Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I read all 200+ comments of the Agentfail thread on BookEnds last night, and... wow. Sooo much anger out there. To be sure there are some constructive comments in there, and I always like those, but for the most part it unleashed a vast fount of angst. So much you could bottle it up and sell it to those crazy people who fight in mesh cages.

The biggest, most common complaint is about agents who don't respond to queries or have a "we'll respond if interested" policy.

Now, again, this doesn't affect me personally. My policy is to respond to all queries, usually within 24 hours, and I almost always respond to partials within two weeks and fulls within a month. If you send me a personalized query that follows my blog suggestions and it's not for me I'll send you a personalized rejection. I always respond to my clients within 24 hours and I try to turn around comments on my client's manuscripts within a week.

I certainly HOPE that my query and response policies make you want to work with me and that you'll query me instead of someone who doesn't respond. I'm building my list and I want new clients.

But if an agent has a no-response policy, chances are they aren't actively looking to build their list. Or they have enough on their plate already. They aren't looking to open the floodgates. And they're not subhuman for having this policy. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: writing a manuscript does not buy you a prospective agent's time.

If you don't like their policy, by all means, don't query them if you don't want to. Just.... don't get mad about it. It's like being mad at oxygen.

I understand that the publishing process can be frustrating and that the people who really ranted in that post are in the minority, and that these responses were all requested. But I just wonder if we could all get along and stay constructive instead of turning agents into pinatas.


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abc said...

People be complaining! But you are classy, Bransford.

Diana said...

I'm actually pretty sure that someone commented on your classiness in all of that frustration, Nathan!

Thanks again for all you do.

Laura said...

Why can't we have a #bookfail or an #editorfail, I have more issues with that than queries and agents!

However, that being said, if I had to have an agent, you, Bransford, would be my #1:) Just sayin'

Kiersten said...

A friend and I were just talking about this. Of course most of the people who have had good experiences weren't going to comment--it was called agentFAIL, after all. And it's sad to see how much bitterness and frustration there is out there.

Still, it's a frustrating, soul-crushing business, trying to find an agent. Fortunately there are a lot of good ones out there. You shouldn't feel like you have to justify yourself : )

Tiffany Schmidt said...

I avoided #AgentFail for the same reason I occasionally avoid the teachers’ lounge – being in a negative environment isn’t helpful. As a writer who’s venturing into the scary query waters, I don’t want to hear about others’ horror stories or complaints. No doubt I’ll collect some rejections and hurt feelings along the way, but I’d rather focus on the positives or at least the constructive. Thanks for keeping it upbeat and setting a great example, Nathan.

Rick Daley said...


I spend the majority of my time working outside the publishing industry, in sales and marketing for a technology company. I communicate via phone and email with many people in a wide range of industries on a daily basis.

Your level of professionalism is something that anyone should aspire to, regardless of their occupation. I would hope that your readers can learn from your example, whether they are agents, editors, or writers.

And I'm not just trying to suck up to you, because I've already been rejected (with excellent feedback, thanks again) and by the time I'm ready to submit my revised manuscript this post will be long forgotten...

Heather Harper said...

When is the last time oxygen did anything for me, me, me!? ;-)

Still baffled by the anger. Good advice for free = #querywin.

Kristy Colley said...

As BeingBeth said, let's all just force ourselves to smile at each other for thirty minutes until we ROFLOHO (rolling on floor laughing our heads off, as she puts it).

I like it.

Anna said...

the promptness of your reply was appreciated, even if it was in the negative... :)))

this is NOT a quick turnaround business. not on our end as writers, nor on yours.

some folks are just grumbly, no matter what. as you said, being aware to whom one is querying can save a lot of heartache. a little research can go a long ways.

and speaking of long ways... Isaac Bruce is returning... hoot hoot!! maybe the upcoming 49ers season won't be as long as last year... nor as grumbly.

Anonymous said...

Oxygen really pisses me off...

Kiersten said...

Me again. I also wonder at the sense of entitlement. Why should an agent respond if they aren't interested? Sure, it's polite, but a rejection's a rejection. I'm far more interested in knowing how an agent treats their signed writers than how they treat queriers. My agent got blasted on absolutewrite because she didn't respond to some partials for several months. (She had a BABY, folks, it's kind of a big deal.) However, when I spoke with her actual clients, they had nothing but praise. It seems to me that this should be more of a concern than how they respond to queries.

Of course, this is easy for me to say now that I'm on the other end. Querying is frustrating, that's all there is to it. Some agents are just less frustrating than others ; )

Cutris said...

