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.


Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I...I, I...think I'll stay out of this one! I love your blog anyhow!

Martel said...

What do you do then about closure on the submission process? If you don't include the SASE and don't get any correspondence, then how do you know whether or not the story is still being considered?

I have heard two schools of thought: 1) wait for correspondence so you know that submission is "closed" or 2) send it as many places as you can and see who bites first.

The first I'm told is what the industry expects you to do. The second seems to make more sense as many places have very long response times and the goal is to sell the story.

I have also been told that querying to find out if the story is still be considered is not an acceptable practice either. That it makes you look cocky or unprofessional somehow. And writers who do these types of things can wind up being black-balled because editors view that as a sign that you are difficult to work with.

Sometimes it seems like you can't win no matter what you do. Ugh.

Just my two cents.

WannabeMe said...

Well, I agree to some point.

I remember sending out a query with a SASE to an agent 3 days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, his assistant calls me and asks for the entire mss. and they want it ASAP.

I mean, he could have used my SASE and requested that, but no, he got his assistant to call me, on Christmas Eve!

(um, I was on vacation and my stupid voicemail didn't deliver that message to me until a whole 2 weeks later...but that's another story).

Joe, I'm a big chicken. I don't know about not sending in a SASE. I guess I'm on the fence about this one.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, Joe, this ought to get some people's undies in a bunch.

First, from an agent's point of view, they get significantly more rejections than acceptable manuscripts, so from a strictly economic pov they want those SASEs so they can scribble "not for me" on your query letter and have some college intern stuff it back into the SASE and it won't cost them an envelope or 39 cents.

I have mixed feelings about this post, but I must say, as a nonfiction freelancer, if they require the U.S. mail for queries, I don't bother with them any more. My clips are PDF files and e-mail is the way to go. If you're stuck in the 20th century, no thanks.

My agent responded to my first couple chapters via e-mail--quickly--and when she accepted me as a client, she called--even more quickly, and since that was the first book in a 2-book contract, I guess she knew something about what she was doing.

The flipside to Joe's post is not pissing off potential agents. As for Martel's post:

" have heard two schools of thought: 1) wait for correspondence so you know that submission is "closed" or 2) send it as many places as you can and see who bites first."

If an agent or editor has requested to read your entire manuscript, then #1 is the way to go. Otherwise #1 is total bullshit. It's a numbers game. If you're just sending out queries, send out a lot of them. For agents, some won't respond whether you have an SASE or not. Some will take months. If they do read your manuscript, it could take weeks even if you do get accepted. Weeks and sometimes months if they're just waiting to get to it. You'll be ancient, bitter and living at an assisted living facility by the time time you get an agent if you send queries out one at a time unless you're enormously lucky to get a hit on the first time out of the box. And if you are, hey, more power to ya.

Mark Terry

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

Joe's published and some of us are not - yet . He has laid out succinctly how he's done it.

An agent is an agent. Joe is an author on the rise.

You choose or not where to put your faith and money.

And BTW...Controversy is GOOD. See my blog about your drink recipes.

Heather Brewer said...

...or, you could stick with agents who accept e-queries. :)

JA Konrath said...

"...or, you could stick with agents who accept e-queries."

If you use e-queries, you should ALWAYS include a SASE.

Anonymous said...

I haven't started querying agents for my book, but when I do, I'll include a SASE. Do I expect to receive rejections? Yes. I'd be foolish to expect otherwise. Does it mean I have no confidence in my writing? No. It simply means I might learn something even from rejections.

For writers relatively new to the process, it makes sense. If the rejections I receive are all form letters or scribbled notes on my query letter, I'll know that my query package needs to be completely revamped. If I get personalized responses, I hope I can learn from them what IS working and how to further improve my query (or my writing).

Like all writers, I believe that I will find an agent who will sell my work. But I'm realistic enough to know it may take some more work on my part. As a multipublished author, Joe, you can afford to be cocky about the process. You've learned through hard work, trial, and error how to be successful. I think it's probably smarter for newbies to maintain a little confident humility and be open to anything that can bring them eventual success.

JA Konrath said...

"I've recieved both acceptances and rejections in my SASE's."

For short stories, right? Or for offers of representation?

