Agent Query Policies: Stop the Griping!

Ever since I’ve been an agent, I’ve listened to writers complain about the unpleasant aspects of the publishing industry. Part of my job is helping authors navigate these difficult waters. I try to talk my clients through the hard parts of publishing; and on this blog, I do the same for many writers who aren’t my clients. Believe me, I know there are frustrations, and I know people need a chance to rant now and then. I do it occasionally myself, obviously.

But there’s one particular rant I seem to hear more than any other, and I’m weary of it. It’s the one where writers complain about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad agents who take forever to respond on a full or partial manuscript, or worse, have the nerve to not respond to every query.

Listen: Whine about the system if you want. Lament the difficult economy that is forcing agents to work harder and faster than ever before. Gripe about the publishing industry in which it’s getting more difficult to sell a book. Bellyache that there are far more writers querying than ever before, yet agents still have the same amount of time in a day and it’s quickly becoming darn near impossible to keep up with it and still sustain a business.

Vent about your frustrations, but please, please, please: Refrain from making every complaint a criticism of agents.

→ I’ve read on the Internet that we agents were never taught manners by our mothers and don’t have enough sense to simply respond to an email. (I’m thinking mama wouldn’t have known what to do with 100+ letters a day.)

→ I’ve read that we’re high and mighty power-mongers who care nothing for the poor writers querying us, and that we laugh behind their backs.

→ I’ve read that we apparently think we’re above meeting deadlines and behaving professionally.

→ I’ve seen it implied that agents (a) must be irresponsible and disorganized; (b) don’t care; (c) are malicious toward writers; or (d) all of the above.

It’s ridiculous. We agents are working within the same imperfect system you are. We’re all dealing with frustrations. But the difficulties of getting yourself heard in this business can’t be laid at the feet of agents.

You simply have no idea how fast we are running all the time. You know your query isn’t the only one in the inbox, yet you don’t understand the reality of exactly how many we’re dealing with on a daily basis, plus the fact that everything we do besides reading and responding to queries is actually a full time job. Most of us read queries and manuscripts at night and on weekends.

Some people seem to think it’s easy reading and responding to queries. It might be – if we weren’t truly looking for great books, and all we had to do was quickly go through and send a form rejection to everyone. But since our livelihood depends on finding good writers, we have to carefully consider queries. It takes a lot more time than you might expect. And when we request partials or fulls, considering those takes even more time. Yes, we fall behind. As a matter of fact, it’s the most frustrating part of this job. We all feel like we’re going crazy half the time because we are never caught up – there is always someone out there wanting something from us.

We’re not bad people, we’re not all terrible at running our businesses as people are always implying. We’re not contemptuous or dismissive of writers. Most agents I know are doing the best we can with the limited hours and resources we have.

Some agents respond to all or most queries, some don’t. That’s their prerogative. Our official policy is (1) All queries receive an auto-response so the sender knows we received it; and (2) We try to respond within 30 days, but if we don’t, it’s considered a “no.”

As I’ve said before, if you’re an unagented author, you should be glad agents prioritize their clients over the thousands of non-clients who contact us each year. One of these days when you have an agent, you’ll want your agent paying more attention to you than to all those others who are clamoring for attention.

If you’re dealing with the frustration of sending off queries and never hearing back, or worse, never hearing back on requested partials, please just consider it a sign that your work hasn’t found the right person to champion it, and that you need to keep working, keep searching. Consider it a fact of life in publishing. Lament the query system. Grumble that email makes it too easy for people to query. Criticize our culture that makes everyone think they’re the next American Idol or Stephen King. But please stop wasting valuable time and energy lambasting agents. We are not the bad guys. We’re the ones who are on your side.

We work with writers and for writers. We’re looking for good authors with saleable projects. If you’ve got one, and it comes across our desks, trust me, we’re going to notice. If what you’ve written grabs our attention and gets us excited, we’ll be in touch.

And that’s my rant for a Monday. What do you think? Is there something I’m just not getting about what it’s like to be a writer? Does this sound like a bunch of excuses? Does it sound like I’m complaining about my job? (I’m not. I love my job.) Are you as weary of this as I am?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  7. Troy Borden on December 27, 2009 at 9:46 AM

    >Success and/or failure do not define who we are. Our personality is defined by what we think and how we feel. The query process exposes our character and proves wether or not we live life well.

  8. Heather Wardell on December 11, 2009 at 4:56 PM

    >Followup on my previous comment: Rachelle took the time to email me to let me know she does respond to all requested material. I read the "no response to requested material" in the original post as meaning that she does this when in fact she was referring to "if this happens, not if _I_ do it to you".

    I'm glad I mis-read her and appreciate her sending me the email. Non-response to queries may be the direction the industry's heading due to sheer volume, but non-response to requested material won't ever seem right to me. I'm pleased to know that's not the case here.

  9. Heather Wardell on December 10, 2009 at 6:17 PM

    >I was with you 100% until you mentioned not responding to requested partials. Even if it's form (and for the record I've had form response to partials and been fine with it) material that you've requested does deserve a response.

    I have a partial that's been out since May 2008 with no response to follow-up requests. I won't be querying that agency again because I know we wouldn't work well together. I would expect what they would never deliver. (I'm sure they treat their clients differently than they treated me. Doesn't change my opinion of the agency as a whole.)

    You don't represent what I write, but I'm saddened that you don't always reply to requested material. I thought you would, based on your past posts.

  10. Anonymous on December 8, 2009 at 1:35 PM

    >Several people here have said that querying writers aren't an agents customer. I disagree. They may not be a direct client/customer, but if they buy books, especially if they buy one of the clients' books, then they are an agent's customer. I've had an agent be rude to me on her blog (not you, someone else). Her clients and their books have gone to the bottom of my list of potential new authors to check out. The agent represents the author, and in that case, I didn't like what I saw. There are plenty of books in the bookstore that I can buy and read instead. So, agented writers, take note: here is one reader who won't buy books represented by a snarky agent.

    Something to think about…

  11. Anonymous on December 8, 2009 at 11:00 AM

    >Oh, please. I know agents are busy but I'm tired of hearing how much BUSIER they are than everyone else. How about agents stop whining every now and then and realize that this is the field THEY have chosen and they should take the good with the bad.

    Honestly–it's like they've been sequestered in MFA programs and suddenly have a real job and can't get a grip on how much work they have at the office.

    Everyone is "busy." Get over it.

  12. Nazarea on December 4, 2009 at 3:42 PM

    >I think being disgruntled about the response time is normal for a writer–especially the ones who think being the next *fill in bestseller name* tomorrow.
    However, normal or not, going online and bitching about it in public forums and TO the agents your trying to get to rep you is ridiculous. If you have a problem with it, bitch to your spouse or friend or dog. Then accept it's a part of the process and deal with it.

    Honestly, I would NEVER want to be an agent–I know I couldn't handle the work they do. (Lovely rant, Rachelle. Sorry for all the asses.)

  13. Nazarea on December 4, 2009 at 3:42 PM

    >I think being disgruntled about the response time is normal for a writer–especially the ones who think being the next *fill in bestseller name* tomorrow.
    However, normal or not, going online and bitching about it in public forums and TO the agents your trying to get to rep you is ridiculous. If you have a problem with it, bitch to your spouse or friend or dog. Then accept it's a part of the process and deal with it.

    Honestly, I would NEVER want to be an agent–I know I couldn't handle the work they do. (Lovely rant, Rachelle. Sorry for all the asses.)

  14. Jacqui on December 4, 2009 at 11:36 AM

    >I don't mind if people think I am brown-nosing or not, I appreciate your blog and those like yours that give excellent advice and a peek into the publishing world that otherwise would be difficult to access. You don't HAVE to write this blog. It's a service you give to writers. May it help you in the end by landing more clients? Possibly, but you do it for us, the writers. From a very busy mother and part-time writer who currently can't keep up with EITHER of her blogs (if I actually want to write and be a parent), I appreciate your dedication to your clients and potential clients.

    You have class and keep it kind, and your approach to further communications (in your follow-up post) is something we could ALL learn from.

    Great rant.

  15. rae on December 3, 2009 at 1:23 PM


    This is a delightful post.

  16. Eric E Joyce on December 3, 2009 at 12:22 PM

    >I would be proud just to have an agent like you. I love the fire. Great job. If more people attacked the source of the problem instead of the easiest one to blame the world wouldn't be in the shape that it's in.

  17. cussedness on December 3, 2009 at 8:06 AM

    >The current corporate paradigm that makes things difficult for agents and thus for authors is a world that the agents did not create.

    I think that most of them do a very fine job of coping with the changes. Today's agents have it a lot tougher than the previous generations and their coping mechanisms ought to be respected, not railed against.

  18. Bob on December 3, 2009 at 1:21 AM

    >So stop the griping. Starts here.

  19. cussedness on December 2, 2009 at 6:26 PM

    >I think that one thing gets left out here. The situation with agents was not always this intense or difficult.

    When I was first professionally published 30 years ago, there were many more publishing houses than there are now. Each publishing house employed legions of first readers and manuscripts came mostly over the transom.

    Following the corporate buyouts and mergers that began in the early 80s, both the number of publishing houses and those legions of first readers were lost in the shuffle to maximize profits.

    In order to make up for these changes, it fell to agents to do the job that those first readers did. More and more of the dwindling number of publishers began to go "agent only" on what they would read in order to keep from being swamped.

    Instead the agents got swamped.

    I don't see a real cure for the situation.

  20. Alma Alexander on December 2, 2009 at 1:57 PM

    >Disclosure: I am a published and agented writer (although not with Rachelle).

    Here's what I think.

    YES, the system sucks in a lot of ways – but as I have said before and I have, apparently, to keep on saying – publication is a privilege, not a right. Nobody owes anybody anything at all, just because they've written a book. Yes, I agree that there should be responses. Yes, I agree they should be timely. Yes, I would love to have all my emails and letters and phonecalls answered instantly.

    It ain't gonna happen. NOBODY does that. You call a plumber or an accountant and leave a message, they'll take a little while to get back to you. And THEY don't get 100+ calls a day.

    Yes, "wait" is a four letter word in the publishing world. Yes. I'd love for my own agent to drop everything and respond to my every email by return of email, as it were, instantly. She doesn't, but she does respond – as soon as her circumstances allow her to. I am not her ONLY client.

    Agents and writers do have an interesting relationship. It isn't strictly speaking an employer/employee thing, and it does change subtly when an agent signs up a writer, Until the moment that happens, the AGENT is the one making the selection. After it happens, the agent is working on the writer's behalf. So in some ways the agents are interviewing THEMSELVES for this job – they'll sign UP a writer, but they'll also sign ON to be that writer's voice and presence in the publishing arena and the signing up process is a prerequisite to them accepting a job offer from the author ("are you willing and able to represent me?") I should think it stands to reason that the agent would exercise due diligence in this.

    Where does that leave the writer? For all the position of "power" in the relationship in that they are the "employer", the writer's livelihood and reputation depend on how good their agent is. So yes, the writer is employing the agent TECHNICALLY but the writer is dependent on that agent once he or she is hired. SOunds like a small difference, but it MATTERS.

    Finding the right match between an agent and a writer can be harder than it appears. THe best writer in the world might be a bad match for a particular agent, if nothing else than personality-wise. Hence, the query letters. It allows the two parties to take the necessary time to size each other up.

    YES IT TAKES TIME. Pick up your packet of patience at the door when you enter the writer's life. It comes with the job. If you can't wait, perhaps you should be doing something that has a more instant gratification to it.

    Agents are there to ALLOW the writers to write. The rejected writers may think there's a conspiracy – there isn't. It's just that there are limited seats in the lifeboats, and they aren't going to take on people who just look like they want to go out on a SUnday sail. Are you serious about this writing lark? Then pay your dues. Wait.

  21. Anonymous on December 2, 2009 at 12:42 PM

    >All current clients were once wanna-bes so agents need to regard queries with anticipation, not dread. If that's the case, maybe they should close for submissions.
    When we get offers of representation, guess who'd going to be at the top of our list: the agent who responds in a timely, friendly and helpful manner.

    Agents willingly open their doors to submissions so they must be prepared to handle the influx of queries in a civilized, timely manner.

  22. Mike Jung on December 2, 2009 at 11:59 AM

    >David said:
    Good point about Colleen Lindsay, Steve. I think this is a very important aspect of the agent-writer relationship. Lindsay's clients do not work for her, she works for them, yet she would have them approach her as though applying for a job.

