Short Story Submission
and the Death of Trees
By Carter Nipper
Those who are supposed to know have been
preaching the Paperless Society for decades, yet writers are still bound to
paper and envelopes for submitting their short stories. The unwillingness
of many publishers to adapt business practices to take advantage of
electronic communication has been a real stumbling block for those of us who
would like to move away from paper.
Fortunately, change is slowly happening.
There are still a lot of hold-outs, but more and more markets are opening up
to electronic submissions, either by e-mail or through a Web-based form.
Publishers and editors are becoming aware of the efficiency in getting
submissions that are already nearly ready for publication on the Web or for
easy conversion into a file format that the presses can utilize.
For the writer, electronic submissions have
several advantages over the traditional paper method. Probably the most
obvious is speed. E-mail and Web form submissions move at the speed of
light. Even with delays for routing, spam filtering, and server processing,
my submission can be in an editor's hands in a matter of minutes after I
send it. By the same token, the editor's response can be in my hands just
as quickly, cutting days or weeks off the response time. The increased
efficiency means a faster turn-around for rejected pieces, making it
possible for me to submit to more markets in a given time.
Electronic submissions are cheap. They
have no associated costs for paper, envelopes, or postage. They also don't
carry those hidden costs, like ink or toner, wear and tear on the printer,
and time to put the submission package together and take it to the post
office. Many people either have a computer at home with Internet access or
have access to one, so these savings are available to everyone.
Electronic submissions don't use paper.
This is a big one for me. Paper is becoming more expensive as woodlands are
converted to other uses. Though pulpwood trees are a renewable resource,
there is a lag time of quite a few years between one harvest and the next.
Then there are the energy considerations in making, packaging, and shipping
the paper, and, likewise, in delivering snail mail both ways.
Conservation-conscious writers can find much to be happy about with
There is a dark side to electronic
submissions, of course, and I would be derelict in my duty if I did not
point some of them out. Probably the three biggest problems facing the
electronic submitter are unreliability, incompatibility, and the danger of
Let's face it, computers are not the most
reliable machines going. Things happen to messages transmitted over wires
and through routers. Corruption sometimes sneaks in, and your
carefully-edited story turns into gobbledygook. Sometimes computers break
down. Sometimes? Hah! If you have not experienced a system failure, you
will. When systems fail, data often gets lost. I have had two stories so
far suffer this fate as e-mail servers crashed at inopportune times. This
is something electronic submitters must always keep in mind. Queries and
resubmissions will occasionally be necessary.
Then there is the problem of file formats.
Though word processors have nominal conversion capabilities, they often
cannot handle foreign files properly. This creates a real problem for an
editor using WordPerfect™ who receives a Microsoft Word™ file. There are
ways around this problem, most of which involves saving files in a common
format such as Rich Text Format (RTF) or just plain text. This can
sometimes be a pain, but it is still faster than driving to the post
office. Read the guidelines for the market you are planning to submit to.
They will specify how the editor wants to receive your story.
Unprofessional cover letters are the
editor's bane. Nothing can lose you a sale than for you to appear rude or
amateurish in your presentation. Unfortunately, the anonymous nature of the
Internet has encouraged a relaxed attitude toward letter-writing. E-mail
messages tend to be short and informal. That is not the way to present
yourself to a potential buyer of your work. Your e-mail cover letters must
follow the same conventions as the ones you would print on paper. You must
be polite, address the editor by name whenever possible, and provide as
professional an appearance as possible.
One final word of advice for all short
story submitters, electronic or otherwise: RTFG -- Read the … um …
Guidelines! If the guidelines say no attachments, an attached document will
get you an instant rejection and, probably, a nasty letter. If the
guidelines say attach an RTF file, don't put your story in the body of the
e-mail. Attached files should always follow standard manuscript formatting
rules unless otherwise specified. When pasting your story into a Web form,
always save it first as a plain text file. Then, copy and paste from that.
This avoids the problem of strange characters showing up in your submission
due to word processor codes. The ease of electronic submissions does not
excuse the writer from the responsibility of reading and following the
guidelines for a specific market.
The Paperless Society may be a myth, but
computers and the Internet can help us make our lives less cluttered by
paper. Electronic short story submission is one way to work more
efficiently and have less impact on our world's resources. I urge you to
consider this option whenever it is available.