Guest Blog: The Silence of the Limeys

Jim Worrad is a member of of my writing group, The Speculators, and a fine writer of space opera styled science fiction. Jim and I were discussing the logistical problems of getting stories out to American magazines, and wonderful human being that he is, Jim agreed to pen a piece on the subject for this blog. This is the first guest blog I have featured here, but not the last. If you have an idea for a guest blog, drop me an email.

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We live in an age of high-speed information, but you wouldn’t think it to look at some speculative fiction magazines. I’m not kidding. Two of America’s ‘big three’ SF publications—-Analog and F&SF–will not accept your story submission in electronic form*.
Who knows why? Perhaps they imagine only the serious writer buys stamps, ‘talent borrows, genius seals envelopes’, if you will. Or maybe it’s the virus thing. Fair enough. After all, we can’t expect everyone to be as firewall-savvy as Saga magazine or the WI (both of whom accept E-mail submissions). My own theory is their editorial staff received too much cyberpunk material back in the ‘eighties and consequently live in fear of jack plugs penetrating their spines the moment they open a Gmail account.
But all this is prologue. What I want to bring to the attention of readers here is this – practical correspondence with aforementioned mags is impossible from the UK, because the Royal Mail no longer sells International Reply Coupons.
Oh, yes, they say they do, but it’s in the same way they say past winners of The Running Man are drinking daiquiris in a holiday resort somewhere.
Trust me. Some time ago I tried sending a story to Asimovs (Bless ‘em. They’ve recently decided to accept electronic submissions—-the only one of ‘the big three’ to do so. Somewhere, Isaac smiles) and took it in an envelope to my local snailmailery.
‘Oh, no one asks for those things anymore,’ the Postmistress told me when I asked about IRCs. ‘The Post office hasn’t issued them for a while.’
‘That’s not what your website says,’ I said, which made everyone behind the counter smile. Mentioning the RM’s website has that effect on its staff – it’s their equivalent of when Del Boy falls backwards through that bar in Only Fools and Horses. Talking about it brings warm, fuzzy amusement to anyone in earshot.
Helpfully, the Postmistress suggested I could always ‘pop a few pounds in the envelope’ so that the receiver could exchange them for dollars and go out and buy stamps with it.
Hmm… Could this be the reason Asimov’s went electric in the first place?
My fellow laser’n’dragon hacks tell similar stories. Asking for IRC’s in Leicester Post Offices gets you the same blank stare as asking for IEDs. I imagine the same holds true throughout the rest of Albion.
So there you go – an SF writer living in the UK cannot send their work to the US inkies and expect to get a reply! Ever! So why bother, when other venues do? It’s a real shame, truly, but there you have it.
Have Analog or F&SF even noticed this silence of the Limeys? Their guidelines still rattle on about International Reply Coupons, so we can only assume not.
Maybe someone should tell ‘em. Oh, wait a minute…

*Ironically, one can send an email submission to Solander, the fiction magazine of the Historical Novel Society, without fear of the ducking stool or the thumb screw. Stick that in your singularity and vaporise it, Analog! Unfortunately, I can’t speak for literary fiction magazines. I write stories where something occurs.

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18 thoughts on “Guest Blog: The Silence of the Limeys”

  1. Totally agree. TTA Press require ink as well. It’s daft. We’re living in the future after all.

    I guess the logical question to ask now is this: Does anyone maintain a list of SF and fantasy publications that do accept electronic submissions? Whenever I read any short fiction the writer’s bio always includes yet another publication that I’ve never heard of.

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    1. Hi Sam,

      Duotrope have a comprehensive listing. They also list which magazines are pro and which are amateur etc. There are always new small magazines, but the number of established and respected markets is quite small and stable.

      Damien

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  2. I was startled to read this, not that I’ve sent anyone a physical manuscript for a at least a couple of years.

    The Universal Postal Union (what a fine name!) is the actual issuer of IRCs and says this on its website: ‘Although Posts are not obliged to sell IRCs, it is mandatory for Posts to exchange the coupons. If a Post does not sell IRCs, it is possible to purchase them in a post office located in a neighbouring country.’ Speculators day trip to France, then??

    One answer might be: the US Postal service, like the Royal Snail, have a service where you can print a label with postage to your own printer. So if you go on their website and set up an account, you’d be able to print off a self-addressed label with a pre-printed barcode-type stamp and include it with your submission. The URL is http://www.usps.com/international/welcome.htm – haven’t read the T&Cs though, and I know the UK version has a time limit on printed stamp labels; they have to get scanned at a sorting office within a certain number of days of being printed.

    Fortunately Analog have an email address so it might be worth asking them the question and seeing if they’ve already come across the problem?

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  3. IRCs are no longer available? I hadn’t noticed that yet, but then I don’t live in the UK and I haven’t actually sent out a postal submission in ages.

    With so many excellent magazines accepting electronic submissions, I don’t really feel the need to bother with those that don’t. Especially as several of the magazines insisting on postal subs also don’t want IRCs, since they are a hassle (well, buying IRCs is also a hassle for us overseas submitters). One magazine even insists on SASEs with a specific kind of American stamp which permanently retains its value (that does not bode well for response times).

