When No Response Means “No”
Agent Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency wrote a terrific post on her blog on August 30th: Why I Don’t Send Rejection Letters. With a few minor tweaks (i.e. I have 2 kids and she has 3), I totally could have written that post! Please go read it.
Our agency has a policy that if you send a query and you don’t hear back from us in 30 days, you can consider it a “pass” and move on. I’m well aware that writers don’t like this and honestly I don’t like it either, but I’ve had to make choices about how to spend my time. Sending rejection letters had to go to the bottom of the priority list.
Sometimes when I’m reading queries and I’m actually sitting at my computer, I do send pass letters. But often (like Jill says in her post), I’m reading queries on my phone and it’s not easy to send pass letters that way. Other times I’m reading queries and I’m trying to give each one my full attention, while also trying to get through as many as possible in a short amount of time. Cutting out the step of responding means I can read and consider twice as many in a given hour.
If I’m interested in a query, I do respond right away. Sometimes, like right now when my client list is pretty full, I’ll respond saying, I really like this query but I need a little more time. That way, at least the writer knows I’m spending more time with it and giving it serious consideration.
Anyway, I hate that I have a policy that frustrates writers, but I’ve found it’s a necessity for me.
Go read Jill’s post for a fuller explanation from the agent side of the desk.
What are some difficult or unpopular boundaries YOU have had to set in your life?
[…] here are some older blog posts from literary agents on the pro and con side of a no-response policy. Makes for interesting […]
As an author, I can certainly understand and appreciate your desire to spend your time in more productive ways than writing rejection letters for piles of manuscripts. But today’s technology does provide ways to correspond en masse that won’t eat up your time. Even a generic rejection letter is highly appreciated; it allows an author some sense of finality. And when you’re pitching something you’ve spent months – or even years – laboring on, finality goes a long way. I appreciate rejection letters because they’re a courteous gesture, and not sending anything at all just comes off as unprofessional.
I totally agree with you Miles.
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60 days? That seems like a long time to wait to know if a response is coming in the mail. It might be better to nix the date and just say, “If I don’t get in contact with you, assume I’m not interested” like most employers do. You might miss out on someone you are interested in, but I’m sure other submissions can fill the gap.
Thank you so much for this informative post. As a first-time writer, who is fairly-new to the submissions process, I initially found this policy very discouraging. To quote a blog post of mine, from earlier this year: “since when is no response the new rejection?”
I understand that agents are busy people- you guys receive thousands of queries a day, negotiate deals for existing clients, etc.. ad nauseum, and I know that trying to balance work and play can be difficult. Therefore, I appreciate when the agent I’m submitting to is upfront about his/her policies; a no-response from someone who isn’t can be devastating, for a new author looking to break into the business… Most of us wonder whether or not our email or letter was ever opened, and agonizing over the unknown can be even worse. In my humble opinion, even a rejection-letter does wonders for my self-esteem.
A quick question for you: At what point is it okay to follow up with an agent you’ve queried? There are a lot of agencies whose websites indicate that this practice is frowned-upon. What is your policy on this?
Unpopular boundaries in my own life: disabling Facebook chat, and an extreme dislike of text-messaging. My friends don’t seem to get that I’m all about efficiency, and that the time it takes to scroll through 30 texts (when a 2-second phone-call could have solved the problem) is time that I could have spent doing more-important things.
Thanks again for the info, and have a great weekend!
Thank you, thank you for explaining. That helps a lot. I do understand about being swamped, whether its writing related, or in my case I also have honor quilts to make and now have to make room to setup the extra (Inkjet)printer so that I can print out the photos that go in the quilt. http://lion_sheart.tripod.com is where the honor quilt phot gets posted.
As for hard decisions, I’ve been homeless twice since 2005. Its scary, stressful not to have a safe place to rest, to eat to just be. therefore, I am thankful for having HUD to help me as I deal with fibromyalgia, and depression-anxiety attacks.
So for me, its ‘i have to go outside. I have things to do, grocery store, etc.” Yet again I get anxious about quickly returning home.
Now I’m up for recertification for HUD assistance, and I’m stressing that thanks to the ‘gov’t’ I may lose that help and then back on the streets. So I try to write, edit as best as I can and submit one ms while working on another, and when hands start to hurt, go do something else.
So thanks for this. Now I have a couple of questions for you.
So my question is:
What would you suggest that an unpublished writer do if after the required 2-4 months and no response?
How long should a writer wait after submitting before moving onto someone else?
Thanks again for this and I follow you on twiter and facebook.
I don’t really see what the big deal is. As long as it’s clearly stated that no response in x amount of time means a ‘no’, then that’s fine by me.
Fellow writers, she receives 100 emails a day! That’s crazy and has to be a huge time suck. I’d way rather an agent continue to accept unsolicited queries and have a ‘no response means no’ policy than have to quit accepting queries at all. (In fact, Jill Corcoran just changed her submission guidelines!)
Also, if/when you actually sign with an agent, wouldn’t you rather her have the time to devote to you instead of spend so much time sending responses to the slush pile?
Just my two cents. As for me…I’ve quit going to birthday parties of people my young daughter isn’t actually friends with (and in some cases barely knows). I felt bad at first, but you know what? That’s life! I’d rather spend time with my family and the people we care about rather than trying to fulfill the social obligations of a 4-year-old!
