Friday, September 16, 2011

"No Response Means No"

books by no_typographic_man, on Flickr

One of the things I love most about social networking is connecting to people I'd never have a chance to meet in real life. I follow several agents on Twitter and it has given me a lot of insight into the publishing world and given me specific info on approaching (or not approaching) specific agents. I get to watch in real time as agents share query mistakes, wish lists and more.

On the flip side, I've also watched a lot of drama unfold, particularly in regards to the "no response means no" policy adopted by some agents. I've heard very good arguments from both sides of the issue and it's been very informative for me as a writer in the midst of querying.

An agent that I follow posted a blog explaining why she adopted a "no response means no" policy and frankly, it made a lot of sense to me. I think most agents know fairly quickly if they are interested in a manuscript or not. Taking the time to reply to each query can be very time consuming. I worked (briefly) for a literary agent in college and she spent more time on negative responses than anything else. Granted, she gave feedback with most responses, but she also received a lot less queries than most agents today and she wasn't on email yet.

Anyway, that issue aside, the agent who posted the blog also talked about the emotional/karmic impact of saying no all the time. I think we forget that agents want to say yes just as much as we want them to say yes. They want and NEED good projects to rep. I can only imagine what it's like to start each day hoping for your next great project and sifting through hundreds of emails, only to find nothing you feel passionately about.

And as writers, we want agents who are passionate about our projects - as passionate or more than we are. I've heard enough horror stories about writers who signed with agents only to part ways later because the agent wasn't really passionate about the project or just wasn't able to find a place for it in the market. How much worse would that be than to never sign at all?

My experience with querying is very limited. I've sent a grand total of seven queries in my entire life, six of which I sent less than a month ago. Of those, I've received one form response, one personalized pass and silence. The one that bothered me the most? The form rejection. The personalized no felt like a pass - like the agent was telling me the problem wasn't my project, just that it wasn't for her. I can handle that. The form rejection made me feel like my project wasn't worth even reading. The silence is hard, but it is easier than hearing "no" over and over, especially in a non-personalized email.

However, if an agent has a "no answer means no" policy, I really appreciate some kind of auto response so I know they got my email and it didn't just end up in the spam folder. The other things that I appreciate is a time frame. I know agents are busy, but even if it's a huge range, like six months, some kind of closure helps so much!

Personal opinions aside, the thing that really bothered me about this whole debacle was the way some people have responded. The agent who originally posted the blog has now closed to queries. She received so many negative responses that she's considered closing her blog as well. The anonymous nature of the internet has made us brave and apparently no longer requires even the most basic social graces. I don't know this agent at all. I sent her a query and never heard back, but I bear no ill will toward her. She clearly stated her policy and I knew that when I hit send. I know nothing other than what I've garnered from her Tweets and her blog, but I know that she's done nothing to deserve the kind of response she's gotten. It's rude and unprofessional and completely uncalled for. The lack of professionalism and common courtesy really bothers me.

Is it so much to ask that we treat each other with kindness and respect? Writers and agents need each other and in the end, we all want the same things. We want exciting projects and partners who share our excitement. We want people who will work hard and continue to work to make a project better. So be nice and remember, we're all in this together.


  1. I agree with you--I don't mind a "no response means no" policy as long as the agent has some sort of autoresponder to at least let you know that your query arrived. And I would definitely get a million rejections to find that one agent that really loves my work rather than a million requests from agents that just want something to rep.

  2. I think sometimes we get so caught up in wanting AN agent that we forget the kind of agent we really want. I know the right agent is out there and it's just a matter of getting the right query across the right desk!

  3. I learned about all of this backwards, by reading the responses from other agents and former agents first. My initial reaction was, "Oh, what a horrible policy!" But after reading the post that started it all, I didn't think she was being unreasonable. Although, I agree with you that when I start querying, I would like some sort of autoreponse.

    There are a couple different snarky agent blogs that I follow for a laugh and as education on what not to do, but I never thought about rejections from the agent's POV until your post. I guess it would get rather demoralizing after awhile to dole out so many No's.

  4. It's easy to forget agents are people too, isn't it? I know I build them up in my head until I think they're all just waiting to strike down my precious manuscript and tell me I'm a failure. In reality, all the agents I've ever known are people who love books as much as I do and are looking for wonderful stories to champion. It's good to remind myself that they really are on my side and hate saying no as much as I hate hearing it! Good luck with querying when you do start. It gets much easier after you send the first one :)

  5. Interesting post. It's all about managing expectations. No response policies are fine by me, but I think the agent also has a responsibility to make the parameters clear on submission guidelines. Fuzzy response information can lead to a lot of unnecessary angst.

    Serious bit over, I also wanted to stop by to present you with a Versatile Blogger Award. Really like what you're doing over here :)

  6. Thanks for the award, MC! I try to keep it interesting :)

    Querying is about managing expectations. I want everyone to love my work as much as I do, but that's just silly. If we all loved the same books, there'd be a lot fewer on the shelves! But yes, unclear submissions guidelines don't help anyone.