Thursday, March 15, 2007

Author Beware: SASE

Over the years, as an editor and agent, I have built a pretty good-sized author beware file. This file is made up of interesting and usually angry letters and e-mails from authors. Often they are in response to rejections or other correspondence we’ve had. No matter what the situation, the letters always give me insight into the personality and professionalism of the author, letting me know that this is not someone I want to work with. From time to time I’m going to dig out one of those letters and post some of what was said. And, of course, I’m going to comment.

Rather than just show you a letter, I wanted to give you the entire e-mail exchange on this so you could see exactly what transpired.

About 5 months ago, I mailed a hardcopy of my manuscript. I didn't include an SASE because I didn't care to receive it back, but I did want to know our opinion. When you get a chance can you let me know what you think?
My response: I’m afraid I don’t have enough memory of it to give a real opinion. I do know however that I’ve passed on it.

And in reply: Well, thanks for NOTHING! What kind of professional are you? You didn't even give me the courtesy of an email or phone call. Because of this sort of behavior I will not be recommending you in the future.


This exchange boggles my mind really. The author admitted that she didn’t include a SASE, and therefore, in my mind, didn’t care to know what happened to her book or what my opinion was. Now obviously she’s changed her mind and clearly doesn’t just want to know the status, but wants free editorial advice as well.

There are rules for a reason, and they’re not to make your life difficult. I barely have the time to send out form rejection letters, and when I do e-mail or phone manuscript revisions, it’s usually to my clients, although occasionally I’ll send one to someone who I think has real potential. I’m sorry that this person won’t be recommending me to anyone in the future, but I suspect any savvy writers she talks to will first ask why she didn’t follow the rules.

—Jessica

20 comments:

Sam said...

I can just imagine the nasty notes you get. I sometimes help out a friend and read slush for a small press, and every once in a while her editor forwards me notes from authors she's rejected. (Not being catty, but more of a 'thank goodness we didn't sign this person on because look what kind of character he has!')

On the flip side - whenever an author responds nicely, his comments get sent around as well, and there are several authors on the 'put to the top of the slush pile' list because of their professionalism.

The old adage 'you catch more flies with honey than vinegar' is still true.
:-)

Anonymous said...

There are rude people everywhere. If someone doesn't include a SASE, they don't deserve a response. And if they won't be recommneding you to others, be glad. They probably know people like themselves.

Anonymous said...

Was this a manuscript that had been requested or a (no-no) blind submission?

If it had been a requested manuscript, I would have expected some response and/or memory of it.

If it was a blind submission...well, too bad.

Just curious - the author was still unbelievably rude and unprofessional. He/she could have said "Thank you for letting me know."

Laura K said...

It's astonishing how many people in this word have never been taught the basic rules of polite behavior. I don't care how angry someone is, there's no call for that kind of behavior.

As Sam mentioned, there are all too few people who swing to the other side of the line. Years ago I spent 10 days in the hospital. When I got out, it seemed only right to send a "cookie bouquet" (it's a company that makes bunches of cookies on long sticks shaped like flowers into bouquets) to the third floor nurses.

If you've ever been in the hospital you'll know it's the nurses who make your stay bearable, so I sort of assumed everyone would acknowledge them. Not so. When I had to go back unexpectedly for another 5 days, every one of them came by to thank me. I was astounded. It seems that only a very small percentage of people ever thank them for their unending--and often unpleasant--work.

I really do wonder, as my mother used to say, whether most people were raised in barns.

Anonymous said...

Sam brings up an interesting point about thank yous. I'm curious now how often BookEnds gets responses to rejections that make you remember the name if they happen to submit again months later with another project.

JDuncan

BookEnds, LLC said...

This particular submission was blind. But the truth is I don't always remember enough about requested submissions to have an opinion and, think about it, if it wasn't that memorable you probably have your answer right there.

--jhf

Lara said...

Exactly... if it was worth representing, you'd surely remember it.

Kasey Mackenzie said...

That's completely true. Heck, I often have trouble remembering things about PUBLISHED books I read and enjoyed 5 months back. I can imagine it's hard to remember manuscripts from that far back, especially if there unfortunately wasn't anything truly memorable about it. Not to mention you all get a lot more to read in a given day/week/month than most of us! =)

And I'm shocked they expected to get a response without a SASE...That's pretty basic querying etiquette.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I'm with LauraK - people just aren't taught good manners any more. I really feel for you guys. It's like you have a big target painted on your backs and people feel they can be as nasty or as ignorant as they like.

amy m said...

The no-SASE thing just boggles my mind. If you want a response, you'd better send the means to get one.

It seems like it is rare anymore for people to thank anyone for any service they do, but they will go out of their way to complain. You'll be remembered for your actions, and I'd rather be remembered for the good and not the bad.

adrienne said...

I totally think the author was a bit nuts, however, I think this illustrates a common faulty logic with submitted MS and SASEs. I bet you that this author didn't put in an SASE because he/she didn't want the MS back. That was the logic. The author thought that there was no point in putting in an SASE because the MS was disposable. The author didn't realise that it is this SASE that the rejection letter also comes in. So the author actually probably did want a rejection but didn't realise that he/she wasn't going to get one without an SASE.

If that makes sense.

Christopher M. Park said...

I think it has less to do with people not knowing the basic rules of professionalism and decency, but rather not being able to control themselves in anonymous situations. There are always exceptions, but I bet that a lot of the nasty letters that get sent are actually from people who would never say such things in person.