I just don’t get how agents ask people to send them queries, then feel justified in ignoring those people, as if agents are the only ones who are crazy busy.
But I want to know something else. What happens when you send a no reply?
I’ve never queried, but if I did, and that agent had a no response unless interested policy, I would see a response and think that agent was interested. It’s mean to get an author’s hopes up by replying (which, according to you, you only do if you’re interested), thus making an author think you really want to see more, only to have them see your response and realize you’re just trying to be nice or assuage your guilt or something. It’s just mean.
Well, I’m a little late for the discussion… but I’d like to say that I think there’s no clear answer here. This really is a difficult question. I can understand the need to set boundaries and follow your gut as far as what fits for an agent’s professional life. Maybe there is something to the whole negativity vibe thing- who knows!
As much as I would really like to say “hey! doesn’t bother me one bit”, I must admit that the no response policy feels disappointing and, well, rude. Writers spend hours on end working incredibly hard to make their manuscripts the best they can be–and to perfect their queries. We second guess every line- every word. It just seems fair to at least acknowledge the effort, to assign some closure and move on.
At the risk of sounding a bit rude myself, I really don’t like the idea of ‘no response means no, but I try to respond and I may respond.’ To me that’s way worse that a clear ‘yes, I respond, or no, I don’t.’ It just makes the no-response receivers feel way worse! …and it seems to me a bit wishy-washy.
That being said, I adore your blog and truly appreciate all of the wisdom you share~
Maybe a universal one-click response is impractical, but I’m surprised that no one has developed apps specific for Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, MS Outloook and so on that would give agents the ability to respond with one click.
This weekend my husband and our son Andrew, a programmer, were talking about relationship management apps and kicking around ideas for email triage and organization. Speaking as an eavesdropping non-programmer, it doesn’t sound as if it would be that difficult. Maybe not one-click, but a pull-down response menu to allow agents to send acknowledgments (perfect for those who have a no-further-response policy), a request for sample chapters, request for full ms, and rejection. I suppose the rejection could have a secondary menu for common issues: not right for us, we don’t represent this genre, we don’t open attachments–here’s a LINK to our submission guidelines should you choose to resubmit. Ideally, such an app could also data-mine emails for author’s name and book title to generate “personalized” responses.
Maybe this isn’t one-click, but at most it’d be two or three. I’m going to toss this one to Andrew to see what he thinks.
I think the other issue is that if an agent can’t even come up with the ten seconds needed for a “no thank you”… did they even LOOK at your query? How long does it take to look through a query and give it fair attention? 2 minutes? 3 minutes? It just seems like if the 10 seconds can’t be spared… maybe the thing never even got a look to begin with… that’s what the “no response” thing tells me.
I can live with rejection and I know that no response says it all…. but not only does it say “pass”… it also seems like it says “didn’t even bother to look or open your stuff for a 2 minute consideration, don’t care, you’re nobody, not even worth the ten seconds it will take me to say “no thanks”
I can live with the no response policy, as I appreciate the demands and time constraints… but if I were to submit a query, I’d love to at least KNOW that 60 days with no reply means “pass” so that I am not left wondering whether the email was received or reviewed at all, or if there is discourtesy afoot.
I think it’s a simple courtesy to at least respond! I’d much rather have an automated form rejection than nothing at all. And I don’t buy it that it takes too much time to reply. It’s an easy way out, and it makes writers feel they don’t matter much. I really don’t like that. I think writers deserve more respect.
It does take a lot of time. The slush pile really is a pile. How would you like to have to respond to every piece of junk mail that arrived in your mailbox? We only get a few pieces a day, and it still takes several minutes to go through them and throw them out. If you had to open, read, and then respond to each one, the cost in time and postage would be a lot higher.
If an agent only gets one hundred queries a day and it takes two minutes to read and send a form letter to each one, that’s over three hours of time she works and doesn’t get paid for. In only five days, that translates into almost two standard work days. That leaves her three days to take care of her paying clients.
In one year’s time, that becomes almost 100 days (three months) of work with no pay.
If you are a professional writer, get used to the fact that unless you make the cut in a literary manner, you don’t matter much to anyone but yourself, and no one owes you anything. This is a business. If you need someone to sooth your feelings and bring closure to your queries, you are in the wrong line of work.
Desiring a response to every query is a sure way to insure that no one can afford to publish anyone’s books.
“Desiring a response to every query is a sure way to insure that no one can afford to publish anyone’s books”
That’s extreme to the ridiculous. Plenty of agents have/make the time to reply. To say replying to queries is going to grind the publishing world to a halt is a gross exaggeration.
Personally, I don’t like this policy, but it wouldn’t stop me from querying that agent as long as I know up front it’s their policy. Beyond the hours/months/years a writer spends on her actual manuscript, sending queries is an incredibly time consuming process. Every agent has different requirements, different formats, different demands. Seeking those out and submitting according to posted guidelines takes time away from my family AND my writing. Yes, it’s the price I pay if I want to get published. Just like responding to queries is the price agents pay for being open for submissions. It’s all a part of the process.
To me, an empty inbox is much more heartbreaking than a rejection. Actually, I love rejections almost as much as request. Almost.
