SASE and Other Guidelines

Let’s take a facet of the submission guidelines question: the SASE. You send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to an editor or agent, because they request it in their submission guidelines. (Would a BDSM master of very carefully laid-out desires have submission guidelines on his website when looking for his next pet? Sorry, complete sidetrack.) Ahem. So. This agent has asked for a SASE so they can more easily send you their form rejection or (while we’re dreaming) their request for your full manuscript.

Like others that might seem so (one side of the paper only, one inch margins, only certain genres, two-page synopsis, etc) this is not a finicky, ridiculous requirement. Please remember that these people might have to deal with three hundred mails every DAY. If you did that, seriously, it would be so much easier to just put the letter in a prepared envelope and shove it in the box than to have to copy out 300 different addresses. Besides, they might very well get them wrong, with their eyes crossing and their fingers bleeding from doing this.

How much more favorably are they going to look at the manuscripts that do as they ask?

It’s a sad, but absolutely true, thing that every agent and editor has LOTS of manuscripts on their desk, all but one percent of which, statistically, are guaranteed to be bad. So put yourself in their shoes. They’re opening the fortieth manuscript today. Because they almost all are, this one is probably going to be bad. And look! They failed to follow the guidelines! Hooray, I can throw this one out with a clear conscience.

In short, an editor or agent with a slush pile is looking for ANY excuse to move past this manuscript. Failure to follow guidelines is easy and doesn’t make them feel bad. Bad grammar and spelling, marks of a non-professional, ditto. Whiny cover letter? Purple paper? Author sent a bribe of cookies they can’t safely eat? All great reasons to dump the manuscript without bothering. This is REASONABLE and sane behavior for an overwhelmed slush pile reader.

It’s up to the author, who is preparing ONE manuscript at a time for submission, with all the time he needs to do so, to get it right. Anything you can do to make their job easier is going to lift you above the wieners who didn’t do that. For the most part, that means standard rather than stick-out (we’re talking about the formatting, not the writing itself) and following the guidelines.

I started by talking about SASEs. If you can get the self-sealing kind, then the editor/agent won’t have to lick it. Lick 300 gummed envelopes and then see how you like it. If you can see anything with your eyes that dilated… 😉

Word Count: 3170
Other: posted, did agent search, writer’s group meeting


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