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Seer of ghosts & weaver of stories

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It seems I'm in the mood to get my hands dirty today.
I have a question for you: what do most of the top-tier literary magazines have against email submissions? Think about it. Almost none of them will accept them. A few (Jubilat, Agni, Poetry Magazine) do use online submission forms, though. Which I applaud.

In today's world, isn't a move toward electronic submission not only more efficient, but also more environmentally friendly? You would think that the reduction of paper usage and the savings on postage alone would be considered very good things. Is there some unspoken sentiment that maintaining a paper-only submissions policy somehow bolsters and maintains these publications' credibility? These publications probably get hundreds more submissions than most others combined, so wouldn't being able to clear digital backlogs in the blink of an eye be considered a good thing, too? I shudder to think about what thousands of postal submissions just sitting around waiting to be read must look like!

What do you think?

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It's not "professional" enough. It's traditional. The high-ups haven't figured out how to use a computer. (Seriously, I had one screenwriting teacher who could barely open his email and wrote all his work by hand. I've heard of execs who have assistants print out their emails.) There's something more "legit" about a nicely-typed and presented paper submissions. That's the way they've always done it and it's been good enough before. You can mark up and write notes on a paper copy, point out errors or things you like.

You can mark up and write notes on a paper copy, point out errors or things you like.

That particular point wouldn't even be a legitimate excuse, considering that most of these magazines' editors don't have the time to send personalized rejections or even feedback (unless you pay for a critiquing service that they happen to offer).

There goes my one non-"they are idiots" explanation...

In the almost-four years I've been playing this game, I've never gotten a postal submission back from a major publication that had handwritten notes all over it. Sometimes a hand-signed form letter, and sometimes a few cryptic comments on the work added at the bottom, but never markings on the poems themselves - which they do return to you with the rejection letter.

I was thinking more for their own use and "you've been accepted but make these adjustments". But I suppose that requires work and time on their part too.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot - especially as the whole paper submission thing makes it a whole lot more difficult for me to send stuff, living in Finland as I do. It's so much less hassle to email things.

You really would think that it would make sense to put an end to the crazy amount of paper piling up. The only thing I can come up with is the tradition thing - email submission is viewed as too informal. But it feels so weird to me: why should electronic submissions be anyhow less formal, or less valid?

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Hmmm, I'm not sure I was trying to suggest that electronic submission is more intelligent or intelligible. I'm suggesting it's more efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly. Most people who use email for correspondence are not hardcore techies; I myself am not fluent in binary code, and I'm going to doubt that most people submitting poetry to magazines would be, either *wry grin*

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Affects the quantity? Maybe - although you will see these publications say that they still get thousands of submissions per year. Affects the quality? I'm going to doubt that claim, I'm afraid. Submissions will always come from writers on all points of the ability spectrum, regardless what medium you accept said submissions in.

Most poets I know are very much in the streets, strangely enough, perpetually seeking out and gathering inspiration. Listening. Watching. Feeling. Or at least giving all of those things their best shot!

I submit to publications that accept either one, the other, or both. But don't get me wrong: I feel that, given our present state of affairs, giving people the option of electronic submission alongside the traditional method would be the socially responsible thing to do. Some of us would like a choice in our contribution to things like waste output, etc. One doesn't usually think of environmental issues in this context, I know, but I can't seem to see such concerns as separate.

I would think it the other way around. That an insistence on a paper submission sanctifies the traditional approach and excludes the younger set and those who don't have the money to pay for lots of copies and postage. Usually a paper copy is seen as more "real" or "valid" than an electronic.

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What's worrying here is not that we disagree - it's your statements that continue to run to this vein:

If e-subs didn't favor geeks as detached from the real world and humanity as freak-show chickens from their heads.

What makes you think that this is the only class of people favored by electronic submissions, exactly? Or, for that matter, that most very...let's say "wired" people are completely out of touch with your concept of the "real" world?

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I see this as a separate issue, really - yes, those careless people on the roadways and sidewalks do exist, but I wouldn't call them the majority. And I wouldn't say that they necessarily represent the reprehensible sort of geek you're imagining, either, in this context :)

And I wouldn't say they're the ones writing poetry!

I would think e-mail/online submissions would be easier for the magazine, too. After all, surely they have to re-type all those paper submissions!

Yes, there's inherently a lot of re-typing involved when it comes to putting the issue together.

I've seen this one come up before. I can't remember where they were from (Asimov's, possibly, or Clarkesworld, possibly - one of the big SF magazines), but one editor confirmed that it helps reduce the number of submissions. Because paper submissions take longer and cost more, fewer people make the effort to submit. They're not necessarily better submissions, but it's a more manageable number.

The other argument is that many people don't like reading on their computer screens. Aside from the fact that excluding novels and epic petry you're probably not going to be reading for hours, most tech-savvy publishers and agents have invested in eReaders that aren't backlit, so there's no headache/glare issues.

To be honest, for a lot of publications it still comes across as an elitist, traditionalist thing (and I don't think that's unintentional!)

Edited at 2009-07-21 09:05 pm (UTC)

Because paper submissions take longer and cost more, fewer people make the effort to submit.

Although the major publications still make a point of saying, "We get thousands of submissions per year." That's a lot of submissions even so, and a lot of paper. Intentional elitism and traditionalism aside, I fear I'll remain rather mystified.

I think they're trying to avoid getting hundreds of thousands of submissions a year. I follow a few literary agents on blogger, and it's not uncommon for some of them to get over a hundred email queries a day, and reading them isn't even the part of that pays - they can spend so much time trying to deal with queries that they risk neglecting their actual clients.

You may find this blogpost and its comments interesting. Different genre, same damn argument.

I knew it was some of the SciFi mags that were still lagging behind. Honestly, between this and the whole SFWA "pixel-stained technopeasants" debacle, SF is making itself look pretty backward these days.

Edited at 2009-07-22 07:14 am (UTC)

I've seen an editor's office of a particular magazine, which yes, only accepted paper submissions. She made the joke she should use the backlog as tablespace, or the very least, extra chair space for when people visited.

*shrugs* In spite that one of the very reasons I want to get to the post office this week is to mail submissions out, I agree it'd be much easier if some of the more well known places accepted via electronic submissions.

Heh. That's some fairly unstable tablespace :)

I can attest to the whole "executives who can't use email and get the hired help to print out email for them". I have personally had experience with these people. The head of one company I've worked with didn't even have a computer in his office—and his secretary read and responded to all the email that he got. Which was hilarious, because the main form of contact that everyone is using in this business (not at all related to publishing, but in fact, electronics) is email.

While I don't necessarily agree with it being sane, I do think that a combination of the above comments seems to have hit the nail on the head: "traditionally", they only accept paper submissions, which "leads to less submissions" because some people are unwilling to go through the rigmarole of printing their stuff properly and posting it, etc.

If this is a "traditional" approach at all, though, I'd like to comment that, in the 70s, email was nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is these days, and paper submissions was the only form of submission out there. I guess it would have just been accepted as standard because posting something was the only option.

I'm not sure this comment makes sense. I may have to edit it.

I mean, I'm still a fan of print media - I love printed books and magazines. However, as far as the means of communication involved in the making of said printed media, I see much expediency in the switching over to what now is the standard, or what is quickly becoming so.

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