It means someone who I think really matters read it, and I know they care enough to let me know they read it even if they didn’t feel inclined to request pages.
Novels take hundreds of hours to complete, and sending each query takes longer than you might think since agents like us to do our research and so on. Our time is precious too and I think it’s necessary out of respect for the writers who think you’re awesome enough to query to respond. Form rejections rock! I don’t mind them at all.
Loved Janet Reid’s post on this and agree with all she said: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2011/09/no-youre-wrong-and-heres-why.html
But I do, and always will, have the utmost respect for literary agents no matter what position they take on this. And I love this blog too! 🙂
I don’t mind not getting a form rejection. In fact, I’d rather just get no response at all so I can mark it off my list and move on. Also, it’s a massive time/paper/postage waste for agents and editors. Practicality calls for no response to mean no thank you.
I completely understand why agents do this nowadays.
However, after nine years of submitting, contests won and almost won, and numerous requests for full manuscripts, I got to the point where I could accept rejection letters. At least they’re final. At least with a rejection letter, I know where I stand. The problem with no response–from an author’s point of view–is that you never really know. Was it really a rejection, or did a spam filter swallow that query letter? Or did I perhaps send it to the wrong address? Or is the timing wrong, and maybe she’s on vacation, and if I had waited a month she would have read it? No response means a writer never really knows.
It got to the point that the uncertainty–not the rejections–gave me palpitations every time I hit send on a query letter. Every time. I needed my friends to encourage and support me, and even then I experienced palpitations and the feeling that what I was doing was insane to the point that it was killing me.
I don’t blame agents, of course. I’m responsible for my own reactions to the world. Eventually, though, I decided that I just can’t do this anymore.
Which is when I discovered eBook publishing, and found out I didn’t have to do this anymore. I didn’t have to live in a constant state of uncertainty, my entire writing career depending on the approval of this agent or that editor. It was liberating.
So now I’m in the process of e-publishing the seven books I’ve written in the last nine years, and I’m a lot happier.
Writers have other options. If they find the submission process too frustrating, they don’t have to submit. They can e-publish. For those who would like to know the pros and cons of each choice, I’ve created a side-by-side comparison: http://shevi.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-know-my-friends-mean-well-when-they.html
At any rate, agents aren’t at fault, and neither is the publishing industry. That’s like blaming the casino if you lose all your money at the craps table. The casino is just doing what a casino is supposed to do. It’s up to you whether you choose to play or not, and you shouldn’t bet what you can’t afford to lose. If you can’t handle no response, don’t submit to agents who don’t respond. It’s as simple as that.
I think it’s wise to set up this kind of boundary for yourself (and it seems other agents do, too). You have to. You have to do what makes sense for you, for your family, for your work.
And while I understand the writer’s desire to know that their e-mail arrived, there isn’t any good way to do a SASE via e-mail. Maybe they’ll come up with such a thing and put the onus back on the sender.
I said this on Jill’s site but I wanna say it again here! I’m personally 100% okay with this. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but form letters? They’re kind of all the same. Don’t need ’em, unless they have specific feedback, and in that case they’re not a form letter really.
However, the person up thread who mentioned no response about requested work? THAT’S horrifying!
I had an agent request my manuscript and then never heard back from her. Rachelle advised me to accept that as a pass. I’m sorry, I just think it is common courtesy to say one way or another. That’s why agents have a standard form they send out. It sounds like wining to me to say you are too busy. We are all busy. That is the nature of the beast. Reject me okay. Just tell me thank you!
Seriously? How hard is it to set up a reply signature line that says ” Thank you for your submission, but I’m sorry we are not interested. Sincerely (your name)”?
The point is that she really shouldn’t have to. In a sense a query letter is like a job application. Most of the time if a potential employer isn’t going to hire you they just don’t respond. I imagine that answering everyone would get pretty monotonous after a while.
I have to respectfully disagree with you, otin. How would you feel if your doctor said, “There’s probably nothing wrong. If you don’t hear back from me in 60 days, assume your tests were negative.” Or if you sent an email to your child’s teacher expressing concern over his or her math skills, and you got an automated email which said, “We’re really busy. If you don’t get a reply in 60 days, assume your child is fine.”
Would you accept either of those?
The difference is that doctors get paid to tell you how you’re doing. Agents receive no compensation for rejecting potential clients.
Otin’s right. Querying is more like a job application than anything else. So long as I know the internet didn’t eat my query, I’m happy to receive no further response instead of a rejection. They’re the same thing.
I agree with Adam and otin, and the analogy of a resume is a good one. Winning a contest might be another way of looking at it. No one contacts all the contestants, but they do post the winners, which in this case would be akin to publication.
If you had an agent, how would you feel if he used many hours of his time each day to give negative responses to every writer who sent queries? I realize some do, but the idea is absolutely ridiculous when you look at it from the point of view of the writers represented by the agent. It would take away valuable time that the agent is supposed to be representing chosen clients. The clients are paying for an agent’s services, and all those other people are not. Really, would you work for four or five hours every day for someone who didn’t pay you for those hours? No.
