Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Driving Miss SASE

A reader emailed me to make me aware of a post on a popular anonymous agent's blog.

Someone asked this agent if including a SASE is necessary, because on JA Konrath's website, he says don't bother including SASEs.

Now, for a moment, we'll pretend we're not all art majors and make an attempt to think rationally. Can anyone guess how the agent replied?

Here's a multiple choice:
  1. "Joe's right. It would make my job a lot easier if none of the 17 million people who submitted to me included SASEs."
  2. "Joe's right. On my website I just mention to include a SASE to test your grasp of reverse psychology."
  3. Joe is a nitwit. Include a SASE.

Goodness knows I don't mind public ridicule. And goodness knows that if I were an agent, I'd also request SASEs, because the amount of slush those folks receive is overwhelming.

But this particular agent alluded to the fact that submissions without SASEs are always thrown away, and that she sometimes uses SASEs for acceptance letters.

If we're to believe this hip, savvy agent, we can infer that when she finds a manuscript she falls in love with, she doesn't pick up the phone to call the author. She doesn't shoot her an email. She types a letter, hunts down the SASE, and then sends it off and waits for the author to contact her after 3-7 days (which is how long the US Post Office typically takes.)

We could also infer that if an author looking to change agents, or a someone with a brilliant book, contacted her by mail but didn't include a SASE, their query would be thrown away.

Does that seem like a way a hip, savvy agent would run her business?

I wonder if that same agent includes a SASE with the books she submits to publishers on behalf of her authors. And if the editors, if they want to buy the book, use that SASE to break the good news. No SASE, no book sale.

Call me a skeptic, but I ain't buying.

SASEs are used for rejections. Always. I once had an agent tell me a story about how anxious he was because he read a wonderful submission but the author didn't include a phone number. This agent called 411, tried the Internet, phone books, and a half dozen other ways to call the guy instead of trusting the good news to a SASE. But he wound up having to use the SASE, and was a nervous wreck for a week, thinking some other agent signed the guy, before the author finally called.

My advice to writers is to not bother with the SASE, because all you'll get is a form letter rejection that you can live without. If the agent likes your writing, they'll call or email.

I've mentioned that pros don't use SASEs. And that SASEs send out a subliminal message that the author is a newbie. Something used only for rejection seems to me to beg rejection. Do frat pledges get any respect? Neither do newbie authors.

Now, I can't blame this agent her reaction. Of course she has to say what she says. It's a matter of self-preservation. And if I were the one writing her blog, I would have squelched that question in much the same way.

But what intrigued me is that she doesn't understand why writers would have problems with SASEs, because they're only 39 measly cents.

I want to make a point here. It's not about the 39 cents.

It's about empowerment.

I've gotten my share of rejections. Hundreds. All delivered in SASEs. If you've gotten them, you know how demoralizing, depressing, and disheartening it is to see that envelope in your mailbox. There's that sorry/sick feeling you get in your stomach---all the hope you've been hanging onto, dashed.

By a show of hands, who likes rejection?

With my sixth novel, I stopped sending SASEs. Coincidentally, with my sixth novel, I got 12 offers of representation. And I got them within days of mailing the queries, rather than the 4 weeks to 8 months that prior rejections had taken.

So what should I preach? What they tell you to do, or what worked for me?

Of course an agent will never admit to you that all you'll ever get in a SASE is a rejection. That doesn't mean it's the truth.

I'd like to remind everyone that this is not an 'us vs. them' game. Writers want to find good agents, and agents want to find good writers. There is, however, a power dynamic that initially favors the agents. The agents are aware of this.

The person who does the rejecting, has the power. That person ain't you.

Some writers want to get that form letter rejection, to get a sense of closure. Or as proof that they're actively trying to succeed.

But I believe it's easier on the writer, and the agent, to not get a rejection letter. The agent saves time stuffing the form letter into the SASE and mailing it out, and the writer no longer fears the mailman.

When writers start out, they have no sense of their own importance in the writer/agent equation. The try to break in on bended knee, hoping someone will rep them.

Read Dale Carnegie if you believe that's the right way to do business.

Newbie writers need to have confidence. Not cockiness--that's bad. They need to believe in themselves. Trust themselves. Feel good about themselves.

I have a writing friend who doesn't call himself a writer. On his taxes, under occupation, he put "rejection collector."

Don't be a rejection collector. Be confident.

Don't be a frightened mouse who is terrified to ever bend the rules. Be a trend setter.

Don't be a sycophant. Be a leader.

Don't be afraid. Be bold.

Don't ever rely on any one person for your answers. Seek for yourself.

Double checking for typos, using 24# paper, and leaving out the SASE all have less to do with breaking into publishing than they have to do with adopting the right attitude toward publishing.

Hope is for the lottery. Winners don't need to hope.

And they don't need form letter rejections.