Pub Rants

Summer Heat Must Be The Culprit

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STATUS: Busy. I’m in the middle of negotiating several new deals.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SWEET SURRENDER by Bread

The summer heat must be going to people’s heads because this is my third rant in a week regarding odd submissions here at the agency.

People! Get down to the pool and take a break I think. Yesterday I received a large box that the writer had spent $32.00 sending express mail. Egad! That’s a lot of money to spend sending a submission to an agency that only accepts electronic submissions. And a colossal waste at that because when I opened this package, inside were pages and pages of a handwritten manuscript.

I’m not kidding blog readers. The submission wasn’t even typed. I’m not even snorting with laughter; I’m too stunned.

There’s no email address included and no SASE. I’m not going to look at it. If that makes me heartless, so be it, but I don’t think I can toss this into the recycle bin either. What if it’s the only copy? Surely a writer wouldn’t be stupid enough to send us the only copy, right? I mean it looks like a photocopied version (another waste of money as we do electronic submissions!) but sometimes that’s hard to tell considering photocopying quality these days.

Okay, do I expend the money to return it? We could send via media mail, which would be pretty inexpensive. I think that’s what we might do but only because I’m feeling generous. Normally I don’t think twice in terms of pitching something like this in the recycle bin.

70 Responses

  1. doortoriver said:

    Honestly, I don’t know how these people even got hold of your address and information without noticing that you don’t accept paper submissions.

    This is heartless, maybe, but… yeah. If you’re certain it’s photocopied, then have no qualms about pitching it. No SASE, nothing… you cannot be the only agent who got “bombed” like this.

  2. Kirsten Hubbard said:

    Sometimes the sport of querying reminds me of the American Idol tryouts. You know, the preposterous auditions episodes. Even as you laugh at these people, your heart is aching.

  3. nomadshan said:

    Can you return it “postage due” (does media mail work that way?)? Still costs you some time and effort, though. Amazes me that someone would bother to find your agency’s address and send a $35+ package, but not type his/her manuscript.

    On the other hand, every time you post something like this, I feel better about my chances in an agent search! 🙂

  4. Anonymous said:

    The fact that you’re even considering returning this poor guy’s handwritten (!) manuscript means that you have a generous spirit. Seriously, though, if he had done 10 minutes worth of research, he would have known better, no? If you feel the need to earn karma points, send it back. If not, don’t waste your time feeling guilty.

  5. Kristin Laughtin said:

    Uwah? And now I’m wondering if you’re the only agent they queried, or if they spent that much for a bunch of other people too.

    My first thought at seeing that the MS was handwritten was that maybe it came from a prisoner (since I’ve heard stories along those lines before), but then express shipping… I’m confused.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Please do send this back. Please.

    If by chance it is the only copy, rewriting a whole book is too big of a hurdle for this already challenged writer to overcome.

    Send an informative note along with it. Or a brochure from an Apple Computer Store, or a Best Buy computer sale ad, or something.

    My heart sort of aches for this person right now. Oy…

  7. Just_Me said:

    Oh my dear Grandma, no! Really? A hand written manuscript? With no author information? How? Why? Who?

    Sending it back media mail with the standard print out of: “We only take e-submissions, thanks.”

    I mean, yes, my first manuscript was hand written, but I’ve typed it onto the computer since then!

  8. JES said:

    Maybe it’s got something to do with tonight’s full moon.

    Was there a (no doubt handwritten) cover letter inside, too? Any idea what the writer’s circumstances might be? Might be someone with a long enough memory to recall Helen Hooven Santmyer thinking, you know, “If lightning struck once…”

    Just my opinion — certainly not my money — but I’d feel pretty awful if I didn’t return it. I’m guessing by handwritten you mean it’s the ORIGINAL, not even a copy, which would really put the pressure on.

    Maybe you can send the author an SASE yourself, with a note: “Check here ___ if you’d like us to recycle the manuscript, or check here ___ AND ENCLOSE POSTAGE if you would like us to return the manuscript to you.” That way you’re out just two stamps instead of the whole bleeping thing.

  9. Keri Ford said:

    Your nice midwestern colors are showing, Kristin. If you really want to do something, you might consider sending a one page letter that includes your submission rules, with an added little, “I normally recycle this sort of thing, but feared it was your only copy. If you want it back, send stamps. You have by such and such date before it gets tossed in the recycle bin.”

  10. Kimberly j. smith said:

    Unbelievable. Not only does it show a lack of research into what the agent wants, it’s an amazing naivete on the part of the writer. I can understand format issues sometimes, but sending handwritten pages??? Has that EVER happened to you before? Can’t believe it.

