I began submitting manuscripts in the mid-1980s. It was all horror. Mostly short stories; novel submissions didn’t begin until the early 1990s. I think. But it’s been a while, so maybe I was sending out The Prometheus Syndrome in the late ’80s. Anyway …
I’d put the story (or sample chapters) into the big tan envelope with my query letter telling the editor I didn’t have any publishing credits, but hopefully you’ll be my first. Be gentle. Then off I’d go to the big post office in Enid, Oklahoma. I loved the Enid post office, by the way. It seemed so old, stately, and official. There was a smell, almost like a library, and the counters were all very tall and the postal employees, as representatives of the federal government, were kind of intimidating.
You younglings are probably asking a couple of questions here. Why didn’t I just e-mail my stories? Or maybe, Why did you have to actually go to the post office since the dude in the truck will pick up mail from your house. Well, first of all, those dudes drove boxy little Jeeps back in the day. But I guess that’s another story.
Back in the dark ages, you had to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope to get your rejected story returned to you. To know how much postage to put on the envelope, you had to weigh the outgoing envelope with the return envelope inside, and then weigh it again without. Then you’d have to buy postage for both, slap it on, fold one envelope and put it inside the other, seal it up, send it off, wait and pray.
I remember days when I worked the night shift and would wait in the living room for the postman to deliver mail, hoping to see one of my SASEs return home like the pigeons I used to keep. I was convinced that someday one would come with an acceptance letter instead of my story pages. It did finally happen, but it took a long time.*
Why do I miss this expensive, time-consuming process? Because in today’s digital age, many agents and editors include a clause in their submission procedures saying they’ll only respond if they’re interested. There’s usually a lack of closure. I keep a spreadsheet of my submissions, and more than half the column for responses is blank and will forever remain blank. I miss that closure.
I also miss my trips to the Enid post office.
*My first acceptance letter came for a story called “Nocturnal Caress.” Sadly, this was also my first experience with a publisher I was connected to going out of business. More sadly, this was at a time when photocopiers were rare and places charged 5-10 cents per page to make copies, so, (you guessed it) my only copy of “Nocturnal Caress” was lost. Yes, the story has been rewritten and is much less gruesome now.
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