E-subs good, paper subs bad??

I won’t lie. I prefer the tangible nature of paper submissions, versus the somewhat ephemeral feel of electronic submissions.

I also like the ritual of paper: formatting the finished manuscript to proper MS format, printing the pages on the laser printer, doing up the cover letter and the self-addressed stamped envelope, dropping them all into a manila envelope, then going to the post office, stamping, and sending. Takes more time than electronic subs. Costs a little pocket change, too. But I don’t mind. I’m old enough to remember when nobody who sent anything to the short SF and F markets had much choice: it was all paper subs, or no subs at all. So perhaps I am just habit-bound, and find comfort in the habit?

But this doesn’t mean I won’t do electronic submissions. Even though there is currently no industry standard for e-subs, and all the markets that do e-subs have their own particular guidelines for how they want e-subs formatted, sent, etc. The rule I’ve always used is: send the story to the market in whatever format the market desires. I never fretted much over whether or not the mode or format of submission was convenient for me, or to my personal liking. Seems to me, as an aspirant, there are about 101 things more important to my career than getting my undies in a wad over e-subs versus paper subs.

Recently it became known to me that there are a significant number of pro, semi-pro, and aspirant F and SF writers who simply will not do paper subs. Nope. Nada. Not gonna. Too archaic. Too quaint. Passé. Uncool. To cite just a few of the — surprisingly strong — reactions some writers have to the idea of sending it in over the old transom.

For them it’s not just inconvenient or uncool for a market to require paper subs. They consider it to be a personal affront. Like picking your nose in public, or scratching your ass crack. Uncouth! Embarrassing! It’s the 21st century and the SF genre is the genre of the future, after all. Paper subs. I mean, really…

Perhaps this attitude, among certain established pros, shouldn’t be a surprise. As established pros they enjoy a certain leeway that aspirants don’t get. As aspirants, we have to pretty much accept the submission guidelines as dictated by the editors. If we sit down in the mud and have a fit over it, there are a thousand people right behind us who will happily take our place and send in their fiction however a given editor requests. We don’t have Names yet to dangle in front of editors and say, see? We’re Names. We sell. It’s in your best interest to do it like Burger King does it: the way we want it. Otherwise we might not send to you, which diminishes your ability to sell.

And yet the attitude seems prevalent among aspirants and semi-pros, too. Many of whom act as if any market which requires paper subs — no matter how storied or award-winning — is simply beneath their dignity. Why bother? Nobody needs to go through the archaic old dinosaur publications to become a pro these days anyway. In fact, some aspirants and semi-pros and, yes, even some of the pros seem to have a spiteful attitude about it: screw the old publications and their antediluvian ways! We’ll sit back and laugh as they perish on their old 20th-century swords! Nobody ever needed them anyway! Stupid old outdated exclusive markets! Phbtbtbtbtbtbtbt!

Am I the only one who detects a hint of sour grapes in all of this?

Yeah, the established short markets — Analog, Asimov’s, and F&SF — are tough to crack. Even if you have a history of publications in other markets. Yeah, there are times when even I have to wonder why the Big Three don’t spend more time and effort modifying both their marketing plan and their editorial selection so as to appeal to a broader, younger, and altogether larger market. But there is another rule I picked up a long time ago, when it comes to being unable to easily or quickly get into a market: nothing personal, it’s just business.

Seems to me there are at least a few people in the exclusively e-subbing crowd who won’t do paper subs because they have a personal beef with the markets that still require them. “I’m too good to do paper subs for those old fuddy-duddy editors!” sounds a helluva lot like, “I’m bitter and angry that those old editors never buy me, so I’m going to drink some haterade!”

I don’t doubt there are a few writers for whom paper subs are truly inconvenient. People overseas who have to sub to American markets, and American writers who have to sub to overseas markets. Doing this electronically is waaaaaaay easier than doing it on paper. But for American writers subbing to American markets, pretending that paper subs are too expensive and time consuming seems pretty weak. Especially among teens and twenty-somethings, who blow untold sums of cash on the accoutrement of youth: video games, clothes, music, their cars, their boyfriend/girlfriend, fast food, coffee at Starbucks, etc. For the cost of a single small drink from Starbucks, you can mail a decent-sized novelette to a market that takes paper subs. How many people griping over cost, spend tens of dollars per week on coffee and snacks without it ever troubling them?

And no, I am not saying paper subs are better than e-subs, across the board. As I already noted, there are times an e-sub is more practical. But this whole holier-than-thou attitude being displayed by certain folk who are exclusive e-subbers… I dunno. Rubs me wrong. And seems wrongheaded to boot. Especially among aspirants.

But hey, if some of you won’t deign to send it in via transom, no sweat. More room for those of us who will deign. Thanks for boosting our chances, even if it’s by a fraction of a percent. Less competition is less competition, no matter how you slice it.

Someday I don’t doubt that paper subs will truly go away. This seems to be the way of everything in business: the reality of the paperless office.

Until such a time as we are an absolutely paperless business — the publishing business, that is — I will enjoy my paper subs. Just as I enjoyed my LP records well into the cassette era, my cassettes well into the CD era, and still enjoy my CD collection well into the solid-state era of the MP3.

And we liked it!  We loved it!

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3 thoughts on “E-subs good, paper subs bad??

  1. Hey Brad

    95% of my submissions are electronic. Stuck down here in NZ, its the only way. I submit to Analog and Asimov, as any aspirant should, but it costs me about $15 a pop, so i can’t afford to keep doing it.

    When I finish a story, i start at Analog. When that is rejected. I move onto Asimov. Then i move down the list into electronci submissions, pretty much ignoring the other paper submission places. Maybe I should just toughen up, but its hard to keep throwing such money at it when you don’t have a promise of success.

    Of course if Asimov accept the story I have currently sent them, i’ll think it was the best $15 i’ve ever spent 😉

  2. I agree, plunking down the cash for paper subs can be tough to justify, especially in the case of international mailing. This year is the first year — in 14 total — that I’ve actually been doing a spreadsheet on my writing expenses. For tax-writeoff purposes. Whoa, the postage alone sort of makes me raise my eyebrows. But if I can get it back from the government, no big whoop.

    Really, international subs is the one area that seems to demand e-subs, as a matter of practicality for both editorial staff and writers.

    But you’re right also, in that if you score with Asimov’s, that $15 will seem worth it. (smile)

  3. Submitting via international mail is certainly more of a problem. Expense of the initial mailing aside, it also complicates the reply mechanism. I used to live in Canada, and while postage to the US markets wasn’t hugely expensive, there was no point putting Canadian stamps on the SASE. Rather than hassle with International Reply Coupons, I drove the three-hour round trip to a town on the other side of the US border and stocked up on enough US postage to stamp a year’s supply of SASEs. I realize that’s not a practical solution for everybody.

    The British magazine Interzone, while still requiring hardcopy submission, will at least allow (actually, require) overseas submitters to just include an email address rather than a SASE for the reply, which is nice.

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