Thursday, July 24, 2008

Metered Mail

So we had two cases today where people had sent large reply envelopes to send back their unrequested partials using metered mail. This means that after they found out the weight and price of shipping the partial at the post office, they either had the post office stand the SASE before it went into the main envelope or they had one of those machines in their office that did it for them with red ink on the envelope based on the weight of the package.

The problem with this is, with metered mail you can't send it from a wildly different zip code than the one you metered it at. And because it was over 14 ounces, my boss took it to the post office to mail it, only to be told she couldn't, because it was metered in another zip code.

Long story short, if you're one of those people with a machine that weights and then applies a stamp via a meter and a red stamp thing, don't do it on your SASE. Find out the cost and put that much in stamps on the SASE so we can mail it back to you.

Some agencies don't make the trip to the post office or have an office person who does it for them, and just toss the returns envelopes that would require a trip to a post office because our country doesn't understand how actual postal security should work. So if you send an unrequested partial and it's heavy, don't expect it back, even if you send enough stamps to do so. Not everyone will send it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Working Experience and Vanity Presses

I recently sent off a few agent queries for my romance novel that contained the following biographical paragraph:

"[Cut for privacy by the Rejector, but basically she says she was an editorial assistant at a small press and goes into what she did there]."

Now I'm wondering if "vanity press" is really the right term to use in this case. Vanity presses are demonized by bloggers, but the company I worked for was perfectly harmless. We didn't swindle writers. In fact, we didn't accept any outside manuscript submissions at all -- we developed everything in-house with the help of the artist we were devoted to promoting. At the time that I worked there, we understood ourselves to be a vanity press in the most pure sense: a press devoted to one person's vanity.

Would you mind taking a look at [the company's] web site and letting me know what you think? I'm afraid that in misusing a common publishing term, I have shown myself to be an idiot. If [this press] isn't a vanity press, then what is it?

A side issue is whether or not my experience in publishing is even worth mentioning at all. I have no idea, and I'm almost afraid to ask.

So there are two issues I see here:

(1) You are wondering if you worked for a vanity press. Well, you didn't work for Vanity Press, which was actually the name of a major self-publishing company before the word "self-publishing" existed. When I was 14, I submitted a manuscript to them, not knowing any better, and lo-and-behold, they accepted me. I was on top of the world. Then my mom looked at the fine print and said, "I'm not paying for this" and that was the end of that.

The term has come to main places that make you pay up front for copies printed, as opposed to POD presses where there's a more complex financial arrangement that requires only a set-up fee or no set-up fee at all but takes a larger chunk from each copy and prices the copies very high. POD only exists because the technology to print books quickly exists, and it didn't when I was 14.

Looking at the website, I honestly can't tell for sure, but if I had to guess I would err on the side of "oh look, a small press" and not discriminate. A lot of small, specialized presses like this one have different financial structures (for everyone else, this is a press for books about glassmaking).

(2) I think it's OK to mention you worked for a press unless it was one of those huge, corrupt vanity presses or POD scams like PublishAmerica or Authorhouse. Saying you edited for PublishAmerica is like saying "I have NEGATIVE editing experience, less than people who've never edited." We know those houses exist to make a profit and don't edit their work. If you did legitimate work at a legitimate press, don't worry about the structure and mention it.

That said, the paragraph you sent me that you put in your query was fairly long, and I would cut it down to two lines, max. Editorial experience doesn't make you a good writer; it makes you a good editor. Editing is a useful skill for writing, but it's part of the writing tool set, not the whole of it. In other words, your book might still suck even if you were the CEO of Random House after working your way up from the mail room and through every editorial station before moving to executive positions. So give it a line or two because it shows you know how to edit (and would thus be capable of doing so if we asked) and focus on your novel.