Monday, July 30, 2007

Post Edge ...

The Canadian magazine of the fantastic, ON SPEC, requires manuscripts to be sent by mail. Likewise, a SASE must be enclosed for a response. There are two choices for postage for the SASE:
1) procure Canadian stamps
2) get an international reply coupon (IRC)

I stop by my local PO and, after confirming Canadian stamps are not sold in the U.S., casually ask for an IRC, only having a vague idea of what it might be, look like, or cost. Sorry, I was told. None available. Try a post office in town X or Y.

I call the PO in town X, the one closest by, and the conversation is something like this:

Me: Do you have international reply coupons?

Civil Servant #1: International what?

Me : International reply coupons.

CS1: [to someone in the PO] Do we have international reply coupons?

CS2: Oh, no, [something unintellible about bats]

CS1: No sir, they're not -- what? They what?

Me : Uhhh...

CS1: Here, talk to her.

CS2: [in polite but limited english] No sir, no IRC's since the changes. Okay?

Me : Thank you.

Okay, town Y is a bit bigger. I call the PO there and am told this:

CS3 : Oh, IRC's? Nawww, we haven't had those since the rates went up. Actually, I don't think they exist anymore. Yah, you can't get them.

I wish I were making this up.

Some research is needed. The USPS has a handy International Mail Manual. Section 372 clearly describes the IRC, it's price ($2.00) and a little background on recent changes (the old ones expired on 12/31/2006). A little more digging uncovers the previous price ($1.85).

Okay, now to find a PO that knows what these are. A nearby city has a location that I think is a main branch (Hey, "Downtown". That must be the big one). I call and am informed, yes, they have IRC's.

Hurray! I make the trip in the afternoon and find the "Downtown" branch is a tiny hole in the wall. Erm, okay. Enter and greet the two civil servants standing behind the counter and inquire about the IRC. They look at each other.

CS4: Do we have those here?

CS5: Yes, Dave brought some from the main branch.

CS4: Aren't those the old ones?

CS5: No. They're the new ones. But I have to look them up. [Opens a stapled stack of copied pages.]

CS4: Jeez, where are they? Are they in the safe? [Wanders to the back.]

CS5: They're back there. I don't know how much they are now.

Me : [Trying to be helpful] I think they're two dollars.

CS4: Are they in the safe? I'd have to do a transfer to you, right?

CS5: I have to look them up.

CS4: I've never seen one; never sold one in ten years here.

CS5: We sold them all the time at the main branch.

Me : [Wishing I was at the main branch.]

CS4: [Disappearing behind a wall] I think this is them. Are these it?

CS5: I'm looking it up. [Goes to the computer to punch in something.]

CS4: Do I have to transfer these to you?

Me : [Notices a line of people forming behind me. Pretends interest in a pamphlet on the counter.]

CS5: Okay, they cost $1.85 each. [To me] How many did you want?

Me : [Sinking feeling about the price] Uhm, just one. Isn't that the old-

CS5: [To CS4] I found it! It's [some number code]!

CS4: Wait. What am I doing with these?

Eventually CS4 and CS5 confer beyond the wall, conducting bureaucratic business out of site in case I prove to be an agent of W.A.S.T.E. Finally, the IRC is produced. It is indeed the new one (expires 12/31/2009) and, remarkably, really is the old price of $1.85.

I pay for the IRC and slip out of the PO under the watchful, malevolent gaze of the eight people wondering what the hell was so special about what I just bought that it took so damn long.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL. I just decided not to submit to foreign markets unless I can do it online.

July 31, 2007 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger Camille Alexa said...

I'm with Cheryl.

July 31, 2007 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger Steve Buchheit said...

Yep, I think that would make me walk out of the PO.

July 31, 2007 at 3:59 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

It was an adventure.

The IRC itself looked cool. It had security features typical of money: color, micro-printing, shiny stuff (that's a technical term).

There was a picture of two hands ala God and Adam in the Sistine Chapel, passing a letter from one to the other. There was a globe with messenger angels circling it, hand in hand. Okay, now that I'm typing it, it sounds kind of hokey. But it looked neat.

July 31, 2007 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Jonathan C. Gillespie said...

This is exactly why I don't bother with postal-only magazines outside of the U.S. I submitted to "On Spec" once, and it was simply too time-consuming to do so.

August 1, 2007 at 6:16 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Hi Jonathan!

I don't mind sending a hard copy out, it's the getting back that is difficult in this case.

ON SPEC is the first foreign (foreign to me anyway) publication I've submitted to that does a postal response.

The others I submitted to (in Canada and England) offered to do an e-mail response if one didn't require the manuscript returned.

I might do it again if I felt a story had a stellar chance with a particular magazine.

August 2, 2007 at 12:39 AM  
Blogger Jim Stewart said...

The IRC is the biggest f-up in the postal world right now, and the best argument for why editors' stupid addiction to dead trees is ready to die a quick death.

I write more about my IRC nightmares here.

August 2, 2007 at 2:32 AM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Hi Jim!

There did seem to be indications of USPS footdragging/reluctance to handle IRC's. That is, beyond the bureaucratic SNAFU at the local PO's as you and I encountered.

Might be due to how the IRC's are managed internationally (I think the most recent iteration refered to a Beijing connection, but I'm really talking through my hat here so don't take that as gospel).

As you say, there is a greater issue of what editors ask for in the submission process versus what would be most helpful for writers.

August 2, 2007 at 1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Just. Wow.

I've had some similar conversations about other mailing issues (related to work). I didn't even think about IRC's. I'm not at all surprised that they are now the ROUS's of the postal world given some of the conversations I've had.

(Most memorable comment: "We don't know how much things cost anymore. The computer tells us.")

August 8, 2007 at 3:23 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Ha! I had to google ROUS. I didn't believe it existed.

August 8, 2007 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Derryl Murphy said...

I'll probably get in trouble for telling you this, but Diane and Co. at On Spec have done email responses in the past. I think they just don't want to get swamped with it, although it really seems to me it would be easier to do away with paper, especially since the editorial staff is spread across the country. When I was AD there I preferred email contact.

Query her by email. We're always amused by how hard IRCs are to get in the US (I've never had a problem here in Canada), but a polite query will probably work wonders.


August 8, 2007 at 6:19 PM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Welcome Deryl!

Well, it's done and gone. An interesting experience anyway. Next time I shall try a query before submission. If IRC's are still helpful for postage, then I'll know where to go.

Thanks for the input and thanks for stopping by.

August 9, 2007 at 1:21 AM  
Blogger Todd Wheeler said...

Gah! That is Derryl.

Jeez, some host I am!

August 9, 2007 at 1:25 AM  
Blogger Derryl Murphy said...

Todd, my oldest friend still has problems spelling my name. At least you got the "e" instead of throwing in an "a."


August 9, 2007 at 3:39 PM  

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