    Mandy Hubbard already made some great points in response to this. I'm neither published nor agented, but I also know that there's a critical distinction between clients and prospective clients. Clients have already entered into a formal professional relationship with their agent. Prospective clients have not. To continue on with the job analogy, clients already have the job. Prospective clients do not.

    As a prospective client I certainly feel all the same frustrations and desires as others who are in the same boat, but when I do land an agent you can bet the house I'll want her to prioritize me above the hundreds of prospective clients she hears from every week.

  23. Mandy Hubbard on December 2, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    >David said:
    Good point about Colleen Lindsay, Steve. I think this is a very important aspect of the agent-writer relationship. Lindsay's clients do not work for her, she works for them, yet she would have them approach her as though applying for a job. If she could write, she would be a writer. She isn't.

    First off, never assume an agent is a failed writer. Many have no desire to write. And others ARE successful writers and still want to be agents. I have 5 books under contract and I am interning for a literary agency becuase I *STILL* want to be an agent.

    Secondly, Ms. Lindsay is not at all off base in relating prospective clients to job hunters. That dynamic changes when she signs you. She IS working for you. But you have to prove yourself by sending submissions just like a job seeker sends resumes, becuase she's going to work hundreds of hours in the *HOPE* she will earn money later. THAT is why YOU must prove to her you're worth it.

    Even knowing my agent has sold 5 books, I still have to wonder if the math even works out to minimum wage, becuase she spent two years working to sell my debut.

    Agents are simply ont the bad guys, people. They aren't. And if you don't like the way one agent represents themselves, then don't query them.

    But as a professional in this business, as someone who has books under contract with the biggest houses in NYC, I wouldn't bat an eye at querying Rachelle or Colleen.

  24. Rose Green on December 2, 2009 at 9:41 AM

    >I don't write what you represent, so there is no conflict of interest here. 🙂

    I appreciate your stating up front a time period by which a writer can consider his/her work rejected in the absence of a reply. I get it that the submissions stack is overwhelming. Yours isn't the only field with circumstances like that. So on the query level, it's nice to have a definite back wall. When there isn't one, writers never know if their query was swallowed by a spam filter, or just rejected.

    On the requested material stage, I think some sort of reply is necessary. Most agents give one, but at the same time, I'd guess most writers have had at least one requested submission disappear into the ether. Which can make it hard for the writer to know what to do if someone asks for an exclusive and you don't know what's up with the pages that are out with someone else. (There is a solution: write and withdraw exclusivity.)

    The agents I most like to query are the ones with very clearly stated policies regarding expected response times, when to consider a submission dead, and under which circumstances, if any, an agent wants an exclusive. (The Bent Agency has a wonderfully clear policy about this, for example.)

  25. Christine H on December 1, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    >Dear Rachelle,
    I have absolutely no reason to butter you up, since you don't represent fantasy and that is what I am writing.
    So I have no ulterior motive for saying this: I'm sorry!
    On behalf of all the bitter, nasty people out there who take the joy out of your job, I'm sorry. I'm not an agent, but I certainly know what it's like to be in situations where you feel constantly harassed.
    And feel free to rant… I don't mind! We all need to do that once in a while.
    In this case, I think it's a public service.

  26. Anonymous on December 1, 2009 at 1:08 PM

    >I'm surprised @ the writer who pities agents who work nights and weekends…isn't that when writers write as well? If 99% of queries are clearly so bad or off-base, why does it take so long to reply to the few gems in the slush? Then why does it take forever to get a response, if agents can tell within the first five pages if they want to read a ms.?

    I've actually pulled mss. from an agent's consideration cuz they were taking too long to respond (6 months?!) and it felt damn good!
    Who wants that kind of agent anyway, esp since they can't manage their time or clients after so many years in the biz? As a pro writer, I've had to learn to work smarter, not harder–why can't agents learn this too?

  27. HWPetty on December 1, 2009 at 12:11 PM

    >The query process to find an agent is hard on writers, hard on agents, and hard on agency assistants.

    But, to be honest, it really does help to prepare you for the submissions process that comes after. And trust me when I say that finding an agent to represent you is only the first big step on the road to publishing.

    I just don't get why some writers have to make this such an adversarial process. Not that it will help much, but I kept myself sane by writing my next book while querying. I figured if BOOK A didn't garner me an offer of representation, I'd stop querying when BOOK B was done and start querying that one. And while BOOK B was being queried, I'd write BOOK C.

    I didn't sit around placing blame for my lack of success on BOOK A. If BOOK A didn't break me in, then maybe BOOK B would.

    After six months of querying and almost 100 queries sent, I finally connected with a few agents who loved BOOK A. It really is about finding the RIGHT agent, and you won't know who that is until you find them. Two of the agents who offered, including the agent I signed with, were people who I hadn't originally included on my list, because I didn't think they'd be a fit with my material. Imagine my surprise.

    If your book is ready to be published, you'll find an agent who can see its potential. If you don't find that agent on this book, maybe it'll be your next.

    But none of this is anyone's fault. There's no one to blame… not even the writer! Not selling a book doesn't make you a bad writer, or even an unpublishable writer, it just means you might have written an unpublishable manuscript. Or maybe it's just unpublishable right now in this climate.

    Brush yourself off and write another. Pointing fingers and whining won't solve anything.

    If you want an eye-opening story, look up Stacey Cochran on YouTube. He did a video log of his query process, starting in 2006. Look especially for "Stacey Gets a Check in Mail" in 2008. It was his first check from the publisher after 15 years of writing. After having written 10+ books, he finally received money for his book. The emotion there is amazing.

    I watched his videos after only a month of querying and decided then that until I'd spent 15 years at this, I really couldn't complain.

    People have done a lot of talking about what it means to be a "Real Writer."

    Maybe a real writer accepts the system as it is, and keeps writing and submitting until they write that break-in novel. Whether you like his books or not, I think Stacey Cochran is definitely a "real" writer. And he never once complained about the process.

    I know watching videos about that part of his story really helped me.

  28. David A. Todd on December 1, 2009 at 12:01 PM

    >Well, I'm rather late to this party (a blown pickup engine at 1 AM Monday morning has a way of causing that), but think I will still comment.

    I have no problem with the query system. As you said, this is democratic and is not broken. I think an auto-responder message to a query would be a good thing, something like: Your e-mail seems to be a query. I try to respond to as many queries as I can, but because of the large number I simply can't. If you don't here back from me within XX days, consider this as a 'not interested' response. You could change the number of days according to your backlog, current busyness, etc.

    What bothers me about the publishing model is when solicited material–say from a conference interview–is ignored. My record with agents is 100 percent non-response to solicited materials. That's only two of two. In both cases I had to send multiple e-mails reminding the agent of the material. One agent even asked that I "badger" him with weekly e-mails until he responded. That felt rather demeaning and useless, but I did what he asked until he sent his response: Your writing is strong.

    For what it's worth, my record with editors is the same: 100 percent non-response to solicited materials. Maybe it's just me.

  29. Tamika: on December 1, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    >Rachelle, I don't comment day that I visit but I always walk away with a greater appreciation for this business.

    Writing and publication are two very different things. When I do decide to query you I believe that you will behave as professionally and compassionately as you have on this site.

  30. Rachelle on December 1, 2009 at 9:39 AM

    >David 11:39 pm, if you would email me, I'd appreciate it. Thanks.

  31. Scotty on December 1, 2009 at 9:37 AM

    >Feel better? (smile)

  32. Bobbie on December 1, 2009 at 9:03 AM

    >So Colleen Lindsay (and I'm sure she's not alone in this) turns down potential clients because she doesn't think she'll get along with them. Big deal. Don't you *want* an agent who not only connects with your work but connects with you? I'm not saying you and your agent need to be best friends; in fact, it's probably better if you're not. But agents are your advocates when contacting editors and trying to get the best deal possible for your book(s). I want an agent who will go to bat for me with no hesitations. And with so many great writers out there looking for agents, and with publishers only looking for a limited number of books each year, agents have to say no for one reason or another to most of the people who query them. May as well be for personal reasons. I'm not saying the author who posted on LiveJournal is to blame either. I'm saying that an honest working relationship is the way to go. The author didn't respect CL and other non- or late-replying agents. So why would he/she want to work with her anyway?

    In an ideal world, yes, all agents would respond to every query/partial/full. But they don't, and it's frustrating. What brings my blood pressure back down to reasonable level, however, is realizing that I write because I love writing–not because I love querying. So when I'm not getting the responses I want–or responses at all–I go back to writing. I don't feel like I'm being an ostrich about this, or that I'm being particularly zen either. But writing is something *I* can do. Getting an agent to respond to my query? That's out of my hands.

  33. Rowenna on December 1, 2009 at 8:48 AM

    >Rachelle–thanks for your reply in the comments 🙂 I think I wasn't quite clear–my comment was meant to say exactly that, that a business's mindset of which emails to reply to are different from an agent's. I think it's tough for people in the business world to recognize that sometimes, and apply their understanding of hard work onto an agent, which in this case is clearly misguided. Mix that with the sting of rejection (rejection always stings…not the agent's fault) and you get frustrated rants.

    Maybe the solution is to let those who want to rant, rant…perhaps the writers who are the most serious about making a career out of writing will be the ones that make an effort to understand the business side of publishing and accept this one frustrating aspect of the system. (Err, it's a hope, anyway.)

    I always thought writers need to cultivate patience…this goes to show that, but it also shows the patience agents need to have for the constant attacks on their work. Thanks again!

  34. Don Coleman on December 1, 2009 at 8:15 AM

    >I have to agree with Steve. It's not that hard to send a form rejection – it literally takes five seconds to spare a writer agonizing weeks or months of waiting. No, the agent owes nothing to non-clients, but a little humanity goes a long way. Just think, Rachelle, of all the form rejections you could have sent out in the time it took you to post and read through this blog…

  35. Laura on December 1, 2009 at 8:08 AM

    >David said:

    "Lindsay's clients do not work for her, she works for them, yet she would have them approach her as though applying for a job."

    I think this is only partially true. For one, the agent/writer relationship seems more like a partnership to me. Without one or the other, neither person can go very far. Maybe this is a naive view, and I'll accept that if you think so. However, it seems perfectly reasonable to me for both parties to do their research. Not only is it reasonable, but anyone looking for a job, where they would be working FOR someone, should investigate the company to which they apply. If they get called in for an interview, I would hope they would have questions to ask. In my opinion, it's a similar situation.

    In reference to your statement about not responding to rejections being rude. I agree, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen in other sectors. I just moved and have applied for several jobs. I haven't heard back from any of them other than that they received my application. Is that rude? Yes, and I constantly wonder why they didn't respond. But, it's a fact of life.

  36. Suzanne Eller on December 1, 2009 at 7:46 AM

    >As a writer I receive tons of requests to view manuscripts, endorse manuscripts, talk to a good friend who wants to be a writer, etc. I can't do that and make deadlines, so I try to really respond to those who I believe in, or to send them to other great sources like The Writers View where they can connect with other writers in the industry. I think an honest discussion of this is good, Rachelle. It clears up the confusion so that people do understand the pressure an agent faces, as well as what to do if their queries are hitting a brick wall. Great post!

  37. Cam Snow on December 1, 2009 at 6:30 AM

    >Rachelle, you joked in one of your responses about having people "pay $500 to submit or have a Masters in Literature" to cut down on submissions – I bet if you charged just $1, and I mean that literally – just $1, you would block out over 50% of your queries – especially the bad ones (assuming you could get all other agents to do the same).

  38. David on December 1, 2009 at 5:10 AM

    >Good point about Colleen Lindsay, Steve. I think this is a very important aspect of the agent-writer relationship. Lindsay's clients do not work for her, she works for them, yet she would have them approach her as though applying for a job. If she could write, she would be a writer. She isn't.

    And to make a business decision based on hacking a livejournal account, when considering representing what is ostensibly a well-written work, is downright stupid. I would never trust such an agent to make a rational business decision in my best interest. I would rather maintain a relationship with someone who can sell my books.

  39. Steve on December 1, 2009 at 4:18 AM

    >clindsay said:

    rejected a manuscript that I had been seriously considering last week because upon a cursory online search, I found a LiveJournal post by the author badmouthing me and several of my colleagues for what she thought were excessive response times. Well, that blog post cost her representation from at least one agent. (OH, and it was a LOCKED LibeJournal post. You do know that Google Reader doesn't respect locked posts, right? Well, you do now.)"

