SASE...cause really, there's SO much more to say

As a service to an author who isn't in it for the money and who can afford my rates, I'm putting together queries for a nonfiction book I edited (his secretary will do the printing and mailing; he will sign the letters himself--big of him, I know). I'm dutifully checking the submission guidelines for each and every agent on the list I've assembled so far, with every intention of following the instructions to the letter.

Then I come to this one:

"SASE – Due to new postal regulations, all self-addressed envelopes must follow these guidelines. Use postal stamps only. No metered mail. Envelopes must be addressed and include our address as the return address in the top left corner of the envelope. Use self-sealing envelopes."

How anal can an agent get? Yeah, sure, if I were the author, I'd probably just go out and buy special envelopes and do the return address thing, too. But geez, don't you people even have rubber stamps you can use for the return address? And you can't wet a gummed envelope with a sponge? Gimme a break!

Bottom of the list, dude. Plonk!

OK, I know you think it's anal, but its only cause I'd burst into flame from your enraged glare that I don't have this on MY site too. I LOVE it when people send self sealing envelopes, the ones with the pull strips.

The meter mail thing IS a rule at the post office. I drop SASEs in the box with meter stamps all the time, but I have NO idea if they get back to the querier. The thing about meters is they have dates. You meter an SASE and it says I mailed it the same day you mailed your query to me. You'll need to be writing more than science fiction to make that happen.

The only thing I think is weird is having the agent's name for the return address. I'd rather you put your own, but again, I've read in the comments column from people that the post office does require that.

And for a general comment on the overall obsessive nature of agents, trust me on this, this is a quality you WANT in an agent. You want someone who researches what works, tells you about it up front and makes it easy to understand what they need. Careless, slipshod, and "it'll all work out" are not things you want to say about the person negotiating your contract.


Anonymous said...

Funny, because the last time I queried an agent, pulling the strip off the envelope seemed to be too much trouble--it arrived back to me unsealed ...

Anonymous said...

I usually just put the name of the agent/publisher (no address) in the return address spot and I get those back all the time. Hey, wait! That makes me sound lame! I mean, I get them back with checks in them...yeah, that's what I meant to say.

Kit Whitfield said...

I am really sympathising with the desire for self-sealing envelopes. You can never find sponges when you want them, even if you own them, and after about the twentieth envelope to lick, life loses all its savour.

Sponges and rubber stamps are things you'd expect in a post office, but not all agencies are big enough to bother laying in the supplies. Why spend the money if it's possible for the author to save you the trouble? It's down to the author to make things as easy as possible for the agent. After all, the author is the one who wants hundreds of man-hours spent on their work with no definite guarantee of any reward. All the agent wants is a tongue that works. Fair's fair.

Anonymous said...

Oh hell, agents. Spit on your finger and lollygag it across the envelope... geezzz!

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

Just a note about self-sealing envelopes: Sometimes, if they're old enough, they lose their stick. This happened to me twice.

I'm in the habit of buying 50 envelopes at a time. I was near the end of a box of them (about a year after I'd bought the box) when I picked one out to mail a cheque to someone. Darned if the flap hadn't come unstuck by the time I took it to the post office. And it would not stick back down no matter how much I pressed it down. I had to use a gluestick in the end.

Then I realized that that empty SASE I had received back from a certain magazine a few months ago may well have contained a rejection letter (or even, dare I hope, a cheque) but the flap was unstuck when I received it and I just assumed the assistant editor had goofed up and forgotten to seal it. Go figure.

This is why I no longer use self-sealing envelopes. With apologies to editors everywhere who don't have a sponge or a glue stick.

-Sarah Totton

Anonymous said...

I hate to sound suck-up-ish, but I agree with the great MS, wholeheartedly. This agent has defined his rules and they're so easy to follow. Imagine how you'll stand out over all the other nitwits who didn't even bother to read the guidelines. I'd move this agent to the top of the list, "dude"!

I use the large self-sealing envelopes, my own return address (in case there isn't enough postage, you don't want it going back to the agent), and lots of extra stamps (okay, now I do sound suck-up-ish).

