Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Short Story Submission and the Death of Trees

By Carter Nipper
© 2005,
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 electronic submissions.

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 being unprofessional.

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.