    I apologize in advance for what I'm about to say, and I will try to be at least minimally civil. That being said, I find this attitude astonishing. It isn't even high school. It's grade school. It represents business decision making being subordinated to personal pique. And yes, you have the right to do this. No law requires anybody to be a good person or even to have common sense. But maybe it would be a good idea nonetheless.


  40. Steve on December 1, 2009 at 3:51 AM

    >Rachelle said,

    "The "system" is the same for actors and singers and all different kinds of artists, and always has been. The artists struggle to be seen and heard."

    Ironically, the system for musicians appears to have been changing radically over the past 5 years or so. The A & R representative has not entirely disappeared, but many alternatives to their function have emerged, including (to give a couple of extremes) radical DIY and the American Idol auditions.

    If the writer->agent->publisher channel is not reformed internally, expect alternative workarounds to emerge from outside the "industry". The system will change because it must. That is clearly not optional in the long run.



  41. Steve on December 1, 2009 at 3:23 AM

    >On further thought, the trick that should work effectively in most email clients would be to keep a copy of your rejection text loaded in the Windows clipboard. Then, with the query email in an open window, click reply, right click in the open reply window, click paste, and click send.

    No fuss, no bother, and a writer who has received a verdict and can get on with their life.


  42. Steve on December 1, 2009 at 3:15 AM


    I think I understand your points, and much of what you say is well-taken. But I think I must disagree, at least in part, about the question of non-response to rejected queries.

    My remarks will apply primarily to queries submitted by email, although I think there may be an analogous consideration for snail mail queries.

    My day job is as a computer consultant, and much of how I make a living is by helping clients quickly perform common tasks – such as a rejection email.

    Although I have never confronted this particular question professionally, and the details would depend on the particulars of the email client, I think it should be possible to configure a setup that would allow sending a form rejection with one or a very small number of clicks. Perhaps 15 seconds max, but probably much less. (My guesstimate sight unseen would be 5 seconds typical).

    Given that I am correct, this means that for a very minimal time overhead, an agent could allow a writer to know that a query had been examined and found unsuitable. This could spare the writer weeks, perhaps even months, of uncertainty.

    If I am correct in my technical judgment, the question is why would any agent reasonably choose to adopt a policy of silence. Such a policy would appear not only writer-unfriendly, but needlessly so. Such an agent puts a writer through an agonizing period of uncertainty for virtually no gain in their own throughput.

    For snail mail, I suggest a policy of requiring SASE for guaranteed response, and then keeping a stack of preprinted rejection forms next to the slush pile. The load could be taken weekly to the PO.

    I'm sorry, none of this is rocket science, so if an agent is not willing to make the small procedural adjustments necessary to expedite universal response to queries, I really have to question their judgment and/or good will.


  43. A.T. on December 1, 2009 at 2:52 AM

    >Anonymous: "Forcing people to join organizations and attend workshops or conferences would also weed out people who can't afford to join/attend these things. You might have a comfortable income (as do I, BTW) but some writers do not."

    I've been financially comfortable, uncomfortable, and broke. At all these times, even back in the day when you had to print out hundreds of manuscript pages to submit to dozens of publishers, I managed to scrape together the money I needed to print out and mail submissions, buy a book I needed to teach me to edit, find the gas money to attend a workshop, and so on. I made every sacrifice I had to make to reach my ambitions, and never once regretted it.

    Breaking your back and your bank to be published is part of being a writer, if you treat it like a profession, rather than a daydream. That's my opinion, and so far, it's served me very, very well.

  44. David on December 1, 2009 at 1:39 AM

    >First, to all anonymous commentors that claim to be writers, you have no credibility. I don't buy the honesty issue. Writers put a name behind what they write, that's what honesty is. Invent a name if you don't want to use your own.

    I follow a lot of agent blogs. Guess what? They all make a living being an agent. It puts food on their table. They make their own hours, and it's a very time consuming job. They bitch and gripe about it like everyone does about their job. I have no issue with this.

    Rachelle, you are one of the nicer agents that blog, and I have always appreciated that and much of what you write in here. But you must never lose sight of the undeniable fact that the majority of your clients and the majority of published writers are unable to "do it for a living" and have to keep other jobs in order to write.

    I don't have many issues with the process. One disturbing trend is when agents adopt a "no response means no" policy. This is rude. I do not have aspirations on being an agent, so agents get very little sympathy from me concerning how many queries they receive. All of you make an okay living at it, and you get to read books for free. The perks sound nice to me.

    If you want to fix your workload and get away from receiving queries from writers that aren't really writers, then don't accept e-mail queries. Go back to the S.A.S.E., I liked that just fine. It seperated the serious writers from those who are not fortunate enough to have been told that the writing really isn't so great.

    But please, Rachelle, you are above posts like this. Those of us pulling down less than twenty-five grand a year from the craft that we love, those of us who have to toil at other things and write when we have time, we don't find it to be fair. Teaching writers what agents do and look for and so on is very kind of you, but berating those writers who are frustrated makes all writers frustrated. I know there are a lot of jerk wanna-be writers out there, but believe me, there are a lot of jerk agents out there as well.

    You aren't one. Please vent, by all means, but please don't vent at us, we have problems that most agents never hear about.

  45. Anonymous on December 1, 2009 at 12:02 AM

    >To A.T. :

    Forcing people to join organizations and attend workshops or conferences would also weed out people who can't afford to join/attend these things. You might have a comfortable income (as do I, BTW) but some writers do not.

  46. Lucy on November 30, 2009 at 11:58 PM

    >@ Anon 10:35

    I don't have a problem with your posting anonymously. Some of my best friends are anonymous, heh, heh…

    I do have a problem with the assumption that people who compliment, support, and agree with an agent are simply attempting to curry favor, or, as you put it, "brown nosing." Please respect your fellow writers by recognizing that they, like you, are capable of independent thought; and may actually think differently about an agent, or an agent's remarks, than you do.

    On that note: Rachelle, find yourself a fun book and a bottle of bubble bath and post a note on the bathroom door that says "If it isn't blood, DON'T YOU DARE KNOCK." I promise, you'll feel better. Hugs!


  47. A.T. on November 30, 2009 at 10:48 PM

    >Wouldn't it be great if query writers not remotely ready for publication could be filtered out *before* reaching the massive slush pile that the unfortunate assistants or primary agent have to sift through?

    Sometimes I wonder if agents should switch to accepting queries only from writers who have proven they've taken the time and effort to edit and workshop their writing — and have learned to behave professionally — before submitting a query, by requiring query writers to prove membership in an organization like SCBWI or RWA, and/or well-known workshops. Anyone who doesn't could be auto-culled from the pile via adjusted Outlook rules or some other automated method. Granted, one might miss a gem that way, until the gem got missed by so many people that the gem's writer finally got a clue and joined an appropriate organization or workshop group and then re-submitted their work so that it got finally discovered in a professional and polished manner.

    Such requirements might cull, at the very least, the worst of the whiners.

  48. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 10:02 PM

    >How can things improve or change if we don't complain? We all have a right to be treated with courtesy and respect on both sides of the desk. If writers can learn to write more efficiently to meet deadlines, then agents should be able to organize their time as well–or take a break from submissions.

    FWIW I prefer Anon comments cuz to me they seem to be the most open and honest.

  49. Amy Sue Nathan on November 30, 2009 at 9:38 PM

    >I haven't read all the comments – but am I the only one who is OK with the system? I know times change but the agent/publisher/slushpile/rejection letter thing has kind of a nostalgic ring to it as far as I'm concerned. Not always fun or encouraging, but step over that magic threshold once or twice and you really feel the transformation – and that is because it is not only difficult to write well – it's very hard to be published in traditional, mainstream media.

    Do you know what I do instead of complaining or looking to restructure a time-honored system that will only change slowly with even more time?

    I write.

  50. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 9:30 PM

    >There are a number of reasons to post an anonymous comment and not all of those reasons are anchored in evil intent. To discount an opinion simply because someone chooses to be anonymous seems rather shortsighted to me. I do agree that anonymous "trolling" is a waste of space (and evidence of the commenter's immaturity). But I've also discovered some intelligent ideas and thought-provoking content in anonymous comments on this blog and others.

    But then again, I'm posting this anonymously, so perhaps it's without merit. 🙂

  51. clindsay on November 30, 2009 at 9:21 PM

    >Miriam –

    Very well said!


  52. Miriam S.Forster on November 30, 2009 at 9:08 PM

    >Anon 3:02-

    I believe there is a misconception in this statement.

    "He writes great stuff… but never gets any feedback from the people who matter (agents, editors)."

    The people who matter are not agents, editors or publishers. The people who matter are the people who buy books. The people who matter are the readers.

    The readers are the ones who determine the New York Times Bestseller List.

    The readers are the ones who fail to buy the struggling midlist author's books, thus making it hard for them to sell another.

    The readers are the reason that the books on the shelves are there in the first place, crap or not.

    The whole publishing industry, good and bad, is based on selling. Agents try to find authors they think they can sell, publishers want books they think will sell well. But the people who are BUYING BOOKS are the ones with the power.

    Now, it's true that readers can't always tell you why they put down a book, or what didn't work for them. That's why writers need other writers. That's why they need to study craft, read writing books written by people who have sold books, and why they need to keep practicing.

    But I don't think your friend, or any of us, would be well-served by looking to agents and editors as the ones who matter. Because you can get a great agent, sell to a huge publisher, get all the marketing support you could ever want, and still not hook the reader.

    The readers are the ones who matter.

  53. Carol J. Garvin on November 30, 2009 at 8:43 PM

    >You’ve stirred up an interesting pot today, Rachelle. I’m thankful that there are agents who commit to what must frequently be a thankless job just to be on the front line of discovery when good new writers venture into view. I sure don’t envy you the flack and stress that come with the job.

    And I have to say I really don’t like anonymous comments although I remember the reason you gave for allowing them. Writers who presumably write to be read but say they prefer to hide in the shadows rather than be in the spotlight with their blog comments somehow don’t ring true. It sounds like a lot of resounding gongs and clanging cymbals to me. I give no credence to anonymous opinions.

  54. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 8:36 PM

    >An easy way to fix the system – forget the query letter process altogether. Send a brief synopsis and the BEST pages from your book (not the first, but the BEST). Agents can then accept or reject.

    But that wouldn't really fix the system at all. If your writing is uneven in the novel – and you're suggesting it is from your comment – sending in your BEST pages is only going to get you through the first step. What are you going to do when it's time for the agent to read your full novel? You won't have time to revise the whole thing between the synopsis step and the request for a full. And why should it make any difference whether you're sending your first pages or some other pages in terms of the quality of writing? These days, your whole novel pretty much has to be publishable, or close to it, in order to be considered. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but they are rare and on the way to becoming extinct.

  55. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 8:31 PM

    >I will continue to be baffled by the idea that because a writer chooses to devote their time and energy to writing a book, that somehow creates an obligation for agents (and editors) to devote some amount of time and effort to responding to queries.

  56. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 7:59 PM

    >"Write the best damn story you can. It's the only thing a writer has control over."

    Let me ask this then: how does a writer know if he or she has been rejected because of the writing vs. something that's wrong with the query letter? I read many agents' blogs, and each agent has something different to say about how to send a query: what's good and what's bad. Someone could have the best damn book in the world, but a small "flaw" in a query letter could make that irrelevant.

    An easy way to fix the system – forget the query letter process altogether. Send a brief synopsis and the BEST pages from your book (not the first, but the BEST). Agents can then accept or reject.

    And on that topic, I honestly can't see how in this day and age hitting "reply" to an email, and then hitting "ctrl-v" to paste an already formatted rejection letter in and hitting "send" takes any more than five seconds of an agent's time – even if there's a hundred of them that's less than ten minutes out of your day – to give a writer who spent who knows how long working on their book and letter the courtesy of knowing that at least SOMEONE looked at their work.

    Instead, agents can spend time on their blogs complaining about writers complaining about agents. Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

    And yes, I'm posting this anonymously. I don't need to become a pariah for speaking my mind.

  57. james on November 30, 2009 at 7:57 PM

    >I started sending query letters around the week of 11-17. 10 to agents and 5 to small press companies.

    I received a reply to all but 5 so far. Several were form letters (4) that it was received, two requests for more info (yeah!)and four rejections.For my first time around, I am happy.

    I also got rejected many times for dates but kept on going and actually got married, twice!