If anyone has read my website, they know one of the reasons I didn't include SASEs was that they wouldn't fit in my query letters.

Plus, there's a psychological componant.

"Here's my wonderful manuscipt, beautifully written and ready to hit the NYT List, and here's the envelope you can use to reject it."

It's like buying bandages and painkillers before you even step into the boxing ring.

Adam Hurtubise said...

I can only add my two cents based on personal experience.

My very first agent query went to the agent of a friend, and I sent a crap query, no SASE, bare minimum contact information.

The agent looked me up, found my address and sent me a rejection letter, but not a form rejection, a list of specific things I needed to do to improve the novel. The letter also included an offer to reconsider the MS.

Fast forward a while... I queried other agents later, and on the same day a couple of years ago, I had 3 agents solicit my entire MS. None used the SASE I'd been providing with my submissions since my first boneheaded attempt to get an agent.

All three agents who solicited the MS that day asked me to include an SASE.

A little bit later, one of those agents e-mailed me... then called me... then a couple of weeks after that, called and offered to represent me.

I've said it before, Joe and I have the same agents.

But the point is, even when the agents were replying to me via phone and e-mail, they were asking for an SASE.

And none of them actually used the SASE.

So Joe is correct: An SASE is for a rejection.

If an agent likes your work, the agent will call you or e-mail you. If I were doing this over again (and Thank God, I have fabulous agents, so I'm not doing it over again), I'd be willing to part with the 39 cents just to be sure the agent received the work.


Anonymous said...

My agent requested the complete manuscript of my first novel via the enclosed SASE. He offered representation one month later with a phone call.

Instead of pondering the politics of the SASE, a novice author would be smart to read carefully the passages in Joe's post about empowering the writer. Many words of wisdom can be found in those few paragraphs.

Christa M. Miller said...

I AM new to this whole process. (At least for books.) It's in my query letter. So sending or not sending an SASE doesn't scream "NEWBIE!!!" all by itself.

Personally I would rather show the agent that I can follow directions (I have not seen a single agent's website NOT require an SASE) than risk being rejected as someone who ignores them.

Sure an SASE is small, but so often it's the little things that make a difference. (While job hunting years ago, I once heard of a boss who threw away resumes on which the watermark and the print did not go in the same direction, so that you could read the watermark without having to turn the paper. His point: he wanted employees who would pay attention to detail. Yes, it's anal retentive. But people like that DO exist.)

So, I would like to think that following directions AND the strength of the writing would work in tandem to get me an agent.

Harry Connolly said...

Agents and publishers have requested manuscript pages in the SASE I provided them.

Leaving out the SASE doesn't tell agents that you believe in your work. It tells them you didn't read their guidelines.

Mindy Tarquini said...

I've received requests for partials in my SASE. I've received some handwritten comments. I've received form letter rejections. I received form letter rejections from somebody OTHER than the agent who requested my work.

If they want my SASE, they can have it. They aren't asking me to print it on pink paper while I dance naked on the bar, rose between my teeth. They are saying, enclose an SASE, so I can tell you I don't want your novel. Or I can tell you send me a partial, Or I can write a nice little note across your query.

I need the documentation for my taxes. Others may not need that validation. It's worth a lot to me. Accountant's are a strange lot.

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

Writers. What else can we obsess about?

Steven said...

I'm not sure I see how refusing to follow the SASE rule isn't a lot like those contest writers who don't follow the formating rules.

While you think sending a SASE subconsciously signals a lack of faith in the work, might not an agent or editor think it signals a lack of professionalism? And if the presentation is unprofessional, might they not chuck the ms unread? After all, if they're judging the quality of the paper it's on...

OTOH, I don't see how an agent is saving money by asking for SASE's. How many agents would go through the trouble of shelling out postage and addressing an envelope just to send out a rejection? I wouldn't. If I bothered to read the ms and didn't like it, I'd just throw it away if there was no SASE. Then, I'd move on without another thought. The SASE, therefore, seems to be for the writer's convenience.

JA Konrath said...

"Writers. What else can we obsess about?"

Hold on--do you you think we're obsessing too much? I don't want to be obsessing too much. Boy, I need to think about this for a while. Obsessing? Really? Too much?

