No Response Means…Wait Longer

The debate over the “No Response Means No” policy many literary agencies have adopted has been buzzing over the literary blogosphere for days now and—I just can’t help it—I have to add my two-cents worth.

Some agents are defending their right to simply not respond to queries that don’t interest them (you can catch two of their blog posts here and here.) And, if we’re going to keep objective about it, it is, after all, their right. You, as the author, are not their client. They don’t actually owe you anything. There’s no law or decree binding them to even read your email.

I can appreciate their reasons for deciding not to respond. 1.) It takes time out of the day, time that is better spent with clients or, as one agent wrote, kids 2.) It opens the agent up to receive angry responses 3.) It creates a very negative frame of mind to deliver all that bad news.

I respect these agents. I read their blogs and think almost everything they say is super-awesome. I do have a mind of my own in here somewhere, though, and I have to respectfully disagree with them. Here’s why:

It’s not that hard to write rejection letters. This is a process that could be long and drawn-out, if I didn’t do it so often that I’ve streamlined it into a mindless, automatic, quick process. Mine’s a bit longer than others’ because I have a compulsion to obsessively track everything that crosses my desk. Here’s how I do:

  1. I ask authors to place the word “query” somewhere in the subject line of their e-query. This prompts my email program to automatically place the email in my “queries” folder and send the author an automatic response to let them know I’ve received their query and what to expect from me as far as response time, etc. Time: 0 seconds.
  2. When I get around to reading queries (every day, at some point), I log each query in my giant Excel spreadsheet of every query I receive and my response. I do this so that Excel’s autofill feature will tip me off if I’ve received a query from an author more than once and so that when authors say, “Hey, I queried you and…” I’ll know what they’re talking about at a glance. It also helps me compile statistics so that I can have fun making blog posts about them. Time: 5 seconds
  3. When rejecting, I simply hit “reply,” select a pre-written and preformatted signature from the drop-down menu, remove the word “query” from the subject line so if they respond it doesn’t go in my query folder and hit send. Time: 5 seconds.
  4. Update my spreadsheet with my response: 2 seconds.

So the total time I spend on each author to reject a query is 12 seconds. The total time I would really need to spend on rejection letters is probably closer to 7 seconds, without my obsessive logging.

I don’t mind angry attacks from rejectees. And besides, I’d get angry responses from those I ignored if I never responded, anyway. I get it. I totally do. Their whole family told them they’re a brilliant writer, their high school guidance counselor sent them off to college with a request for a signed copy of their future first novel, they’ve sent their query and their high hopes to a bzillion agents only to have them dashed. And now I’ve broken the camel’s back by saying I wasn’t hooked. I’m sorry, angry rejectee. I’m not being sarcastic; I really am sorry that things didn’t turn out the way you expected. I hate when that happens too.

I would not want to be the author who gets no response. I would imagine that sending your brain-child out into the world and receiving no response would be agonizing. After putting myself in the author’s shoes, I cringe at what I know my mind would do to me. I’d jump and squeal at the response and then I’d feel really stupid when I figured out it was an auto-confirmation. Doh. Then, I’d obsessively check my email all day long for six weeks, just waiting to hear that response. I’d peruse the agent’s blog and twitter account, hoping to catch a glimmer of something or imagining how great it would be to be the client of this agent. I’d re-read my submission until I had no perspective at all. Then, when no response came, I’d drive myself nuts wondering if the agent got it at all. Maybe it was in her spam folder. Maybe she accidentally deleted it. Should I follow up? Is that in poor taste? Will I be blacklisted for being annoying? Maybe she…well, maybe… This would be my own personal version of a long, drawn-out hell.

If I can spend 12 seconds and rescue authors from that, I will.

A caveat: I sometimes delete queries without ever reading them. Yup. I do that. If the author sends me an email with just a link that I have to then click on, or a Word document attachment as their query, I’ll just delete it because it will take longer than those 12 seconds, taking time away from all the authors who did follow the guidelines.

Finally, what do you think? Would you rather get no response at all or a form response? Would you rather wait something like six months and get a rejection letter that had lots of feedback or only two weeks and get an email that just read: “no?”

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Posted on September 14, 2011, in Advice, blog, book publishing, literary agency, logging submissions, manuscripts, queries, slush pile, submissions, writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Thanks for taking the time out to write this Lauren, as well as empathising with writers who are querying.