  11. Fiona said:

    Silly people with no common sense! Can’t you write them a letter asking them if they want it back and if they do, to send a SASE.

    Maybe it is a bit mean, but it would be more practical then forking out any more money yourself because they’re a bit behind with the times…

  12. Aerin said:

    Hi – I’m de-lurking because I admire that you’re even wrestling with this. (Well, and I’m a lurker because I’m a fellow Denverite – hi!)

    I think sending it back media mail would be extremely generous. (I agree that you should just shuck it into the recycling bin.) I half want to tell you to just shelve it, and then recycle it if the author hasn’t requested it back in six months, but why should you even waste the space to store it?

    Kudos to you – and stay cool!

  13. Anonymous said:

    Only electronic submissions? Lucky for me! My book is right here in my little tape recorder. As soon as I convert it to MP3 format, I’ll send it on over.

    Oh, by the way, my query letter is in morse code, but you need the key to decipher it. Is this a problem? If so, I’ll send over the enigma machine, too.

    Seriously, you have one of the simplest submission guidelines. Of course, I work in technology, so half my problems are fixed with, “Did you restart your computer?” And that is a tame example.

    Ever find a half-eaten cheeseburger in someone’s computer?

    Oh, and about my audio format for submission, do you speak Swahili?

  14. batgirl said:

    Hey, you should treat that with respect! It’s not every day you get a submission that’s come through a time-portal from the 1920s.

  15. Anonymous said:

    You’re way generous to send it back. God bless you for it! Walking the extra mile is always hardest.

  16. Gabrielle said:

    Are you kidding me?

    Who spends that much money without typing a manuscript… something any third grader can do… or reading the guidelines?

    Kristin, you must write a book about crazy agenting experiences and submit to another equally fabulous agent. Preferably in a vintage hatbox, composed in shorthand.

  17. Southern Writer said:

    omg. If the author is so naive as to have sent a handwritten manuscript by express mail (or whatever it was), they are naive enough to have sent their only copy. I don’t think you should be obligated to spend the bucks to send it back. If I were you, I’d find a corner in the office where it can sit until the author contacts you and wants to know why you never replied (because you know s/he will). At that point, send a brief letter that states you only accept electronic submissions, and that if they want their manuscript back, they need to send the postage for that to happen. Point them to your blog, and to this post, in particular. Make a note of the url and leave it to collect dust with the ms, so that you won’t have to hunt to find it again months down the road.

    And, just in case, try to struggle through a page or two, just to make sure it’s not another Gone With the Wind, which I heard was written on brown paper bags from the grocery. (Is that true?)

  18. Icarus said:

    Oh, say, that reminds me: did you get the manuscript I sent? It’s been almost a week and I’ve been sitting by the phone, and nothing!

    It’s easy to recognize. It’s mostly in blue crayon, until I ran out and finished in red.

    I can drop by and help you look for it, if you need . . .

  19. beverley said:

    My heart is bleeding. You know why. Apparently they don’t have the money or wherewithal to acquire a computer and printer, but are spending 32 dollar to send it. And obviously without a computer, they must have looked you up in the phonebook because they didn’t follow your submission instructions.

  20. Kim Stagliano said:

    Maybe it’s from an older person? Or someone who can not afford a computer? Those sorts do exist and should they be utterly exempt from trying to secure an agent? Yes, I know the library exists so people can use a computer. But still, it is SO unusual to see a handwritten MS, perhaps there’s a good reason? Vision problem. Hand problem. Or just plain old fashioned, I suppose is also an option. Just a thought. I guess I’m feeling particularly blue statish tonight. What can I say?

  21. jwhit said:

    I vote in the ‘return’ column, too. I’m picturing a 76 year old grandmother who made it her life’s work and doesn’t know a computer from a lawnmower. And yes, there are people like that.

    How could the person miss electronic only you ask? An old copy of Writers Marketplace in a small rural library that doesn’t buy updates.

    We were all ignorant at some point before we started down this road to writing, folks, and started learning about all the ins and outs of publishing. Who knows what this person has or hasn’t done on their own journey? Maybe they have always loved to read and now spent the time and effort to write a beautiful story. I’m glad you have a heart, Kristin.

    A fellow midwesterner.

  22. Elissa M said:

    So you can sleep at night, send a letter (as many have already suggested) requesting postage for the manuscript’s return. Mention your guidelines are available online, and also suggest the writer try his/her local public library if computer access is a problem. I live in a tiny rural town with a teensy library, and even we have internet access.