Anonymous said...

No, SASE's are NOT used only for rejections. I've received plenty of SASE's in my mailbox in the over the past three months with requests for partials and fulls. If I hadn't included an SASE, would these agents have contacted me anyway? Maybe. And maybe not. While I like your blog and find a lot of your advice helpful, you're doing a serious disservice to newbie writers by telling them to ignore submission requirements. Sure, you landed a great agent without doing the SASE song and dance. But this was an exception. And newbie writers should be aware of that.

Heather Brewer said...

"If you use e-queries, you should ALWAYS include a SASE."

Wait, I thought you were supposed to include chocolate with your e-queries!! Really, Joe, you need to clue people in BEFORE they smoosh Snickers into their monitors...

JA Konrath said...

"While I like your blog and find a lot of your advice helpful, you're doing a serious disservice to newbie writers by telling them to ignore submission requirements."

So instead I should avoid the topic, or be hypocritical and endorse a practice I'm against?

BTW--I don't advise sending partials, either.

And my opinion on exclusive submissions is even more radical.

But that is what's fun about my blog. Anyone can pick up a how-to book and read the same warmed over writing and submission tips that have been circulating for 40 years.
Those tips didn't work for me, but they might work for you.

Do what you think is right.

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

Ok, I'll bite, what is your radical opinion on exclusive submissions?

For short stories, queries, and mss?

Clay said...

I have to side with Joe on this issue.

I've published a couple hundred non-fiction articles over the years and I can only remember getting one acceptance or go ahead in the provided SASE.

I don't include SASE with my queries. If they want to reject me, they can e-mail me. If they want to accept me and pay me for something, I think they'll pick up the phone or again, e-mail me...or pay for their own stamps.

I'm probably in agreement with Joe on exclusive submissions, too.....

Anonymous said...

"Ok, I'll bite, what is your radical opinion on exclusive submissions?"

That's an easy one. NEVER give an exclusive.

JA Konrath said...

There's currently a gag order preventing me from speaking about my policy on exclusive submissions. But the savvy can guess.

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

God, you crack me up.

mapletree7 said...

"....I soon learned that if it looks like a lemon, it's sour.

Did I perhaps judge unfairly? Did I maybe pass up something brilliant because it didn't meet one of my criteria? I doubt it. But if I did, too bad. Out of 2600 stories, 50 were decent. And of those, only 15 were real contenders.

I have a newfound respect for those on the other side of the submissions desk who wade through the slush pile. I understand why they are looking to reject---there's so much to read, and so much of it is bad. And these were 1500 word stories, not 100k word novels. "

Why give people a reason to reject you?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I just used an SASE for the first time in my life with a story I sent to Hitchcock's MM. They specifically asked for one, so I sent it.

My short story submissions in the past never included one, but the magazines somehow managed to get a contract to me -- or, if they didn't want the story, sent the first page back on their own dime.

I've long been an advocate of no SASE as well, but who knows. It's like debating how many brads you need in your screenplay.

Anonymous said...


I'm amazed there are people out there that still believe she is an actual a working lit agent.

I thought everyone knew.

JA Konrath said...

"Why give people a reason to reject you?"

Why give them the vehicle in which they reject you?

Say in your query letter (as I did): "If you're interested, feel free to call or email." That eliminates the need for a SASE, and doesn't beg rejection.

Alphabeter said...


This isn't God's blog.

Try deargod.com

Anonymous said...

Joe, such an interesting topic. I see your point about self-empowerment, but I've gotten lots of requests for partials and fulls in my SASE, plus personalized notes sometimes on my own query letter returned. I wouldn't want to take the chance of not receiving these things; and with email queries you can wait and never know. I prefer to know.

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

Ok, beat me about the head and shoulders. Joe, you really crack me up.

And alphabeter: Didn't know God had a web site. Does he blog?

Anonymous said...

I'm on the fence with this one--or am I too big a chicken to say what I really think?

I took a query writing class years ago in which a fellow student, a young man who said he made his living and supported a family as a freelance (non-fiction) writer, told me he'd never included an SASE in his life. At the time, I thought that took a lot of guts.

