Some intelligent and articulate people have been discussing the merits and demerits of editors refusing to accept electronic submissions for their publications. I first noticed the discussion when John Scalzi made some salient points about the submission policies of the ‘Big Three’ genre magazines (Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF), essentially pointing out than in 2009 you have to come to terms with electronic submissions if you want to be a credible editor/publisher (read what John has to say – it’s better than me attempting to summarise).
Speaking as someone who has been editing for nearly 20 years, and has been handling paper submissions through that entire period, I have no affection for them. When I was involved with publishing Eidolon (1990-1999) we ended up refusing to accept returnable manuscripts because they were such a pain to handle.
When I held an open reading period for Eclipse Two last year almost all of the submissions were electronic (about 400 on a month) and I found it a simpler, easier and more manageable thing to do. It was also a lot faster for me and for authors. I did not get the oft-mentioned (and feared) flood o’ crap. I did get more repeat submissions, simply because the turn-around gave writers the chance to send a second or third story during the submission period if they chose to, but that was manageable. It would have unquestionably cost me more money, more time, and involved more stress if all of those subs had been printed and sent via the post.
Right now I am currently editing or co-editing seven anthologies of original fiction. Without hesitation, the biggest and most complicated pain I’ve had working on those anthologies has involved the single print submission I received (one of only two I’ve dealt with in the past two or three years). If I credibly could, I would refuse to handle print subs at all. I can’t and I won’t because some people have perfectly legitimate reasons for needing to send printed submissions, but I would if I could.
People have discussed the various reasons for refusing electronic submissions and they seem to come down to:
(1) I’m afraid of the flood o’ crap and
(2) I hate reading onscreen.
I sympathise with (1), but honestly my experience is that it does not happen. There is a slight increase in sub-par submissions (maybe), but they are very quickly slushed (good stories stand out pretty easily, and poor ones do too). I don’t, however, have much sympathy with (2). Setting aside people who have very real medical issues that make reading on screen a significant problem (and this is a real thing), there is little excuse for not reading onscreen in one form or another. It is, simply, a basic 21st century skill you need to acquire. My solution was to buy an e-book reader, bump my subs onto that, and read them using the wonders of e-ink. It’s slightly imperfect, but it does the job.
By accepting electronic submissions you increase the range of writers will to submit stories to you. You increase your submission period by removing postal-time restrictions (a number of terrific stories I’ve published have come in on the deadline that I’d not have been able to consider if they’d been sent by post). You decrease your costs. You simplify management. You have faster, more immediate communications with your writers. All in all, I think the positives about accepting e-subs far outweigh the negatives.