    Dont quit, just keep on going!If your dream is big enough, nothing will stop you!

  58. Rachelle on November 30, 2009 at 7:55 PM

    >Caitie F: Um, yes, I think every single agent is aware of the existence of interns. Many of us started our careers in that position.

    Many agencies use interns, many others do not. Our agency doesn't, but we have a paid assistant. There are many reasons we haven't been able to use interns yet. You may not realize that a good intern program is a huge investment of both time and money, even though interns are unpaid. Those of us who have small agencies and small physical office spaces may not have the resources to properly train and utilize interns. And those of us who are located outside of New York are less likely to find good interns who are serious about learning publishing. There are other reasons.

    You're right, interns are a great idea. But I'm sure you must realize that training interns is of crucial importance; do you want just anyone off the street making slush pile decisions?

  59. JDuncan on November 30, 2009 at 7:39 PM

    >While we are all well aware of the fact that the ratio of good writing to poor that crosses an agent's desk is fairly low, regardless of subjective opinion, I bet it would benefit writers to see what the ratio is of good writing that crosses the desk compared to what the agent not only likes but believes they can sell. Ten to one? Twenty? I don't really have a clue myself, but the fact is, agents see a lot of good stuff they just don't feel they can represent. They have to be and can afford to be very selective.

    Write the best damn story you can. It's the only thing a writer has control over. Unless you have a plan to double the number of people reading out there so there is greater demand, or convince a 100k people out there to quit writing and submitting, griping about the system really isn't going to do any good. It's not as broken as some make it out to be.

  60. Sherrie Lord on November 30, 2009 at 7:35 PM

    >Such gripes — well, that's just rude. And from those who profess to be regenerate. Good grief!

  61. Adam Heine on November 30, 2009 at 7:22 PM

    >To all the people who are getting mad at Colleen for "breaking into" a locked post:

    You should be getting mad at LiveJournal for not being secure enough, or Google for not respecting LJ's security. It's not Colleen's fault. She didn't even know it was a locked post until much later.

    It's a cardinal rule of the internet: If you put it online, you no longer have control over who sees it, even if you think you do.

  62. Caitie F on November 30, 2009 at 6:52 PM

    >Just one simple question that I have always had when agents (in general, not you specifically) say they don't have time for form letters.

    Have you heard of these people who do work for free called interns? Agents can flag the emails they get as rejections and the intern could send out a form rejection letter. Not only could it solve an issue that writer/agents have, but it could help a young person who aspires to work in publishing learn more about the industry. I don't see how anyone loses in this case. They could also help out with other things too…and again they are free.

    The industry is flawed because the point of it is profit. If publishers, writers, and agents didn't have to make money then the system could really change overnight. Since that isn't ever going to happen we will have to rely on the system changing slowly

  63. Mike Jung on November 30, 2009 at 6:47 PM

    >Interesting mix of opinions here. I have to get on board with the folks who say that I, as an unpublished, unagented, querying writer, am NOT entitled to anything from any agent. Not their time, not their energy, not even their courtesy. I'm not anyone's client (yet), and it would be silly to think that any agent should be required to use any of their professional resources on ME when I don't actually have any kind of professional relationship or agreement with THEM. There are agents who have spent time and energy working with me on my manuscript, and I'm grateful. But I'm not going to expect that kind of attention until somebody asks me to scrawl my John Hancock on a contract.

  64. Teresa on November 30, 2009 at 6:45 PM

    >First, I don't think I can make a statement any clearer than my friend Kathryn Magendie, but given the tone of a lot of these mini-rants, I wonder if we should be ranting at all. Agents or writers. Especially online.

    I try to be very careful of my words online, because you can't hear my voice. I've been following agents and writers on Twitter and through their blogs, and I've discounted querying some agents, because I find their online personalities too strong or abrasive for me.

    Colleen Lindsay made a very good case for people to be careful about what they post online, and she's absolutely correct. More than once, I've managed to slip into "locked/password protected" accounts through Google's backdoor. Say nothing online that you wouldn't shout-out in a roomful of strangers.

    There are days when I feel the same frustration in my job that agents feel in theirs. There's a place for ranting amongst professionals — writers and agents — I just don't believe that place is online.

    We always speak differently when we can look into one another's eyes while we're talking. We can't hear one another's voices or look into one another's eyes online, so I think we need to temper our words and rein in our rants. Agents and writers.

  65. Carol Benedict on November 30, 2009 at 6:44 PM

    >I respect an agent's right to make her own policies, and see nothing offensive about a written "no reply means no thanks" policy for unsolicited material.

    When I receive letters or emails from charities or companies I don't already do business with, I don't feel obligated to respond. Agents should have the same right to screen their mail and set their own guidelines for replying to queries. If they've asked for additional material, I think the situation changes, and the agent should send some sort of reply to the writer.

  66. Cranky Old Hag on November 30, 2009 at 6:36 PM

    >Everybody whines, it's the nature of (wo)man. We're all frustrated at one thing or another in our lives. We whine and kick the dog when we really want to kick some editor's butt.

    I think you touched something important in your comment to Mira. That it's the "artistic" part of writing that gets in the way – just like it does with actors and singers and whatnot. Someone once said the publishing business is a big hobby disguised as business, or something such. It is. If writers just started seeing themselves as professionals, as business people, rather than "Le Grand Artiste", I think it would go a long way.

    I suppose the dilemma is most won't get professional until they have a contract… =/ Such a shame. Great post though!

  67. Gryph on November 30, 2009 at 6:32 PM

    >The only thing I think agents should do without fail is an auto-responder. This has nothing to do with what your mama taught you, but with the simple reality of doing business on the internet. E-mails get eaten. I just want to know that you got it.

    If that auto-response happens to have an "after this amount of time, no response means no" timeframe in it, even better! But honestly, I know you're busy. You've got better things to do. Just tell your e-mail system to fling something at me, and do what you've got to do. That's all I want.

  68. Edward G. Talbot on November 30, 2009 at 6:31 PM

    >I get the frustration writers have with agents. I didn't enjoy getting rejected by dozens of agents on my first novel. Unless it gets picked up on the first day by the first agent I submit to, I don't imagine I'll enjoy getting rejected when the second one goes out for submissions shortly.

    On the other hand, I personally don't get how the anger directed at agents and publishers is productive for anyone. You want to change the system, there are plenty of options out there. E-books, podcasts, self-publishing, etc. If the book really is that good AND you are interested in promoting it (and nowadays if you're not then you're starting two strikes down) then it will sell. Otherwise, you're proving that you just want to complain without taking concrete steps that are available to you. Personally, I still want an agent, but I know I have other options if I truly decide my book is good enough and the system is broken enough.

    Almost everything that matters to me in my life, I've "failed" at more than I've succeeded. And most people would consider me successful. At age forty, there are some things that have mattered greatly to me that simply didn't work out and will not in the future. I don't want writing to turn out the same way, but when it has setbacks, I've learned enough to know that blame gets me nowhere.

    It's easy to complain. It's more difficult to actually to something productive about it.

  69. Portia on November 30, 2009 at 6:29 PM

    >Well said.

    The e-mail query responses I've received from agents come during the evenings or on weekends, and I have to say, I feel guilty that you're looking at queries on personal time.

  70. Rachelle on November 30, 2009 at 6:27 PM

    >yarnbuck: You wrote, "It would be nice if agents in this system were also coaches." Many of us ARE coaches. I think if you interviewed 100 published authors with long term agent relationships, most would say their agent is like a coach.

    But we can only be a coach for those who have already made the team, right? Agents-as-coaches can't help the aspiring unagented & unpubbed authors.

  71. Icy on November 30, 2009 at 6:16 PM

    >Yeah, it's annoying when you don't get a reply to something you've sent, something that you've probably poured a lot of time and yourself into, but whoever said that life had to hand you everything on a plate? Writers spend their lives writing and agents spend their lives working for writers – there are other people writers and agents need to get mad at before they get mad at each other.

  72. Jinxie on November 30, 2009 at 6:09 PM

    >I do not whine or rant about the publishing industry. It's everything else in my life. =)

  73. Lindsey Himmler on November 30, 2009 at 6:09 PM

    >There's some really great discussion in here (as well as some fire-starters).

    I've only just begun to query seriously this year. I spent a lot of time working on my MS. In fact, I hate to think about the hours spent. Then I spent several more hours researching agents to find those I thought would be the perfect fit. Then I worked on my query letter. I revised it to be appropriate for each agent I submitted it too.

    I can't speak for anyone but myself, but it IS frustrating to spend so much dedicate time on something and not get the courtesy of a form rejection. I'm not blaming anyone; it's the way the system is set-up. It's simply disheartening to spend so much time and effort on something that gets no response.

    If there's a better way, however, I really don't know what it is. I enjoy writing, and I'll keep at it. Thanks for a place to share our thoughts.

  74. yarnbuck on November 30, 2009 at 5:52 PM

    >About one percent of high school football players ever feel the snap a college chin strap. 99% of those have gone from the headlines to the back of the line via an ejection seat from hometown ego to unimpressed open air. Roughly 50% of those get a chute – significant playing time. The rest free fall through mind bluring self-talk. Will I ever play? Do I love the Game or just the Fame? Who am I if I quit?

    Some blame coaches, some their grandmother's frail genetics. Some go to the weight room and bust their chops. And some learn that they weren't cut out for it at this level. The ingrediants of speed, size and/or strength, and instinct have been measured and found lacking.

    This system seems to be sifting my ingrediants – story selection, writing craft and platform, and unfortunately, finding weakness. If I want particular diagnosis (feed back), I'll probably have to find a fee-based professional. And that assures me of little to attract an agent. My risk, my call.

    It would be nice if agents in this system were also coaches. Time won't allow that. My experience tells me that Real Estate Agents don't sell blue prints. They sell finished houses. Quality. Built. Finished.

    So, to write better and Hang On . . . or simply push the keyboard and Move On? That's the question.

  75. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 5:51 PM

    >That was a fantastic post.

    However, it does come across like a bunch of excuses because (and I hope you follow me here) there is so much crap on bookshelves.

    As an aspiring author it hardly seems like agents are scouring their in-boxes looking for the next 'gem' when you see so much drivel getting published every day.

    I read a book a few days back and the beginning of the book was good, close to great. However, the end of the book turned to complete mush and it ruined the entire experience.

    It leaves you asking the question… how did this get past an agent? How did it then get past the editor? How then did it get past the publisher?

    Who was the gatekeeper who let this mush slide out onto bookshelves?

    When you see so much crap making it past the agenting stage, it makes you call into question both the entire process and the individual agents who claim that they are overworked and/or dedicated.

  76. june on November 30, 2009 at 5:44 PM

    >Apparently, there are a huge number of people who think they are sufficiently talented enough to write a publishable novel.

    This appears not to be the case since out of the hundreds if not thousands of queries agents receive, a miniscule amount get offers of representation.

    Combine this factor with the ease of email submissions and you have the perfect storm: overburdened agents and a whole lot of folks pissed off cause they're not getting a response in a "timely" fashion.

  77. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 5:42 PM

    >Anon 3:02 –

    add a $20 check and we will give a brief one page critique.

    Agents and reading fees don't mix, per AAR guidelines.

  78. Rachelle on November 30, 2009 at 5:12 PM

    >Anonymous 3:02, please tell your friend he should resubmit. I've been responding to all queries, usually within 3 to 4 days. Either his email never reached me, or my email never reached him.

    I had some email issues a few weeks ago and was afraid I'd lost some, and I announced several times on my blog and Twitter that I had responded to all queries so if anyone had sent one but hadn't received a response, they should resend it.

    Hope he gets through this time. Tell him if he doesn't hear from me within a week of sending it, he should try sending from another email address or leaving me a message on my blog or twitter or something so we can figure out the problem. Sometimes email just doesn't play nice.

  79. LilySea on November 30, 2009 at 5:03 PM

    >When the apocalypse comes, I'm hiding behind Colleen Lindsay.

    Your clients are very lucky to have you in their corner.

  80. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 5:02 PM

    >This is my first comment so I am not any of those who responded before as "Anonymous." In fact this is the first time I have ever posted anything here. I think everyone here has made valid points, even those who did so in an unpleasant fashion. But I think that there is a problem and complaining about or ignoring it doesn't help anyone. I have a friend who has submitted something to you (Rachel) a few months back and received no response and he was devastated. He knew the rules but it still hurt. He writes great stuff (in my and several other people's opinions) but never gets any feedback from the people who matter (agents, editors). It seems to me there needs to be a way to get feedback to writers that doesn't eat your time without compensation. What I would propose is something like submit for free if you do not want feedback, or add a $20 check and we will give a brief on page critique. this would help those who are close but need a little help, chase away those who aren't serious, and compensate those who take the extra time. Just a thought.

