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Has Anthrax Killed The Submission Process?
by Terry Burns

Harper Collins opened the ball by saying they did not intend to open much of what was in their slush pile (unsolicited manuscripts) because of the current threat of anthrax. Others have followed suit, some going as far as saying they won't even open query letters if they do not recognize the source. What does this mean for the writer? Rumors are running rampant. How do we submit to publishers if they are afraid of their mail?

Is it all rumor? No, Publishers Weekly reported that houses such as Simon and Schuster, Harper-Collins, and the New Yorker do not intend to open any package that doesn't come by UPS or FedEx, not only to protect them from terrorists but from the accidental contamination of mail that moves through the post office. Writer's Digest reported the results of a survey of 150 magazine editors, book publishers and literary agents in the most comprehensive look into the problem to date. The findings?

Most houses have not officially changed policies in spite of the rumors to the contrary, though the actual practice at them will certainly be much more stringent. A greater interest in receiving initial contacts by email was expressed. Previously a large percentage of publishers discounted this practice because of the fear of contracting a virus, but now that is secondary to a threat to human life. Of course that doesn't mean they are comfortable with this exposure and we should expect any correspondence with them to be conducted within the body of an email and not send any attachments that might carry a far greater virus danger.

Business as usual? Far from it. The fear is real and stringent steps will be taken even in the houses that are trying to adhere to previous policies. Any mail that looks suspicious in any manner can be expected to be discarded. But what's really new?

The odds of rising up out of the slush pile to become a major author has always been a very slim chance and it certainly hasn't gotten any better. We've always realized that the key was to have an invited submission through a killer (whoops, maybe I had better say excellent) query letter, by meeting an agent or publisher at a conference, by winning a contest, or any form of activity that got the magic words REQUESTED BY XXXXX written on the outside of the envelope. That used to be the means of preventing banishment to the slush pile. It is now an imperative.

In other aspects of our life America has refused to bow to the terrorist threat. Setting rumor aside, the publishing industry appears to be no different, though much more cautious. There is no panic, but a great deal of application of common sense. Writers need to be just as prudent, take steps to get the submission pre-approved or accepted, remove any appearance that could generate concern on the other end.

© Copyright 2001, Terry Burns

Terry Burns is a fifth generation Irish storyteller who is also a fourth generation Texas bullshipper. He has two books coming out in print, audio and ebooks from The Fiction Works and one of the ebook versions has been nominated for the Eppie award. He's been published in the Roswell Literary Review, Meditation Magazine, Trailer Life, Lubbock Lifestyle Magazine, Lovewords Magazine, Palace of Reason E-zine, Wee Ones Magazine, and in a short story collection capriciously entitled "Three Naked Ladies Playing Cellos" published by the Darkstormy writers. Terry also has published four nonfiction books, a number of articles and poems in various publications, did several hundred music celebrity profiles for a biography project, and has a small book of cowboy poetry entitled Cowboys Don't Read Poetry. He has been accepted into the Western Writers of America, and is currently serving as President of the Panhandle Professional Writers, one of the oldest writing groups in the nation.

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