of the reasons I don't take e-queries is that it's extremely easy for people to fire off these LONG insane rants about why they are entitled to my time and attention.

"Last time I looked businesses didn't require employees to bring their own tp"...last time -I- looked, you aren't an employee. You aren't a client. You aren't even known to me.

You want my time and attention. Fine. Don't bitch if I tell you the best way to get it.

Im getting tired of this topic. Either contribute new ideas or shut the fuck up.

Unknown said...

Uh, "Anonymous," (how convenient) do not assume you know what I mean or what I do not say. I did not say I enjoy querying. I find it uncomfortable and nerve-wracking. HOWEVER, it is part of the "game." I accept that and I pay my dues for it -- postage, ink, SASE, etc.

Open mouth insert foot often?

Problem Child said...

Y'all do know that all the cost of querying--stamps, envelopes, paper, ink--can be a nice tax deduction if you can prove to the IRS you are seriously trying to get published.

It's part of the cost of doing business--your business of writing for publication.

And querying agents and editors is one way to prove you are trying to get published. Those rejection letters do have a purpose...


Elektra said...

To ask an agent to give up their own stamps seems like an interviewee asking to using the prospective employer's computer to print out his resume.

Stacia said...

For most businesses, postage and toilet paper are just part of the cost of doing business. The last time I checked, none of them were demanding that employees start bringing in their own -- TP, at least. Apparently, agencies and publishers do NOT operate on this same principle -- at least where submissions are concerned.

Yes, that is the cost of doing business for most companies. No, they don't ask employees to bring their own tp and pens.

But neither do they provide people sending in resumes with the paper, ink, and postage with which to write and send that resume.

So why should agents?

UnlurkedKathy said...

I'd guess time is an even bigger cost to the agent than the 39 cents. Finding the return address in the query letter, typing it in, printing out the envelope -- multiply that by a boatload of queries per day, and it adds up.

I'd rather the agent spent her time reading submissions.


Rhonda Helms said...

Im getting tired of this topic. Either contribute new ideas or shut the fuck up.

LOLOL - I love when Miss Snark talks dirty...

Anonymous said...

My Dear Miss Snark,

It appears from the blog and the comments that the requirement for an SASE is one of theose little things that seem to get up peoples noses.

My advice to writers seeking representation: Follow the guidelines for that agent. If the guidelines seem arbitrary and unsupportable remove that agent from your list. (Everyone will be happier.)

My advice to agents: It would seem that an agent may find responding by e-mail (to a query by snail mail) to be just as efficient as an SASE. Maybe even more so.

But then again maybe the SASE is a psychological compatibility test. My question would be: Does it work?

Shadow said...

I recently received an email rejection to a snail mail query that included a SASE. I'd like to know what they did with it. Paste a label over my address and send it to someone else? Toss it? Seems like a fair amount of money getting round-filed if perfectly good uncancelled stamps are getting trashed. No skin off my nose (...well, maybe a little.)

Anonymous said...

I work for a (technical, academic) publisher, and my jaw hit the floor earlier this week when a D-girl told me about an author of ours who was insisting on submitting their manuscipt...handwritten. Apparently, this isn't all that rare (one particularly prestigious University press has to deal with it "all the time" according to a former employee). See, IMHO, if you are a professional writer in any circumstances, part of the deal on your side is to submit your work in a suitable format. It's like spelling correctly: it's not the main part of the gig, but it's basic. And if you can't do it, you find someone else who can and get them to check it over. How does this relate to the SASE brouhaha? Postage & stationery costs are part of your core expense, and it's your responsibilty. You are the manager of your own business. It's can be a substantial amount, but then compare that to any other start-up.


Feisty said...

I still don't buy it, anonymous.

But, if things are so rough financially, I agree that you can always equery. That saves you all that money on queries and SASE's.

Then you're left with sending full mss (when requested) and postage for them. And you can just sent a #10 envelope for a SASE. And at the rate that we are asked for full mss, that's maybe 5 a year, if you get lucky.

Think of the money you'll save.

R.P.E. said...

Well, here’s a new idea to add to the argument…the U.S. Post Office should pay! Make the SASE a SAPOSE. Granted, there’s no such service currently provided by that federal institution, a fact that places me squarely in favor of Miss Snark’s jibes, but given the hogwash those yutzes have dumped on me over the years, I begin to feel they’ve entered a line of circular logic through which a good case could be made.

In my not so distant youth, I was among the many that could have easily fallen into that category of not having been able to afford a stamp. I, unlike the original poster’s writing acquaintances, was a budding actor, poor by definition, starving by stupidity. Slowly I began a transition, from actor to writer, starting with scripts as they were what I knew best. For script publication (it seems, as I had never written one good enough to publish), there is an added layer to the publishing process. There is a far better chance at getting Victor French to put your two-act on the bookshelf if it’s been produced somewhere, even more so if further picked up and put onto an actual stage. Thus, rather than sending queries, partials, and full MSS out to agents and editors, we “playwrights” start with a process of sending to directors, theatre companies, and the like.

When such a time came for me, I was one of those kids who always wanted to get the mailed copy of my play returned. I’d been printing on terrible dot-matrix printers at the library, using their paper, and taking up much table space in the otherwise vacant building detaching the crinkled, holey edges from my masterpiece and manually separating each of the 100 pages, multiplied by copy, along the perforations that had started as a mile-long sheet of grade Z “8.5 x infinity.” A computer of my own was still 10 years in the future. Once the library started putting limits on paper usage (my legacy), those copies were all I was going to get. I needed the unused scripts returned.