  23. Anonymous said:

    kind of an oxymoron; can spend money for postage(wonder how long they saved), but lacks money for a computer(working hard against all odds). Educate your budding writer. Who knows if their eccentric ways comes from youth or lack of experience. We all needed some guidance when we were naive. Some writers have passion without mentors. You are a good person sending it back.

  24. Anonymous said:

    Sometimes people do the best they can. And sometimes the kindest thing one can do is give them the benefit of the doubt. Can you imagine the time and effort that went into those handwritten pages? Something like that is almost sacred, regardless of the quality.

    I’d be happy to send you money for postage and handling, including your time at whatever rate you say, so the manuscript can be returned. Leave a note in comments and I’ll send a check immediately. And no, it’s not mine. I’m sure the person doesn’t even know about the blog. Maybe can’t even afford a computer. There ARE people like that after all, unfortunately.


  25. Anonymous said:

    You know what? People make mistakes. People get over eager. They don’t go to hell for it. And it is good that this agent is thinking about the fact that this might be an original, and caring about it. Agents are not freaking gods.

    Speaking as someone who has a great agent I love, and who did the research and behaved professionally to get on agent, I get kinda sick of hearing these “Oh–throw them to the lions” comments when some poor schmuck makes an overeager mistake. Lighten up folks.

  26. Anonymous said:

    Normally I’d say toss it, but I have a nagging feeling that this may be from some grandma or grandpa who doesn’t know how to use a computer. That or from someone too poor to have a computer. That happens too. And if by any chance it’s the only copy… I think it’d be very nice of you not to get rid of it. The idea that it may be the only copy and that it may be lost forever… Gah, poor writer.

  27. Anonymous said:

    I’m a super nice person, I think. I mean, I work as a public defender. I’m a lawyer who makes a whopping 35K a year, and am okay with it, because I am passionate about public service work.

    But I wouldn’t bother returning the manuscript. People need to follow the rules — if they choose to bend them or break them, they have to face the consequences. And if he/she really wanted it back, they would have included an SASE.

  28. Chumplet said:

    It is certainly sad, and somewhat intriguing. I’d be curious to read it, if only to discover what kind of person lives in such a tiny world.

    How painful it must have been to handwrite a large manuscript. Carpal tunnel would be nothing compared to the writer’s cramp.

  29. Anonymous said:

    Okay, call me a serious hard a** if you want, but I say, “Don’t you dare think of spending your time and money to send that back.” Here’s why:
    1. It will only encourage them to do the exact same thing again to someone else, and to think to themselves that writers who buy computers or send SASEs are saps.
    2. It will delay or prevent him/her from getting the wake-up call that starts many of us on the road to education about the biz.
    3. It is really discouraging to those of us who follow the “rules” that those who don’t can still manage to get your attention and sympathy, if not your representation, and it essentially punishes us, too, because it will take your time away from our rule-following queries and submissions.

    I’m impressed by the compassion of other commenters, as well as yours, but to me this seems like getting into an e-mail back-and-forth with rejectees about why you did or did not like a manuscript — i.e., to fall into the category of not encouraging the nuts.

  30. Anonymous said:

    I was going to mention Gone with the Wind too–yes it was all hand written, not on grocery bags but sometimes on the backs of recycled paper. Of course, computers weren’t around then. I would be tempted to read a few pages of this manuscript even though it’s not going to be taken on.

    The best idea mentioned in these comments was to send a letter saying if he or she wants it back, to send postage. I was thinking that if there was no SAE, then that’s just a photocopy.

    I can picture some people thinking it quite romantic to hand write a novel. Inappropriate for these times, but a bit romantic all the same.

  31. Emily said:

    My first ever submission came back with a note that said something along the lines, “If you want your manuscript returned, please contact my assistant by such and such date.”

    Of course, the mystery in that was that I had included a SASE with proper postage…

    In any case, I think you could do something like that, Kristin. Send a kind but firm note that includes a mention of your guidelines and an offer to arrange the return of the manuscript if s/he so wishes.

  32. Amy Gallow said:

    Question 1.

    Given the fact that you spent the time to blog about it, have you read anything of it?

    Question 2.

    A hand-written manuscript might indicate the writer has neither computer nor access to the internet and finding out that you accept only electronic submissioms might have been beyond their capabilities.

    Question 3.

    Have you tried walking a mile or two in someone else’s shoes.

    Ease your conscience and sent it back with a nice note explaining the facts.


  33. pippitypup said:

    I have to delurk for this one.

    I’m with Bernita, up to a point. It’s sad & lonely, in a shut-in sort of way.

