Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Then go self-publish, please.

Yesterday, I did my monthly round-up and, as a part of what that all entails, I emailed a number of authors from whom I have not yet received the requested sample chapters or proposals that I asked for on December 31.  Today I heard back from two of them.
  1. Hi, I'll submit this but only electronically.
  2. The sticking point for us is that we no longer have a working printer: We do everything by email these days.
To each of these authors, I responded, I wish you the best of luck with your work.  Sorry we won’t be seeing it.

Why did I do that?  Well, my request clearly stated that I only accept sample chapters as hard copies.  If the first guy doesn't want to follow my submission guidelines, that's fine.  Then I suggest that if he wants to do business his way, he should go into business for himself and self-publish.  However, if he wants an experienced literary agent, perhaps he should consider doing business the way the agent does business.

As for the second writer, that you don't have a working printer essentially makes you unacceptable to me as a client.  What if I wanted to send you a contract via email so that you could print it and sign it and get it back to a publisher that much more quickly?  What if I needed you to print and sign a tax form so that you wouldn't be taxed twice in Germany?  If you want to be a working writer, you need a working printer.  And printers are dirt-cheap.  A new laser printer is just barely over $100.  A new inkjet printer can be had for less than $50.  And this author is complaining she doesn't have a working printer?  I understand we are in a tight economy, but cancel the cable TV for a month and buy a printer, okay?

Let's talk about two things now:
  1. Why don't I take sample chapters electronically?
  2. The cost of submissions.
I don't take sample chapters electronically because I like to take notes on them and because it takes quite a bit of time to take that chapter, detach it from the email, save it somewhere else, and put it on my Sony Reader.  And after spending ten minutes doing that, I might read eight pages and decide it's not for me.  Thus it is not efficient or cost-effective for me to accept sample chapters by email.  Plus I can't take notes and I can't hand a stack of them to my intern and ask her to read and comment if they aren't on paper.

Back in the day, before agents started doing anything with potential clients via email, an author could expect to spend quite a bit of money on queries.  Think of all those envelopes, plus the envelope for the SASE, plus the stamps for both the query and the SASE, plus the paper and the printer ink or toner.  It probably cost most authors at least $1.50 plus their time to get out one query.

Now let's say that author got requests from five agents for the full manuscript.  Let's say that manuscript is 400 pages.  Let's say the cost of printing that manuscript is ten cents per page at the local copy shop.  Print one original at home on a laser printer and the cost of printing is around twenty-five cents per page.  Just laser-printing is $100, plus the cost of paper, so call it $107.00.  Now we need five copies (the author should keep the original should she or he need more copies down the road).  400 pages times five copies is 2,000 pages times twenty-five cents is $500.  Now the author has to ship those full manuscripts.  Via Priority Mail Flat Rate and with the label prepared online is $10.85, times five is $54.25.

Do I really need to total it all up?  Authors are saving thousands upon thousands of dollars a year because agents now accept queries and full manuscripts via email.  Some may also accept sample chapters that way.  And if you only want to submit to agents who do, that's your prerogative.  Or you can always self-publish.  But please don't email me that you will only submit a sample chapter via email.  And please don't tell me you don't have a working printer.  The first is obnoxious and the latter just isn't pragmatic.

Thank you.



Nicole said...

Dear Mr. Zack,
This is off topic from your post, but I want to let you know that your link to the "What We Want" page doesn't go anywhere (well, it does -- to a 404 error page).

Thanks for all you do.


Andrew Zack said...

Thanks, Nicole. The site was under redevelopment. The "new" site is up and that page should be working properly now.


kristenhdavis said...

Wow, I'm floored by this. Honestly, if you were interested in seeing my work, I would hand deliver it if I had to. Priorities, people!

Kristen Davis
Monroe, NC

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