FAQ: Electronic submissions

I’m finally answering one of the questions you guys asked!


Waving from France!

I was wondering why you didn’t accept e-mail submissions at Mirrorstone? 

It seems to me that a publisher of science fiction and fantasy would be more attuned to the ecological aspects of e-mail submissions – no ruining the ozone layer with planes carrying mail, no trees destroyed for paper, no chemical companies polluting the water for ink, no garbage to burn…

At any rate, that’s my question!:-)

That’s a very good question, especially from someone writing from a country far across the ocean. I’m very impressed with how Wizards–and pretty much the whole Seattle area–is very concerned about trying to protect the environment. And while I’d love to start taking email submissions for the sake of the environment–your point about airplanes carrying the mail and using jet fuel is important, because it’s certainly not just the paper–the truth is that it’s just plain hard on the eyes to read submissions on screen. I do a lot of work on the computer daily, but there’s only so much I can do before my eyes just give up.

Do you read novels electronically? It’s a similar situation. Especially for manuscript-length submissions, it’s extremely fatiguing to try to read for long periods of time on screen. I love reading blogs, email, that kind of thing, but people’s attention span on screen is much, much shorter than you want someone to have when reading a book–and you want an editor to feel comfortable enough to want to devote her time to your submission, whether it be 3 chapters or a whole requested manuscript.

The next option would be for us to take email submissions, but then to print them out on our end so they’re more mobile. Most of us don’t sit at our computers to read submissions–if I do it in the office, I’m shutting myself away in a conference room so I can have more quiet for reading, but usually I take them home to read at night; most of my colleagues do the same…. though I don’t live in New York, so I don’t have a train ride home to read on. (And speaking of the environment, how I wish I did! I really miss living on a great public transportation system!)

Sometimes we’ll have a slush-reading party where we all gather in a conference room to read and discuss submissions, and it’s much easier to pass submissions from one editor to another with comments written right on the submission–we reference the paper, hand it back and forth, discuss face to face. 

If we printed them out so we could cart them around, that becomes our cost for paper and toner, rather than that of the submitter. That can really add up with the thousands of submissions we get each year. 

So it”s mainly logistics, though partly cost. Perhaps one day when the computer reading tablet becomes affordable (I’ve heard of some advances in the technology and pricing, but never seen them in person), and they design such a tablet in a way that doesn’t fatigue the eyes more than a piece of paper, it’ll change. But right now, logistics really require hard copies through the early process, especially in the decision making phase.


All contracted manuscripts and most of the auditions (ref. my LTUE talk) that I work with do come in electronically. Once a book has been contracted, almost everything passes back and forth electronically, at least from the author’s point of view. The exception to that would be something like a first edit, which I prefer to be on paper so I can write my comments in where the author can absorb them right next to the text. (I usually print it out two to a page to save paper, even then.) But after that, the revisions come back electronically.

I hear many people ask, “Well, why don’t you just use Track Changes? You can make the changes and add comments and nobody has to print a sheet!” Well, yes, but I find that people see the words on the screen differently than they do in print. You notice different things. I do, at least. So I give myself at least one hard-copy edit where I can spread the pages across the desk if I need to, cross-reference, scribble and scratch out ideas and suggestions. Because in my first edits I read through the text at least twice, I tend to make more scribbly notes the first time around, and when I come back through I might clean it up where I’ve changed my mind, etc. I need that tactile experience to be a good editor.

Then, in
a later edit, I might go through paragraph by paragraph on screen and hone in on the language. That’s actually easier for me to edit on screen because I’m not distracted by all the text. Come to think of it, that might be why I feel like I need a hard copy of submissions–because at the submission stage, I need to be able to see the whole picture, from plot to characterization to style to writing skill, and it’s hard for me to do that when reading on screen. Or I might just be making that up, and not really be able to pin it down at all. What it comes down to, though, is that I work better separating those parts of the editing process.

To sum up, we’re doing a little bit for the environment, and always looking for ways we can do better, but the technology for reading on screen has a way to go before it’ll really be ready for what the publishing industry needs, and speaking in specifics, what Mirrorstone needs. And we of course have to deal with the equipment we have on hand, and none of us has those nifty tablets I spoke of above. 🙂

The caveat: I think

 is probably asking from the perspective of living in another country. I’m sure it’s frustrating to have to worry about the cost of postage, the long turnaround time, and all the other hassles of doing business from another country, which is compounded by figuring out how to do the international reply coupon for the SASE, etc.

I completely sympathize. For me personally, as long as you know for sure that your email address is valid and will remain so for several years (just in case–for example, my friend Brandon’s book was finally picked up a year and a half after he’d submitted it to an editor at Tor, and his now-editor had to do some major sleuthing to find him, because his phone number, address, and email had all changed by that time!)–as long as you know for sure it is typed correctly on your submission (and on every place it appears on your submission), you can forego the SASE.* (Hm, that’s a lot of italics, but I wanted to be sure to emphasize all the qualifications I’m putting on that…)

That’s JUST for international submissions
, if that makes your life a little easier.
As a general rule, especially for domestic situations, the SASE isn’t just for rejections–it’s an insurance policy in case you have a typo in your email address, or your phone number changes, etc. (again, ref. Brandon’s experience). Sometimes it might be the only way an editor has to get a hold of you for one reason or another, with good news. And most editors aren’t the kinds of detectives that Moshe is, and will just end up tossing your submission if they can’t find you.

But the SASE exception I noted above is just me. It’s much much better just to follow the guidelines if you don’t know if an editor is okay with that.

*And if an editor likes your submission enough to overlook working with you across huge time zone differences and international boundaries, you can probably expect to do much of your correspondence after the initial submission via email for more logistical reasons.