  81. clindsay on November 30, 2009 at 4:39 PM

    >I actually didn't go into anyone's journal. Google feeds locked posts into the Google reader willy-nilly, regardless of whether the post is locked or not. I found out it was a locked post simply because I tried to reference it again to show a colleague from another agency who was also mentioned in the post and I was unable to access it through LiveJournal.

    You may be loathe to point this out so I will: I just did you and every other writer a major public service by letting you all know that even if you think something is private, it can sometimes still be seen by Google Reader.

    Here's a Xanax and a glass of water. Chill, please.


  82. Mark H. on November 30, 2009 at 2:55 PM


    I work for the state highway department. Every day, we're told that we are incompetent, waste money, don't listen to people, and are lazy bums who prefer leaning on shovels to doing work. Everyone from the state legislature to the newspapers on down has an opinion and is happy to lecture us on how to do our jobs. Not one person gets in a car, drives down the highway, and stops to think, "Wow…what a great road."

    So: I feel your pain! Keep fighting the good fight!

  83. hannah on November 30, 2009 at 2:40 PM

    >Of the complaints authors often have about agents, I agree with just one, but I agree with this one very strongly.

    I think some–obviously not all–agents are frequently disrespectful towards writers. And it DOES make us feel like shit.

  84. Marla Taviano on November 30, 2009 at 2:33 PM

    >Whiny writers give the rest of us a bad name. Boo.

  85. Mira on November 30, 2009 at 2:32 PM


    Going onto a locked journal to read what someone said is a violation of privacy.

    I hope you don't do that again. And I certainly hope you don't then tout it on the internet as a legitimate reason to decide not to do buisness with someone.

  86. LurkerMonkey on November 30, 2009 at 2:26 PM

    >I think it's just a numbers game … pure and simple. It's easier than ever to seek out agents who represent any kind of book. The Internet is a fabulous resource. So when it comes time to query a polished manuscript, writers should think nothing of sending out 30 or 40 or 50 queries to agents active in their genre.

    But on the flip side, agents should think nothing of form-rejecting or ignoring 90 percent of queries, since it's likely the author is querying three dozen agents anyway.

    And it would probably be good for everybody to lance this particular boil and drain all the emotion out of it. Just write the best book and play the numbers.

  87. Harry Markov on November 30, 2009 at 2:18 PM

    >These are no excuses, it's just easier to point a finger at people than admitting that the system is working at its best and it's just major slow. Way easier to fling blame here and there. I am not on a submission roll, but when I get there I will think I will be tempted to point a finger, but I don't think I will post blog entries.

  88. Mark Adair on November 30, 2009 at 2:17 PM

    >Wow, I must admit that I am totally confused. Everywhere I look I see vampire stuff – books, movies, music, TV, cereal, everything.

    I just read this blog along with the many responses, and not one single person even mentioned blood, much less vampires. Come on, folks! Get with the program!


  89. Gregory K. on November 30, 2009 at 1:59 PM

    >Rachelle – as an agent, you're attuned to criticisms of agents. As a writer, I can honestly say I almost never see the "blame everything on the agent!" rant (and when I do, it's rarely taken seriously by other writers). Instead, I am much more attuned to the "it's the writers' fault" type of rants (sometimes justified: not following guidelines, sending out inferior work, etc.). I agree with you completely that it's a waste of time and effort to go down that path no matter the rant.

    Still, I'd also point out, respectfully, that saying "we're not the bad guys. We're the ones on your side." is a lot like giving yourself a free pass. Agents are part of the 'imperfect system' we all have to deal with, that we all bemoan. It's not about blame (good/bad), it's about accepting responsibility within the system.

    See, from my point of view, you are not JUST "working with writers and for writers" – you're businesses who need to make money. You open yourself to a huge number of queries not simply to help writers, but to make a profit so you can live. Good for you! Anyone who begrudges that is silly, but to take the business side out of the equation takes a key element from the discussion.

    In other words, the need to find the manuscripts that you can sell sets up that very overload that, in part, led to the rants that you've ranted about. I don't know the solution to that within the current system, nor do I begrudge agents their lives or livelihoods. Still, saying you're not the "bad guys" implies that there must be "bad guys" and, consequently, won't help make any issues in the system go away.

    Systems do change. Ask any friends you have who work or worked for newspapers if that's not the case. Publishing will change… but it'll probably just set up another system of things we all complain about. I'd posit it comes with any system.

  90. Kathryn Magendie on November 30, 2009 at 1:50 PM

    >I never take it personally when I receive a form letter from a magazine for one of my stories. I haven't queried much for agents–way back when I first finished my novel, I queried 20-30 agents or so and received a few form letters, but I also received some well-thought out and nice personal letters -in fact, more of the personal letters than the form rejections letters. My ms wasn't ready then, so I stopped querying (by time I was ready to query again, I queried BB and signed with BB publishers).

    Form rejections don't bother me. If I'm not right for that magazine or agent or whatever, then why do I need them to pat me and soothe me? It's nice to get a personal note, but I don't require it.

    When I decide to query agents again, I expect to get form rejections along with nice notes (and maybe a Yes…who knows). It's just the nature of the business. Put on your big girl (or boy) panties!

  91. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    >Anonymous 11:26:

    I don't have any current plans for evil-doing, but I do enjoy a little irony from time to time. Thanks!

  92. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 1:26 PM

    >Anonymous 11:16,

    Men love darkness because their deeds are evil.

  93. clindsay on November 30, 2009 at 1:25 PM

    >Oh, and to Anon 10:35 –

    Thanks for once again perpetuating the myth that agents are required to work 24/7. Enough entitled writers already believe that we should work longer hours than the rest of the world; thanks for adding your voice to the mix.

    For the record, agents are allowed to have actual lives outside of work, just like writers. And just because you personally give up every ounce of fun in your life doesn't mean that an agent is required to.

    We have lives, we have families, we take vacations, we read books that aren't by our clients and yes, we even watch television sometimes. We also skydive and snorkel and dance and race motorcycles and fence and breed dogs for show and ski and play with our kids/nieces/nephews/grandkids and work out and run and sometimes we even write books of our own.

    So please stop complaining if an agent talks about his or her real life, and try to live one of your own.

  94. Rebecca Knight on November 30, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    >Amen, Colleen :)! It is your free time, and we should realize that and be thankful when we do get something above and beyond.

  95. Rebecca Knight on November 30, 2009 at 1:21 PM

    >It baffles me how people feel so entitled to an agent's time when they have no business relationship with them :S. Where did this come from, I wonder?

    Your time is reserved for those you take on as clients, and the publishers you're working with–this should make sense to all of us, and be appreciated!

    The sooner aspiring authors realize they are vying for that business relationship but don't have it yet, the better off we'll be. It's much less stressful for us :). You can't feel bad about being denied something you're not entitled to. And if you get your foot in the door, power to ya!

  96. clindsay on November 30, 2009 at 1:17 PM

    >I think that writer's fail to understand just what the volume of email is that an agent or editor gets.

    I have been closed to submissions for months, and I still get anywhere from 100-200 emails a day that ARE NOT QUERIES. These are emails from clients, publishers, my colleagues within the agency, foreign publishers, etc. These emails require a response.

    When you add queries into the mix, the email volume can double.

    And yes, I see querying an agent very much like applying for a job. You send out a million resumes and hope to hear back. And sometimes you get called in for an interview and you think it goes great, but you never hear back from them again. Heck, sometimes you get called back for four interviews and never hear back again.

    Do you start writing blog posts badmouthing the company with whom you hope to eventually get a job? Uh, not if you want to ever get a job with them in the future.

    Do you get on public bulletin boards and compare response times from the HR department? Again, I hope not. The HR department knows how to use Google just as well as I do.

    I rejected a manuscript that I had been seriously considering last week because upon a cursory online search, I found a LiveJournal post by the author badmouthing me and several of my colleagues for what she thought were excessive response times. Well, that blog post cost her representation from at least one agent. (OH, and it was a LOCKED LibeJournal post. You do know that Google Reader doesn't respect locked posts, right? Well, you do now.)

    Additionally, when I do reject something, I'm astonished at the number of people who write back asking for feedback as to why it was rejected. You're not owed critcal feedback from an agent. We read queries, partials and full manuscripts for free. If you want feedback, hire an editor and pay that editor to give you feedback. That's what an editor DOES get paid for.

  97. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 1:16 PM

    >A few thoughts…

    If you don't like an agent's query policy, submit to a different agent.

    If you think all agents are weasels and don't know a best-seller from a hole in the wall, borrow against your daughter's college fund and self-publish, sell a million copies and thumb your nose at those agent-weasels.

    If you think your chances of landing an agent are improved by brown-nosing, by all means, celebrate every word that pours from that agent's mouth. Just don't forget that it's the salability of your manuscript that matters, not the brownness of your nose.

    If you think all agents are lazy, uncaring jerks who make fun of writers for sport, it might be time to renew your prescription for Prozac.

    If you think you really understand what an agent's daily existence is like purely from reading his or her tweets or blogposts and believe any mention of a TV show watched or a vacation taken is tantamount to irresponsible behavior, you might want to add some Xanax to that Prozac.

    Finally, if you write because you want others to read your words, you'll either learn to live within the system and press on toward the dream of publication or you'll forge a new path. There are plenty of other publishing options available today if you don't have the skill, the patience, or the good fortune to be published through "traditional" methods.

    Oh, and if you don't like it that I chose to publish anonymously, that's fine. But not all anonymous posters are hell bent on stirring up trouble in the guise of "speaking the truth." Some of us are genuinely nice people who simply prefer shadows to spotlights.

  98. Rachelle on November 30, 2009 at 1:13 PM

    >I'm well aware of the irony of ranting about people who rant.

    But if you notice, my post advocated ranting. I simply asked that perhaps not every rant should blame all the ills of publishing on agents.

  99. Rachelle on November 30, 2009 at 1:11 PM

    >One of the commenters suggested we keep looking for a better system, one that helps "agents and writers work together more peacefully."

    Just wanted to say that the vast majority of agent-client relationships are functional, positive and peaceful. Also, the vast majority of my relationships with writers who aren't my clients are peaceful.

  100. Sierra Godfrey on November 30, 2009 at 1:05 PM

    >Couldn't agree more with CKHB (but then, I agree with her a lot). Queries are cover letters and I guess I've never had a problem with sending professional correspondence to prospective employers introducing my work. (I know agents aren't writer's employers, but you know what I mean.)

    I have no problem with this policy and I am glad that agents let give a window into what their workload is like for writers via blogs because it definitely helps us understand what's going on.

  101. nightwriter on November 30, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    >Most writers don't have the luxury of face time with agents so all we have to go by are agent's replies (or lack of), blogs and response times. When we make it past the gates and we're one of the 1-2% to actually get a REQUEST, I don't think it's too much to hope for a RESPONSE within a reasonable time frame (say, 2-3 months).

    Like Jessica Faust, I think overworked agents would benefit from taking time off from submissions a few months a year if they're too busy to keep up with their workload. Just a thought!

  102. StrugglingToMakeIt on November 30, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    >Great post. I, for one, want the agent who loves my work as much as I do. I'm more than willing to wait for that perfect fit. The right place and right time will align one day. Power of positive thinking and all. 🙂

  103. writer jim on November 30, 2009 at 12:47 PM

    >I THINK, the big problem would be mostly SOLVED, IF writers would: query only the correct agents for their gender, and not query until they have a polished product. Also, If it were a STANDARD accepted practice that agents don't even respond (except reciept notice) unless they have a good reason too; then writers could move on without so much sorrow and anger.

  104. Wendy Lawton on November 30, 2009 at 12:45 PM

    >Thank you, Rachelle, for so honestly summing up the reality of the query process.

    In any other business we would just close the doors and say, "Thank you, we have enough applicants." Because we love books and love writers, however, we always believe that genius could be waiting in the throng outside the locked door.

    It is crazy-making that we love this job so much and yet, to do a good job for the publishers and our clients, we end up alienating hundreds/ thousands of others. Positively painful.

