WASHINGTON, D.C. It is, say public finance experts, a looming crisis whose significance has been overshadowed by the so-called "fiscal cliff" the nation will fall off of at the end of 2012; a trillion-dollar liability that would kick in if publishers, magazines and literary journals actually returned manuscripts in the self-addressed stamped envelopes that hopeful writers enclose with their submissions.
"Here's the manuscript of your heartwarming story about a boy and his frog."
"The U.S. has taken in all this money for stamps, but doesn't have the manpower to return unwanted manuscripts," says Heidi Haroldson, a bond analyst at J.P. Smythe & Co. "I know I'm waiting for an answer from Harlequin Romances on my bodice-ripper 'Forever in His Debt,' the story of a torrid romance between a bond analyst and her lawn maintenance crew."
"You were right--bond prices do vary inversely with yields!"
But some civic-minded writers are taking bold action to avert that catastrophe, voluntarily waiving the right to get their hard copies back in an effort to ensure that their grandchildren will not be forced to use U.S. paper currency as Handi-Wipes. "Really, I don't need it," said Rick Darrow, whose unsolicited freelance piece "Organize Your Plastic Food Containers Using Stochastic Variable Regression" has been under consideration by an academic journal for eighteen months. "A phone call or an email is fine--I just want to know whatever happened to it."
Reid: "I sent my chapbook of cowboy poetry off two years ago. I've given up hope of ever seeing it again."
Plans to restructure the U.S. Postal Service have been put on the back burner by the Obama administration with new violence in the Mideast, a rash of shootings here at home, and the beginning of the NFL regular season. "I'm not sure we could handle the avalance of manuscripts," says Len Correnti of the Misquamicut, Rhode Island, postal sub-station. "I go on break at 3, and I was gonna take a personal day tomorrow."
Con Chapman, a Boston-area freelancer, has been waiting for a response from a highbrow publisher for three years since he submitted his thinly-disguised autobiographical collection of short stories. "I should have followed Ring Lardner's Rule," he says ruefully: "Never send an editor a self-addressed stamped envelope--it's too much of a temptation."