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Like something out of a Thurber story

Fri 25 Feb 2011 by mskala Tags used:

I will soon be ready to start sending out agent queries for my novel. My plan is to send the queries on paper to agents that allow that (some require it); and it is standard practice to send a self-addressed stamped envelope with the query, and inasmuch as agents are generally located in New York City, that means I have to source some US stamps.

Zazzle offers a service where you can upload an image and they'll create stamps - real, legally valid US postage stamps - with your image. They have some kind of deal with the US Postal Service to do this. So I figured I'd use that, and get the bonus benefit of being able to design an appropriate thematic image for my SASEs.

First there was the question of what image to use. My book features - to the point that it's almost a character in itself, and occasionally referred to as such - an institution called the Shining Path Academy. That seemed a logical thing to feature on the stamp, so I designed a simple logo for it.

Shining Path logo

This is the project I wanted those seal script fonts for. I uploaded the image, their Web site seemed to work nicely, I designed an attractive stamp and added it to my "shopping cart" and tried to check out. I was prompted for my shipping address, entered that (with some difficulty because the box for entering "State" had some kind of keystroke eater attached to it, so "Manitoba" kept becoming "Mnitba" or similar, but slow typing could get past that), clicked continue, and got a nonstandard-format dialogue box telling me that there was "a problem setting my address".

I tried all the reasonable things, then contacted support, who told me in email that if I got the Product ID number and entered it in the "search" box on their Canadian affiliate site, I would be able add the product to my cart.

I got the product ID number - which was not where they said it would be - entered it in the "search" box on their Canadian affiliate site, and got no search results. Note that I never had trouble adding the stamps to my cart anyway - it was later, during checkout, that I got the error. I did a lot more experiments and found that the pattern was entirely reliable: if I had postage stamps in my cart, then I couldn't check out; if I did not, then I could. It didn't matter whether I was using the main Zazzle site or their Canadian or Australian affiliates; it didn't matter whether the stamps were of my own design or ready-made ones; it didn't matter whether I went through the search feature with a product ID or not; the system just would not let me buy stamps for shipment to Canada. I replied to the support address explaining my findings and asking if in fact they were able to sell stamps to Canada at all.

The second email from support asserted that they DO offer US stamps for international shipment, but warned me at some length that they only offer them denominated in US currency. And I have to order them from one of their international affiliates, not the main site. They gave me a long list of links: for each of their international affiliates, the main page of the site, the "stamp creator" tool, and the search page for finding ready-made stamp designs.

In all cases, the international affiliates do not list stamps as available products on their lists of available products, and the search pages for stamps do not return any results but instead give me a list of available product types that does not include postage stamps. But the "stamp creator" tools on the international affiliate sites do work, and those allow me to upload a stamp design and add it to my cart, after doing which I am unable to check out. This was all entirely predictable from the findings in the email I'd already written them, which they evidently did not read.

The third email from Zazzle support recommends that I try using a supported browser, preferably a recent version of Firefox, which is what I was using all along, and assures me that if I do that, then I will be able to add the stamps to my cart, which I had never had any difficulty doing.

That was when I gave up on Zazzle and went to eBay, where I bought a sheet of uncustomized US stamps in the appropriate denomination from a stamp dealer for a not-too-outrageous markup over their face value (less than Zazzle would charge for the custom ones), with minimal trouble. I have not actually received them yet but have no reason to expect there'll be any problem. These stamps feature a picture of Mary Lasker, who might in fact be somewhat relevant to the plot of my story as well.

Shortly after completing that transaction I got another email from Zazzle. It was an automated advertisement for their services. I had never signed up for any mailing list during account creation. I went back on the site and unsubscribed.

I looked on the Net and found this page from almost four years ago, in which the author describes an experience very similar to mine, and actually gets a response from someone at Zazzle saying they'll address it. They evidently haven't. (She suggests I try the US Post Office - unfortunately, I already did, and they won't ship to me in Canada. I think at one point in the past they would have, because I've seen that recommendation in other places too.)

Now, here's the part that made me think I was channeling James Thurber. Just now I got another email from Zazzle - from the department of reviewing stamp designs. They wanted me to answer the following questions, which I reproduce verbatim.

  1. What is the source of this image? Where did you find it?
  2. Do you have permission to use this image?
  3. What is the translation?

It appears that the good people at Zazzle are concerned that I might not have proper legal permissions to use the logo of the Shining Path Academy, which is a fictional institution that exists only as a description in an unpublished novel that I wrote.

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