    As for the comment about blogging agents just trying to market their agencies. . . huh? We are the one industry that has no need to market. Those of us who started blogs saw it as way to help on a wider scale since we cannot comment individually to those querying.


  105. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 12:43 PM

    >Anon 10:35 – How about instead they dismiss you for suggesting that agents don't have a right to have lives outside of their jobs, because you claim you chose to give yours up.

    I'll admit though that vague claims posted by an anonymous poster which references the complaints of unnamed friends about unnamed agents seems like a good reasons for dismissing you too.

  106. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 12:35 PM

    >I'm an agented, published author of many books with several publishers and have been on staff at many writers conferences.

    To find time to write an promote my word, I have given up many things. I watch maybe two hours of TV a week, I often wake up at five a.m. to write, and I make a lot less money writing than I did in my former career. I usually write seven days a week, on holidays, and often on vacation. I try not to complain about feeling overwhelmed, even though I often do.

    And so when I read agents' twitters and blog posts complaining about how overwhelmed they are, yet also talking about the many TV shows they watch or the time off of work they take, it is hard to muster up much sympathy.

    And frankly, at every conference I've been on faculty at, many of the agents and editors make fun of some of the writers and their work behind their backs.

    I have friends who've had terrible experience with their agents. Some agents are terrific and some are horrible. I really like my agent, but she's made some dumb mistakes– forgetting to send out my manuscript, forwarding my private email to her to my editor without my permission, etc. No agents are perfect. Some agents ARE irresponsible, malicious, etc. Acting like all agents are perfect and all writers are wong to complain is silly. And it's ironic that you've ranted here against writers who rant.

    And now I'll expect a bunch of posts from brown-nosing writers who dis me for writing an anonymous comment. It would be foolish to use my real name, and anyone who can't see that is a fool. I'm so tired of writers kissing agents' butts at the expense of other writers.

  107. Daisy Whitney on November 30, 2009 at 12:29 PM

    >It's like being a reporter — you get pitched constantly to do stories and only a rare few are good enough to cover and respond to!

  108. Jessica on November 30, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    >LOL Maybe I should've said a specific post. I obviously couldn't remember the specific agent. *blushing*

    Also, for the second anon, I hope I didn't sound rude to you. Didn't mean to at all, just wanted to let you know that there are agents who question themselves, and then there are those who don't. 🙂

  109. Jessica on November 30, 2009 at 12:23 PM

    >That first anon made no sense.

    I think there are problems in the pub business, but I've never felt the problem lay with agents, or even editors. We all have different responsibilities and like some people said, the agent's first responsibility is toward the client. Complaining doesn't fix anything. Pointing out valied problems can help bring about a solution (sometimes) but I really believe that there is a HUGE difference between whining and pointing out problems.

    Another anon… I don't remember which one… mentioned agents never questioning if they're doing things wrong. I have to totally disagree. I read several agent blogs and for the most part have found agents to be just as human as me, and I can think right now of a specific agent who has questioned herself. I think it was Kristen Nelson? Or maybe Jessica Faust? Anyway, I think it's sad when writers have such a bitter view of a business they want to be a part of. Why? Why do they even want to join something they loathe? It's like the person who hates cheerleaders and stereotypes them but secretly wants to be one too.

    Nice rant. 🙂

  110. Mira on November 30, 2009 at 12:19 PM

    >Timothy, a centralized submission system is not a bad idea at all.

    It could be structured in such a way to filter easily, so an agent wouldn't have to spend hours looking for something. They could have subscriptions that would mail submissions to them directly.

    I don't know if agents would be willing to pay for something they get for free now, but you could figure something out about the money.

    I'm saying this, of course, from the writer's perspective; I don't know the pros and cons from an agent point of view.

    But at first glance, it sounds very interesting.

  111. Kat Harris on November 30, 2009 at 12:19 PM


    Did you just rant about people who rant?

  112. Jason on November 30, 2009 at 12:16 PM

    >For the most part, griping about anything is a useless activity. And it's not like you can dump all agents into one pot. Some agents are VERY good about getting back to you.

    I only submitted to one agent before I started making reworking my manuscript, but she requested a partial/synopsis within a day. And when she passed she let me know that too.

    I say if it waiting bothers you that much, then focus on agents who typically have quicker response times.

    There is info out there to tell you how agents typically respond…make use of it.

  113. Timothy Fish on November 30, 2009 at 12:03 PM

    >Here’s my idea for “Changing the System”:

    Let’s create one central database to which authors can submit their work. Participating agents and publishers would then be provided with a list of projects for consideration. The list could be ordered by some criteria that would allow them to find the ones they are the most interested in. The agent would mark the project for additional consideration or reject the project for one of several possible reasons. The author would be able to go into the system at any time and see how many people have considered the project and the reasons for rejecting it. As more people considered the project, the system would select agents to consider it based on some level of intelligent processing and remove it from the list of other agents. They system would be paid for by an annual fee charged to literary agents and publishers who use it.

  114. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman on November 30, 2009 at 12:01 PM

    >Favorite line: "We are the ones who are on your side."

    I've never queried an agent, but I have read other writer's work and provided feedback… just because they asked. I spend hours on a script, reading and providing my notes, just to have the writer upset in the end because I often suggest he/she keep trying.

    Reading an author's work takes so much more time than someone would imagine… valuable time you and other agents are spending away from your families to do.

    I enjoyed your rant thoroughly, Rachelle. Now stop ranting and get back to that slush pile or you'll have 50 more complaining emails in your inbox : )

  115. T. Anne on November 30, 2009 at 11:58 AM

    >I'm always surprised when I hear writers complain about not hearing back on queries, that seems to be the low man on the totem pole. I accept the silence. I have had a couple partials that ran a year without a response (nor do I expect one at this point) and a full that seems to have been forgotten even though I gave follow up letters for both. I accept that too. I believe non-communication at the late stage in the game speaks volumes about what kind of relationship you might have with said agent. I don't knock any of the agents for the way they decide to run their business. I do appreciate the ones that open up to writers and share on a daily basis the ins and outs of the publishing world.

  116. lynnrush on November 30, 2009 at 11:57 AM

    >I've never understood what complaining gains for anyone. It really just drags me down.

    In this industry, there is waiting. Yes, for agents, writers, etc. That's just how it goes. But instead of complaining about it, we should use the wait time to improve our skills, market, work on that next book.

    It's got to be frustrating to hear the constant complaining, huh? Hang in there, Rachelle–well, and all the writers/agents/editors out there too.

  117. asthomson on November 30, 2009 at 11:54 AM

    >I paraphrase Robert Burns here.
    "Oh would some Power the gift to give us. To see ourselves as others see us! "

    Always interesting to see how each side of the writer/agent relationship sees the other. Both have a point and it is good to hear it from 'the dark side'!

    Only kidding!

  118. wlturland on November 30, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    >@Skepic: I saw the same thing. I think those making the "STFU" type comments to Anonymous 1:19 need to step back and reevaluate just how "well read" they really are if they can't see the Man's Man parallel.

  119. Mira on November 30, 2009 at 11:49 AM


    Thanks for responding. You sound pretty frustrated! I'm sorry. I think there's alot of pressure on agents right now.

    I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that Directors and Record producers aren't having to deal with an internet full of people who are good at expressing themselves in the written word.

    Agents are under pressure in a way that those industries probably aren't.

    I think that is really hard on agents – especially since it's hard to form a community of agents, since you're competitors, so agents are probably feeling rather isolated….

    Anyway, actually, I think I'll just acknowledge that right now, and leave the problem solving for another time…

    Although I will say one thing – just because no one's thought of a solution yet, doesn't mean there isn't one. 🙂 I have faith that there is a democratic system that would help agents and writers work together more peacefully. One where agents feel less overwhelmed, and writers feel acknowledged.

  120. Sharon A. Lavy on November 30, 2009 at 11:48 AM

    >Rachelle, I look forward to the time when you quit allowing anonymous posts.

    They usually have nothing to gain by sending and we readers usually have nothing to gain by reading their posts.

    Those who are willing to be accounted for do send disagreeing and debating posts, but are not vicious like the one who can hide behind anonymous.

  121. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 11:44 AM

    >I completely agree with everything you said, but just had to say it really sucks when I see agents on twitter joking around about how they are going to a conference to "crush writers' dreams." (I know they probably said this in jest, but it still hurts). And I know I don't have to follow those agents or their harsh comments, but it does make me question the industry in general.

    I don't think all agents are this way, but when I see a number of them doing stuff like this, it's very upsetting.

    That being said, I also can't imagine the slush piles agents go through on a daily basis. Just reading stuff from my critique group makes my head spin.

  122. AmyBoucherPye on November 30, 2009 at 11:42 AM

    >I write two monthly columns for UK Christian magazines, so get loads of review books sent to me – probably 3-5 a week. I just had a clear-out of my books, giving hundreds away. Some I recycle right away; some I toss aside without a second glance; some I think I should read; some I look at carefully; only a handful do I really want to read; only one or two in a blue moon stop me and make me put everything down.

    And that's with published books – books that have been heavily invested in by authors/agents/ editors/marketers/sales people/distributors/ bookshops etc. I've worked as an editor so I've experienced the so-called slush pile. Even the proposals editors dearly love might get shot down in the committee meeting.

    It's a tough business. Make your writing stellar and maybe you'll hear back from an agent. Maybe you will be the breakthrough author. But maybe not.

    PS And yes, I'm a wannabe author too, but no, I'm holding my guns until I have more of a platform established.

  123. Timothy Fish on November 30, 2009 at 11:40 AM

    >People keep comparing the search for a literary agent to the job search. That has to be one of the worst analogies. True, an employer doesn’t have to respond to every resume they receive, however, successful companies have a policy of responding because they know that while they may not have a need for these people right now, they may in the future and they don’t want these people upset with them when they do. But a better analogy would be of a home owner looking for a home repair contractor. The author isn’t looking for work. The author has plenty of work. The author is looking for someone to help him make money at the work he is doing. If we compare that to our search for a roofing contractor, we might call up Jim Bob and leave a message on his phone asking him to give us a quote. If he doesn’t call back, we’ll get the message that he doesn’t want to work with us, but we probably won’t even consider calling him in the future. On the other hand, if we call another contractor and he responds, even though he has to tell us that he doesn’t have time to do the work, we might still consider him for future work.

    This isn’t a question of what literary agents or roofing contractors are obligated to do. This is a business decision. Agents don’t have to respond to everything, but if they don’t respond to every query from authors who show even the remotest possibility of producing book that the agent would like to represent, they risk losing out on a chance to consider those authors in the future. To borrow from Richard’s example, regular customers may get their car inspected sooner, but if I run into a situation like that, they won’t have the opportunity to show me how they’ll treat me when I’m a regular customer.

  124. JDuncan on November 30, 2009 at 11:34 AM

    >I think anon was just commenting in order to stir up the commenting. Some folks have fun doing that sort of thing. Best to not fuel their fire.

    I believe a lot of ranting about agents comes from frustrated writers who live in their very small writing world (not a bad thing per se) who just don't understand the complexities and difficulties of the industry. They don't understand that the workload of agents is huge, that culling the query pile is an enormous time sink, as is responding with anything more than a "thanks but no" email.

    As for the rudeness of agents, I think it has more to do with not having the time, patience, or desire to deal with uninformed writers. It's not their job to teach or critque, though some like Rachelle here, kindly donate their time and effort in blogs like this to address this issue. Agents don't owe the writing masses anything really, but a great number of writers believe they are. This is a business as well as an art. Most of the information needed out there for writers is readily available. One just has to put in the effort to find it. While loving the art of writing and telling a story, agents must treat this as a business. They expect us writers to do the same. Writers tend to take much of how things happen to them in this industry personally. They can't. Well, they can, but the professionals in the industry are not the ones to turn to. They can't soothe battered egos, or correct every misinformed writer who comes across their path. It's nothing against them, they just don't have the time or energy to focus on such things. Writers need to stop expecting them to do that. They're overwhelmed and simply can't.

    So, to all of the frustrated writers out there who want to turn on agents for response times, brief rejections, terse replies, or just plain not really liking your writing…suck it up. It's nothing personal. Just write, do it well, and if they like your writing and think they can sell it, they will certainly let you know. That, is their job.

    On a side note, I've yet to speak to, read a blog, or otherwise communicate with an agent who I felt was rude or a moron. They are pretty much all (yes, there are always the few exceptions)smart, nice people, trying to do a very difficult job in a very difficult business, because they have a deep and passionate love for books and great story-telling, and love nothing more than to see them get on to the shelves.