Besides this, about 80 percent of the slush pile (or much more) is entirely unusable for one reason or another. Why send a form letter to every writer just so they can “feel” a sense of closure? This is a business. No one is going to pat your hand when he declines your manuscript.
I’m a college counselor, and one thing I learned early on is that I have to say no to students who don’t think they need to wait in line or make an appointment (depending on the setting) because they “just have a quick question.” Those quick questions often turn into hour long conversations that leave everyone involved feeling frustrated. Still, I know parents don’t like it and students don’t like it when they’re the ones with the “quick questions.” Naturally, when others have quick questions, those same people are the first to groan, “It’s not fair!”
While I understand that saying no is hard and seems superfluous and time-consuming, there’s a lot to be said for at least sending an autoreply confirming receipt with the no-response=no policy.
I think the key is that the expectation is established. For an agent, if no response means no, this should be explicit on a contact page or through an automated response. The same applies for people applying for jobs or submitting stories directly to a publisher. Unless there is an “industry standard” (which I can not speak of from experience), it seems irresponsible to simply ignore the writer. Forget that snail mail had a different expectation — that is an argument for an older generation, which is now obsolete.
I think how someone handles a no or a lack of response has the potential to say a great deal about their character.
Cloud & Townsend’s book Boundaries revolutionized some of my previous thoughts on this topic, primarily rooted in how I was raised.
I did send a query to an agent down in New Orleans, who sent back a very nice rejection letter w/in two weeks. It motivated me rather than discouraged me and was great. Looking back on it, I did commit one of the worst amateur mistakes; I sent it in prematurely. Now I know better! BTW, my limits are to protest against anyone defaming our country or bullies!
I can understand your “no response means no” policy that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the industry. In the future, writers will have to assume that if they don’t hear anything after a month or two, the answer is no. However, I suspect this will have repercussions in the long term in that writers will feel less connection to publishing professionals and, as a result, will choose the self-publishing route as a first option rather than as a last resort.
The social scientist in me suggests that you may not see an effect right away, but if your query volume drops off in two to three years, this may be a contributing cause if not a principal cause.
I’m very protective of my schedule and, unlike the Jill above, I don’t feel bad that my two priorities are family and writing (and she shouldn’t feel bad either, IMO :)). I don’t want to do everything else because it would wear it out. So I’m in agreement that agents should and must protect their schedules as long as they are still willing to give new writers a chance. But the deluge of writers that creates this kind of argument makes me think twice of adding to the piles. The other alternatives aren’t so easy, though: Do I self-publish and add to that pile, or do I quit writing?
I get it. As was mentioned earlier, as long as there’s verification the query was received, I’m okay with it.
I continuously deal with time issues. Sometimes it feels like a never-ending game of tug-of-war. “Soccer tonight, so no time to read blogs today.” “Haven’t talked to her in a week, so I’ll have to put extra time in on Friday.”
I have two priorities: my family and my writing. Everything else gets prioritized or deleted, and it makes me feel bad! I want to do it all!
I don’t mind the no response means no, but I would like an automatic we received your query that way I’m not left wondering if the agent received it or not.
Rachelle, I can understand your policy, and the reasons behind it. But for me, if I’ve sent you a query and you’ve decided it’s a pass a week later, that means that for the next 7 weeks I’ll still be waiting to hear from you, and won’t have sent it to the next person on my list. (I batch query 5 people initially, then send out new queries as I get rejections.) So, that’s my side of it. I’m not asking you to change your policy, but I DO hope that creating a simple, one-click rejection letter becomes something that is easier for you to do.
As for my own boundaries, I’ve had to eliminate evening tweeting and blogging to accommodate more writing time. It means I get around to everyone’s blog less often, but it’s what I had to do. Otherwise, I’d never get enough writing done.
If an agent states clearly that, “no response within 60 days [or whatever]means we’re not interested,” then I have no problem with a no-response policy, because at the end of the designated period, no response IS, in fact, a response. Otherwise, failing to answer an author’s query in this digital age is, to me, inexcusable. It takes only a few seconds to paste in a pre-worded response and hit “send.” Surely writers deserve that much courtesy.
Something I figured long ago: if an agent doesn’t respond in a few days to your query, then the premise is just not good enough. I guess that you know after the first paragraph if you want to read a sample or not. Agents want to fall in love with the writing, but also have a business to run, so they will quickly contact the good and dismiss the ‘unsuitable’.
Ohhhh. Boundaries. I don’t like them, but they’re necessary. I try to be Christ-like in all things, but it does stretch my patience a bit when some people feel that boundaries/limits/rules don’t apply to them.
Many years ago, I became acquainted with another school mom. She didn’t have many friends, and clearly, she needed one. From our first coffee date, she began phoning me–sometimes a dozen times a day–just to “chat” about the weather, what stores had the best sales, how she cooked her rump roast, etc. When I would tell her “I’m writing, I won’t be answering my phone the rest of the day” her response… “Oh, I just need to tell you one more thing. Besides you can write anytime.”
This was an extreme case of boundary barging, but one that I learned from.
I disengaged myself from this situation and moved on, realizing this young woman had bigger issues than just needing a friend.
Love this post, Rachelle. And Jill’s. Why? Not even Jesus answered to everybody and everything. Setting boundaries defines what matters most. Our priorities become clear–to ourselves and others. What a great reminder for aspiring and published authors alike. Thanks–as I get back to work!
