Media Mail & Other Weighty Matters

A blog post devoted to package delivery? I can see your eyes glazing over already. But bear with me here. While providing semi-useful information, this tale of media mail also includes vignettes of kindness, pettiness, anger, duplicity, and outlaw-ery.

As befits a story that has a post office as its locus. Son of Sam worked in one, Eudora Welty devoted a short story to one, and the expression “going postal” refers to getting into a murderous rage at mail delivery centers.

Not that any of these things actually happen in this story. I’m just saying don’t pre-judge.

Media Mail and Review Copies

A bit of background.

It’s tough to get people in the dead tree sector of the publishing world — traditional and indie — to agree on many things, but here are a few universals:

  • It is important to send out review copies of books.
  • Said review copies should contain press releases, thus giving the book’s  recipient a clue about why they should look at the book.
  • Barring a need for speed by a potential reviewer or blurber, inexpensive media mail is the best way to send review copies.

According to the United States Postal Service website, however:

Media Mail Packages may not contain advertising except that books may contain incidental announcements of other books [emphasis mine] and sound recordings may contain incidental announcements of other sound recordings.

Thus authors or publishers who tuck press releases for their own books — as opposed to other ones —  into review copies sent via media mail are postal scofflaws.

Why on earth would an author or publisher send along advertising for a book other than the one they want the recipient to review?

Close Encounters with Media Mail

I have no answers to that question, just a few related anecdotes.

After I got delivery of my copies for Getting Naked for Money, I brought a large batch of books to my local post office to mail to my Kickstarter supporters.  I was excited to be fulfilling my pledge, maybe even — dare I say it? —  bubbly. I found myself at the station of a very nice young postal clerk, who not only had to weigh each package but also check its address. We chatted about the books I was sending, and he was sweetly congratulatory when I told him it was my new memoir.

He went through the U.S. bound books first. I’d nailed the mailing cost on those in my Kickstarter rewards, but when it came to sending books to Canada and England…not so much. I’d asked for an extra $10 and $15 respectively to send books to those countries but didn’t realize there was no international press rate.  It was going to cost about $25 each to send books to Canada and more than $35 to send them to the UK.  And then there were the customs forms to fill out…

Noticing my distress, Very Nice Postal Clerk said, “Let me check something.” He then attempted to slot one of my puffy mailers through a cardboard sizer to determine whether my book could be considered First Class International mail, a popular option for those sending calendars and other non-bulky items out of the country. Sure enough, the package fit. The cost was about half of the initial estimate, and I didn’t have to fill out customs forms.

A Tale of Two Post Offices

This act of kindness took place at the closest official branch of the Tucson post office. Unfortunately, because of cutbacks to the USPS funding — don’t even get me started on that topic — that branch was closed on Saturday.

That’s when I discovered the “Postal Express and Gift Shop,”  a tchotchke store selling kitschy T-shirts and mugs that subcontracted space to a federal post office branch. Not only was it open on Saturday, but it rarely had the long lines of my regular PO. I started going there as my default.

I soon discovered that the Tchotchke Post Office (TPO) employs two clerks, one who is reasonably nice, though not as nice as Very Nice Postal Clerk, and another who is very not nice.

Most of my early encounters were with Reasonably Nice Postal Clerk; she was always friendly and, when I had a large stack of books to send, even expressed some “You go, girl” sentiments. She was not, however, amenable to the slotting-through-the-cardboard trick that Very Nice Postal Clerk used to get me International First Class rates. In fact, she seemed irate that I’d even asked her to bend post office rules.

By that point, I knew better than to ask Very Not Nice Postal Clerk.

Owning My Orneriness

Very Not Nice Postal Clerk was never particularly friendly, but she wasn’t downright rude until I gave her a $50 bill for a $5.12 media mail purchase. Silly me. I thought maybe post offices-cum-tchotchke shops might have cash on hand. I’m also old enough to remember when currency was more welcome than credit cards — even in large denominations — because of, you know, the cut that credit card companies take of  the proceeds.

My media mail puffy folders

Yes, they fit through the International First Class Mail slot

Nope. Very Not Nice Postal Clerk looked at me like I had handed her a snake–not necessarily out of malice, but because I was dim-witted. “We don’t have change for that,” she said, voice dripping contempt. Fine. I gave her my credit card.

