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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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