Here’s an etiquette question. I’m fine with the no response means no tactic. But what to do if there is an offer? I know to inform all other agents reading. I would also extend that courtesy or withdraw my submission from agents who say they will respond. But what about those non-responders?
This can be related to people in the dating world.
If you e-mail, text or call someone and they don’t respond, they’re simply not interested.
Sometimes, no response says it all.
As long as the agent has her/his policy posted (ie “if you don’t hear back in three weeks, your manuscript has been rejected), I think that’s fine. As for auto-responders, the difficulty of setting up an auto-responder varies greatly depending on the system used.
I do understand why agents might want to respond only to queries they’re interested in. But I still prefer the old system of receiving a rejection letter or email. Otherwise, the interaction is still open… When I receive a rejection letter, I can cross that agent off my list. Otherwise, I’m left wondering.
Auto responders are not difficult or time consuming to set up.
Most decent hosting services offer this as a one or 2-click function through your control panel. Adding the additional email address to specifically handle queries would take about 5 minutes. A minute or 2 to set it up in the backend, a few more to edit the hyperlink(s) on the website and another to add the additional email grabber to your smart phone. If we lived in a snail mail culture, this would not be the expectation. But we don’t. And it is. 5 minutes of your time would translate into immeasurable peace of mind for countless writers.
All of this, of course, applies to computer or tablet driven communication. Phones are a totally different animal. Of course, I’m one of those writers who would like to pretend that no one is determining the future of my work while waiting on the dry cleaning.
Maybe, in this “stuff as much as we can into a minute” culture, that type of thinking is delusional, but it helps me maintain faith in the current system. If I allow myself to wrap my brain around the implication of a year’s work being adjudicated on a phone while standing in line at the deli counter, I would probably end up cynical…;-)
At first I couldn’t think of an example of boundaries I’ve had to set up in life.
That’s because I’m not good at setting up boundaries.
Then it came to me, I don’t allow my adult children to vent my way all at the same time. If I did they would crush me like grapes.
It’s too much. I love them all but really, I’m only human.
It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I’ll get back to back venting episodes. It’s a downer.
That’s when I set up boundaries. I have to protect my own positive energy.
I’ve figured out that I am going to be a giver to these children until the day I’m no longer on this Earth.
Maybe it’s because my brother-in-law is having open heart surgery in an hour from now, while he’s battling cancer.
Now I sound like a downer.
Still, I don’t intend to be a pin cushion and I let them know it.
Sometimes I’ll remind them that they sound like a Debbie Downer or a Sad Sack. They hate when I do that and stop shortly after I make the comment.
It’s for their own benefit and of course, mine as well.
That’s where I set up boundaries but it took me over three decades to get to that point.
I think it all started when they entered Kindergarten. I could write a book about this one subject and I have no doubt, all mothers could relate.
Now, I cringe at the times (hundreds), I called my own precious mother, simply to vent over the most ridiculous, trivial matters.
She had four children and by the time she hit her 70’s, she was like Teflon when it came to venting. She wouldn’t let it stick; she would bounce it right back at you.
I can still hear her precious words of advice: “Susan, are you serious? You need to get a life.”
I miss her words of encouragement…
I like getting the auto-response message that my query was received. I keep an Excel spreadsheet with the agents I’ve queried and the timeframe they give on their website or through the message. Some have NO timeframe, but I guess I’ll go with the 60 days from now on. That makes sense.
Limits for me? I work from home and I don’t forward my office phone to my home phone. I just pick up messages. Otherwise I’d be getting calls from clients across the world at unGodly hours. And I especially don’t want vendor solicitation calls to come to my home.
I’ve come to understand and accept why agents and editors generally go with “no response is a no” for unsolicited queries. What I don’t understand is why this also applies to requested material. So far 0% of the agents and editors who have requested material from me have responded. When I e-mailed nicely after four or more months, 100% of the agents and editors asked me to send it again. Then the rejections came within a week. That’s not time management: that’s lack of professionalism.
“What are some difficult or unpopular boundaries YOU have had to set in your life?”
Due to a stressful job, a failing home business I’m trying to rescue, and a wife who decided she will no longer cook, I had to give up researching and querying agents. I don’t like it either, but I’ve had to make choices about how to spend my time. Sending query letters had to go to the bottom of the priority list. Actually, the lack of rejections has been incredibly freeing and uplifting to my spirit. I know that the success of my books depends only on me through my self-publishing efforts, not on a series of sequential gatekeepers. Perhaps this will change with changing life circumstances.
Rachelle, you just ruined my day with your post!
You or other agents, for that matter, are not the only working mothers. We, as unpublished writers, too have kids and full time job or jobs to pay the bills and feed our families. And then spend hours at night for months with no end, writing our stories and thinking we can help make the world a better place for all.
It is really disheartening to hear that after months of hard work, agents won’t give us their full attention to treat our query letters in proper business matter as they should, being representatives of the publishing industry.
I hope you will read my query letter at your desk having three or so minutes of free time and not on your cell phone while driving or waiting to be seated at a restaurant.