Some rules aren't worth fighting. If you want to win, you have to play the game.

Anonymous said...

I always queried that agent via email (yeah, I know which agent they're talking about), because I didn't want to buy more envelopes when I already had a honkin' big box of regular envelopes.

Anonymous said...

I used to write my name and addy in the RETURN ADDRESS of my SASE until I received an envelope mailed from NYC with nothing in it. I'd queried about ten agents and guess where their offices were.

I might look like a nitwit, but at least I know which agent rejected my work.

Anonymous said...

There are a few things about this letter that bother me, but the most important is basic. If you can write a book you should be able to write and send a few query letters without paying someone else to do it. People have asked me to do this for them and I've always flatly refused, in spite of the fact that I could have made a lot of money on the side. Aside from ethical reasons, the book they wanted me to pitch was always awful and I didn't want to be associated with it.

Anonymous said...

I always queried that agent via email (yeah, I know which agent they're talking about)

Thanks to Google, now I do, too. (Hmm...two agencies use the exact same wording. Which plagiarized the other?)

Anonymous said...

I see a market for gin flavored envelope glue. Or maybe liver flavored for a certain KY.

Bill Peschel said...

This reminds me of the "green M&Ms" trick that Van Halen inserted into the rider of their concert contracts. It wasn't that they were particularly fond of green M&Ms. It was a tell. When they walked into the dressing room in Cleveland Municipal Stadium (Hello! Cleveland!), if they saw the bowl filled correctly, they could be pretty sure that someone was paying attention and they didn't have to worry as much about the more important stuff in the contract.

Perhaps the agent, in addition to saving his tongue, is learning something else about the writer's ability to handle details that can affect other parts of their relationship (like the writer's ability to line-edit his manuscript!)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I'm with Judy, not trying to suck-upish, but seriously, if you think that's a strict set of rules to follow for submissions, y'all have never entered any juried art competitions. Talk about agony - and it's worse if you get in because they you have a whole new set of rules to send the artwork by. What it comes down to is, if I want that agent or that art competition badly enough, then I'll do the work.

What's that old chestnut, no pain no gain? I can appreciate the irritation of the writer in this case, but if that's the only reason you're knocking an agency to the bottom of your list, then, here's another rule: extend your own foot, insert bullet.

Anonymous said...

What does this ghost writer have against Ethan Ellenberg, anyway?

Why not just do it the way Ellenberg wants it done?

Anonymous said...

I sent that agent a non-self-sealing envelope and the reply still got back to me. So rules can be bent. The only reason I didn't follow his rules is that I have a box of 200 regular envelopes and am not going to buy new ones just for him. Rules are rules but common sense still applies. The important one is the stamps. As a Canadian, I've found the USPS website invaluable for getting me the all-important return postage.

Anonymous said...

OK - query hell.

I sent a query out yesterday. It's one of my first ten queries - which are to my top ten agents - so I sent it out priority mail. Basically, I want to get these top-10 rejections out of the way as quickly as possible so I can start my broad querying at a more relaxed pace. Ha.

Anyway - being a nitwit - I sent out the SASE with insufficient postage. Yep - thanks to the increase that went into effect yesterday (and that I was oblivious to) my SASE was $0.02 too light on postage.

OK. First reaction: no big whoop. If the agent does see the insufficient postage, he'll probably realize that the postmaster usually gives a grace period for this. So even if he drops my rejection in the mail $0.02 too light, it'll get to me.

Then I read Jenny Rappaport's blog. She's planning on throwing out EVERY query that comes in with insufficient postage. Just tossing them on that alone.

Now I'm in a panic. I like this agent - like his clients - I want to know for sure that I'm being rejected. I don't want to enter a state of limbo because he's following the same philosophy as Ms. Rappaport.

So I did the second nitwittiest thing of the day and I went back to the post office, bought a sheet of $0.02 stamps, and mailed them right out - priority of course, so they'd arrive at the same time! - along with a brief apology for being a nitwit.