It's understandable that some of those comments would be unnerving to someone who is an agent. I’ve queried a number of literary agents for a couple of different works, however, and I think the frustration of writers is both real and frequently warranted. As you said, the information was requested, so the good, will naturally come with the bad. From the writer’s perspective, we have to contend with a portion of (so-called) “agents,” who try to lure us into their unscrupulous schemes. New writers are especially at risk. The legitimate agents seem to be overwhelmed with inquiries, and often can’t or won’t give much time to looking at a submission unless it falls within some very specific criteria. If nothing else, the frustration is real.

LitWitch said...

My reaction was "eek" and "ick."

Of course, I had to remind myself that this had been an invitation to purge, not a welcoming of constructive criticism or a "what do you like/not like about agent policies" so one has to expect a lot of vehemence and letting-loose (although it certainly got pretty darned loose in there!)

Oddly enough, through the mires of vomit, there *were* some consistencies, mostly for responses and respectful communication which, I think, isn't an adverse wish or request. And, as you so rightly put out there: if you don't agree with an agent's policies, you don't have to query them.

And yet there were also cries for fairness amidst the blood, asking to name GOOD agents and their open, welcoming policies -- you and Jessica and Janet were among them.

RW said...

You are classy Nathan and apparently uncommonly pleasant to people who query you. But, as I think you're getting at, agents don't actually OWE anything more than they promise. If they're not interested in what I'm selling, they're just not. It's a market--not a marriage.

Personally, I use my answering machine to screen calls, and I don't return many of the unsolicited calls from strangers, and I don't worry too much if that makes the caller angry, because I didn't ask them call me.

Crystal Jordan said...

There were certainly a lot of very angry people, and a part of me thinks that's not helped by the bad economy that has everyone on edge. In the end, it just reminded me that a) my agent is awesome, and b) I'm so glad my experiences back when I was shopping for an agent did not match what most of the ranters described.

Anonymous said...

I am a poet, so none of this negative talk disturbs me. I'm used to long waits for negative, canned replies to submissions.

After a while, the poet learns to apprciate the process, literary head-banging, which sometimes turns into writing poems about submitting poems and rejection.

Karen Duvall said...

Exactly! No response means no is a business practice. I don't like it either, which is why I chose not to query those agents. Did they miss my query? Probably not. But I queried agents who do respond, and that's how I got my agent. If a writer doesn't like the way an agent conducts business, move on. They know what they're doing. Oxygen. Yeah, I like that. :)

Lisa Dez said...

I chose not to read that blog just for that reason. It's hard enough to stay positive. But the truth is that agents are flooded with queries everyday, so it's a miracle any of them respond when they're not interested. (Thank you Nathan!)

When I get an agent (still staying positive) I hope that they'll spend most of their time trying to sell my book rather than reading and responding to queries that don't work for them. The "no respond" policy doesn't really bother me.

writermomof5 said...

There are legitimate gripes out there and it's good to have a forum in which to vent them, but I too was shocked at the anger and bitterness. Wow.

Emily Breen said...

I wasn't going to read agentfail but as my prospective/hopeful/future agent has buggered off on holiday before my carefully prepared query could dazzle him (thanks be to Twitter for the heads up)...I might as well do something to kill time!

I'm not a great fan of other people's negativity, though I'm rather fond of my own. Having said that my curiousity is piqued - perhaps a Christmas Carol glimpse of a future bitter me could help me better prepare for rejection & despair?!

(Speaking of things I am failing at - how on earth does one put a picture up on here next to comment? Tried in vain to work it out but remain utter techtard!)

Margaret Yang said...

It just seems like a lose-lose situation. The agents who would read that blog are already doing things well and don't need the advice.

How about making it positive? How about a you-tell-me where writers are asked to describe their ideal agent? That would be a learning opportunity for agents without the negativity.

Natalie said...

It's been a long winter. Think we all need a little sun and some positive vibes.

Querying is hard. Submitting to editors is hard. And I have a suspicion even being published is hard.

I've learned one thing this very long winter: smile, even when you don't feel like it. You have the power to change your own perspective.

Bane of Anubis said...

Another nice post. Thanks!

And along the lines of what Rick said, your response time and professionalism in general is top-notch... double thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

That was some serious bitterness. I stopped reading. I hope they follow up with an idea suggested in the comments, #agentwin, to counteract some of the anger.

Stacey said...

I think the hardest part about not hearing back is not knowing if they even received it or not. I have dealt with issues where not hearing back meant something got lost in cyberspace, and others where it just means your query is sitting on a slush pile.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Nathan, you do a great job. Your blog is informative, your rejections are swift, and your words are gentle yet clear.

If I hadn't queried you twice already, I'd query you again. Maybe next book, eh?

Julie Weathers said...