I’m really perplexed by your post…and I probably should go merrily on my way, but I’m not. I’m not sure why you think that if you send a query to Rachelle and she reads it on her phone, somehow that is not giving your work the full attention and respect it deserves. I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but your comment is insulting.
Rachelle’s job is to represent her clients and, when there’s time “left over,” to find new ones who are a good fit and whose work she loves and can sell.
We ALL work hard. We ALL juggle. Rachelle, Jill and other agents who don’t send form rejections aren’t saying they work harder than YOU…there’s no contest here. Everyone is trying to balance their work and family lives as best they can.
As a writer, your job is to write the best stories you can, and then constantly strive to get better. This is what amazing, award-winning authors do. If you send out a a query and agents don’t want to see more pages, that can mean a number of different things: Maybe your query isn’t doing what it needs to do to hook the agents, maybe your concept is off, maybe you targeted the wrong agents, or maybe you just haven’t sent out enough (perseverance!). If you’re getting requests for full manuscripts and then being turned down, your manuscript may need major or minor revisions or, as with querying, you just haven’t hit the right agent yet. As you probably know, there is a ton of information on the internet about agents and why they pass…and it’s not personal. It’s a business decision.
Some people who are posting here act as if the agents who don’t send form rejections are the only thing standing between them and a NYT bestseller. Rachelle, Jill and other agents WILL respond to you if they want to read more. It’s about the work.
Yes, it’s hard.
Yes, it takes time. (LOTS of time.)
But receiving a form rejection isn’t the big issue.
Finally, if you don’t like these policies, obviously, don’t submit to these agents. Also, re-read your post here and ask yourself if you were an agent, would you want to work with you?
I’m not trying to sound mean, unkind or snarky. I’m encouraging you to focus on what’s positive and to work to make your writing and querying the best it can be.
Good luck to you!
Why should you be perplexed about my post when it wasn’t addressed to you? I meant what I said – only addressing the points that Rachelle brought to our attention.
If we put our sincere efforts into our writing, then it would be good to know that the agent reading the query letter is doing the same and not multitasking their time on the cell phone. Why would anyone bother with an agent who doesn’t have the time to really consider the query letter?
What is really insulting, is that unpublished writers are being treated like sheep. You apparently have forgotten that even the most successful writers have started out being unknown. So please don’t tell me what my job is as a writer or otherwise.
My point was related to what you write here:
>> If we put our sincere efforts into our writing, then it would be good to know that the agent reading the query letter is doing the same and not multitasking their time on the cell phone.<<
You seem to be making the assumption that just because an agent reads a query on a cell phone, they are not giving it their full attention and that, by association, Rachelle is not doing her job. In fact, as a working mom, too, I'm sure you know how much pressure there is to multitask everywhere–not just with a phone.
You are wrong when you say that I have forgotten that successful writers started out as unknowns. Like Jill writing about karma in her original post, I believe that, in general, we reap what we sow.
I try to reach out and help other writers when I can–and I'm grateful to all of the people in our community, including Rachelle and Jill–who do the same, when they could be spending their time any other number of ways.
I think the problem is that agents don’t take three minutes to read a query. I was part of a query writing class and the first thing the teacher had us do was send her our current query letter. She then batched these into one email sent to everyone in the group and told us to read through them. The point? To get an idea of what an agent’s day was like. When you have 50 or more queries to read, you quickly resort to skimming them and only a very few have something so unique about them that they make you stop and want to read more. It was an eye-opening experience.
That said, I tend to agree with Sarah. It seems like the humanity has been taken out of the publishing industry. As she says, we all have multiple jobs in our lives. Our time is just as valuable as an agent’s. I don’t think she sounded difficult to work with. She’s just asking for the common courtesy of a response.
Which brings us to Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s point. If the only response a new writer gets from dozens of agents is no response, why wouldn’t she choose to self-publish instead? And I don’t think this change is going to take as long as 2-3 years. There are lots of options now and we each have to choose the one that suits us best.
Sarah, here’s another way to look at the situation: Writer as job applicant.
Thanks to job search sites such as Monster.com, job postings are viewed by a huge pool of potential applicants. Thanks to online applications and email, it’s easier than ever to submit job applications. At the same time, many companies are trying to do the same job with fewer people, which means less time to spend on the hiring process. Few companies have the resources to send a personal response to every application. Most of the time, you’ll hear back only if the company wants to set up an interview. That’s the reality. When I asked my husband, the CFO of an advertising company, if they respond to every job application they receive, he looked at me as if I’d just grown a third eye.
Few job seekers expect detailed personal feedback on their resumes, suggestions for improvement, a list of reasons why the company declined to hire them, or free career counseling and education. Yet aspiring writers often expect agents to supply some or all of these things.
Publishing is a business. It’s a good idea to transpose your expectations into a general business setting to see 1) if they’re realistic and 2) how they are likely to be perceived.
Using smartphones to answer emails is a widespread business practice and does not indicate a lack of respect to the recipient. A lot of work can be done in small increments of time. For people who take trains to and from work, a smartphone is a efficient way to chip away at the inbox.
As a preacher’s wife, I could write about boundaries ALL DAY LONG! But really, who’s listening?
After years of parsonage living and at least six congregations under my belt, I simply let my “no” be “no” with few explanations attached.
And I’m at peace.