But now that I think about it, all the SASEs I've received back have contained rejections, and the one time an agent took me on, she called me. I also have to disagree with Miss Snark about the expense of doing business. An agent who's making money can deduct the postage. A writer who hasn't yet sold anything can't. (Ask your accountant or the IRS. Until you're making an income your writing is considered a hobby and you eat the expenses. It's still a good idea to track expenses, because this might be the year you make money.)

Having said all this, I'm still a chicken about SASEs. One thing I wonder about is those rejections that offer advice, or ask that you keep submitting because they have an idea they will like something else you send. Would I still get those without an SASE? Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this will be the year I send submissions without them. I haven't decided yet. At 39 cents a pop, it's getting expensive. I don't feel a need for the closure of a rejection, unless I'm sending a complete manuscript, and even then, if an agent wants to represent me, she'll likely call.

In any case, thank you, Joe, for encouraging an attitude of self-worth. That's the most valuable thing anyone, writer or not, can possess.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great article, Joe. Personally, I hate SASE. I hate seeing my printing or the printing of my printer on the envelope. *blech*

Personally, I think it depends on whether I'm sending to agents or to editors. If I'm querying, depending on who it is-- some do use the SASE for requests. (I only know this because it's happened with me.) At the same time, there is the thought of letting them email me or more. I hate to see a waste of paper and my money.

There are times when agents and more have sent me rejections in their envelopes and such because they didn't use my SASE. Wasted money.

For me, I'm in the middle of the road-- agents don't get SASE, and only certain editors do. Otherwise, they can take the time I did to write me back- just as I took the time to check everything to submit to them.

Stacey Cochran said...

Could you post a link to the anonymous agent's blog?

JA Konrath said...

Topics like this are fun to debate, because they really aren't very important.

Have I made mistakes in this business? Sure. Here's one of them:

But if you don't try new things, you never find out for yourself what works.

Stacey Cochran said...

And, btw, I agree with Joe here. I've been writing for fifteen years, over a million words, have sent out literally several thousand queries, manuscripts, interviews, etc.

Not one time, ever, has someone used the SASE for a positive response.

Every positive response I've ever gotten came from e-mail, phone, or by their own postage (even when I enclosed an SASE).

Still, I use 'em. Every time.

Clay said...

This is a great thread.

I find it interesting how the publishing industry has stacked the decks against writers and placed the burdens on writers -- and simultaneous submissions (or being forbidden to do so) is one of the more galling examples.

Simple fact, SASE or not is a business decision. Writers provide magazines with a product or service, one which publications need and largely rely on freelancers to provide. I truly believe, SASE or not, if your product or service is good, and you have a good sales pitch (query), you'll succeed.

If you want to write for a living, you have to approach it as a business. If you send five query letters a week that's $1.95 per week, plus an extra $1.95 for the SASE. Eliminate the SASE and that's a savings of $101.40 per year -- not to mention the savings in using less envelopes.

Now, that $101 can be used toward a writer's conference, mailing a couple of copies of your book manuscript out, buying samples of magazines you want to write for, and countless other uses I'll wager are better than spending that $101 on being told no.

Stacey Cochran said...


Okay, that was funny.

So, what ever happened to Hermes?

Lynn Raye Harris said...

I don't know if God blogs, but I do know He lives in Hawaii. He drives a Jaguar with the license plate "God1". :)

As for the SASEs, well, I'm a chicken. I think. :) I've gotten requests for more material and long letters with suggestions to improve my mss in SASEs. That's been a while, and as I begin the submission process again shortly, I imagine I'll include the SASEs out of pure habit. I hate change (which is ironic considering I married a military man and change is inevitable on a regular basis). Just ask my dh. When he loads a new computer program and something doesn't look the way it did before, I freak out. Guess I'm just a bit anal retentive that way. :)

I think it's important to remember that we're all grownups and we can decide whether to follow the guidelines as written or whether to do something different. You can always find tons of advice on these topics all over the web, and it doesn't always agree. It's up to you to decide.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Form letter rejections aren't great.

But what is wonderful is the day that you start getting personalized ones. With encouraging comments about your work. And (gasp) suggestions to improve. In one case, the publisher sent me the names of three publishers they felt might be interested in my work.