If you don't like their policy, by all means, don't query them if you don't want to. Just.... don't get mad about it. It's like being mad at oxygen--


Just don't submit to ones you don't like. Seems pretty simple to me. I am one who doesn't like the no response means no interest policy, but rather than get my guts in an uproar, I just won't query them.

It quickly turned into a bashing, which I knew it would. I feel sorry for the agents who read it as they were probably shaking their heads at all the anger.

My comment to one woman about the feasibility of a voluptuous, nearly naked virgin jumping on a raging black stallion no one has been able to tame and galloping down cobblestone streets in the rain to escape drew a chorus of howls from her and her minions. I think she was scarred for life and might never write again. I was amazed at the bitterness and vitriol that spilled out of that debacle.

Sometimes people really need to look in the mirror and figure out the reason for their failures. It isn't always the critique, the agent, the editor, the publisher or the economy that is to blame for your lack of success.

Kristi said...

What's up with all this "fail" stuff? I haven't read any of the agentfail comments and have no intention of doing so. I don't people realize their anger and bitterness isn't serving their higher purpose...I would suppose that would be becoming a published writer.

As for me, I'll just keep writing to the best of my ability and maintain a professional attitude, as that probably gives one the best chance of landing a reputable (and nice) agent. You get what you give. :)

Dawn said...

abc said it first, very classy Mr. Bransford. Yours was a blog recommended to me by another writer friend and you quickly became a daily delight. Even though we won't be working together on my project, I hope one day we will.
Thank you.

Stacey said...

Natalie said "It's been a long winter. Think we all need a little sun and some positive vibes."

I couldn't agree more! It's still snowing at my house! I need sunlight and warmth! That's why I read Nathan's blog. It cheers me up!

T. Anne said...

It's almost impossible to tell how to tame all this frustration between agents and writers, perhaps it's the publisher's we should really be pointing the finger at (no, not that one). Anyway to me it's a no win situation. And don't even get me started on oxygen...

Kathleen MacIver said...

"If you don't like their policy, by all means, don't query them if you don't want to. Just.... don't get mad about it. It's like being mad at oxygen."


And...since you were slightly against #queryfail, I'm glad to see you're also against #agentfail. I wonder how many of those raging against #queryfail are also over there railing...

I think I've about had it with all the "fails" anyway. Waste of time...

Ink said...

143 - 141? All those points and they couldn't get one more bucket? Too cruel...

Miriam S.Forster said...

I understood the need to make something like that anonymous, but I'm forced to wonder how many of those posts were a handful of people with anger issues posting repeatedly.

We may never know...

Dara said...

I ended up reading all 200+ comments too and it was disheartening to see such anger from some writers.

I understand it can be frustrating but that's a part of life. Life is hard. Some people don't really seem to understand that (or don't want to understand it).

I think it's interesting that people seem to forget that agents are human too. It seems like people expect them to be perfect or at least so close to perfect that they aren't allowed to make mistakes...or have a life outside of being an agent....

I really appreciate you and the rest of the agents out there who spend time blogging and teaching us about the business and I believe agentfail# definitely made me respect you and agents in general even more (especially seeing all that you have to contend with).

Anonymous said...

I received a query response from Nathan within a couple of hours after submission (the reason being it was not right for him), and the pain of rejection was exceptionally diminished by the speed of his response. So I agree with others that he is very responsive and professional--and so many writers here appreciate that.

In fact, I've been exceedingly fortunate in querying agents, in spite of rejections, and reading through the list of complaints last night was simply depressing.

So here's my list of top-notch agents who, in one way or the other, have been both professional and encouraging in their rejections: Nathan Bransford, Rick Balkin, Susan Rabiner, Jenny Bent, Brian DeFiore, and Jody Rein, among those who come to mind immediately.

The only complaint I can think of relating is that of an agent who asked for and received my book proposal, called me to discuss the project, then simply disappeared after learning that it had been rejected by six commercial houses. No email or letter stating that this was a deal-killer. But this was an exception to the rule, and I applaud Nathan's attitude and effort to bolster writers in the difficult business of writing and seeking publication.

Nathan Bransford said...


Thank goodness they didn't win. They need every loss they can get for the draft lottery.

Scott said...

If you don't like their policy, by all means, don't query them if you don't want to. Just.... don't get mad about it. It's like being mad at oxygen.

I love you, dude, but I'm not sure I agree here 100%. There is kind of two-way street in this business as I understand it, and I operate under the assumption––and please correct me if I'm wrong––that agents who accept unsolicited manuscripts make their living from having people send them stuff. Your policy of responding is exactly what someone who understands this would do, but not all agents come out and say "if I don't like what you've sent me you may never know, so give it a shot if you want". They're more than happy to take the ones they like, so I think they should give aspirants a little "certain future". And for gods' sake, don't blow them off and diss their query on Twitter.