If your computer has an auto-reply that states you have rec’d the query, and if the querier hasn’t heard back in 60 days then they should consider it a pass, then that should be good enough for both sides. If you don’t have an auto-reply, you need to set one up.
As long as the submitting author is informed that this is your policy, then that’s your right (your submission guidelines are clear, so there should be no ambiguity). But I think there’s a better way, especially given that these are brothers and sisters in Christ. Authors lead busy lives too and sometimes work full-time jobs before working on the next novel (a process that can take up to a year or two). Even with the policy, a no-response can engender a cold sense of forsaken limbo. Some type of automated rejection e-mail would certainly be a better way to go (and seriously, sending off such an e-mail manually would take only a minute or two, if even that). Though a rejection letter is no fun to read, it gives closure so the poor author can move on. I’d rather get polite boilerplate rejection than a no-response any day.
Setting aside the hugely important fact that Rachelle often reads queries on her phone, which makes most of this conversation moot, even if it took her one minute to respond to 100 queries a day, that would take 700 minutes a week, or 11 hours and 40 minutes A WEEK just to send a form letter that says “no, thanks.” If it took 2 minutes per response and she got 200 queries that day? That’s six hours and 40 minutes PER DAY, or 46 hours and 40 minutes PER WEEK. For projects she’s not interested in.
Some agents have gone to policies of not accepting queries at all unless they know the writer or the writer has a direct referral.
To everyone who just assumes “it’s easy to set up an automated response,” see my answer to Sherri, above. You may not realize that I receive 100-200 emails a day, and not every email system lets you seamlessly separate out only a fraction of those for an auto response.
Yes, I’m working on it. But I also think it’s another one of those expectations that the tech age has led to. Nobody ever got an auto response from the US postal service.
No response means no doesn’t bother me. All I really need is an auto response saying they actually got it and possibly a time frame. Like if you haven’t heard in 6 weeks it’s a no.
The problem is when agents say that and then send a pass letter anyway b/c you think it must be a request and that leads to even greater disappointment. Unless the letter gives terrific editorial feedback or compliments, I’d rather not get a pass letter when the policy has been set differently.
I work out of my home and when our kids where younger, the rule was “Don’t go into Daddy’s office between 8 and 5.” They tried various creative ways of circumventing the intent of this rule, while complying with it literally.
To minimize the impact of this on them, I would race to the door when they got home from school and we would talk about their day; then I could return to work without further interruption.
Now they have moved on and an empty bedroom has become my writing room. No one is to interrupt me when I am in there. My bride thinks she is the exception; actually, she is the reason.
Here is why no response is a problem for writers.
In order to deduct our expenses for IRS we have to prove we are trying to make a living. Otherwise they say it is just a hobby.
And the proof is to keep track of our submissions and our rejection letters. I have a file I keep just in case we are ever audited.
But this year our accountant refuses to let me count my expenses. ACK!!!!
This year I need that proof more than ever.
Don’t you pay your accountant? As long as you’re prepared to stand up to the IRS if you’re audited (and with your files, you should be), your accountant should file schedule C and deduct what you tell them to. Unless what you’re struggling with is losing money three years in a row – in which case, yeah, don’t, because then it’s a hobby 🙂 It can be worth taking a year where you report writing income and pay taxes on it, without deducting your legit expenses, just to establish it as a business. It only takes a dollar to show profit 🙂
With all our technology, there should be a “one stroke rejection key” that an agent can hit that would send a rejection email to the waiting, holding their breath authors. I understand that snail mail rejections are a different time factor.
When you’ve invented the “one stroke rejection key” and made it applicable to every single email system out there, please let me know.
There are, as far as I know, no one-stroke rejection keys yet. But there are 3-click ARs. Open. Populate. Send. Done.
This would, of course, be difficult on a smart phone…can’t help you there.
My sister started night school 4 nights a week and I only offered to watch her kids 1 night a week. I love them and they’re good, so I feel guilty, but I’m afraid any more nights than that might make me crazy.
I don’t mind no rejection as long as I get that initial confirmation that you received the query. I think what we writers hate the most is not knowing.
I think that for the author there is always the question of: did the agent receive my query? Sometimes if you get no response you’re left to wonder.
I’m not technologically savy. I just don’t know why all the cutting and pasting. Just hit reply, type two letters, NO, and hit send. I really don’t see why that takes very long at all. Perhaps “NO” sounds rude, but I would rather someone be rude to me instead of ignore me.
I had a situation in which the person quit right after I sent my full ms. I waited six months and then sent a follow-up email. My ms had been lost and they requested it again.
Hit reply, type “NO,” hit send. 10 seconds. I just timed it.
This made me laugh… Shelia. Thanks!
Still laughing… how did I need this today?!
I don’t answer the phone unless I know who you are and it’s not disturbing what I’m doing.
And though I carry a cell phone, I absolutely refuse to let it become a part of me.
I like this.
I’m with kbr. It’s fairly easy to set up an automated system, or have one set up for you. So, as long as I know you got my letter in the first place, I’m totally OK with not getting anything back.
But no automated response system would always make me wonder if my query ended up in the backwash of cyberspace, drifting on distance shores being read by aliens. I’m just a touch paranoid.
