Are Agents Stealing My Stamps?

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Q: Do agents steam off the stamps on self-addressed, stamped envelopes (SASEs) and resell them? The agents demand pages, SASEs, that sort of thing, but—and I know this sounds cynical—many of my queries disappear. In this age, why should we need to use what they call “snail mail” for queries and why do agents never answer?—Don Ballew

A: Of course agents don’t steam off stamps from SASEs and resell them. They steam them off and use the stamps themselves. (Hopefully you know I'm J/K, which is "just kidding" in Internet speak.)

Actually, they don’t steam off anything (as far as I know), and really do try to respond. To gain further insight on the matter, I called Donald Maass, president of Donald Maass Literary Agency. He represents more than 100 fiction writers.

“If you’re certain that you wrote to the agent’s current address and the SASE had sufficient postage, then you can conclude one of three things,” he says. “Either the agent is rude, the agent is busy or the agent just isn’t interested.”

Now, I doubt that agents try to ignore you, as their profession and income are based on finding great writing. With the mounds of submissions they continually receive, they probably don’t have time to respond to everyone (though that would be nice). And they do try to respond, but it's easy for queries to get lost in the shuffle.

“Snail mail” is still a viable form of submitting your query, though e-mail has really become increasingly popular in the last couple of years. There is one ultimate problem with e-mail: All that hard work goes down the drain if the editor accidentally labeled your e-mail address as spam and you’re officially blocked from the system. So it's best to follow the agent's guidelines (which can typically be found online) when deciding whether to send it by the postal service or electronically. But when in doubt, you can always send a hard copy. After all, they are easier for agents to carry around and read while traveling, eating lunch or steaming off stamps.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

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