Of course, people get swept up in business and some can afford to be more timely than others, but I think some kind of warning would be polite at the very least. Agents know they've got the keys to the kitty, so it's not as easy for writers to say, "Oh, I see how it is. I'll just cross you off my list." We really can't afford to do that. And to be honest, if we don't know why we're not hearing back, we don't know how to respond.

In the end, I think both sides should conduct themselves professionally. If you accept queries, have a policy to reply and state it. If you submit and don't like the answer, suck it up and get back to the drawing board. Cause if I walk into a store and I'm ignored, most of the time I can just leave and choose to spend my time and money elsewhere. But when the options are limited yet both sides stand to gain, leaving the patron hanging is a bit like Lording over the hoard.

Great post, though, and I'm grateful you're not one of "them". There are too many out there.

Anonymous said...

Alright, here's the deal. Folks are pissed because SOMETIMES, SOME AGENTS seem to have an air of "I'm too good for this" about them, and can be hurtful and downright mean. I realize that they often have to trudge through several hundred submissions a day, most not worthy of catbox duty, but some of us actually DO have a grasp on the English language, believe it or not. Some of us DO craft grammatically correct query letters with interesting hooks and just the right amount of information. To be bludgeoned with a "Sorry, not for me!" response within MINUTES of hitting the "SEND" button....well, it's a downer to say the least. How could you even have had time to read anything? Did you scan the first sentence and just know? So yes, Nathan, you are prompt and you always respond. Kudos for that, I guess. But a no is still a no whether it took fourteen seconds to craft or fourteen days. At least with a rejection in fourteen days, I can PRETEND that the agent may have actually read my stuff.

Mira said...

Wow. I didn't know about agentfail. I need to read it.

Thanks, as always, for being kind and having integrity - the essense of class, Nathan.

On the other hand, I noticed that you're building your client list. You might be surprised to hear that I'm still available. Well, I am. And I know I have told you in the past that I haven't written a darn thing. Well, that's changed. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a page and a half.

I know. Impressive. I haven't written anything since because I'm still basking in the glow of accomplishment, but if you took me on a client, I'd probably be motivated to write another page.

I'm just saying.

Marybeth said...

I found it ridiculous they way everyone ridiculed agents. I understand we all have a bad experience from time to time, but my goodness. That was more than an #agentfail, that was an agent bashing frenzie. After reading the first 100 comments I refused to return to the posting. Props for reading through all the comments Nathan, but I highly doubt any of them referred to you :D

Stephanie said...

I'm far more amazed at the backlash that #queryfail and #agentfail have received than by anything that was said on there. Sure, not everything said was professional or constructive, but I don't think any of it is a sweeping statement about queries or agents or writers or even the individuals who posted.

Agents are a hardworking group of people who fight for their clients in a competitive market, while being bombarded by people who expect the agents' time and attention for the querying process whether or not it will ever pay off for both sides. And some of those queries aren't even close or are clearly time-wasters who aren't dedicated to becoming a published writer. Agenting is not a volunteer charity job.

Writers work even harder - pursuing a dream, often at the expense of family, careers, financial stability, and sanity. Writing time is squeezed into all sorts of odd hours and you may work for years, pouring your soul into this project that might not go anywhere. A lot of writers don't have a community they can trust - their friends and family don't understand their frustration and their drive. Or, worse, they ridicule them and try to sabotage the dream. It takes an incredible drive, backbone, and blind faith to continue the journey toward publication.

So, you give people a chance to vent some of this stress and frustration, and they will. It's especially easy on the internet, where you can be anonymous and banter with people you'll never meet. I didn't find the large majority of posts to be so egregious that it should permanently scar the poster.It's fine when people like Nathan choose not to participate - he's got a good perspective on his job, the industry, and feels supported. Not everyone can do that, especially not in an industry like publishing, that's based on human passions, emotions, and opinions.

A moment of snark or desperation or anger or crippling frustration isn't a reflection on how people feel, or act, the other 99% of the time. I bet most of those people - especially the writers - were desperate for a little empathy for this horrible, draining process. But that doesn't mean they're bad people, bad writers, or bad clients. They gave an opinion when asked...and I'd bet that most of them took a deep breath after posting and when back to writing like hell, researching their agents, and sending out kind, professional, hopeful query letters.

tulafel said...

Is it just me or has the word "fail" been used so much in the past two months it's worn out it's welcome?

I'm so sick of failthis and failthat. It's worn out its welcome faster than the Bajamen and the Macarena.

When can we declare a moratorium on the use of that word?

