Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Origins of Ancient Myth Revealed!

For years, there has been much earnest--and sometimes irate--talk in writers' circles as to the merits of including a self-addressed stamped envelope when submitting a manuscript to a literary agent or editor. Some writers insist that including a SASE is a tacit hint to the agent/editor to reject the work; no SASE means that the author has confidence it will be accepted. Whereas to agents such as Miss Snark and Kristin Nelson, no SASE means that the manuscript will most likely end up in the recycling bin.

Many people have wondered how and when the no-SASE myth began. Well, today I cracked the mystery! As frequently happens with great discoveries, I stumbled upon this one unawares. In my current state of painful inactivity, I've been avoiding all news except of the book biz--and have cut way back even on that--instead only reading novels and memoirs. (No creepy or violent movies, either. Hence I turned off "Pulp Fiction" midway through & switched to "The Fabulous Baker Boys.")

So this morning I started reading the very entertaining 2000 memoir I'D HATE MYSELF IN THE MORNING by the late Ring Lardner Jr. ("M*A*S*H"), the last surviving member of the HUAC "Hollywood Ten," with a sobering introduction by Victor Navasky. And look what I found:
In 1924, when F. Scott Fitzgerald sold Max Perkins of Charles Scribner's Sons on the idea of a collection of Ring Lardner short stories, Dad... accepted Scott's title, How to Write Short Stories. Instead of a serious introduction, though, he wrote: "A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor. Personally I have found it a good scheme to not even sign my name to the story, and when I have got it sealed up in its envelope and stamped and addressed, I take it to some town where I don't live and mail it from there. The editor has no idea who wrote the story, so how can he send it back? He is in a quandary."

5 comments:

M. G. Tarquini said...

Get better soon, Ms. Stander.

Eric Berlin said...

I personally think there's a bigger mystery to solve: Agents who do not use the SASE when responding. I had this happen several times: I send them an envelope. I send them postage for the envelope. I even go so far as to affix the postage TO the envelope. And yet I received several rejections where the agency used its own business envelope, and paid for the postage themselves as well. As for my SASE... well, did they just toss it? I have to suppose they did.

Generally I was glad to receive rejections from such agents, as it was clear they had the financial sense of a sock. "Let's throw out THIS money and spend money of our own!" Totally baffling.

Carmen said...

Surely he was joking...

Bella Stander said...

Here's a possible explanation for agents who don't use SASEs. A secret correspondent writes:
"I used to work at a publishing house where the editorial assistants got to keep the stamps from the SASEs of mss. we accepted. A surprising number of international stories got pushed...."

Bill Peschel said...

Carmen: Yes, he was joking. Reading the collection would reveal the depth of his leg-pulling.