    I think sending a letter, explaining your requirements, is good. But I would also ask if they would like it back, because it sounds as if it is their only copy. They can then pay for the return trip.

    And I must admit, I’d be glancing at the first pages, too–just in case.

  34. barb said:

    Not everyone is internet savvy.

    Didn’t JK Rowling send her first offerings written long-hand?

    It might be a gem or a test …

  35. Loelia said:

    I’ve got to agree with Bernita. I feel sorry for foolish people when their foolishness only hurts themselves.

    I do hope you’ll find a way to return the manuscript without too much inconvenience to yourself.

  36. Ulysses said:

    Personally, I’d return it.
    I don’t know about enclosing a note, though. I would if I thought it likely to do anything but inspire a “They didn’t read it just because it wasn’t done the way they wanted it to be?” response.

    What the writer has done was expensive and a tremendous effort, but wrong. Unfortunately, you can’t turn on the light in someone else’s head. All the switches are on the inside.

  37. WitLiz Today said:

    If it were me, I’d read a couple of pages first.(assuming it’s legible) Then I’d send it back with comments, and with your submission guidelines. I’d also gently point out that hand-written manuscripts are not appropriate in this day and age.

    I realize it’s times like these that try agent’s souls, but a little kindness goes such a long way for a talented newbie writer, albeit a mite eccentric one.

    Kudos for your thoughtfulness, Ms Nelson.

  38. Inspire said:

    Wow. I’ve heard of some crazy things like people sending queries out on neon pink printer paper, but this beats all. At least they didn’t send it written backwards where you would have had to hold it up to a mirror in order to read it.

    So sad. Kristin, it could be the only copy, and how awful that would be to toss it. Send them a letter asking if this is the only copy, and if they want it returned to send you the postage.

  39. Joseph L. Selby said:

    No, don’t send it back. of course don’t send it back. If they wanted their manuscript back, they would have included a SASE or at least a paid mailing label. There are fundamental rules to publishing that all authors learn. This is one of them. Don’t burden yourself with the stupidity of others. You have more important things you should be putting your effort into (i.e., the smart people that submitted queries/manuscripts to you in the manner you require).

  40. Kate H said:

    If you’re not positive it’s a photocopy, why not just drop the sender a postcard saying “either send return postage or it will be recycled”? It’s incredibly generous of you to even think of returning it on your own dime, but this person has a lesson to learn.

  41. Dave F. said:

    The original of “Gideon V Wainwright” showed up on the door of the Supreme Court in Gideon’s handwriting. He had no access to a typrwriter. Y’all remember that case? It’s the right to counsel guaranteed by the 6th Amendment.

    Read the first page and send the letter either accepting or rejecting it. What have you got to lose but 5 or 10 minutes?

  42. ICQB said:

    I say step off your regular path. Read it.

    You don’t have to tell anyone. If it’s trash, return it or dump it. If you end up signing the person, don’t advertise how you found them.

    Adventure awaits. Read it.

  43. Anonymous said:

    Anonymous 9:37,

    It’s not punishing you for Kristin to do something nice for someone else. It takes nothing away from you for this writer to get their handwritten manuscript back. Don’t be so quick to throw someone else under the bus. You may find that you need a favor one day too.

  44. 150 said:

    I’d send them a one-page business letter explaining that you don’t take hard copies, let alone handwritten ones, and asking them to send postage if they want the MS returned, otherwise it will be recycled. It’s a pain, but better than this person thinking you stole her magnum opus.

  45. Marion Gropen said:

    When you think you’ve seen everything, there’s another one just around the corner.

    I’d park it somewhere out of the way, ’cause the odds are 50/50 that it’s the only copy. And if so, the sad soul will probably be in touch (by carrier pigeon?) sooner or later.

  46. Anonymous said:

    It’s queries sent by the Postage Dork, the Brownies Woman and Small Potatoes Idiot that will make a query sent by me seem like a sparkling opportunity to work with someone who’s at least running on all cylinders. At least, that’s the silver lining I see in these posts. Thank you, Agent Kristin. I’m taking notes!!!

  47. Gail Dayton said:

    Okay, I do my first drafts in longhand. Yes, I’m published, and four of my books (including the one due out next March) clock in at around 150,000 words. BUT–

    Typing them into the computer is my 1st revision pass.

    And I’m old enough to pre-date computers. But ya know what? Even in the 1920s–They Had Typewriters.

    That’s why I still handwrite my books. Because I date back to the age of typewriters. The first stories I wrote had to be typed By Typewriter. (Mine was a manual, not electric.)