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, I disagree somewhat with the premise that agents make a living from the writers who query them. We don't -- we make a living off of the writers who send us stuff we can sell, which is about 0.0001% of the writers who send us stuff.

And even then, most agents make a living off of their existing clients, some of whom come through referrals.

So ultimately, some agents don't really need the slush pile and treat it accordingly. That doesn't give them the right to be jerks to people who query them, but I also don't think it means that they are obligated to treat the slush pile with deference and the time it takes to respond. They're just allocating their time as they view necessary.

I appreciate everyone's kind words about my submission policy, but if I change it down the line it won't mean I've turned evil. It may just be that I need to reallocate my time. Right now I can get everything done, but that may not always be the case.

Anonymous said...

I saw some anger and some entitlement, but what I mostly saw was frustration. That may seem like anger to some, but I read it differently.


If you don't like their policy, by all means, don't query them if you don't want to. Just.... don't get mad about it. It's like being mad at oxygen.

Sure, it's a waste of time being angry, but if writers never complain about the things that bother them, how would agents ever know? It almost sounds like you think agents should be immune to criticism from writers. I know you have more respect for us than that, though, so maybe you can clarify.

And the reason there were so many complaints in one post is because it's was a FAIL blog post. Of course it's not going to be full of win. It's unrealistic to think that a post that says, "tell me what you think agents do wrong" is going to be full of nothing but compliments. This is a chance for agents to read uncensored criticism from the people they work with. Yes, there's some BS; but there are real complaints that shouldn't be ignored.

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm not going to sit on a query for a certain length of time to protect an author's feelings. If it pops up in my inbox, I read it, and respond immediately, it doesn't mean I gave it less attention than one I let sit in my inbox an hour.

And others, you can see how there's no way for an agent to win coming or going.

Scott said...

Well, I disagree somewhat with the premise that agents make a living from the writers who query them. We don't -- we make a living off of the writers who send us stuff we can sell, which is about 0.0001% of the writers who send us stuff.

Heh, then why not just come out and ask the .0001% to send their stuff in and have the rest hold onto it? ;)

Seriously, I appreciate an agent who says "we might not get back to you", but I don't see that very often. And I have to think it's because they might not get that .0001% they need if they did sat that.

Just be up front is all I'm asking. If you "don't need us", tell us. Otherwise, we're going to prepare ourselves accordingly, and the next thing you know, there's contention.

K. Andrew Smith said...

I read the whole thing, too, and came to much the same conclusions as you. I'm not fond of the concept of "no response means no," which simply means those agents will be low on my list to query. Agents who respond promptly, and who, above all else, accept email queries, will be at the top.

Nathan will, of course, be the first agent I query.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't object when people raise issues, which is why I'm trying to address the no-response issue constructively.

Josephine Damian said...

Laura: I'm hosting #novelfail on twitter on 4/17 (same day as next #queryfail)

Steve Fuller said...

Comparing agents to oxygen...nice!

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, a uniform system for signaling openness to queries and response policies would be nice. Luckily the Internet is helping that along, but there isn't a go-to place.

Fawn Neun said...

Nathan, I think the sour tone of #agentfail can be attributed to following directly on the heels of #queryfail. In my capacity as an editor, I wouldn't dream of exposing and snarking about some of the submissions I get in a public forum. I rarely even do it to my co-editors. I think all writers learned from #queryfail is that agents are laughing at them behind their backs. It's just...unnecessary and demoralizing.

The sad fact is, the agents & editors likely to read all those comments aren't the ones that are causing the frustration and anger. We're conscientious and caring of people's feelings. We want to encourage them, rather than make them play little gatekeeper games or serve as blog fodder.

I think that if it had been held, oh, say, next month, you'd have gotten the intelligent exchange of ideas for improvement that you were looking for.

As you said, you didn't participate in #queryfail. I've never queried you myself, but I understand that you're one of the "good guys" who's on top of their game and professional.

It does seem that there's a lot of anger and frustration, and Jessica provided a safe place to vent it all. Maybe this will be a fresh start.

I, for one, will be going through my slush pile with a bit more, er, speed.

Mira said...

Nathan - we just we talking about how the publishing industry is struggling.

Because of that, I really need to disagree with something you said.

Agents really do need the slush pile.

They need it ALOT.

Taking talent mostly from referrals is a terrible business practice. The industry shoots itself in the foot, no actually, shoots itself in the head, when it relegates slush piles to 'unnecessary.'

That's the kind of insider in-breeding that is so problematic in the industry, and the reason why it's struggling.

Talent is talent. A smart agent will look under rocks, in small random boxes, and even in the slush pile trying to find it.

Jaime Theler said...

