Chopping through the electronic jungle

electronicjungleBy Joel Vance

There should be a federal law, punishable by waterboarding, for any publication that does not accept e-mail submissions, but an uncomfortable number of them still insist that you spend time, money and supplies sending them snail-mail manuscripts.

For too many editors e-mail seems to be a newfangled gadget like the horseless carriage which will, if ignored, go away.

In fact, too many of them apparently never read their e-mail or if they do they feel it unnecessary to reply. An e-mail query is just about as likely to be disregarded as it is to be answered.


This is supposed to be the electronic age. I could see the insistence on paper when all the editors were of the quill-pen era, but we have pixelated gadgets for everything now and even I, a wide-eyed Dorothy headed for the magic land of Electronic Oz, know how to work e-mail and save a nickel or whatever a first-class stamp costs these days.

The first time I sent anything electronically the publication on the other end and I had to agree on a protocol, whatever that was, and I had to phone long distance, then start the transmission and hope it got there. It was easier (and cheaper, given long-distance rates) to mail the damn thing.

No more – e-mail is instantaneous and easy. Those with high-speed hookups (we’re so far out in the country we barely have dial-up) can transmit a book manuscript in an eye blink. It’s called time-saving, not to mention the postage, printer upkeep and paper cost that is saved.

An alternative to e-mail is to dump a manuscript, especially a book, on a CD in Word format and send it via snail mail. It is immeasurably less bulky and costly than paper (a CD is maybe a dime or so, compared to several dollars for a 250-page paper manuscript in paper and postage). But again my experience is that editors apparently use CD submissions for clay birds on the trap range. “Give me paper or give me death!” they cry.

Don’t tempt me …

If I seem crotchety about this it’s because I am.

Now, if you are fortunate enough to find editors who welcome electronic submissions and haven’t refined your technique yet, here’s what I do:

1. If it’s just copy, no photos, I send an e-mail with the manuscript either in the body of the message or as an attachment (or, to make sure, both ways). I have one editor who can’t, for some reason, use the piece if it’s in the body, so I know to send an attachment to him.

2. Photos are easy if they originate as digital images, which is increasingly common. But I have 10,000 or more slides. The answer is to scan them. I use a Nikon Coolscan IV. This is a bare-bones, now outdated scanner but still functional. The newest low-end model, the Coolscan V, sells for between $500 and $600. A sharp dust- and scratch-free slide with good exposure will give a scan as good as (or close to) a digital image. The Coolscan also will scan negatives for black-and-white transmission.

3. If you’re sending three to four shots to illustrate a piece, e-mail is fine (make sure they’re at least 300 dpi). If more than a few photos, put them on a CD and send along a proof sheet with fairly good-sized thumbnails, as well as a caption sheet. Yes, you’re back into snail mail, but at least with one foot in the electronic age.

4. Set up an electronic file folder for every e-mail between you and the publication. Name the folder with the magazine name and refer back if necessary. It’s the electronic version of a paper trail.

5. I recommend Sonar as a manuscript tracking program. Sonar 3 is available – free. Check it out at Back it up! Religiously (that means, back it up and say a prayer that everything doesn’t crash). I lost my first Sonar setup because I didn’t back it up and have no idea where a number of manuscripts went, including one that was the best thing I ever wrote – and I can’t find any trace of it.

6. Your e-mail submission also stands as a form of backup, but back up your manuscripts on at least one, preferably two, external hard drives. Use the hard drive on the computer for programs else it slows down to a crawl as you fill it.

And, as you’re offering up prayers that you don’t crash and burn up an electronic lifetime of writing, also pray for editors to convert religiously to electronic submissions, It won’t get you to Heaven, but it might get you some cash in hand and it definitely will make your life on earth easier. ◊

joel-vanceJoel Vance is a freelance writer, book author and columnist. He is a past president and historian of OWAA and a winner of the Ham Brown, Excellence in Craft and Circle of Chiefs awards. He writes from Russellville, Mo. E-mail him at


Scroll to Top