  125. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 11:34 AM

    >You know if you hear this complaint a lot – it might be because it happens a lot.

    Why is it only writers who are expected to look at their performance and wonder if they might just not be good enough?

    Why is it that agents are never expected (at least by agents) to assess whether or not they're actually doing a good job?

    According to most of the agent blogs I see, it's always the writer failing to engage the imagination, or the publishers being too cautious or the market, or the consumers, or the bookstores?

    Do agents EVER ask themselves whether or not they're good enough?

    Just asking… because now that I think about it, I've never seen even one of you question your own ability. It always seems to be someone else's fault.


  126. agentgame on November 30, 2009 at 11:31 AM

    >Thanks for the post, Rachelle, and for your replies in the comments. Thanks also to commenters like CKHB, Anonymous 9:24 and others who clearly get it.

  127. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 11:24 AM

    >I think you forgot to mention another reason why agents sometimes take a long time to respond… they have personal lives.

    (With everything they have going on, I'm not sure how. I must say I'm impressed with everything most agents manage to do)

    The agent I have now took many months to respond to my query, so long I just assumed it was an automatic no.

    I eventually heard back from her and she offered representation. The reason it took so long? Someone very close to her had just died.

  128. Eric Orchard on November 30, 2009 at 11:22 AM

    >I never blame my agent! …only my editor….

  129. slushpilehero on November 30, 2009 at 11:19 AM

    >Thanks for all you do, from a querying writer. I would not want your job.

  130. Dara on November 30, 2009 at 11:05 AM

    >I'm weary of writers complaining all the time about the system. Yes, it's flawed but everything touched by humanity is–we just have to make the best of it. At least it's not like I have to have a masters or PhD in writing to query. It's the best system that's out there, and while it's frustrating, the agents shouldn't be made into the bad guys.

    Anyway, I'm glad you posted this Rachelle. It just shows that agents have frustrations just like writers do too, even if it's a little different.

  131. Rosslyn Elliott on November 30, 2009 at 10:39 AM

    >I'm really glad I learned from this post that you get 100 emails per day.

    It gives me a different perspective on your work.

  132. Rachelle on November 30, 2009 at 10:36 AM

    >Rowenna: As one commenter mentioned already, there is a distinct problem with the example you gave of "keeping customers happy." Querying writers are NOT the agent's customers. PUBLISHERS are our customers, and the writers we've chosen to represent are our clients. Querying writers are potential future clients, but in no way can they be compared to customers. A customer is someone who pays money for a service or product. That's the publisher. And you can bet I'm returning every publisher email or phone call promptly.

    Jane Steen: No, we don't need more agents. There are not enough book deals available in publishing these days to support the ones who are already established. The reason every agent is so busy is the business model is changing. It takes far more work to close one book deal, and it generally pays less than it used to. We could not even make a typical part-time wage if we didn't take on as many clients as humanly possible and try to sell them. More agents would simply mean more clutter reaching the publishers; the number of books being published wouldn't go up.

    Mira: Plenty of people have proposed changing the system. Not one person has ever come up with a workable solution.

    I've got an idea: How about we make writers pay, say, $500 to submit to an agent? That might cut down the workload. Or how about we require a querying writer to have a masters degree in literature or creative writing before we review their query? Hmm.

    Here's another. How about all agents just have their children read the slush pile? That would save a lot of time. My 10 and 12 year olds are pretty discriminating readers.

    Mira, I'm not aiming this at you. I'm simply saying that "changing the system" sounds nice but isn't realistic. The "system" is the same for actors and singers and all different kinds of artists, and always has been. The artists struggle to be seen and heard. Those making decisions do their best to cull through the hopefuls to find what they're looking for. Any attempt to change the system ends up looking like some kind of elitism or roadblock that the "gatekeepers" are using to keep people away.

    Bottom line, we know we might find talent anywhere, so we keep the pipeline open and let everyone in. The "system" works because it gives everyone equal access.

    I wonder why I hear so many complaints about this "system" being broken, when it's this very system that is democratic, totally in favor of the aspiring writer, and gives every single person a shot a getting published?

  133. Matilda McCloud on November 30, 2009 at 10:34 AM

    >I recently rec'd three rejections on fulls or partials. Each agent took the time to write me a personalized letter and to point out something that was wrong with the ms. They didn't have to do this–they weren't looking for revisions or asking me to resubmit in the future. I am using these suggestions to improve my ms. Yes, I haven't heard from some agents, but like Rachelle says, if they're interested they'll contact you. If not, move on.

  134. Roxane B. Salonen on November 30, 2009 at 10:32 AM

    >Based on everything I've learned here and read about you, Rachelle, I think you're doing a fantastic job. I think most serious, humble writers who have been at this a long time get it. But…it is hard on this side, too (oops, was the a complaint?). I think the industry is changing and we're all in flux right now, trying to discern the future direction. We are in the middle of an upheaval, really. I think writers' complaints, and your honest need to rant (you are owed it) is indicative of a wider problem, which has been hinted at already. In the end, most of us are just doing our very best. I am thankful there is a place we can go to discuss such things. Thanks, Rachelle.

  135. Skeptic on November 30, 2009 at 10:27 AM

    >Maybe this is a symptom of sleep deprivation, but when I read Anonymous' "Writer's writer" post, immediately I thought "Ok, this is parody of a man's man, the suave, educated, always appropriate dude that women want to marry and men envy and try to emulate. However, after reading the comments, I wonder if I'm tired and looking for rainbows in storm clouds again…

  136. GunDiva on November 30, 2009 at 10:24 AM

    >Thanks for your post. Like many others, I don't "get" the writer's writer post, but then, it's still early in the morning.

    To tell you the truth, I don't know how you have time to do your job AND maintain a blog of this caliber. I'm learning so much from you (some of it scares me to death, honestly) and I appreciate that you take the time to do this.

  137. Mira on November 30, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    >This is a real problem. I totally see both sides of it – and I'm really glad that you stated your side so clearly.

    From what I can see, agents are completely overwhelmed and under great pressure.

    On the other hand, it really is painful for writers not to hear back – especially on a partial.

    I think asking either side not to have feelings about this won't work very well.

    And it's likely to get worse, as more writers discover agent's blogs, and as more agents begin to accept e-mail submissions.

    So, I can see a few solutions:

    a. Agents just let writers complain, do the best they can and get back to work.

    b. Some writers (not most) learn to accept the reality of the system.

    c. Since this is a system problem, the system is revised.

    I like c. I do think this is a system problem.

    I think the query system is antiquated and time consuming all around. I think it should be over-hauled. There has to be a more effiecient and faster way to review writer submissions.

    But then, I've said this before, so I won't belabor the issue. 🙂

    Good post, Rachelle. Glad you wrote it.

  138. Eileen Astels Watson on November 30, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    >Rachelle, after reading this, all that's coming to my mind is: Sorry!
    Sorry for all that you agents endure and this just confirms why I submit so rarely and selectively.

    Praying for compassion and politeness to come your way.

  139. Andrea on November 30, 2009 at 10:03 AM

    >This post is a great reminder to be accountable for our own actions and not blame others for our issues. We (writers) must follow through and be thorough in doing so.

    Blessings, andrea

  140. Jane Steen on November 30, 2009 at 9:52 AM

    >Perhaps we need more agents. I wonder sometimes, when I read blogs written by agents who are clearly overwhelmed by the huge rise in the number of people who see themselves as potential authors, whether this is already happening, and if not, why not.

    I can see that it can't be easy to break into the agenting world: you need to be in the right geographic location, have a thorough understanding of the market, be able to run your own small business, have the discernment to spot a really good prospect who not only writes well but has the stamina for more than one book AND the temperament to join in the marketing effort, have good contacts, be able to survive on air for the first year or two, be willing to sacrifice weekends and early nights… a daunting list, but I'm sure there's potential out there.

    Do established agents extend a helping hand to wannabees, or do they see any newcomer as a potential rival/threat? How do you become an agent? Are there schools? I would love to know, Rachelle, so if you could ever see your way to writing a post or two on the subject I'd be grateful.

  141. Rachel on November 30, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    >I appreciate the extra time you spend keeping up with this blog. And I don't think the writing/publishing tips are cliched. I've purchased five books on writing (and two novels) that you mentioned on here. All helpful. I also don't think everyone who says "Great post" is a suck-up. Some people just want to leave a sign that they read and processed your post, and appreciate the free advice. You know. So you'll keep doing it.

    What amazes me, is that people spew their complaints in such a public way. What agent would want to work with someone like that? Bad form. It seems like a risk to throw such a potentially alienating fit in public just to "vent." Good grief–wouldn't it be better to just call your mom?

  142. Rowenna on November 30, 2009 at 9:41 AM

    >Thanks for the insightful post, Rachelle–I think that seeing your point of view on this was revealing and you expressed your views very fairly. That said–I can appreciate writers' frustration with the "no answer is no" policy. I think Caitie F hit the nail on the head–if I did that in my job, I would be failing as a productive employee. I used to work for a small company where I had to answer over a hundred emails a day–some were quick template emails, others were paragraphs of in-depth info. So I know–it's frustrating. And I also know it can be done. But here's the thing–it was a business, and those emails had to be answered to maintain and establish customer relationships. An agent doesn't gain a whole lot by sending rejection emails–at least not enough for them to judge the time well-spent. If they'd rather spend time building a relationship with an editor, or working with a client on his book, or something else that shows results, I get that. It still stings to recognize that, on the hierarchy of tasks, replying to me with a template "no" takes more time than some agents are willing to take. The "They're not that into you" moment. I think that's where a lot of the ranting on writers' parts is coming from–the recognition that not only did their piece not snag an agent's attention, it got so little notice that it's not even worth the time of hitting reply.

  143. mary bailey on November 30, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    >Good post! I liked seeing things from your point-of-view. I think it would be interesting to have some guest posts of "A Day in the Life of…." different writers in different stages writing/editing/waiting/getting published etc.

    CKHB summed things up so well with the contrast to applying for a job at another place of business. The employer is under no obligation to get back to you. We've all had to wait on those calls at some point or another and we've all had to accept that no news means NO, and apply for another job.

  144. Sarah Forgrave on November 30, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >Rachelle – Great post. I admire agents who sift through queries in their off hours. Whenever I'm fortunate enough to get an agent, I'd prefer one who makes clients their first priority.

  145. Judith Mercado on November 30, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >I'm honestly in awe of your ability to do so many jobs at once and, from my perspective, doing it well.

  146. Heather Lane on November 30, 2009 at 9:05 AM

    >It is amazing that the natural human condition seems to be an inability to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. It's interesting that aspiring authors can't imagine how different their perspective will be once they are agented. Or imagine how much work it is to sustain clients and sales as an agent. And here I was thinking that imagination was a requirement for being a writer. And empathy really should be a requirement for being a human being.

    Thanks for hanging in, Rachelle.

  147. Marla Taviano on November 30, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    >Anything I say to you, Rachelle, will be viewed as brown-nosing flattery.

    Anything I say to the Ridiculous Anonymous will be feeding his/her ego.

    What a quandary.

    Maybe you should set up a 24/7 Agent Cam so people can see just how stinkin' hard you work–and what a great attitude you have toward it.

    I've witnessed your hard work firsthand, and I'm eternally grateful.

  148. Jill on November 30, 2009 at 8:48 AM

    >Rachelle, you can't be responsible for all agents, neither can you be responsible for everyone whose query was not answered as quickly as they would like. From what I've seen on your blog and heard from your clients, you are an excellent agent who goes above and beyond to reach out to people who write. I'm amazed at even the number of sci-fi writers that comment regularly on your blog, knowing you don't represent that genre. They're still gleaning some wisdom or they wouldn't keep coming back.

    When you hear or read the complaints, just be thankful that's NOT someone you represent. They're just making it easier for you to narrow down the list.

  149. CKHB on November 30, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    >I also have no idea what the "writers' writer" post is supposed to mean.

    I try to think of searching for an agent like searching for a job. MOST BUSINESSES have a policy of only getting back to you if they're interested. Yes, teachers have to get back to parents who contact them, but it's not an equivalent relationship. EMPLOYERS do not have an obligation to get back to every JOB SEEKER. The silence sucks, but that's just the way it is.

    I guess the "creative" aspect of writing just makes people more sensitive than they would otherwise be. Because can you imagine the stereotypical "writers' lament" as applied to all other job hunts?