I'm not particularly thrilled with the no response = no policy, but I'm not foaming at the mouth about it. It doesn't stop me from looking at those agents. I was a little surprised at the anger, too. I think there just might be a lot of anger in general floating around right now.

ryan field said...

I think the point you made about not getting mad at the no-response policy is important. Getting mad isn't productive.

Ella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A.L. Davroe said...

People suggest you get published in small literary journals and magazines before moving on to a book. I'm beginning to think that advise is because getting generic replies from ten magazines for a short story is a lot easier than an agent ignoring your novel. It helps build a tolerance that I think many authors sometimes need...that's not even going near the reality check.

Ella said...

After going through the whole thread, there were some legitimate gripes. I’ve never been to a conference or pitch session. I had no idea it was like celebrity roast w/o the celeb, or apparently, good natured ribbing. For people to come out in tears after an agent ripped them a new one via their query, that’s just wrong. I missed the comments which were deleted, so I don’t know how nasty some were.
I shared my experience on the blog without naming names. I posted it under my name. I think Jessica did great job. She mentioned Absolute Write is the place to go, plus there’s Preditors and Editors for researching agents before subbing. Rude behavior, period, is not acceptable, not from the butcher, baker, candlestick maker, agent or author. The twitter thing doesn’t make one bit of difference to me. I recently joined. What did bother me was queryfail. I think that was the day I joined. If the authors knew what they were getting into is one thing. If it was used more as a teaching tool(which I believe it was originally intended) rather than name calling, I wouldn’t have a problem. I’ve been at the receiving end of one of the QF participants. It’s not a good feeling to be laughed at when you’re supposedly dealing with a professional. There are, thank goodness, more professionals than divas. Now I'm off to query Nathan. ;-)

April 2, 2009 11:46 AM

Jo said...

As far as I'm concerned, you can't dislike an agent because you're not a good fit. It goes both ways. If an agent passes on my work, then they're simply not the right agent for me. It's ok. I can wait for someone who truly loves my work and who I can get along with in the long term. I'm looking at my career in terms of years so I've got time. Thanks Nathan- for everything you do.

Liz said...

Ha ha! Being mad at oxygen! Thank you for injecting some humour and common sense. If a particular agent is so awful why are you still using them? Find another one and move on. There are good, decent people out there as well.

Stephanie Faris said...

I'm guessing this is backlash? Here's the thing...agents have all the power. So writers feel powerless. We spend our lives jumping through hoops to make agents/publishers happy. We put what you want in the subject line of our e-mail, paste exactly what you say, don't do prologues, don't write about the entertainment industry because "those books don't sell," etc., etc., and then a day comes when someone says, hey, here's a site where you can complain. And those writers go hog wild. That's my guess.

I personally don't get upset if an agency has that policy. I don't get upset if I get a form rejection. It's part of it. I really don't even care if I hear back or not until the day comes when an agent comes back and says, "I want to see more of your work." The trick to not obsessing over this little stuff? Don't sit around worrying about it. Start your next book. Absorb yourself in it. Send it to a different agent. By the time you realize agent number one is too busy to be bothered with you, you've already got other things out there.

Anyway, when people are given free reign to complain, complain they will. It's like unleashing the beast within...

Patricia said...

I am tired of all this queryfail, agentfail negativity.

Tweet #agentinspire and let's start over, this time thanking agents who demonstrate kindness, civility, and professional behavior.

L.C. Gant said...

Kudos to you for sticking it out to read all 200+ comments! My brain started to hurt after about 50 :-P

As you said, some of the comments really were constructive and respectful, but they were few and far between. And none of them applied to you, which is why we love you in the first place!

There are ways to give constructive criticism and still be kind. You show us that everyday. Hopefully some of those bitter writers can learn from your example, and maybe then we can put some salve on the wounds that have formed on both sides.

Anonymous said...


You realize you just keep opening yourself up for a bigger slush pile by being nice to us crazies.

To those who refused to read agent fail:

My take on agentfail less than 5% of those people went overboard on complaints. So just like the agents to like to be catergorized all the same, you shouldn't say the whole blog was a failure (not refering to you, Nathan. You did not imply that). I am pretty sure only one person, although he/she was trying to make it look like many, was trying to drag names out, and a few succumbed.Learn from mistakes, but don't humiliate someone for making them. I think that is a lesson everyone needs to learn.


The ones deleted were the ones that specified names, and they had specific complaints. I am glad Jessica deleted those. It would have been better just to remove the names, but I don't know how blogging works, maybe it's not possible to edit.

Brian Spaeth said...

So many people think agents exist purely to reject them - it's bizarre. I'm not sure how the business plan on that would work.

Agents want to LOVE your work. They would dream of someone querying them with something that they totally fall in love with.