Cost to mail, at the time, was $3.00 per. That meant that with return envelopes, it would be $6.00 per. I’d researched the theatres I thought would be most likely to mount an upstart play in their experimental slots and sent accordingly. I remember the $3.00 (non-self adhesive) stamps had a nice, little image of the Space Shuttle on them, an image permanently blurred in reverse on the surface of my tongue. (What?!! You can use a sponge?!!”) Out they went. No takers. See ya, McDonald’s money! You were nice while you lasted. Some I got in return with constructive criticism in the form of red ink in the self-punched margins. Some came back with simple letters of rejection. Some even came back, interestingly, with the pages out of order and footprints over the text. My baby! Anyway, one came back unlike all the others.

As a single, sticky mesh of pages that more resembled a floppy, coagulated brick than a soft binder, this one came with a letter stating, “Dear Author: We’d love to read your script, but it arrived drenched in some kind of goop or grease. Kindly send a clean copy for submission to our 1990 season. Thank you.” To me it seemed a cut and dry case of postal fault! Essentially homeless, I shared a P.O. Box with my Aunt at the time. As such, it was a scant few steps from P.O. Box to the counter armed with the letter, the envelope that looked like the bottom of a pizza box, and what used to be my script. All I wanted back was the original $3.00 for the mistake they’d made in the sending.

Well, to my surprise, from counter clerk on up to the Post Master, the answers were all the same. It seems I cannot get those three dollars back without having paid for insurance on the sending. Though in an envelope, in both directions, apparently a script counted as a parcel and the rules then governing parcels were all insurance related. This is something to which I would have agreed were it not for the fact that I was asking for the cost of the single stamp, not for the cost of the contents of the “parcel.”

Logically, then, though I’d always presumed that the cost of a stamp was what it took to deliver your letter safely, the truth of this repetitious answer is that it doesn’t even do that. The cost of a stamp is to deliver your letter, maybe safely, maybe not, maybe on time, maybe not, maybe at all, or maybe not. They bore zero responsibility for the mishap and, not to show my white-trash hand to openly, I could not afford another $3.00 stamp. That was needed for the bus home. To further add insult to injury, they actually used the theatre company’s letter as proof that the original had arrived at its destination, indicating that they had done the job my stamp purchase had paid them to do. I honestly do not understand that if insurance guarantees the SAFE delivery of your letter, what the heck a stamp guarantees. Is it a matter of any old delivery? Can they deliver somebody’s paycheck with several rips, a few orange peels they’ve added in and on fire? Fact, a stamp is no guarantee for anything. It was as if to say, “This $0.36 you’re forking over is actually a fee representing our promise to buy that envelope and its contents from you (for free) and what we do with it after that is our own business.” I never thought to add insurance to a letter to my mother. I never thought to add insurance to the St. Valentine’s Day cards I mailed to all the girls who’d never date me in high school. It’s ridiculous.

Conclusively, if a stamp offers no guarantees and thereby is more akin to the Post Office buying or borrowing your letter from you than it is a promise to deliver said letter elsewhere, stamps should either be free or, at the very least, the post mark should be good for looping the contents of that envelope to as many destinations as it can reach, even a round trip back home. Sure, they’d lose money. Sure, you’d have teenage yahoos like I once was trying to forward envelopes that would have been making the rounds since pre-Communist Cuba. Still, it would be a much fairer assessment of the true meaning of a stamp…nothing, a suggested donation at best. If a philatelist purchases a stamp for her/his collection, s/he gets a tiny little piece of artistic memorabilia. If Joe Nobody purchases the same, he gives it right back to the guy behind the counter, along with his personal information, the value of the contents, somebody else’s personal information, and his money! Times were that the exchange could at least guarantee delivery service, but in light of my experience, this is no longer so. You receive almost nothing in the exchange, a maybe, a silhouette of a moral understanding that the Post Office has no vested interest in your correspondence reaching its reader, but less of a vested interest to hang on to all the envelopes themselves. They are a charity, acting kindly, doing their best, but ultimately subsisting on your donations without a shred of recompense for you.

I’m not going to lobby the Congress for acts that would change these practices, thereafter allowing Miss Snark to dump her slush rejections back into the same envelopes from whence they came. Perhaps, unprofessional readers out there will stick it to the USPS by switching the addresses on the envelope, placing no postage, and effectually having the Post Office deliver to the intended recipient as a Return To Sender for free. Until either of these become a source of acceptable change, however, is it that far fetched for me to suggest that of all the categories of mail out there (Media Mail, Parcel Post, Standard Mail, Express, First Class, Priority, Periodicals, Library Mail, etc.) we could apply a “Bulk Mail Over Time” category to professions like Literary Agency? Give Miss Snark a little, swipeable, small business card that sends out her rejections for free.

Please tell KY that my Yorkie, Gulliver, is gay and lonely.

Marion Sipe said...

Okay, I know this post is older than dirt, but I'm going to chime in anyway. It just makes sense for the author to provide the SASE.

I currently have four short stories and one novel out in the big bad world. Say I have to query every single agent on my list (of 43) and none of the short stories are published. Also assuming I use forever stamps.

My total SASE cost for the year is around $25. Now, if an agent/editor (who gets say . . . 500 stories/queries per month that they reject) has to pay for the return postage, their yearly cost is $2340.

Since a broad policy is required to make things workable (i.e. to let the author know what's needed in order to query) the only choices are a) the agent/editor pays or b) the author pays. Which is more fair? It seems more fair to me to pay my $25 a year than for the agent to pay $2340 a year. With the author paying, the cost is more evenly distributed and no one person is asked to pay an outrageous sum.