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  4. Mr. Ponzi, of the scheme that now bears his name, claimed to make his money in arbitrage of IRCs. Ponzi schemes are still with us, but IRCs are on the way out.

    On a more practical basis, most SF writers are connected enough to have US friends mail them the postage. Yes, this is completely ridiculous. But it would work.

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  5. Ah, well, that’s a bit shit not being able to get IRCs any more. I was planning on doing a printed zine that’d require them for distribution.

    It’d be cool if there was a bigger, or at least better organized, British magazine than Interzone and the other TTA press stuff.

    Of course since a lot of the stuff they publish is international I wonder if that was all submitted via the post.

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  6. Not sure how easy IRCs are to find in the UK, but we get them all the time from US contributors and there are no problems using them to reply…

    The literary magazine I edit tends to discourage email subs: maybe it’s one of those things that only seems stupid or backward before you have to deal with the inbox (and either read yourself into semi-blindness and migraine, or print out acres of text) and all the nonsense that can accompany it (people demanding explanations for rejections etc, when there aren’t the hours in the day). Paper/post keeps it simple and easier to manage at our end.

    Though we discourage them in general, we will accept email subs by arrangement: not sure if those you’re talking about might do the same in certain circumstances…

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    1. Hi All,

      I don’t think we need to try and find obscure ways of locating IRCs or sending letters to America, either the magazines will start accepting e-subs or they will lose out in the best foreign stories.

      Wayne – maybe you should look at the online submission system used by Clarkesworld. I’m pretty sure it makes their submission / response system much easier for them as well as for the writers.

      Sent from my iPad

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  7. It’s not just you lot. I couldn’t find IRCs in America when submitting to a Brit contest either, back in January. Apparently the US Postal Service still makes them for some countries, but the UK is not one of them. I wound up exchanging dollars for pounds at a heinous rate at the nearest airport, then “popping in” the cold hard cash. Hmm… I wonder if that’s why I won the contest? Nah, the entry fee wasn’t high enough a bribe.

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  8. Damien, that Clarkesworld system looks good, but the trouble is a lot of submissions would still be paper/physical, thus making more work keeping track…but it does look like a good set-up, nicely impersonal/professional, which does solve a couple of the difficulties with email.

    I don’t know how they’re funded or organised at Clarkesworld, but returns within two days suggests they’re either (a) superhuman, (b) full time, or (c) skimming the bulk of the subs…we recommend 4/8 weeks, and can take even longer if you’re in serious contention.

    Guess this ability to get superhuman in the subs piles is one advantage of SF…

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    1. Hi Wayne,

      Clarkesworld have a big pool of volunteer slush readers. But you’re right, 2 days is superhumanly fast. Most SF magazines are email only now, and more and more have online sub systems like Clarkewsworld. Average response time is 6-8 weeks. I think Jim’s opening point is the core of it – we live in a digital era and sending text via the post seems increasingly inefficient.

      D

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  9. Interesting post, Jim.

    Apparently you can get IRCs in Nottingham — but not in Leicester. The phrase ‘post code lottery’ comes to mind…

    There might also be admin problems here, as an old type of IRCs was phased out in December and a new type brought in in January. Obviously some post offices are better than others at getting their act together.

    I’m surprised they suggested you put money in an envelope as I thought that was illegal. Ho hum.

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  10. Thanks for your comments, people! Good to know I’m not some isolated Crank (To be fair, the jury’s still out on that one, I guess, but your tales offer hope).

    Interestingly, I raised this issue on a forum and all the writers who live out in the countryside said they had no problem. One must doff one’s cap to the sheer omnipotence of the village post office.

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  11. Glad to hear Clarkesworld isn’t (like Staple) just the one editor doing it part time…makes me feel a lot better about how long we take. Maybe I’d concede that ideally some kind of universal email system would work: I guess it could also take the scanning/formatting headaches out of putting the issues together, if we specified a very exact format for all subs, but people often don’t read even the basic ‘no more than six poems or three stories’ so I doubt something as technical as everything being needed in, say, 12pt single spaced RTF with paras divided by spacing rather than indents would get through to any great extent! That probably goes hand in hand with whether writers are also happy to forego print copies of their work, too, though? After all, it’s also more efficient to circulate pdf files than physical magazines…and if we were *that* into efficiency, we probably wouldn’t be writing at all, would we?

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    1. Just to answer the technical side, onion subs mean you can get submissions in raw text, then just format them however is easiest in a few steps. That is a beat efficiency saving.

      Sent from my iPad

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  12. With great difficulty I once found a post office in a rural area (since closed) that sold me me an IRC required by an American Agency, (a British Agency had suggested I try them as my work was more likely to appeal to an American market than a British one. I sent off my work and waited a year before emailing to see if the agency had finished with it. They emailed back that they didn’t want it. So that was a wasted IRC! . On the other hand, with an American publisher who on their web site demanded submissions on paper and returrn postage , when I phoned them to ask if they were taking submissions, they said since I resided in UK just email it to them. It might be worth phoning beforehand. Phone calls to America are usually cheap especially if you use Skype.

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