In retrospect, I'm guessing that it is submission guidelines like those listed above that make the humble writer neurotic enough to do crap like this.


Anonymous said...

In response to Brenda -- I use my own return address but add the agent's name there as well as my own.

Travis Erwin said...

Most of these "Rules" are Postal requirements that came into play after the anthrax mailings a few years back, so I don't think they speak of any great desire to be difficult by the agent. If they say anything it is that he actually has read the latest USPS regulations.

And if that is the case send him something quick, because he's obvioulsy desperate for reading material.

Anonymous said...

I always put the agent's (or publisher's) name on the return address part of the SASE.

That's how I knew which query to check of my list when the agent was kind enough to reply.

It's just common sense. D'oh.

Christine said...

Oh cheese.

I think that's Ethan Ellenberg. Or at least he's one of them that has that wording on his site (or used to; it's been a few years since I queried them, it just was so specific and bizarre it stuck in my head). He's also one of those "you can send e-mail queries, but we won't reply unless we like you" people.


Anonymous said...

I understand that since the 2001 anthrax attacks, the P O requires all letters to have a return address. That's when many agents and publishers started requiring SASEs with return addresses.

Jillian said...

It was that exact list of qualifications that led to the purchase of the self-sealing envelopes that I use only for submissions and SASEs. Anal, yes, but I can see the value in it. I have a "thing" about licking envelopes, anyway.

They run through the printer more nicely, too.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ethan Ellenberg Anon:

We're all duly impressed that you recognized the submission criteria of one of the most popular agents in the business.

Ethan doesn't require self-sealing envelopes, by the way. He merely prefers them. His intern will respond to your query regardless of what kind of envelope you enclose.

I've had the same experience as Sarah Totton: self-sealing envelopes have a limited shelf life. One of these days all agents who blog rather than mail newsletters will respond electronically to queries rather than return SASE.

Dave Fragments said...

I worked for the Feds doing research, and nothing was accepted from the Post Office without a return address, a Purchase Order number on the outside, or a name of an employee on the envelop or box. Then it was X-rayed and opened in a secure bldg before being delivered.

Nothing, nothing, nothing was accepted unless the sender followed the directions. Even overnight FEDEX got X-Rayed. If a company didn't follow the instructions, we didn'y do business with that company. AND GUESS WHAT - every company, university and correspondent followed the instructions.

It's part of doing business. If you don't like it, too bad. If a company missed a bid deadline because they screwed up the package, no one listened or gave them a second chance.

I view these discussions as stupid and childish. Do what the recipient wants and quit whining.

Dave Fragments said...

One more thing,
When we needed a package in Washington DC the next day, we either sent it electronically, or we sent a credentialed employee to hand carry it in a car. (Western PA is about 5 hours drive). Otherwise, the package had to be x-rayed and that took a long time.

And don't say this is all stupid. We all know why there are postal restrictions on large envelopes and packages. Go ask the Post Ofice to train you how to spot letter bombs (that will scare the "poo-poo" out of you, to be blunt).

So SASE like the recipient wants.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Oh, great. I'm sending out letters tomorrow. No way am I re-addressing 1200 SASEs. (That's not a typo.)

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Bill E. Goat: I'm sase!

Me: No, you're sassy!

Bill E.: That's what I said.

Me: So, now we have typos in the spoken word?

Bill E: Do you know how odd you are?

Me: I'm not the one who's ... I'm not odd! Go eat something. ...

Bill E: [muttering] Next she'll claim I have chat-bubbles floating over my head.

MelodyO said...

Brenda, I read somewhere (very possibly here) that a good trick for SASEs is to put "Your Last Name/Agent's Last Name" on the return address line, and then you'll always know who crushed your dreams...I mean...asked for a partial but forgot to sign it. :0P

Heather Moore said...

Question: Do agents send acceptance letters in a SASE? Or do they use their own letterhead/envelopes (or call the author)? Are we just paying for rejections?

Anonymous said...

