Friday, October 13, 2006

Returning Manuscripts

Thanks to links from the venerable Miss Snark, as well as this recent one from Jennifer Jackson, my blog appears to be getting more popular. This is very neat. So, while I've got everyone's attention, I figured that I would expound upon one of my pet peeves: returning manuscripts.

I don't like having to return manuscripts for partials, and I absolutely abhor having to do so for fulls. Why is this, you ask? Let's deal with the fulls, first off. Every single full manuscript I know of is always over one pound in weight. Our dear US postal system, in its almighty wisdom that something over a pound just might be a bomb, has decreed that you must hand anything over a pound in weight to a US postal clerk or carrier. It doesn't matter if the package is already pre-paid for, you still have to hand it over to them directly. This is a royal pain in the ass.

It means that I have to go stand on the line inside the post office, which is an ordeal that regularly takes me fifteen to twenty minutes, since there is invariably only one postal clerk working at any one time. So I stand on this line, I eventually get to hand the package over to the postal clerk, and then I can finally get back on my way home. By the time I get back home, counting the travel time to get to and from the post office, I've lost a half hour out of my day already. Sometimes more. Postal clerks, although they may be wonderful lovely human beings (and I'm sure they are), are among the slowest people known to mankind.

Now, here is where the situation gets even better. I don't have my own car; there's just one for both my boyfriend and myself. So many times, my boyfriend is kind enough to take mail to the post office before going to work, since we have no place to mail outgoing mail in our townhouse development. Normally, this should be a two second ordeal for him; drive up to the post office, park the car (in the badly designed parking lot, by the way), and drop all the nice standard-size envelopes in the mailbox outside of the post office door. Voila, he's done! But if you desire the return of the manuscript, then he's the one who's got to go stand on the freaking post office line. It's simply not nice, especially since it's not even his job to do that.

So let's review the situation one more time. Full manuscripts being returned mean having to wait on horribly long postal lines to do so. There is only one official employee at this branch of the L. Perkins Agency, and that's me. I have no interns or assistants or anyone else to send to the post office, with the exception of my boyfriend, who does it out of the kindness of his heart. Partial manuscripts often weigh more than a pound as well, and also require waiting on the long postal lines. Sometimes I will be frustrated, and I will just jam your partial to be returned back into the mailbox with all the standard-size envelopes. I haven't had one come back to me yet because of weight issues, so that's not so bad. Oh, and have I left out the most important part of why returning manuscripts is simply a silly thing to do? They are only made out of paper!

You have not sent me something engraved in gold. I'm not holding the one and only copy of the secret map to Timbuktu. I am holding something that was presumably printed on relatively inexpensive printer paper or for that matter, photocopied from something that was printed on such paper. I know that paper and ink cost money nowadays, but really, they don't cost that much. If you want agents to read and evaluate your work, you're simply going to have to absorb some costs to do so; it's all part of the business.

Plus, and I know that we have touched on this in previous posts about my mailman, Andy, partials don't arrive for me in pristine condition. They are often bent or curled, although this doesn't affect their readability. You really don't want me to return one of those to you because honestly, if you then send it out to another agent, it's not going to make a professional impression whatsoever.


Anonymous said...

I'm a writer, and I've always been puzzled as to why would anybody want their manuscript back.

Part of it is "I already know you don't want it, and you are throwing it back in my face?" Okay, I know it's not like that, but I think you'd get my point.

The second thing is why would anybody pay to have it sent back to them when they already have a copy? They could save that money and use it for something else.

Jodi Meadows said...

The only reason I could see someone wanting their ms back is if they think you're going to mark it up with comments. And since most people should know that agents don't have time for that sort of thing...


Maybe someone who likes their mss returned can explain for the class?

Kimber An said...

Chuck it into the bayou! I couldn't care less! But, it seems to me that it's expected we send an envelope big enough for the return trip. I'd really rather have it shredded or dumped, so should I send a regular #10 envelope for SASE and write P.S. If you don't like it, please deposit in a recycle bin. I'm not sentimental about getting it back. Thanks.

Jordan Summers said...

I agree with Jodi. The comment issue is the only reason I can see wanting a manuscript back. Like you said in your post, when they are returned they aren't in the best of shape. Of course, I wouldn't put it past anyone to try to send the returned manuscript out again. People are people. *g*

kiwi said...

I don't understand why we're even talking about hard copy in the techno-age, let alone returning it via snail mail.

With the right hardware and Internet provider manuscripts could remain wholly in cyberspace, at least until they are churned out as books.

Think of the number of trees this could save. With a little effort the pre-publishing industry could be a poster child for the clean green workplace and a responsible custodian of the world’s resources for future generations.

Is individual convenience more important than social, environmental and cross-generational responsibility?