My patience with her reached its limit, however, when I brought a fairly large box of books to her window and realized I had no cash and had left my debit card in my car’s glove compartment. “Sorry,” I said. “Help the next person.” My car was parked only a few steps away from the post office door. “I’ll be right back.”

“No, she said, “You’re not allowed to leave unattended packages here. You’ll have to take that with you.”

So let me get this straight. If I was a mad bomber willing to pay postage — like Ted Kaczynski, say– and the package crossed over to the other side of the counter, it would miraculously become safe? It was only cheap mad bombers that Very Not Nice Postal Clerk had a problem with?

I was furious. I didn’t go back in.

Now I know it says more about me than it does about Very Not Nice Postal Clerk that I was willing to drive across town and wait on line at the regular PO rather than re-enter the TPO, but that’s how I roll.  I could win Olympic gold if there was a Cutting Off My Nose to Spite My Face event.

A Liar and a Scoflaw

I eventually went back to the TPO, both because Reasonably Nice Postal Clerk was more often on duty than Very Not Nice Postal Clerk and because my urge for convenience eventually won out over my pique. Besides, Very Not Nice Postal Clerk would never know I was boycotting “her” post office because she was mean to me — and if she had known, I don’t imagine she would have cared.

So I went in one afternoon with a media mail package, armed with small denomination bills and a credit card–just in case. Sure enough, Very Not Nice Postal Clerk was on duty. No worries, this would be a benign encounter, I figured. What could go wrong?

When she asked “Is that just a book in there,” I said “yes.” It was not, after all, a box of chocolates. But then she elaborated. “Does it include any advertising?”

“No,” I said, not missing a beat. But surprised.

Post office employees had previously asked me if I had only books inside a package and I’d say yes. I was stretching the truth, but–in my view of things–not to a breaking point. I don’t recollect anyone specifically asking me about “advertising” before, however. In my mind, specifically denying the existence of the press release made the lie a magnitude greater.

I went back home and researched the post office policy regarding media mail. That’s when I found the above-cited rule. The punishment was not specified. I’m guessing a class 10 misdemeanor.

I’m going to live dangerously.  I still plan to send books media mail with press releases enclosed. If you are an author reading this, I’ll wager you won’t change your behavior either.

But I am now tempted to go to the TPO in hopes of encountering Very Not Nice Postal Clerk. This time, if she asks, I will say yes, I have an advertisement in there, but it is for another book than the one I am sending.  I will be lying, but it will be a better lie, one showing my intimate knowledge of post office rules. I’m going to take my chances that she won’t ask me to open my package.

Yes, I’m just that petty. And that daring.

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About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

13 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Cheryl says:

    You are so spot on. And so wickedly funny. I love your takes. Keep it up. And bah to all those Very Not Nice People– just remember they probably don’t get to travel to all the fun places you do. Nor meet all the Very Very Nice People you do. So take that!

    • Edie says:

      Thanks, Very Nice Cheryl! The fact that you are commenting makes me happy, suggesting that you not only got through Irma intact but have time to read and comment on blogs as opposed to, say, bailing out two feet of water from your living room.

    • Hi Cheryl. Hey Edie, have you gotten naked for money in Costa Rica yet ? My husband, a writer and well known artist, and I retired in Costa Rica 12 years ago. Been a great place for being naked … and writing!

      Kind Regards,

  2. Marita Adair says:

    Very well explained, and reminiscent of some postal encounters I’ve had. I have a perfect visual picture of each of these encounters and you staggering in with books packaged and ready to mail. Go forth and think of a press release as a guide for the recipient, not as an advertising sales pitch with ordering information. No guilt, and no lie either.

  3. Diane Joy Schmidt says:

    I love your “but that’s how I roll” sentence. I felt an avalanche of guilt slide off my back when i read that!

  4. Karyn Zoldan says:

    And we wonder why people go postal? NOT!

  5. Julie McDowell says:

    Love the way you capture the absurdities of life! I too liked the “way I roll” concept. It’s so much fun to read your writing.

  6. Cass Fonnesbeck says:

    It doesn’t make as good a story but buy your postage on line and avoid it all.

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