Imagine if I'd been too cheap to do as they asked and put the SASE in.

I think what works for others, well, that's their opinion. But telling everyone to do things a certain way when that's not what people in the industry ask for... well, what's it costing you to put out the free advice? And what's it costing you if everyone who follows gets their work tossed straight in the trash?

So I don't really think any of us can criticize the decisions of another person on this. You can send it with your SASE. Or without. That's your business and your risk.

But when I read stuff for magazine submissions - and we allow email submissions that don't cost anything and we do respond to everyone, whether it's yes or no - if writers haven't taken the time to follow the few directions we have about formatting, I'm pissed. It shows me they haven't even read the tips we've provided. Makes me think it's a random submission, one of a zillion, and they don't even know what they're submitting to.

So I can completely understand why Some Unknown To Me Agent would be choked about getting submissions without SASE's and throw them straight in the garbage.

Not meaning to be disrespectful, it isn't personal, but I think completely ignoring the submission guidelines for an agent or publisher is just ignorant. It shows you have no respect for how they operate. I imagine they'd be thinking you'd phone them at home at 11 pm or 4 am if it damn well suited you too, and would be harping at them all the time to reimburse the long distance costs.

In my opinion, ignoring the guidelines makes you look cheap, unprofessional and inconsiderate. But that's only my opinion. I'll include a SASE or IRC every time, and I stand by that decision.

Jude Hardin said...

If Joe were a dentist, he'd be the one out of five who DOESN'T recommend Trident (old Letterman joke).

Ah. What a crazy thing to debate.

What we need is a lab rat, someone who'll volunteer to send out a hundred queries, half with SASE and half without. I'd do it, but I don't have anything ready for query right now. Any volunteers? Maybe Edward Redwin could do it.

I think it's pretty amusing that Joe and miss snark are having an interblog spat. It's kind of like Superman vs Wonder Woman to those of us who read and comment (and learn) on both sites. At least it will generate traffic both ways.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

This is my first visit to your blog. Unbelievable how this subject inspires! Miss Snark stresses the common sense of following protocol, and in theory I agree. But not until reading your post and about 30 of the 47 comments, did I remember that dozens of my articles and reviews had been published (and paid for) before I even KNEW about enclosing a SASE.

Your point of view is refreshing.

I fell into writing for magazines. Only when I aspired to move into animation, and now novels, did I start politely enclosing a SASE (and doing so makes me feel tacky).

Thanks for the nudge.

Mindy Tarquini said...

I refer everybody to IRS publication 535. It can be downloaded from the IRS site. Read it, especially, page 5. Decide if you fit, act appropriately. Read the fine print also, take the time to decode it.

JA Konrath said...

One last comment, then I'm done with this topic.

Do you want someone working for you who is so anal retentive they'll throw out your submission if you don't do something as petty as include a SASE?

I want my agent to fight for me--and my agent has. That's the type of person I want to work with.

Agents are looking for new writers. To do that, they have to read material. Proper manuscript format will assist an agent in her reading.

A SASE will not.

And to those who believe that SASEs show the agent that the writer can follow orders: Who is working for whom?

It's not about following orders. It's about writing a good book.

Final advice: Beware agents on power trips.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute...you're saying "don't follow the guidelines on SASE's" when, just a couple of blog entries ago, you were deriding authors who didn't follow contest submission guidelines?

You freaking hypocrite! I don't care who you are or how many books you have published. The more I read your blog, the more arrogant you seem. You're off my list. Ciao!

JA Konrath said...

Submission guidelines allow the work to be read easily. If submission guidelines said "Make sure you submit everything single space, 500 words per page" I'd rant against those guidelines.

SASEs have nothing to do with reading the work.

If you have to read a big pile of submissions, how they look on paper matters. Whether the author included a stamp does not.

We'll all mourn your passing, j.t....

Linda Maye Adams said...

So, if you don't include a SASE for any response, how do you know that a no response doesn't mean the query didn't get lost in the mail?

Peter L. Winkler said...

Dear Joe:

You're right, Snark's wrong.

I've never received anything good inside an SASE.

Funny thing-after I stopped enclosing them with queries, some agents still sent me a rejection on their own dime.

