Submission Protocol

Nancy J. Cohen

Last week, I sent a submission via snail mail. “What’s that?” you ask. It’s almost a forgotten art. I hadn’t sent out a physical manuscript in so long that I’d forgotten the specifics. I think it’s been at least five years, likely longer, since I last had to send anything from the post office. This submission went to a niche market and was another of my father’s travel journals.

So what was involved? After reading the online submission guidelines, I reviewed my manuscript. Oops, I’d forgotten all about headers and footers with the book title, author name, and page number. Having formatted for ebook requirements, I added those back in.


Since this book is nonfiction, I had to include a Table of Contents. No problem. I know how to do this in Word. Oh, wait. I forgot to write a Foreword like I did with my father’s other journal, Thumbs Up, that I’d indie published. So I added the TOC. Then I deleted some of the book buy hyperlinks in the back. I shouldn’t include those for this type of submission.

A query letter topped it all off. I polished mine once more before adding it to the pile of papers. It’s also been ages since I’d had to write one of these things. It’s never easy, is it?

Now what? I printed out the whole work, since it is short and about equivalent to a normal book proposal in page count. Next came the SASE. How do you do this again? If you want the manuscript back, you have to put actual postage stamps on a suitably sized manila envelope. This means you have to weigh the envelope for return postage with the manuscript inside, affix the stamps, remove the pages and stuff them into the outer envelope along with the folded SASE. A complicated business, isn’t it? Or you can just include a stamped and self-addressed #10 business envelope for the form rejection letter you’re sure to get.


And then comes the great sigh of relief when you send your baby off at the post office. This generates a more visceral response than sending a book into cyberspace. Somehow the physical manuscript seems more a part of you.

Weeks pass and then months. You watch the mail for the return envelope. Once you see it, gloom sets in. You’ve been rejected. And you start the process all over again.

At least that’s how it used to be done in the old days. Do you remember those times? Do you miss them?

13 thoughts on “Submission Protocol

  1. No! I don’t miss them.

    Before I started novels, I wrote Sci Fi short stories. All those submission were sent in by snail mail. I even bought a digital scales to calculate the postage so I didn’t have to stand in line at the post office. But it was a real pain.

    Never sold a story, but a lot of the them have some material that could be used in future books.

    Hurray for the digital submissions!

    Thanks for the post, Nancy.

    • I have a digital scale and never use it anymore. I don’t send promo materials out via snail mail now either. An email newsletter is so much easier, although the open rate could be better.

  2. ” Or you can just include a stamped and self-addressed #10 business envelope for the form rejection letter you’re sure to get.”

    Ha! Yes, that was the worst part of the old system. Three cheers for the ‘net!

  3. God, those were the bad old days…
    But it was kinda of fun talking to the nice fellow at my post office whenever I was shipping out an MS. Now if you want to start talking about how editing has changed…am in the copy editing stage right now with new book and Track Changes in Word cost me a day’s work because I forgot to “enable editing.” But that’s another post for another day!

  4. I used to send SASEs with submissions to poetry journals, most of which never replied at all. I still imagine the editors, hovered over a tea kettle, steaming the stamps off my envelopes.

  5. Since I am such a newbie, I never experienced those days. I did go to college and take the creative writing classes, but I was too timid to turn anything in. I was intimidated and listened to the well meaning advice of the naysayers: “It is a pipe dream! Find a job where you can actually make some money while you are still living!” So, I quit, until I become disabled, forcing me into early retirement. Then, a couple of years ago, with the advent of self-publishing, (and the age that said, “why the hell not try it?”), I decided to finally give it a chance. The thought of the snail mail and all of what it entails still intimidates me. Thanks for this great post! 🙂

  6. How wonderful that you finally took a step into the publishing waters. Yes, the arrival of Amazon and the Kindle changed everything. So many new opportunities opened for us. Now you can follow your dream.

  7. Nancy,
    I still occasionally send a manuscript out by “snail mail.” There is one magazine that prefers it. I’ve yet to get an acceptance from this magazine, but I always get a reason and kind words in the SASE. I keep on knocking on this particular door and one day, that acceptance will come and pay be back for all the postage:)

  8. Yes, Frances, persistence pays so keep trying! They must know your name by now at this magazine, and getting a rationale with your rejections is a step forward.

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