Marilyn Peake said...

I haven’t looked at the Agentfail thread yet. Thanks for supplying the link. I don’t plan on participating, as my angst level is pretty low today after winning three book awards and having a short story published yesterday. But I’d like to post a comment here, as I found your blog post today an important one.

There’s so much stress at all levels of the publishing field today, everyone seems to be blowing off steam. Queryfail allowed agents to blow off steam and chuckle about writers, so I suppose Agentfail opened the floodgates for writers’ expression of very strong feelings accumulated over years of frustration and pain.

I’d like to share two stories I heard from writers yesterday. A small press writer, so talented the sheer beauty of his writing practically brings tears to my eyes, who works himself to the bone writing and editing, almost died from neglecting his health. He had a very close call. Another author who was published years ago by a big publishing house confided in me how much angst she has over her current struggles to get new manuscripts published by more than small press.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard within the past couple of years that a small press author, editor or publisher died after neglecting their health, had back surgery, experienced debilitating migraine headaches that made them temporarily blind, or went bankrupt. I appreciate, Nathan, that you seem to have a deep respect for authors and have developed a respectful policy for answering query letters. It’s not easy being a writer. To suffer for one’s art is often not just an expression, but a physical reality.

spwriter said...

A number of commenters here and over at the Agentfail Bar & Grill have stated, screamed or apologetically whispered, "I'm ne'er gonna query an agent who has one o' those 'no response means no' policies."

Sounds like a perfectly fine plan of attack because, yes, there are plenty of bad agents who hold to such a policy. But there are also plenty of good ones, and even some excellent ones. To toss all "no response means no" agents into the same (cess)pool is shortsighted at best and evidence of a writer's laziness at worst.

Having said that, I think it is well within reason to expect an agent with a "no response means no" policy to acknowledge the initial receipt of a query and to have clear expectations on how long one must wait before the angst of uncertainty becomes the certainty of angst.

Here's a suggested policy statement for that acknowledgment email:

"If you don't hear from me within 60 days, it means we're not a match made in heaven. Please don't curse my children or make up a mean hashtag about me in Twitter. Hug a St. Bernard puppy instead. And best wishes as you pursue representation with another agent who will undoubtedly discover the brilliance in your book that I somehow missed and subsequently turn it into a bestseller, prompting me to briefly calculate just how much money I could have earned before relaxing into a smile of acceptance that I made exactly the right decision when my 'no' became the right agent's 'yes.'"

Sun Up said...

Well I won't get rejected...sooo...have a big ol' slice of my Narcissistic Pie.

I'm kidding of course.

But Nathan had me thinking about food with the whole 'Agent pinata' comment--I was like 'mmm agent candy.'

Seriously though, I never even heard of that until I read another blog I'm suscribed to.

Things like that really don't bother me. I don't query until I've done enough research to make me feel comfortable enough with submitting my work--and even when I chose to query, I'll make sure that I have a concise understanding of what's expected of me as an author.

It makes everything easier in the long run.

As a side note: it would be awesome if I could find an agent made out of candy.

Miriam S.Forster said...

I have a fundamental issue with the idea that agents have all the power. In my opinion, working with an editor/agent is like having a job.

For example, my day job says I can't have painted fingernails or visible tattoos. They can say that, they're the ones running the business. To me, submission guidelines are like dress code,part of the job.

That said, why would you give a complete stranger--someone you've gotten one email from---the power to make you as angry as many of the agentfail people were?

flednew said...

I'm afraid "just don't query them" is a little disingenuous. We know we're beggars, there's not much to choose from, and once you start eliminating agents for anything but genre the pool gets depressingly small.

Elana Roth said...

Thanks for the post, Nathan. Given the comments here, and those on our blog today as well, (yes, shameless blog plug:, I'm right there with you on the need for some more levelheadedness, realistic expectations, and optimism. Big deep breath and...onward.


Anonymous said...

I haven't read the other comments here yet, so I might be echoing others' posts, but Nathan, the Bookends blog ASKED people to bitch about their agents, and anyonymously at that, it's not like they stormed the blog and took it over.

Sometimes I feel, that because you are a "good" agent that you assume other agents are like you. Dear God, trust me when I say they are not. Some of them, sad though it is, actually do deserve the bitching spewed out on that blog.

Signing as Anon for obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

People are just bitter. Don't take it personally. You're the man, Nathan.

MzMannerz said...

Nathan, I think your query process works well.

Mara Wolfe said...

It is so nice to know that there are agents out there like you who really do make an effort in communicating towards all potential clients who query. Thanks

Dana said...