I've also had publishers return proposals, even though I've never included return postage for them.

Miss Snark has never given a logical rational for her SASE rule and her policy of summarily disposing of queries w/o SASEs smacks of a kind of peremptory hostility toward writers which shows through occasionally in her blog.

JA Konrath said...

"So, if you don't include a SASE for any response, how do you know that a no response doesn't mean the query didn't get lost in the mail?"

As GM said, "You gotta have faith."

Sandra Ruttan said...

I suppose if you've been published already you can afford to live on faith and your royalties.

Putting in a SASE isn't as cut and dried as "following orders" because you work for the agent instead of the other way around.

But I can tell you this: when we take short stories, we ask for a bio (we have a set word count) and we ask for a release statement giving us permission to publish the work. Why? Everyone who works for the magazine is a volunteer, unpaid. It doesn't make what we do less important. It makes what we do our passionate choice, not just how we bring in a few bucks.

So when someone submits, I am choked if they didn't have the courtesy to follow our guidelines.

And I can completely understand agents who feel the same way. Especially if you're trying to get a respected agent with a good rep who has dozens of submissions crossing their desk daily. I know I've stopped reading story submissions that come in without all the requested items - they get fired back via email with a note saying to resubmit it.

And of course I can understand and accept agents doing the exact same.

As aspiring unpublished authors in waiting, we're the only ones who stand to lose by wasting our time and money submitting material that might not be read. I've heard Stephen King thinks you shouldn't even bother with agents (haven't heard it with my own ears from his mouth, so I'm not swearing on that - it's just what I got from an article second-hand). And if it's true, he can afford to. He's got a name.

Some of us don't, and it isn't wrong of us to follow the requested guidelines. You're entitled to your opinion, as are all of us, and we're not wrong to follow the industry advice on this subject.

Jude Hardin said...


If I remember my lessons from ON WRITING, Stephen King says you absolutely must have an agent at least by book 2. It's practically impossible to get along in publishing these days without one.

As for the SASE thing: Well, who knows? Right now I'm inclined to think Joe's way--no balls no bluechips. I'm planning on sending out a batch of queries this April, and I think I'll go it sans SASE. Fact is, rejections are the norm anyway. Why not show 'em you got a pair? All they can do is roundfile you, right? I want to be thought of as a professional, but I also want the industry to know that my material is worth more than a form letter. If that means going against the grain, then that's what I'll do.

Superman wins.

This time.

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

ok, I'm a HUGE King fan and have read his book several times but he is far removed from being a struggling author...like by maybe 25 years. So his relevence on agents and submissions may be a little, well, dated.

I comes down to TALENT and BALLS, and how much of each that you have.

Sandra Ruttan said...


Superman only really wins if you get read and a deal.

If you don't, what then? Will you resubmit with a SASE so you know if they read it or not?

It's a bit like applying for a job and leaving in the nipple rings, wearing a see-through shirt and saying, "You're going to hire me and change your dress code. Teachers should be able to wear and say whatever the fuck they want."

Best of luck,


Unknown said...

Here's my 39 cents to add to this discussion: I sent a particular query to a particular agent and realized after mailing it that I'd forgotten the second S in SASE. Mine was only a SAE. Oops! But about a week later I got my SAE in the mail with a letter requesting the full manuscript. The agent had spotted me the 39 cents in postage to request a full. (The verdict is still out on the novel itself.)

Not sure if this proves any points. The agent did use the envelope to ask for the manuscript, not reject it outright. However, my e-mail and phone number were both included with the query, so he could have saved the 39 cents.

As others have said, I think the most important message behind Joe's post deals with empowering the writer. It's sad how little we talk about this idea--after all, all those agents and editors would not have jobs if it weren't for all the writers. Not that they are out to get us, either. My limited experience with agents and editors has led me to the conclusion most of them are regular, underpaid people who like good books.

JA Konrath said...

"I suppose if you've been published already you can afford to live on faith and your royalties."

I didn't include a SASE prior to being published. If anyone bothered to read my website, they'd know the whole story of why I didn't include SASEs.

"It's a bit like applying for a job and leaving in the nipple rings, wearing a see-through shirt and saying, You're going to hire me and change your dress code."

