Vicki Hinze © 2000-2011
An agent requested I send the my complete manuscript and a copy of my last two books to her for representation consideration. Do I include return postage to cover just a reply–an SASE–or postage to cover returning the books, too?
You can handle this professionally several ways.
1. Request a reply only, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and invite the agent to retain or donate the books.
2. Include return postage sufficient to cover the return of the package you send.
Both options are frequently done, but Option 2 is considered a tad more professional because forwarding books is a part of doing business. Odds are high that if the agent passes on offering representation, s/he will return the entire package. If your postage is insufficient, then you’ve created an additional expense for the agent.
Normally, one would think that these expenses are just a part of doing business. And they are. But when you consider that many agents receive hundreds of submissions each month, you can understand that it isn’t realistic to expect an agency to absorb these kinds of costs on matters that do not involve clients who are already generating income for them.
3. A third option that saves the author money is to request that if the agent elects to pass, s/he recycle the manuscript, retain/donate the books, and respond to you via email. For many writers, it is far less expensive to print a new copy of the manuscript than it is to pay return shipping, particularly if the manuscript is being shipped to another country. In this case, it is still an appreciated courtesy to include a SASE for a letter. Some agents hate email and refuse to use it. So unless you’re certain, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Oh, and don’t worry that you’re sending the wrong message–that you expect to be rejected–by including return postage. It’s expected. And many agents who receive unsolicited manuscripts without return postage simply toss the query letters or submissions.
Before you get too upset with them about that, remember that they operate their businesses on budgets, too. To be fiscally responsible, they must not absorb significant costs outside that budget.*
2010 update: These days, many agents and editors welcome electronic submissions. Be sure to check their websites, or with them, and submit what they require the way that they welcome it. You want a welcome reception, not a ticked off one. 🙂