Monday, September 13, 2010

Lost in Cyberspace?

Here’s a question for those of you who are familiar with the, um, challenging process of querying agents: What do you think about agents’ “no-response rejections,” which seem to have grown in popularity over the years?

Do you think they’re a necessary evil, given how bogged down agents can get with unsolicited queries? Or do you think this don’t-sell-don’t-tell policy is unfair to writers, who, after hearing only crickets for weeks or months, may be left wondering if agents even received and/or read their e-queries to begin with? Who knows? Maybe they got lost in cyberspace or the spamosphere (the queries, that is, not the agents)?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular type of rejection (lucky you), here’s the gist. According to some agents’ submissions guidelines, if you haven’t heard back within a certain period of time after querying them, say eight weeks, you should take it to mean they’re not interested in seeing a submission from you. Once that amount of time passes, you should go straight to your agent query list, maybe on, and select the “query closed/no response” box. Done. Grr.

But here’s what troubles me. Recently, I caught a few posts from agents, some of whom follow the no-response/rejection policy, which gave me pause. In one post, an on-line interview with an agent, the agent invited anyone who’d e-queried him but never heard back during a certain time period the prior year to resubmit. He bravely admitted he’d been so bogged down, he’d fallen hopelessly behind, and had been unable to get to all the e-queries he’d received during that time. Now that he was finally caught up, he wanted to give those queriers a second chance. I just hope they caught this interview, or read it elsewhere, so they knew about it.

Another agent recently blogged that he’d been having computer problems so if writers hadn’t heard back within two weeks of querying to feel free to re-query. I hope his queriers caught his post, too.

Because electronic and human blips like these happen from time to time, does anyone wish that agents would ban the non-response policy, and respond to every query with at least a form rejection, if only to make the rejection official? Or is this simply asking too much of them?

Now, before anyone jumps down my throat, let me clarify: I’m not taking a particular side. Frankly, I’m torn about this issue. I would, however, love to hear what our Paper Wait readers think.

Before I close, a little anecdote. A few years ago, I attended an NJ-SCBWI conference. During the agent panel portion of the morning, after giving their submission wish lists, most agents added that they would only respond to queries if they were interested. The last agent, however, gave her list then added, “Oh, and we respond to every query we receive.”

The entire room broke into applause.


  1. My friend recently queried Stephen Barbara. She never heard back. i don't even think he has a "No reply" policy! So, it is highly likely that there was some sort of cyber mishap. Hmmm...

  2. Frankly I hate the "no response" policy and think it's one of the worst forms of torture. It leaves me with a case of the "what ifs" (what if it didn't get there, what if it was deleted by mistake...what if, what if...)At least a response, even a form response is something. Even if you get said form response on a Friday at 9:00PM and there's not an ounce of chocolate in the house. At least you KNOW and can get on with it.

    That said...I'm not sure I really know what it's like to be on the receiving end of hundreds of queries. It can't be easy to weed through all the hopefuls. So while I can understand why some agents choose to deal with queries that way, it doesn't mean I have to like it.

  3. I figure, they didn't ask for our query, owe us no response. My hat's off to those who reply. It is courteous. However, its business, and time is money.

  4. I understand agents' time is limited, and would never ask an agent to respond personally to every query. So I get the policy and respect it. However, especially for agents only taking e-queries, automatic responses, or cut and paste responses, are really easy to create. And I wonder if it might save agents time in the long run, since they wouldn't have to field repeat queries from writers who didn't know whether their first email was lost.

  5. Getting no response in my opinion is just inconsiderate. The writer has to be professional and format her submissions perfectly (and every one seems to have different demands)then she waits, and waits some more. I think she deserves better than that. Realistically I know agents get totally swamped with submissions while having to take care of signed clients, but I'd rather get a form email rejection than hear nothing. And I really get upset when they say they will respond in 4-6 months then after 6 months with no word, hoping it's being considered seriously because that's what they said might happen, I send a status query only to get the form rejection. And of course this was exclusive per their rules on submission:) So for 6 months it wasn't sent anywhere else aacckk!

  6. Holy cow! SB (who I now have to refer to in code) saw my comment and contacted me. He said he's sorry and my friend to should feel free to resend. Is he AWESOME or what?

    Goes to show that things definitely do get lost in cyberspace and the "no reply" policy has serious drawbacks.

  7. Corey: I agree, that was an awesome thing SB did. (I'm also delighted to know he read our blog!) Hmm. Maybe all our readers should comment, saying which agent(s) they never heard back from. Kidding!!!!!

    Robin: Here, here! If you get a form response, you can enjoy your chocolate binge that same day. But if you don't get any response, you might have to eat chocolate every day that that rejection doesn't come.

    Mac: Well said, but I have one question. If an agent puts the word out that he or she or seeking a particular genre, and you query him in that genre, isn't that the same thing as him or her asking for your query ?

    Anne: That's a great point. It's so helpful when agents send out auto replies saying, "'I received your e-query, and you should expect to hear back from me within x amount of time....etc."

    Catherine: Yes, it's especially hard when it's an exclusive sub.

  8. Is there a writer alive who prefers no response to a no? I don't know of any. If the freakin' door is closed, you want to know the freakin' door is closed!

    Yet I understand why some agents don't respond. While a form rejection doesn't take much time, it does take some time. And we all only have so much time.

  9. If an agent has a policy to respond, even if it's a form rejection, I would want that agent - says something about understanding what a writer goes through.

  10. J.A.: Amen to the first part of your comment. As for the second part, I agree but how time-consuming is it to send an auto reply acknowledging receipt of an e-query? That's at most a one-click process, I believe, just like hitting the delete button.

    Gale: I never thought of it that way. Great point.