Writers live for the mail

Kelly finds it amusing that the first thing I do upon arriving home from work is rush off to the mailbox to check for any mail.  I’ve tried to explain to her that writers live for the mail, but I’m not quite sure she gets it.

Granted, there aren’t a whole lot of science fiction and fantasy markets these days that don’t take electronic submissions.  But so what?  We live for mail regardless of its delivery mechanism.  At this very moment, I have 3 stories out for submission.  One of those stories is at ANALOG (and has been for 51 days–writers count things, too!) and my biggest reason for racing to the mailbox each day is in the hope that there is NOT a small, self-addressed stamped envelope there indicating a rejection.

(Think of applying to colleges here, and the stress and anxiety sweated out over the mail.  Would you get a “big” envelope, indicating an acceptance?  Or a small one, indicating rejection?)

Each day that I don’t get something from ANALOG increases my hope that the story I have sent has made it farther and farther up the editorial scale.  Writers say that they want fast responses from editors, but what they really want are fast acceptances.  There is a thrill to not knowing as time stretches on.  A kind of quantum state of acceptance kicks in where a manuscript exists in both accepted and rejected states simultaneously until the wave function collapses and an SASE shows up in the mailbox–or an acceptance shows up in the inbox.

Writers also read all kinds of things into these submissions.  Perhaps the longer my story is over at ANALOG means it really is rising up out of the slush, into the hands of assistant editors and maybe even Stan Himself.  Or perhaps, everyone is on summer vacation and manuscripts aren’t being read.  Or maybe–horrors!–the thing has been lost in the mails!  Such things have been known to happen.

There is not quite the same thrill with markets that take electronic submissions, and I’m not sure why that is.  Some of these markets even go so far as to tell you where in the queue your story sits, and some of them respond so quickly that you don’t even have time to built up to the requisite peak of anticipation.  Nevertheless, in all these cases, I am checking my submission spreadsheet several times a week to see how long various manuscripts have been out, daydreaming each time that one or more will come back with an acceptance–or, dare I dream it!–a cluster of them.

And when we do find that SASE in the mail, we don’t tear it open instantly.  We weigh it carefully in our hand, hefting it to determine if it is merely a form letter rejection, or perhaps something more, something editorial comment.  It is, alas, always light, but that doesn’t deter me.  Short story contracts are usually short and it would be easy to squeeze one into the envelope.  And of course, there is always the last resort: that the market has decided to accept manuscripts the way that John Campbell accepted them: with a bare check.  Could a check be in that SASE, we wonder?

Of course, eventually we tear it open to some amount of disappointment, but if we are serious about our writing careers, then this low point doesn’t last long.  For within a few minutes we have it in another envelope (or virtual one) and on its way to the next market on the list and before the day is out, we are once again seized by that lottery-daydream possibility that our story has already sold, and we are just waiting to get the official word.

I tried to explain all of this to Kelly, but she just thinks I’m some kind of obsessive nut.  Exactly, I toldher, what writer isn’t?


  1. I’m like that with the mail, and even more so with email. I turn my computer on every morning before I do anything else. Then I make coffee, come back and see if I got a rejection or an acceptance over night. Then I check it ten to fifteen more times throughout the day.

    1. You should see me. Many of the s.f. markets that take electronic subs use Neil Clarke’s submission system, and on a subset of these sites, you can see where your story is in the queue. When my story gets below 10, I am checking every few minutes. It’s really pretty silly, but absolutely necessary as I am sure you understand. 🙂

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