I asked on Google+ whether folks would be interested in this post. A few people said they were, and so here I am telling you about why people like me (i.e., the poor) need electronic submissions. For a different take on this issue, see Mari Ness’ troubles with accessing a post office due to physical constraints. My constraints are primarily financial.
I’m not going to pretend that I am the poorest person in the world. Nor am I going to suggest that I cannot truly afford the occasional hard copy submission. Anyone with the extra time can probably poke holes into my finances and find the money to pay for postage, whether by cutting out my social life (which isn’t all that glorious to begin with) or making other kinds of sacrifices. But it seems to me that poking holes doesn’t really change the point, and it certainly doesn’t change the fact that fewer and fewer markets refuse to accept electronic submissions.
Not All Writers Have Mountains of Disposable Income
I’ll use myself as an example. I have a guaranteed income of around $12,600 annually for the next two years. That is not an exact figure, and my income does increase if I get summer teaching and it will increase because I am taking up an adjunct position at a local community college (for which I am not paid terribly well). But for now, let’s only talk about the income I know I will have this academic year: $12,600.
With that amount of money, I have to be able to afford the following: rent, utilities, college fees, school books, food/various necessities (toilet paper, over-the-counter meds like vitamins, cold medicine, etc.), health costs (medication, doctor appts., etc. — I’m an asthmatic and a cancer survivor), and career “maintenance” (making sure I have a working computer, conferences, etc). You could also include the things I buy as a consumer and the little I get to spend towards maintaining a basic (and I do mean basic) social life. I think a healthy social life is crucial to mental health (for me, that means occasionally having lunch with friends, not running off to binge drink in Vegas). But I won’t include that below.
If you’ve ever lived on $12,600 a year, then you know that buying all of those things is not easy. Even taking a rough estimate from my own life (minus a few of the above categories) isn’t exactly inspiring:
Rent: $575 x 12 = $6,900
Utilities: $156 x 12 = $1,872
(it should be noted that I have been reducing my consumption and hope to bring my utilities bill down considerably once the “year” switches out)
College Fees: $630 x 2 = $1,260
School Books (rough estimate): $200 x 3 (Fall, Spring, Summer) = $600
Food (Gainesville ain’t cheap, and I don’t consume endless amounts of garbage): $150 x 12 = $1,800
Prescription Medicine: $25 x 12 + $25 x 2 = $350
That by itself (dropping “various necessities,” “career ‘maintenance,'” and so on) adds up to $12,782, though it does not include other expenses which I can’t yet anticipate (health complications, etc.). That means I have less guaranteed income than what I have to spend on necessities, which also means I have to find ways to make up the difference in other ways (selling things, advertising revenue, praying I get summer teaching, etc.). That also means that whatever extra I can get isn’t going to be spent on shipping charges to F&SF (who seems to be the only relevant holdout) or Interzone, who I am desperate to submit to. I’m going to save that extra dough for emergencies, such as if I get extremely ill, or for other necessities, or even for giving myself a day off somewhere other than in my apartment (i.e., doing something for my mental health).
Where in that lot am I supposed to “easily find” the $2-$3 per package shipping cost I have to pay in order to send my work to all those pro markets that don’t take electronic submissions? And if it’s so hard for me to cook up the money, or justify spending it based on always being unsure what my actual income will be, just imagine how difficult it is for people living in other countries, where shipping to the U.S. can cost ten times as much (adjusted for local currency value)…
This is the problem. It’s not about being too lazy to take my work seriously enough to print it out and send it to publishers. It has always been about the cost to me as a writer to send my work to a publisher. That is not an investment I am willing to make, because it’s not actually an investment. Investments have reasonable guarantees, and that’s not how writing works. There is never a guarantee that you’ll receive something in return, as well there shouldn’t be. I don’t expect a critique of my story, nor do I expect an editor to publish my work simply because I sent it to them. What I do expect is that the financial burden doesn’t fall upon me when the technology is clearly available to make such burdens non-existent.
From that perspective, markets which do not allow electronic submissions have remained relatively invisible to me. Because they must. Their policies exclude people like me simply because I am not financially able to feed the post office in order to regularly send work to magazine publishers. And they exclude plenty of other writers simply because they don’t live in the United States. I see that as detrimental to the genre. How can you say that you represent the best of the genre when you have artificially excluded entire segments of the world’s writing population? The answer: you can’t (though some publishers make exceptions for foreign writers, which is kind of like a kick in the balls for us poor people).
I am fortunate, though. My income will be increasing soon, because I will be teaching more. But that also means I will have less time for writing, more stress, and ten times the work (I’ll jump from teaching 19 students to teaching 70). This says a lot about the state of graduate students in this country. Well, it says a lot about graduate students in the humanities, who, by and large, do far more teaching than most other departments in the university, take their teaching far more seriously than other departments, and put in more time and effort into their teaching than other departments. But that’s for another time, I suppose…
Yet even with my income increase, I still won’t have piles of money lying around. I’ll just have more than I had before, which I’ll be saving so I don’t get screwed over by unexpected circumstances — which often results in me turning to my family for financial help (such as what happened last summer with unexpected vet bills). I’ll start using that money towards tests to make sure my cancer hasn’t come back (a condition I didn’t ask for). And let me tell you…I’m terrified that my cancer will come back. Not because I’ll get sick, but because I have no idea how I’m going to afford to pay for the treatments even with the extra income of adjunct teaching. And my future isn’t looking too good, because my governor has put out a call to cut funding to humanities programs…
This is why electronic submissions are necessary. Because it’s a mercy. Because it’s fair. Because it’s right. For those of us who don’t have a lot of money. For those of us who live elsewhere. For those us who have something to say.
P.S.: I’m sure people can poke holes in my finances. That’s fine. But that doesn’t really change the point. Finding $20 here, $20 there doesn’t change the fact that all my extra income goes towards keeping me sane, healthy, etc. It doesn’t change the fact that it makes more sense to spend $2-$3 buying a few servings of fruits or veggies than to send dead paper to a publisher (excluding the cost to print things out in the first place). And it doesn’t change the fact that shipping fiction to publishers is unnecessary.
P.S.S.: I should note that I am also $30,000 in debt for my education, some of which I accrued while getting my M.A. I’m trying not to take any more $$$ out for the next…ever. Because I’ll have to spend close to 20 years paying off 30K.