    I’d prefer a stated response time of X weeks (it doesn’t have to be fast) but definite. That helps manage expectations.

    I’d also prefer a brief ‘what didn’t work for me’ that was specific to my query – what I’m seeing a lot of is ‘I read your query with interest but it isn’t right for me/my list’. Ok. But what specifically isn’t right? Is this just a polite deviation on a standard rejection ‘Thanks for thinking of me but no and good luck’ – because that’s how it feels.

    I know when an agent personally reads and responds because they usually include a tiny something that indicates they really did read the query and pages. But many indicate a response which highlights the query may have been read, but the pages certainly weren’t.

    It would be nice to have a one liner for each of 1) the writing style, 2) the query (strength/weakness) and genre accuracy, and 3) the plot described, as well as an admonition NOT TO ENTER INTO CORRESPONDENCE after receiving the rejection.

    I see this on many agents sites as a reason for NOT giving feedback – it will suck up their limited amounts of time because the querier keeps wanting more (guilty as charged of doing that once myself – and the agent very kindly explained the problem) as well as the desire not to have to entertain angry feedback.

    I don’t understand angry feedback at all. Yes, I might be upset that agents reject – but why take it out on them? Do agents ever take it out on writers to whom they offer representation and the writer declines? No. So there is no excuse for writers to hassle agents over rejections.

    Of course, agents who adopted the feedback suggestion could probably expect to be targeted even more :P thus compounding their lack-of-time problem.

  2. Agents are free to choose how they respond to queries & I have no expectations. I’ll play the game & respect the outcome.

    In the end it’s down to good manners – you have clearly demonstrated that it’s possible to play nicely. Thank you.

  3. Thanks very much for this post, Lauren. It’s nice that you took the stand that a literary agent should acknowledge the query by sending a rejection (if she or he doesn’t like it) instead of just ignoring it. It’s not polite not to respond, and as you demonstrated .. the excuse that it takes time to send a rejection .. is not a serious excuse.
    I always prefer to get a rejection than no response. With no response, you might wonder if the e-mail got lost. A rejection makes it clear.
    While it will be wonderful if agents will give feedback with comments after a few months, it’s not realistic to accept it. Literary agents get many queries and feedback like this will be time consuming for the agent. Reading your blogs can give clues for feedback.
    Thanks again for voicing your views, even when they go against those who have many more years as agents. Your views are the right ones. Best wishes in finding great novels among all the queries and some who will be great best sellers.

  4. Thanks for posting your thoughts on this. Part of becoming a writer is become savvy to the business of writing. Your post really helps.
    Queries are part of the business, so it completely makes sense that different agents would have different ways to respond…
    But…that being said…
    When it’s ready, I’ll take my “business” to someone who is thoughtful enough to respond. It’s the kind of relationship I would want to have with any prospective business partner.

  5. While still fairly new to the querying process, the main thing that annoys me just a little is when an agent requests a full, so he/she saw something in the MS initially to request it, and THEN they keep it six months just to send a FORM response back! No comments. No helpful hints or critiques to help the writer understand why it took SIX months to send a standard rejection after initially seeing potential. I must say, Lauren, that you always approach these touchy topics with nothing but class. I highly respect that about you, and I look forward to re-querying you with a MS you just can’t help but love. Just don’t keep it for six months. LOL Thanks for educating us all the time.

  6. Hey Lauren, I have to say while sending out many queries myself and some of the agents were kind enough to send a form letter while some didn’t send anything, I feel is just a kind of respect, just as it is to put on our letter Dear Name of Agent instead of Dear Agent. Of course a perk would be if the agent gave some insight as to why they rejected so we could learn, but I appreciate the fact they replied and are so busy these days with so many queries. About the nasty replies, it is definately not called for or professional.

  7. Excellent and funny post. While I agree that non-responders are a bit annoying, much worse are those who don’t respond to requested submissions, and worst of all are those who wheedle an exclusive from an author and then don’t bother to respond to the full. The only acceptable excuse is that the agent had a brain hemorrhage while reading it. (In fact, I once received a query rejection from the estate of an agent who died the year before. They actually went through his slush pile and sent back all the envelopes. So if a dead agent can respond to an unrequested query, a live agent should show the same professionalism for stuff they actually asked for.)

  8. Thanks for taking the time to send a response! You’re right, it’s definitely frustrating to submit and never hear back – especially when it’s an agent you really feel might fit with your work. Some no response means no agents don’t have an auto-response either, which always makes you wonder if they ever received it.