Jenny Rappaport said...

kimber an, that is what you should do, although I don't think it's strictly necessary to write that it's disposable. If I get just a #10 SASE to send back, I always assume that I can get rid of the manuscript.

kiwi, it would be wonderful to be an enviromentally-conscious industry, etc. But the reality is, that even if I accepted submissions digitally, which I don't, I'd still have to print them out on my end. I hate reading on a computer screen, and because my eyes are bad, I try to read everything in hard copy.

BuffySquirrel said...

I can read up to about six or seven thousand words on a computer screen, but after that I want to stop. On paper, I can read indefinitely. A screen that's as easy on the eye as boring old paper is needed before paper becomes obselete, I'm thinking.

kiwi said...

I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't say that I print and print and print, because, like almost everyone, I hate reading off a screen, too. I just feel guilty doing it!

Sadly, I think you're right, Buffysquirrel; until some one invents a computer screen that doesn’t leave the viewer with gritty eyes and a migraine after ten minutes reading, trees will remain an endangered specie.

December Quinn said...

According to Miss S, they want them back because they've turned pages upside down, or slipped money or hair or cleverly concealed a mini-DNA testing kit on page 75 to capture a flake of skin from your finger, to ensure you really did read the whole thing.

Kimber An said...

Some writers really need to get lives.

Maprilynne said...

In my not-so-humble opinion, if an agent is not smart enough to realize that the #10 SASE accompanying my full is for their response and not the 400+ page MS I sent them, I don't really want them for my agent.:)

P.S. On word verification, why is f almost always followed by uc?

~~Olivia said...

The only reason I can guess someone would want their manuscript back is so they know for sure what happened to it. I think some writers are paranoid that their manuscript might get "stolen" and submitted, and be someone else's best seller.

As for me, please recycle it.

JimFreedan said...

I wouldn't want my manuscript back anyway. I don't even send a package large enough for the manuscript-- just a regular stamped envelope big enough for the rejection letter.

Dave Kuzminski said...

I suggest you amend your submission guidelines to state that only disposable manuscripts may be mailed when requested. Hopefully, that might solve or at least lessen the impact from two problems: mailing the ms. back and having to deal with paranoid writers who are certain their work will be the next million seller. By having that guideline, you don't have to visit the post office to mail those back unless it's in an advanced stage of acceptance and you want the writer to work on something that will cause a publisher to hopefully say yes. Also, the really paranoid writers might not submit their work to you thus eliminating those kinds of problems.

Lexie Ward said...

I haven't expected a partial or full manuscript back for a long time now. I send a simple #10 envelope for a response. The only thing that irritates me is if an agent (I'm speaking in general terms here) requests a partial or full and then never responds at all. This seems to be happening more and more to writers, but I'm not too sure why. Maybe agents are just overwhelmed?

kiwi said...

Lexie Ward, the answer here is to simply requery. If the agent doesn't respond to this, just move on to the next. New writers are not going to change the industry. And there’s just no point getting upset about it.

The key for newbies--i think--is to keep your end goal in sight at all times, know the market you are writing for, approach appropriate agents, take on board the feedback you receive, and last but not least, keep on querying.

And Dave Kuzminski, this is a sound suggestion. My agent does this. Her guidelines to prospective clients is exacting to say the least. She also thinks that it has helped considerably having a company website where writers can get her requirements first hand--rather than from secondary sources which are often out of date or plain wrong.

Have you considered a Lori Perkins Literary Agency website, Jenny?

Just a thought.

JJ said...

Well, I never used to send any SASE except a #10 until I heard THREE prominent editors, at three different events, say that they felt that a writer who wasn't willing to pay to have the whole MS returned was making a statement about how valuable they thought their own work was. So I started sending full SASEs.

Maybe it's different for the publishing houses, which have in-house mailrooms, than for agents (at least, smallish ones)?

Lisa Hunter said...

I think this a throwback to the days when each mss was typed on a typewriter, and only one copy (plus a messy carbon) existed. Back then, a mss represented 100+ hours of typing. Now it's 10 minutes of printing.

Lexie Ward said...


You're right, it isn't worth getting upset about. It's just that when agents ask for a partial, you kind of get your hopes up. Then when you don't hear anything back, it's a pretty big let down. Sniff, sniff. Okay, I'm done whining now!

Actually, I have requeried before and have had requests from the same agents who rejected the first time. So I've learned to "never give up, never surrender!"

Jenny: thanks for braving the pitchforks and torches. Agents who blog are awesome!

Thraesja said...

I also think it's a throwback to old typewriter days.

Or perhaps the occassional author thinks you're going to steal their ideas if you keep the manuscript? 'Cause I've heard that the idea is the hard part...not the hundreds and hundreds of hours of writing.