Please don't misunderstand and think I'm defending that sort of behavior--far from it. I actually think it's worse when people know they shouldn't do something, and then do it anyway just because they think they won't get caught. It's what we do when no one is watching that really reveals our character.

So many studies have been done on how people act differently (more aggressive, for one) on the Internet than they ever would in person. But I think this phenomenon far predates the Internet. People hide behind anything that provides semi-anonymity: letters, phones, even their cars (road rage, anyone?). It's too bad that people like that don’t feel they are being watched by God, or Santa Claus, or that they are beholden to Karma, or whatever. But mostly it's sad that they need that external motivation in the first place.

Chris

Sally Jane Driscoll said...

Christopher, it's benevolent of you to think that people act this way because they believe they're anonymous.

When I worked for a literary agent, I once hand-carried a submission to my extremely busy boss to help a friend. (I'd read the novel and saw how it needed to be fixed, though the writer rejected my suggestions, of course. But I was naive and thought it could be edited.) My boss set aside other pressing work to read the whole novel overnight. She saw the flaws and sent the writer a nice rejection.

Soon afterward, she received a letter from my so-called friend---500 words of pure poison, damning me for having no integrity (!) because this masterpiece was turned down.

It was a vile thing for that writer to do.

Why was it done? (This person was middle-aged---not too young to know better.)

The writer acted this way out of conceit and illusion. Publishing is corrupt, no one recognizes a masterpiece, only crap gets published, etc., etc. The typical pananoid amateur bulls***.

That book was eventually published---fixed up or not, I don't know, because I'll never read this writer's work again.

What I will do is remember.

Male2007 said...

I am sorry you had such a nasty experience. I recently had to judge a writing contest and got a mean chain of vicious e-mails from a rejected contestant so I know how it hurts.
I though SASE was optional, and since I live abroad, I wasn´t planning to include one with my manuscript.But if it means getting useful feedback, I am definetely enclosing one.

Cindy Procter-King said...

I don't think you have to worry about anything this writer says to other writers familiar with the query process. They didn't include a SASE, so why expect a response? It doesn't make sense. This writer will eventually learn his/her error, hopefully grow from it, and move on. In the meantime, were I an agent and other writers to whom this writer told this story decided NOT to query me, I would be just as happy not getting their queries. Like you said, it indicates a level of professionalism, and of course the phone calls, etc. would go to your current clients or people on the cusp.

This email exchange is a great example, IMO, of why agent blogs provide such a wonderful service. Writers can read and learn and realize what not to do.

Cindy

Kim said...

For the last few years, I've judged in my local RWA chapter's contest, and last fall, I got the shock of my life when one entrant (who wrote something I would have killed to finish reading) actually sent me a thank you note! I almost fell over because it was so unexpected. It's the only time anyone has ever thanked me for taking the time to judge their work.

And Laura K - you are so right about the nurses! When my son was born, my nurses were absolute angels - I almost didn't want to leave! :) I sent them a card with a personal note in it, but I didn't think of something like that cookie bouquet - now I feel guilty because they deserved at least that! I couldn't tell what doctors I saw, but I remember my nurses!

Christopher M. Park said...

Sally,
I'm sorry to hear you had such a bad experience with the writer “friend.” Hopefully that sort of thing is more of an exception, rather than the rule. In my day job, I have had to go through the process of hiring new programmers four times in the last few years. Most people out of the hundreds of applicants each time were fine, but two years ago there was this one guy who just went nuts on me. He was so upset that he didn't get called in for an interview after completing our entrance test that he just knew I was prejudiced against him for his age (not that I knew his age, and it turned out he was only in his late thirties!). When I pointed out all the things that were wrong with his test answers, he tried to argue them with me. He was belligerent, threatened to sue and go to the state employment commission, and more. I finally had our HR department send him a note that was polite but formal, and explained our hiring policy. Fortunately, that shut him up and I never heard back from him again.

That's the sort of thing that made me really nervous about sending back the form "sorry, but you don't fit what we’re looking for" notes to applicants who failed the entry test (sound familiar?). Anyway, whenever we'd post a position we'd get something like 300 applicants in the first week, before we closed to submissions, and that was the only true nut. For my own sanity, I have to believe that most people are basically decent, even though there are certainly those who aren’t.

Chris

Bryan D. Catherman said...

What's a SASE?

Just joking. If a writer's can't spend the time self addressing and stamping an envelope (see, I really was joking) how can they expect an agent to make that time for them. It's a "help me help you" thing.

Anonymous said...

I think there's often the very incorrect thought that an agent (or editor, for that matter) OWES something to the writers that submit to them.

Well, I guess they do -- a yes or a no. But that's only if the writer has followed the directions of the agent and/or editor within their submission.

Whenever I read about a fellow writer behaving in a fashion such as this I cringe. It gives all of us a bad name. Everything to do with the business side of writing is just like ANY OTHER business.

Miss Snark always says, "Great writing trumps all," and while I agree with her -- professionalism is equally as important.

Tessa said...

I think it goes beyond professionalism to just plain, old-fashioned good manners. For some reason, submitting a manuscript brings out the worst in people. Perhaps because writing is so intimate that they presume a closer relationship with the recipient of the materials.
Whenever "personal" is involved, reactions are much more incendiary. And no matter how many times you explain it's not "personal," they can't separate, and it IS personal.
That's why writers are so reactionary, and why they feel owed. Well, that and the world of the internet where blogs give them a sense of established relationship.
Manners are an endangered species.