I read Jill’s blog post with interest. Her point about ‘time spent in a negative vibe’ really chimed with me. If standard rejection letters create a negative vibe for agents, think what they do for writers. I delete the standard rejections as quickly as possible, from my laptop and my mind. I’d rather not receive them. By the same token, I keep all the positive feedback and re-visit it occasionally. Living in a negative vibe saps your creative energy and robs you of confidence. Writers need plenty of both.
After over 100 rejections on three different novels, I actually prefer “No Response Means No.” As long as there is (A) an automated response so I know the query was received and (B) a stated time past which I can assume it is a rejection, I can fire the query off and forget about it.
Honestly, form rejections (what with their lack of useful feedback) are just another form of “no response,” except they hurt a little more and I keep trying to read into them.
I can easily understand and go with the boundary of “If you don’t hear back in 60…” but it is pretty easy to set up a system whereby when a writer sends in a query there is an automated response: “We have received your query. If you don’t hear back in 60…” This at least lets the writer know the agency received the query in the first place and it didn’t end up in cyberspace. Please, dear agent, it is sooooooooo frustrating to hear nothing…nothing at all and we are left wondering if you even received our hard work in the first place. Thank you.
I agree with this. I have been left wondering if I should email again just to say “did you get my stuff” – which I’m sure would just be annoying – or to just let it go and assume that no response means a pass. You know what they say about assuming! 🙂
This whole experience of not hearing anything at all has made me very aware of the importance of responding as promptly as possible to emails, phone calls, etc. I try to do that anyway, but I’m much more aware of it now.
I have received offers to participate in surveys or research projects and have not responded because I didn’t have time. That’s expected with things like that.
Bottom line: boundaries are difficult no matter which side of them you happen to be on. ;b
I totally agree but with the particular email system I use, this has NOT been possible if you send it to my personal email address. I’m working on setting up a system so that all query-ers will get an automated response, but it entails changing the email address and letting everyone know… it’s a large administrative task that I just haven’t had time for yet.
However, because of the way I have my spam blocker set up, as long as people include the word “query” in their subject line, there’s very little chance that the email somehow doesn’t reach me. Writers always say how much they worry that their email didn’t get there because they didn’t get an auto-response, but to me, that’s just a risk we all take. For a century prior to the last decade, people used the USPS and certainly never received an automated response!
Hey Rachelle, You said above you would like an automated response but it’s not possible with your current system. What about setting a filter so all the queries forward to a separate email account that auto-responds, or even has a “vacation response” set up. Sure, the auto-response might come from a different email but then you wouldn’t have to change your current system to add that in. It shouldn’t take long at all to set up and you wouldn’t actually have to use that address or check it.
Just a thought if it’s something you really want but is too complicated for your current system. 🙂
“I’m okay with the no response means no policy as long as it’s clear in the submission policies”
–I completely agree with the above statement posted on the other Blog.
I once sent my ms to an agency and it was clearly stated that if I didn’t hear back from them within 2 weeks, to send an email to XXXXX. Well I waited 3 weeks and sent the follow-up email, but never received a response. I WAS VERY ANNOYED!! I had received rejection letters as well as no responses before and was completely fine and moved on…but this particular agency really frustrated me because they never mentioned they had a no response means no policy in their guidelines!!!
I did have an agent reading my work, but that was, oh, last November? I think I got rejected without the letter…
But it’s good to know that’s a normal thing.
Your policy makes a lot of sense. Your question is a good one, because we all should be setting healthy boundaries in our lives. As a new writer still learning the craft, I am finding I need to say no to a number of things if I am going to grow as a writer. With young children at home, and being involved in our church, some “no’s” have been said to things I’ve been asked to do in those places. My husband and I also have certain boundaries placed in our lives to protect and nurture our marriage.
Thanks for explaining your reasons for not often sending pass letters. I appreciate your blog.
I understand the need to eliminate rejection notices. I think that if the policy is posted that 60 days is a pass, then that’s all you need. As a conference director I have had to set boundaries in several ways. One is to not let the event consume my personal writing time. Second is to set guidelines for my chosen presenters and say no to those many emails I get from people who want to be presenters! Each person has to draw their own lines in the sand. thanks for reminding us to practice tolerance and reason.
This is something I’ll admit bothered me in the beginning. But as I’ve gotten to know different agents and come to understand the query/publication process, I can see why a lot of agents don’t respond. If I were in your shoes it would definitely be tempting not to answer any but the ones that I truly had an interest in.
Time is precious, and getting to the writers who have really done their homework, learned the craft and sweated over their MS (ie. the ones who deserve to be published) seems more important than spending the time writing a rejection letter that will ultimately have a more negative (to me) effect on someone than simply not hearing anything back at all.
As a Nurse Practitioner, my practice is full and I’m technically not accepting more patients. I know my boundaries, and its not fair to me, my family, or existing patients to overextend myself–but, nevertheless, I do sometimes make exceptions to my rule. I see this as similar to an agent’s “practice”—there’s only so much of you to go around. Some days I’d clone myself to get all the work done–but then I’d only have twice the work! :o)
The computer goes off at 10:30pm and stays off, otherwise I am up until about 3:30am checking Ew.com, Hyperbole and a Half and obsessively checking my own blog for comments.