I recently had an agent request a full via my SASE. Oh happy day! I don't know if that's a standard practice, but it sure gave me a thrill.

McKoala said...

Anonymous of the sheet of 2c stamps - I think that was a thoughtful and practical thing to do. Hope it works for you!

Unknown said...

Speaking as someone who was once tasked with stuffing the rejection letter into the SASE and then sealing it...I would have loved anyone who enclosed a self-sealing envelope. It may not matter to you as the author who's being rejected, but believe me, the poor intern will appreciate it.

Julie Elias said...

Heather, I've received requests for partials or full manuscripts in SASEs, so it's not just for rejections. Actually, only once did an agent call to request more pages, so I'd think using the SASE is the norm.

Dave, 1200? You're pulling our legs! Are there that many good agents out there?

Anonymous said...

The self-sealing envelopes cost maybe half a cent extra per envelope, depending on quantity. The way I figure it, this is one less envelope a tired agent's assistant or intern will have to lick when stuffing rejection letters.

Furthermore, putting the return address on the outside of the envelope lets me know up front who's sending me a rejection letter, so it works well for the author that way also.

I guess I'm just feeling a bit cynical tonight.

Sofie Kelly said...

Last summer I judged a writing contest and each entrant was instructed to enclose a SASE so we could mail back a conformation that their entry had arrived. Maybe it was the humid weather or global warming, but on more than 20 of the return envelopes the flap was stuck down. The other judge has a very resourceful assistant who actually steamed open all of the stuck envelopes and later resealed them with a glue stick. (Yes, we took her to lunch for her efforts.)

Janny said...

There's a neato little gadget you can buy that has a sponge at one end and fills with water. One swipe across an envelope, it's done. Why anyone wouldn't expect an agent's office to have several of these is beyond me...after all, they buy real live office supplies for every other use, don't they? I mean, I assume they have reams of real paper on hand, real pens, paper clips, rubber bands, white-out, whatever...so what's the big exotic deal with having an envelope moistener? These things have been around for what, forty years? They cost what, less than $1?

As people have mentioned, the trouble with self-stick envelopes is that, often, they DON'T self stick. Or they stick too well, and the responder can't get them OPEN at the other end. Or they come unglued the moment they hit humidity. Or...or...or...I'd rather take my chances with an envelope sealed with conventional glue and a little sponge-jobber.

Requiring the self-sealing kind of envelope, with the hidden threat that anythine else will get tossed, to me goes over the line from "nicely anal" to "micromanaging people who aren't even your clients yet."

Require the postage, require the return address, certainly. But start dictating what kind of envelopes I have to use to basically hold a rejection (which, as someone eloquently put it, I'm already paying for)...and I start getting nervous tics. :-)

No one I know sends an acceptance letter (or even a "we like the first part of this, send the rest") in my SASE. I've never had anything but rejections in them. Sometimes even for rejections, the publisher doesn't use my envelope. They use their own stationery, their own metered postage, etc. So I go through the extra step of making sure I put the right amount of postage on, get the addresses right, and put in the self-stick envelope...only for them not to use it in the first place?


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of agents. If you don't want to do what the agent asks for, don't send to him.

Just don't bitch about it.

It's his/her game, you want to play, do it his/her way.

Anonymous said...

I lean towards those who say pay attention to the details. If this is what the agents wants... do it. It shows that you care to follow the instructions. You take care with your work... why not with your agent search?

He is reading my full now.. and yup, I followed his requirements to the letter..

Unknown said...

What Tessa said.

The agent has something you want. He's not going to lose sleep at night if you decide not to query him because his standards are too exacting for your tastes.

It's your loss, not his.

As for being the next Dan Brown and making him sorry for rejecting you... you're not, and he won't be.

Tyhitia Green said...

I know the exact agent this person is talking about. I didn't want to go buy self-sealing envelopes either, especially since I already had some huge free ones! The agent is a good agent, and if the "querier" would have noticed on that website, it also said that you could e-mail your query as well, which is what I did---I love to do the free stuff!