Dark age querying

Anyone else remember the tiresome process of sending out queries in the dark days before the internet and email?

Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to send a query. Often it involves no more than attaching your submission to an email and pressing the send button. (All that business of studying the market and refining your submission — writing your submission — and fine tuning your query are still there, of course.)

Even with the advent of computers inexpensive enough to have in a home, querying wasn’t so easy. Before the internet became ubiquitous and even before email (some may doubt there ever was such a time), the best written short story and query letter had to be printed and sent by snail mail (before that term was invented). The fat manila envelope had to have the right amount of postage added to it. You had to make the thing fit in the mail slot. And you had to remember your SASE if you ever hoped to find out the fate of your submission.

It all seems so primitive now. With a little bit of prep work, I could send out a half dozen queries in one sitting in the time it took just to print my submission before. (I’m sure there are some reading this who can even wax sagely about how it was all done in the days of typewriters. And as astonishing as it might seem, it must have been even more tedious in the days of the quill pen. Yet much of the writing of that age has survived because of its excellence. Perhaps I should resort to a quill pen when I’m rewriting to allow sufficient reflection time.)

I wrote plenty of magazine feature articles in my day. I can remember the first time I sent my submission wholly and solely electronically. I wondered if the editor would know what to do with it. I wondered if she would ask me to send a paper copy as well (as I had been before). She didn’t, and I didn’t.

And researching the markets was even more cumbersome. The one or two books that listed publishers, magazines, and agents seemed like a real convenience in those dark times, yet those publications were hardly comprehensive, and they were already out of date by the time they hit the shelves. Now there are plenty of online sites categorizing publishers, agents, and magazines, allowing searches and sorting and giving website links. Wonderful!

Fortunately, human creative drive overcame those dark-days obstacles and kept trying. I suppose in another generation, writers will look back on our time and wonder how we ever got things done. I hope so.

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