    I hate writing cover letters and resumes! They don't accurately represent my abilities at all! Each employer should have to interview me personally before they decide! And every employer should have to write back with a personal rejection and explain WHY s/he didn't hire me!

    Yeah, right.

  150. Adam Heine on November 30, 2009 at 8:39 AM

    >Caitie: While it's true that non-communication wouldn't fly in many jobs, it's important to remember that it wouldn't fly with the customers or clients of those jobs. A teachers primary 'customers' are the parents (yes, the children, but it's the parents who make the decisions of how to educate their child), so it makes sense that he has to respond to them.

    If Rachelle didn't return a phone call or e-mail from one of her clients, she could very well be fired as well. But those of us querying agents are not clients. We are prospective clients only, and there's thousands of us. Agents owe us nothing. It's a gift that we get as much out of them as we do.

  151. Rachelle on November 30, 2009 at 8:37 AM

    >Cam Snow: Just to clarify, I don't get 100+ queries a day, I get 100+ emails a day, not including spam or personal things from friends. These are all emails that need responses.

  152. Caitie F on November 30, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    >I think why people get so frustrated about never hearing back is because if they did that at THEIR jobs…they would be fired. My husband is very frustrated with the "if you don't hear anything it is a no" (and I have to agree with that…is it that hard to hit a button to send a form letter?). But it frustrates him even more because if he didn't respond to every phone call/email/meeting that a parent wanted to make with him (he is a teacher) he would get in HUGE trouble….and he can't send form letters out, he actually has to respond to everything (and there are some days he gets 50 emails from parents in a day).

    I see your point, but I also see his and think that agents need to remember this. It doesn't help that agents DO come off as a lot of things you mention in these blogs especially "I've read that we're high and mighty power-mongers who care nothing for the poor writers querying us, and that we laugh behind their backs."

    You do not do this, but do you know how many agents do? They are incredibly rude towards writers on their blogs…past a reasonable point,

  153. Author Sandra D. Bricker on November 30, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    >I don't know about anyone else here, but I find it hard to take seriously a set of points that someone spews from behind an anonymous badge. Come out into the light, Anonymous. I wonder if you would be so "forthright" then.

    I myself have been one of those writers in the past, lamenting the long response time, the short rejections with no explanation, etc. But then I transitioned from aspiring writer to professional. Something happens with that distinction: You begin to see the publishing industry from the inside rather than through a streaked window. These people are working their behinds off. Agents, editors, creative teams. And they're making an enormous investment in every writer with whom they team up. It's not a perfect system, but it is a highly misunderstood industry of professionals who, for the most part, are just trying to do the best job they can because they love the written word and they admire the writers who manage to string them together in an unexpected or unique way.

    Things aren't always as they appear. That's been my lesson as a professional writer, and I'm learning it more profoundly with each passing deadline, contract and marketing plan.

  154. Timothy Fish on November 30, 2009 at 8:04 AM

    >Cam Snow,
    Back in February, Jessica Faust tracked her statistics for a day. She read 62 queries, rejected 56 and requested proposals for 6. That is a rejection rate of about 90%, but keep in mind that looking at just one day is not a good sample. The rejection rate could still be as high as everyone thinks it is.

  155. Krista Phillips on November 30, 2009 at 8:02 AM

    >I think your opinion is perfectly valid, but at the same time, there are always going to be "those" people who complain about EVERYTHING and will NEVER be satisfied. Those are the people you ignore. It's like the people who go into a restaurant and nothing is ever right, coffee is too cold, service too slow, meat not cooked right. Granted, sometimes those things are true… but sometimes it's just finicky people that like to complain about everything.

    I think your guidelines and practices are fine. Do I LIKE time sometimes…when I'm waiting for a response or whatnot? Nope, but I'm not so stuck on myself that I think everyone needs to cater to my likes and dislikes. You're doing me a FAVOR by reviewing my work… the least I can do is be patient and kind.

  156. Richard Mabry on November 30, 2009 at 8:00 AM

    >Valid points, Rachelle, and understandable reactions. I recall taking my car to a garage (one I'd not used before) for a state inspection. I was next in line when a customer–apparently a long-time one–drove up. The owner took his car next. I voiced a mild complaint, to which he replied, "When you're a regular, I'll take you next." Fair? Maybe, maybe not. Within the system–his system? Yep.

    And if anonymous comments make you as angry as they do me, take six cleansing breaths and remember how much good you do for so many people.

  157. Susan at Stony River on November 30, 2009 at 7:52 AM

    >Thanks for sharing that Rachelle.

    Years ago I gave up on belonging to writers' groups because in every one, there was at least one writer who took up too much time bewailing the publishing industry from A to Z, blaming everyone but him/herself for not being published. It's a tiresome thing to listen to, and depressing. Your rant would have been a lovely thing to print and hand over at such a time!

  158. Kristi Faith on November 30, 2009 at 7:45 AM

    >Hmmm….Rachelle, I love your blog and though I've never queried you and probably wouldn't (only because me style isn't what you represent) I dare to say that you are like *most* other agents that also blog. Busy, busy, busy. Back in the day, when I was 12 and wanted to be an author, well..agents were evil and inaccesible. Or at least to my little 12 yr old mind. :0) Now with the resources we have as aspiring authors…it's incredible that anyone complains. Maybe they didn't try to send their mid grade book to thirty different publishers at the age of 12. I have a wealth of knowledge from agents that take the time out of their query reading days to give us a few hints.

    Nathan Bransford did a paragraph contest a few weeks ago…maybe even a whole month ago…at any rate, just reading the entries in the comments form was enough to make my eyes cross and my brain bleed. PROPS TO YOU AGENTS!!! You are appreciated. :0)

  159. Sharon A. Lavy on November 30, 2009 at 7:29 AM

    >I hear you Rachelle.

    But when you understand that some people — well it's like part of their personality, so you learn to tune them out.

    Since husband does not read your blog I will say I know for a fact that some personalities have to complain. About EVERYTHING on certain days.

    I worry that you will burn out. I know how helpful your blog is and how much time it takes. (Since I have a blog and do NOT blog everyday)

    I am glad you stated deleting the really bashing comments because reading them gives me a literal pain in my left chest muscle.

    Don't they know real people read their comments. Don't they know you are a real person?????

  160. The Voice on November 30, 2009 at 7:18 AM

    >When society decided to teach children we are all 'stars', the concept of failure flew out the window. We can do no wrong. Everyone is right and no one in authority can tell us what to do. You are wrong, and I'm the best and that is that. It doesn't matter if a person looks like a fool on reality tv, in their minds they can sing, dance, and write better than anyone and you had better acknowledge it, now.

    I thank you for the rant because it helps keep the business on a human level. I think we as writers tend to forget people with lives are on the other side of the send button.

  161. Cam Snow on November 30, 2009 at 6:45 AM

    >Does anyone have statistics on what percentage of queries are rejected?
    If it is as high as everyone makes it out to be then maybe agents should just make their email signature a form rejection… it saves the copy/paste time.

    Seriously though, if you get 100+ queries a day (and I've heard many agents make similar claims) how can you take them all seriously? Is there a method to filter down the number of queries you get so only more serious inquiries make it through?

  162. Timothy Fish on November 30, 2009 at 6:42 AM

    >Maybe it would have made more sense if Anonymous 1:19 had called them brown-nosing writers instead of writers' writers.

    But back to what I wanted to say: I get that agents are swamped. I get that agents are busy. I get that agents are frustrated by how authors complain. I understand that and that there may not be a quick solution, but the best solution isn't to just ignore the problem. Authors are complaining because they see a problem. Rather than responding with I wish people would stop complaining, it would be better to solve the problem. The problem itself is compounded by the fact that so many agents are small business owners and don't have the resources to go solve the problem and the organizations out there that should be solving the problem are looking the other way, but it seems to me that there ought to be a way to provide authors the feedback they need that doesn't increase the workload of agents. For that matter, a good solution would probably reduce the workload of agents. But instead of discussing the problem and finding a solution, we just sit around and complain.

  163. Katie Ganshert on November 30, 2009 at 6:03 AM

    >Rachelle's right. I'm very glad agents put clients first. It would be a very backward system if they didn't.

    Loved the rant. I think you understand writers very well.

    Didn't understand the whole writers' writer comment. Not sure if my brain just isn't processing things this early in the morning, or if my blonde hair is seeping into my brain, but all I came out with was a, "huh?"

  164. Gwen Stewart on November 30, 2009 at 5:44 AM

    >Anonymous 1:19, please come back and tell us what dealings you've had with Rachelle Gardner that allows you to ascertain whether she has the chops to sniff out the "writers' writers" from the "writers". Many of her clients, publishing friends, and industry contacts read this blog and can tell lengthy, personal stories about her uncanny ability to get inside the heart, mind and soul of really great writers, take apart their books, and put them back together again. Have you been the recipient of her prowess with literature? Yes? No? Come back and tell us the basis by which you stand in judgment of her. I think that's only fair.

    Sorry to vent, Rachelle. I know you don't want 100 comments of "great post"! But neither should you have to deal with anonymous mud-slinging. I am one long-time blog reader who would feel relieved if you'd turn off the anonymous function or even turn on comment moderation. Though you're a strong person, wise and resourceful, still these comments can worm their way into your spirit–they've sure wormed their way into mine, to the point that I cringe when I see "anonymous" here.

    My two cents. Take care of yourself today.

  165. Adam Heine on November 30, 2009 at 3:54 AM

    >A perfectly understandable rant. If angry writers don't like the rules, they don't have to play the game.

  166. Aimee LS on November 30, 2009 at 3:28 AM

    >And 'writers writers' should perhaps consider using their real names if what they have to say is so valid.


  167. Anonymous on November 30, 2009 at 3:19 AM


    Maybe you don’t understand writers’ writers.

    They’re a different breed than today’s writers.

    Writers’ writers were yesterday’s writers, before today’s writers co-opted the term.

    Writers’ writers tolerate the necessary devils known as agents. Writers pay to attend conferences for 10 minutes of face time with the necessary devils.

    Writers’ writers write. Writers post thank you notes to agents who post clichéd writing tips.

    Writers’ writers know if their work is rejected, it’s because the rejecter is a moron. Rejected writers join critique groups.

    Writers’ writers laugh at agents and their rejection letters (especially the ones to newbie writers’ writers and their eventual classics). Writers fear them both.

    Writers’ writers wouldn’t be so mean to agents if the agents didn’t start blogs to market their agencies (hey, everything we do in public is marketing, as we learned last week, right?) under the guise of helping writers who they know aren’t writers’ writers and will never be published, then grow increasingly contemptuous of writers while ignoring the work of writers’ writers because their work allegedly is not saleable. Writers stumble over each to thank the agent for blog posts.

    Writers’ writers write agent-inspired haikus like this one found at Literary Rejections on Display:

    no thanks, thanks but no.
    thankety thanks thanks thanks, but
    no no no no no

    Writers don’t get the funny there.

    Sort out the writers’ writers from the writers and you’ll gain a healthier insanity.

  168. writer jim on November 30, 2009 at 2:56 AM

    >I feel out of control: I may comment too often on this blog.

    My opinion is that in this business both writers and agents NEED to vent occassionally. RACHELLE just did.

    I actually agree with most all that Rachelle said: If myself or any of you writers think we are so GREAT a writer…then MAKE THINGS HAPPEN YOURSELF. If you acknowledge you may not be so great … then be patient with agents…or query all 1000 of them.

    This all goes to prove how peaceful and wonderful it can be when you are writing FOR God, and trusting Him to use your work as He pleases. Of course, people like that are seeking Honor for God, rather than fame for self. I mention this so often because I assume many readers have such motives.

    If you are writing FOR God, see my comment on NOV 24. It is just one example of MANY I've experienced where GOD PROVES He is fully aware of us and our endeavors.

    Finally, probably everyone that reads this blog is living in luxury far beyond the vast majority of people that have ever lived on earth. I hope we are as fervently thankful to God for our free nation, and fancy way of life we enjoy…as we are fervently yapping all the time because some agent doesn't have the aptitude to understand that we are SO FANTASTIC.

    I know; I need to ask for everyone's forgiveness for acting so all-knowing. Actually, I really do care about all of you. THANKS.

  169. Flowing Faith on November 30, 2009 at 2:49 AM


  170. Lynz Pickles on November 30, 2009 at 2:47 AM