Monday, January 11, 2010

How I Deal With Mail, plus a rant

Yes, I do have a problem keeping up with email (as I've mentioned here), but I seem to have an even tougher time keeping up with snail mail. Our business, including submissions (in fact, especially including submissions), is handled more and more via email, and so I increasingly pay more attention to email and less to snail mail. In fact, I get irritated when agents send submissions, especially novels, as hard copies. They should know better by now!

At work, I have a bin labeled "mail" in my office where I dump all my mail, and last year I've realized that at times mail has stayed there unopened for over three months at a time, until I make time to sit down and open and sort through it all.

This is how I go through my mail: I sit down with the bin, open an envelope, scan the letter. If it's an unsolicited query or manuscript, I put it back in the envelope and scrawl "slush" on the envelope and put it in a pile. This pile is ultimately handled by our receptionist who send back form letters saying we don't accept unsolicited submissions or queries. If it's a solicited manuscript, I put in a different "log in" pile for my assistant. If it's a solicited query, I read it quickly, decide if I want to review it or not, and then write "Query yes" or "query no" on it and add it to the pile for my assistant. If I receive art samples, and I like the art, it goes into a pile for filing. If I don't like the art, it goes into the recycling bin (sorry, illustrators!).

Last Sunday, the day before I was to go back to work after the holiday break, I decided to go into the office to sort through my mail so the bin would be empty when I started the new work year. The pile was threatening to spill over. Yes, this is partially my fault--if I just opened and dealt with the mail I received each day, or even each week, it would be more manageable. But dealing with a pile of several months worth of mail, something became extremely clear: I get way more unsolicited submissions and queries than I should. In fact, I should receive zero--as a company, we only accept agented or requested/referred submissions. Instead, I receive on average one or two a day. I would say a good 75% of the mail I receive are unsolicited queries and submissions. And this irritates me to no end.

Our submissions policy is stated very clearly on our website:

Publishers in the Hachette Book Group (including Grand Central Publishing, Business Plus, FaithWords, Center Street, Mystery, Orbit, Little, Brown and Company, Back Bay Books, Bulfinch, Springboard Press, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) are not able to consider unsolicited manuscript submissions and unsolicited queries. Many major publishers have a similar policy. Unsolicited manuscripts, submissions and queries will not be answered and the publisher will have the right to destroy any unsolicited material or mail without returning to the sender.
I don't know if people ignore this rule out of ignorance, or in hopes that we'll take a look at their query or submission anyway. And, okay, yes--very very rarely, if you catch me in a good mood, I might scan the submission (especially if it's a book dummy with illustrations), but I don't actually remember an example where I've then actually ended up considering the submission--it still gets returned as slush. And I can say with 100% certainty that I've never ended up acquiring a submission that was initially sent to me as slush. So, STOP TRYING. You're wasting your time, my time, my assistant's time, our receptionist time, and you're also wasting money and paper, and making it harder for people who are following the rules to have my undivided attention. Stop it. Seriously.

Sigh. Remember when you loved getting mail? Remember a time when mail was something other than bills and credit card offers and catalogs and miscellaneous junk mail? Man, I miss those days.

Then again, sometimes I get very lovely things in the mail. Personal thank-you and holiday cards, gifts from agents and authors. That's the kind of mail I like to get!


Anonymous said...

What a valid rant! As an intern, I could definitely relate to the feeling of having a giant cardboard box of months worth of mail sitting on my desk.

It made me die of laughter (and feel a lot better about reading that slush!) when I found this poem in the Jul/Aug SCBWI newsletter... I posted it here:

Good luck with all the unsolicited mail! Annie

(NB: We met years and years ago at lunch with my mother (author Jennifer Ericsson)... so I just wanted to reintroduce myself! Small world!)

Meghan McCarthy said...

Wow, that's a rant! I feel better about my little mail pile now.

Rosanne Parry said...

Hey Alvina,

I was doing an author visit at a Newbery Club in my neighborhood today, and they LOVED Where the Mountain Meets the Moon! Each one of 50 club members did a display on their favorite of the 8 books they read this year and about a third of them were for MOON. What I loved was how much care they put into each display. Some did elaborate red clay dragons or researched Chinese characters and wrote them or composed a poem about the book. It was charming!

They really liked the book design as well. One of the fourth graders said, "Just because I'm not a kid any more AND a smart reader doesn't mean I don't want pictures in my books. Smart books of the kind that I like should have more pictures!"

I've been saving this one to read and savor when I'm done with my revision.

Best of luck to you and Grace.