  9. Spot on with the personal, long, drawn-out hell.

    As a querier (can I say that?) in that very place right now, my current perspective is that the form rejections hurt just as bad as the no responses. The non-form rejections are *almost* encouraging. And the requests for fulls are like a roller coaster that starts out high and plunges you into a new personal hell of waiting. :) (NOT THAT I’M COMPLAINING!)

    But when all is said and done, I chose to query the agents I did because, from what I learn by cyber-stalking them, I *think* they’ll like my stuff, and I *think* I’ll like them. So, if your policy is NR or respond to everyone, as long as you have deliberate reasons for your decision, I can be fine with either.

    And I appreciate you taking the stand you do for the reasons you do. :)

  10. Just wanted to say, I’ve never laughed so hard while reading a post. Your imagination is impeccable. Perhaps you should give up agenting and start writing for that ultra small niche market of wannabe writers. You’d have them in stitches. I can just see the book trailer now!

  11. I would prefer a response that might take a little longer, because a rejection with merits and faults would help me more than just a short “no”. I like this post. Good stuff.

    -Joey
    http://www.thelotblog.wordpress.com

  12. I’m going to have to say that I don’t understand why agents do this. I mean, I get it, I know why they do but I don’t understand, in this day and age of the wonders of all the technical capabilities, they can’t figure something out. Janet Reid weighed in on this recently (in favor of a response) and pointed out that she didn’t want to be an agent placed at the bottom of an author’s query list because she has a no means no policy. And that’s exactly where agents with this policy are no matter how much I’d love to be repped by some of them.

    The scenario, your reaction if you were a writer in our shoes, is spot on. I could totally see myself there – it’s exactly what played out when I sent you my query a couple of weeks ago. :-D

    And I chose other in poll because I don’t need tons of feedback but wouldn’t mind a slower response if I could just get something more than a “I just didn’t love it enough response.”

    Great post!

  13. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    I don’t think agents have any obligation at all to reply, much like people don’t have any obligation to hold a door for someone coming up behind them.

    As a writer, I’m definitely not a fan of no-response policies, but I can understand them. However, I truly appreciate those agents who make the effort to reply. To me, it shows a little more respect, courtesy, and professionalism, which I’ll certainly remember and repay in kind.

  14. Fabulous post and nice insight into how you review your queries! I think you hit the nail on the head with how it can affect writers – for many no response is the writerly version of hell! The hamsters in our brains just can’t stop circling around the “what ifs?”

    I do completely understand and respect why some agents have a no-response-means-no policy, but I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t help wondering if my query ever actually reached them. I think the happy medium is an auto-response with a brief message along the lines of “We got your query and we’ll be in touch in X weeks if we’re interested. If you don’t hear from hear from us by then, it’s a pass.” That way it eases the obsessive writer’s brain and essentially pre-sends the rejection if needed. Then it’s a happy surprise if the writer gets a request. And who doesn’t love a happy surprise? :)

  15. LOL! You say, “After putting myself in the author’s shoes, I cringe at what I know my mind would do to me.” And you then go on to describe… me (and probably a thousand other writers)! IMO, your ability to put yourself into our shoes so accurately has put you on the right side of this debate. Thank you! OK, I need to go check my e-mail. ‘scuse me…

  16. I have had queries and replies get lost, so the auto response saying the query has been recieved is the most thing to me.

  17. Great post! While I can definitely appreciate the point of view of the “no response means no” camp, I really wish every agent would respond, even if just with a form–I certainly don’t expect feedback on a query. This could be because I’m anal–I keep a detailed spreadsheet, and hate having to make the judgement call of when to close a query out. If the agent has auto-replies with a timeframe–“I’ve received your query and will be in touch within four weeks if I’m interested in seeing more”–that helps a lot. It’s the ones that you send into the void never to know if they were received or read because there was never a reply that are the most frustrating.

    I have to admit–the “it opens me up to nasty replies” bothers me a lot. 99% of writers will never send a nasty reply, and the ones who will are likely to do so with or without a rejection. (“How dare you ignore me” types.) It’s letting a few people ruin it for everyone else, and what’s more–a nasty reply is unpleasant, but all it takes is deleting it.

    Thanks for putting yourself in the writer’s shoes–you hit it spot-on with the anxiety :)

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