    And errors, or revisions– even piddly little typo corrections– meant re-typing the whole sucker. Or at least a whole chapter. (Though in those days, I didn’t write whole books.) So I didn’t type until the story was close to the shape I wanted it. That has resulted in the automatic shut-off of the Internal Editor when I sit down with pen in hand and paper in front of me. It just works better for me.

    So, while I understand the writing of a book in longhand, I do not then condone the failure to type it into appropriate format for submission. I don’t care how old this writer is.

    (Yeah, I’m a grandma.)(Though I’m not yet old enough for AARP.)

    Being a good-hearted Southerner, I would probably send a postcard asking for postage if the author wants it back, but that’s as far as I personally would go.

  48. Anonymous said:

    Excuse me Ms. Nelson, but may I ask you a question.

    Ma’am, does this have anything to do with potatoes?

  49. Anonymous said:

    What you need to do is take a picture of the manuscript — either in your bathroom where the toilet paper would go, or in your hands as you hold it outside the window of a tall building. Your message would be “Send me a check for the return postage, or the manuscript gets it.”

    Mark in the Seattle area

  50. Mary Paddock said:

    I’m with the crowd that suggests you send this person a note offering to return if they’ll pay the postage–as well as a copy of your submission guidelines.

    Also, I was “wowed” by the person who offered to pay the return postage on behalf of the sender.

    This author-wanna-be was lucky to find you. I suspect some agents would have pitched it without thinking twice.

  51. Anonymous said:

    And now I have you right where I want you — curious about my manuscript!!!!! I’ll be sending another one, soon, this time written in invisible ink.

  52. Southern Writer said:

    Kristin, I’m all but dying to know. How was the writing? What was the genre? Pleeeeease tell us.

    P.S. Anon @ 10:27: You’re a nice person. I hope all that comes back to you.

  53. Lorra said:


    Regardless of whether it’s fair to those who DO follow the guidelines, there’s no decision to make.

    The incredible effort it took to handwrite an entire manuscript dictates that it must be sent back. Of course you should enclose a copy of your submissions guidlines, but I doubt this person owns a computer.

    Please let your readers know that you’ve sent it back. I know I’ll sleep better.

    Thanks Kristin.

  54. Anonymous said:

    The lack of compassion in many of these comments, the rules-rule attitude, amazes me. And we wonder why the world is so screwed up. Or maybe we don’t wonder and that’s the problem.


  55. The Baldwin Niece said:

    You know, Agent K, if you do send it back, maybe the author will send you a couple of jars of “the recipe?”


  56. Alexandra said:

    I agree with Southern Writer’s idea. Giving this person the benefit of the doubt (and it’s a very generous benefit of the doubt), when they call point them to your submission guidelines and instruct them to send correct postage to get the manuscript back.

    Considering it’s handwritten, it could very well be their only copy (how many pages are there, anyway?).

    If it’s a copy of their handwritten manuscript, this presents an interesting conundrum as to why they didn’t find a cheaper method. Copying, whether from a home copier or from a commerical place like Kinkos, costs much more than printing a typed manuscript due to ink used, and if it is a copy then this author is efficient enough in technology to learn to use a computer.

    By my guestimate, with the $32 spent on express mail, he’s probably spent at least $60 on this thing (10 cents a page at most commercial copiers, or $30 for black cartridges in my experience). And this is $60 spent sending to one agent.

    Either way, take pity on their pocketbook, and wait a reasonable amount of time for them to respond, point them to your submission guidelines and this post, and give them a chance to send postage.

  57. Anonymous said:

    I hope you send it back. This is likely an elderly person who poured their heart and soul into this manuscript.

  58. Southern Writer said:

    Alexandra, far be it from me to ever disagree with someone who agrees with me — I must be insane, but is it really cheaper to print a manuscript yourself? The one time I attempted it, I only got 70 pages from a brand new cartridge. I knew I had another 300 pages or so to go, so I gave up right then and took it to Office Depot. Of course, it was a piece of crap _ex_ _ r k printer I used to have, so maybe that was the problem?

  59. Julie Weathers said:

    I have a handwritten manuscript an old man gave me in hopes I could get it published for him. My agents at the time liked the story, but we parted ways and the manuscript languishes. He gave it to me to do with as I wished. It’s rougher than a cob and each chapter is one or two handwritten pages, but it is a fascinating story.

    I would hate for you to just throw this away. Who knows what the story is behind it? I’m glad you decided to contact the author for SASE.

    I’m sure that earned you a few stars in your crown. It certainly moves you up the ladder of respect.