No. It's like applying for a job, wearing your best outfit, and saying, "If you're interested, call me," rather than, "If you're interested, please let me know by mailing this self-addressed stamped envelope."

Anonymous said...

Is it ever wise to select a boutique agency over a larger agency?

Anonymous said...

Dude - I just watched your video. The three biggest upsets of all time - David over Goliath, Villanova over Georgetown and the fact that Hyperion didn't kick you to the curb.


Anonymous said...

OK, I think a lot of people - including Joe - are missing the point of Miss Snark's answer. And I have to say I don't know whether or not she's real, but a lot of what she says echoes what my own - very real - agent says, so I have to think she is.

Anyway, her point - and again, my own agent has said this many times - is that agents and editors do not read anybody's manuscript looking for reasons to fall in love with it. They look for reasons to reject it, simply because they're overwhelmed with material. And if Miss Snark states that one criteria she uses in deciding whether or not to even read a manuscript is if it includes an SASE, well, then ignore that at your own peril. I'm sure most agents and editors have something similar they use to begin to filter through the piles of unopened - unsolicited - envelopes on their desks. Maybe it's the color of the envelope. Maybe it's the font on the letter. Most of the time we don't know - but to ignore what the agent states, on her own website - is required information/material is to risk giving her yet another reason to toss your query in the circular file, unread.

It's your choice, but really, why would you risk this?

Peter L. Winkler said...

Dear Melanie:

Even though Miss Snark said in her first post that it was her last words on the subject of SASEs, she soon issued a follow-up post, wherein she said she picked up a query, started reading and stopped when the writer said they had two books published to acclaim without mentioning the books' titles or other information.

Then she saw that the query had no SASE and tossed it.

I can absolutely effing guarantee that if the writer had given credible details about the two books and the rest of the query read well, Miss Snark would be on the phone in a hot minute, SASE or no SASE.

I'm beginning to wonder if Snark's SASE posts weren't just a gimmick to kick up some excitement on her blog.

If so, it sure worked well.

Anonymous said...

“Ask your accountant or the IRS. Until you're making an income your writing is considered a hobby and you eat the expenses.”

I'd ask a different accountant.

Thanks to my accountant (who is very familiar with the writing business), I've been deducting everything from postage to conferences for 4 years, with nary a cent in the income column (well, OK, $25 for a short story in Year 1.)

The key word here is BUSINESS. NOT "hobby."

I like your emphasis on writers' empowerment, Joe. And I have no argument about what worked for you. But my idea of empowerment is filing a Schedule C and taking every deduction my accountant says is legal. Thanks to my SASEs, I have a rejection file that -- if the IRS should ever inquire -- proves that I've been actively pursuing writing as a business. For all you who are taking the "Superman" stance -- show that agent you've got balls! -- well, good for you. But are you really in this as a business? Or is it just a hobby?

Jude Hardin said...

I'm in this to get published and make a living writing novels. Until I make a substantial amount of money from writing, I can't see that's it's worth my time to obsess about pennies on the tax return. I'd rather spend my time working on my book.

What a waste of time, collecting rejections for a tax write off. Throw that shit away and write something worth reading. THEN it'll become a business.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't get my agent to rep my cozy mystery because another agent had it and may or may not have marketed it. (She never gave me rejections.) So I decided to market it myself. I sent three chapters and a synopsis to 12 publishers and did NOT include a SASE. Like you, I figured if they were interested, I'd hear from them.

Two publishers returned my manuscript with form rejections. (They actually paid to return the manuscript!!!) Another editor returned the manuscript with a letter that said, I loved it, but we just canceled a similar series; send me something else in the future. And the fourth editor e-mailed me and though she didn't want that book, asked me to write a proposal on another book.

I don't yet know the fate of that proposal, but all this happened and I never included the "required" SASE. (And all these publishers also said they don't take unagented work.)

Go figure!

Motherhood for the Weak said...

I don't necessarily agree with your logic.

You seem to be drawing a correlation between not sending an SASE and being accepted by an agent. I think, in my limited experience, the key to publication has little to do with an SASE and more to do with good writing.

Agents are not looking at queries and saying 'Oh goody, no SASE! They're my next client!' which is the impression your argument gives.

Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, sending an SASE (or not) is not a big deal. Agents are not making their decisions based on an SASE envelope and, if they are, we should all be so lucky that they reject our work. Good writing will rise above all else.


Anonymous said...

I'm seeing a contradication between Joe saying on the one hand, "follow the rules of submission formatting, including starting your story halfway down the page; otherwise, I'm just gonna toss it out the window and not even read it." (Or words to that effect). And yet, "don't follow the rules of submission and provide the agent/editor/reader the materials they state they require with submissions."

Each writer must decide for him/herself whether or not to follow "The Rules". I've gotten rejections and requests for more material in SASE's over the years. I'll continue to send them per the submission guidelines of whichever publication/agent/house I choose to submit to. Why give folks like, oh say, JOE, a contest judge, a reason to NOT read my material?

I uses SASEs and I sold nine stories last year :). Your mileage may vary.

Anonymous said...

I did an internship at one of the larger literary agencies last year. My job? I was invariably stuck with the slush pile.

My entire purpose there was to separate the obviously wrong from the maybe wrong and possibly right.

The first rule I was given was, "No SASE, don't bother to read it. Just put it in the 'no' pile and move on."

Anonymous said...

I may be a new writer but in my first round of queries, I got a request for the full manuscript via letter in my SASE.

Anonymous said...

I think that the SASE fans should give this topic a long, hard think.

People are reading too far into the events in which they received an acceptance via their SASE. Is it possible that an agent who is intrigued by a query would choose to request it via the SASE? Absolutely. Is there any likelihood, *at all,* that if they didn't have the SASE, they'd forget entirely about the fact that they were interested in the writer? Absolutely not.

SASE themselves aren't a *bad* thing, obviously, but the stigma of "fledgling nobody" that almost every agent will immediately associate with it, is.

Joe isn't, nor am I, telling anyone that giving an agent the option to use your SASE is going to offend them, but it's certainly logical that they'd be less willing to spend time on your request if they know before they even break the seal that you're just begging them--and every other agent on the planet--for attention.

Martyn van Halm said...

I submitted a manuscript to Tor in NY.

First, I called Tor and asked the name of their thriller editor. They gave me her name. I asked if they could put me through. They did.
To my amazement, I didn't get an assistant, but I got the editor straight away on the telephone. I guess she was a bit surprised to speak with someone in Amsterdam about a manuscript, but the conversation went like this:

Me: Hi, this is Martyn calling from Amsterdam. I have a finished manuscript and I wonder if you'd be interested in publishing it.
Editor: What is it about?
Me: It's about a female commercial assassin, who gets into trouble when her private problems are carried over in her work.
Editor: Sounds good, so far. Tell me more.
Me: If I'd tell you more my synopsis would be superfluous. I gathered that editors liked to receive a synopsis and the first couple of chapters?
Editor: You're right. Why don't you send me the synopsis and the first three chapters. And don't forget to put in the cover letter that I asked for the material, or it will end up on the wrong stack.
Me: Got it. Thanks, you'll be receiving it shortly.

In the space of an 8-minute telephone call, I changed my unsolicited manuscript into a solicited manuscript.

So I send it, fully expecting a form rejection letter. [I didn't supply a SASE, since I couldn't get American stamps in the Netherlands. I did include my address, my telephone number and e-mail address]

Instead, about a month later, I received a personal letter from the editor:
"Dear Mr. XXX,
Thank you for sending me your proposal for your novel, TITLE. I must compliment you on your English - both spoken and written.

TITLE is certainly intriguing. You have written a great opening chapter, which is half the battle in getting an editor interested. However there were subtle things that I felt were missing.
[followed by two paragraphs that showed that the editor had really read the chapters and asked legitimate questions about certain details].

Anyway, even given these concerns, I would like to see more. [followed by advice on how to format the manuscript] So if you could, please send me the complete manuscript for TITLE. I would like to read more of it. I know you're planning another novel featuring MAIN CHARACTER - if you have a synopsis of that prepared, please send it along with the manuscript. And don't worry about sending return postage. Though I cannot commit to buying the novel, if we elect not to, we will of course pay for its return to you."