Now.. I've never sent a query myself, not had the pleasure of being rejected by anyone, except Scott Clemmer in 8th grade... but someday I'll get over that. However, I read about three comments at #agentfail before I had to stop. Seriously. Get over it. These people are busy; uber busy. They can't hold your hand and guide you through your disappointment, or terrible novel or whatever. Just deal. It reminds me of being a teacher... I was working 80 hour weeks and so when a parent asked if I could stay after school for an hour to help their kid, I said no. I know that a lot of them were mad about this, and thought that I didn't care. But you know what? I did care, much more than they imagined. If you aren't taking care of yourself you sure can't help others. I bet that most of those #agentfail commenters would be equally made by the responses they'd get if the agent had just read all of everyone's manuscript and was tired and cranky enough to tell them what they really think.

So yeah, if you don't like what they're doing, the don't query them. Does that suck a bit? Yes, but it's the same as not shopping somewhere whose business practices you don't agree with or not being friends with someone who is negative all the time. It's hard, but if it matters to you, you'll make it work.

Now... I may eat my words in a few months when I've amassed some rejections, but for now...

Anonymous said...

I skimmed through the posts at the Agentfail link, hope to have time to read them later. On first glance, there are many writers defending and praising agents. On Queryfail day, I don't remember too many flattering comments about good queries. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

I don't think a lot of the people who posted on that thread have a clue about just how many things the average agent has to deal with in a day. They know how hard it was for them to finish their manuscript, but they don't realize that that despite the difficulty, thousands upon thousands of other people are finishing theirs and sending them out, too.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll say that I am prejudiced--Jessica Faust, who started that thread, is my agent. I did have bad experiences with one or two others, but overall my experiences with agents has been positive, mostly because I've only submitted to those I researched and felt strongly about.

Despite having an agent, I still read agent blogs (obviously, since I am here). They're great spots to find out about industry stuff, to hear about who's buying what, to learn. But I've definitely cut back since my pre-agented days, and that means cutting out the ones that focus more on personal than professional stuff. Does that mean I don't think agents should have personal blogs? Nope. And I am certainly not going to get all angry about an agent having a personal life and blogging about it if s/he wants! I just don't feel compelled to read it.

I just wonder about people who think an agent spends too much time blogging and twittering, but submits to them anyway. It seems...self-defeating. If they're spending so much time on those things that you worry about getting a reply, do you think they'll be good at selling your book? And why would you want someone to represent you if you didn't think they were professional?

Beatriz Kim said...

Wow! I'm kind of new to the process and these responses surprised me a little.

I'm not very knowledgeable in this area. However, I wonder if finding an agent is a similar process to finding a job? If I don't hear a response, I would assume they aren't interested or they already found someone else?

Isn't this just a business? It might be that the position is not a good fit for both parties or the position is already full.

Is there a need to be so upset at a particular agent? Isn't it just part of the process that one might need to accept as a writer?

If this is your dream, don't let a "no response" get you frustrated. Look for someone else. After all, some really wonderful books were rejected by one agent, only to be a bestseller in another agent's hands! Certainly you want to find an agent who really believes in you. Right?

Just keep writing and editing! For myself, I just can't stop writing. Can you?

Thanks Nathan for writing your perspective. It's good to know the other side of things! I'm learning so much! When I'm ready, I will definitely send you a query.

Have a beautiful day everyone!

Anonymous said...

Disappointment is only a risk of Hope, and that risk proportionate to expectation. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. A Realistic Perspective shouldn’t choke Hope, but it can act as a governor, so the RPM’s stay below the red zone and the engine can run a Long, Long time. Celebrate:
1.Times at bat. Particular Experience is Nature’s psychotropic Reward.
2.Birthdays – Nothing like a Flag that’s still there.
3.Trusted friends and family who Love you enough to tell you the Truth
4.A Relentless pursuit of the right audience for your qualified, yet objective Art

Litgirl01 said... have proven yourself to be a man of integrity. This is why we read your blog and post every day! :-)

Belynda said...

Wow. #Queryfail + #Agentfail = #Patiencefail.

People are SO stressed out over this phenomenon! I must admit, I'm pretty stressed out over queries. What do I want? For an agent to fall over clutching my query letter and/or manuscript to their chest in something close religious ecstasy while dialing me to offer representation with a free hand.. What do I expect? Maybe a polite "no thanks", perhaps radio silence. I'm okay with either. I still love what I do.

While I actually thought #queryfail was funny (in a "hope it's not me on the dartboard some day soon" way) I'm not willing to hop into a flamewar about agents/editors or their particular business practices.

Now, granted this state of agent/writer zen could emanate from my two years as a practicing real estate agent (lit agents bear a passing resemblance in that both have no boss, no free time, and must smile and nod when people make unfounded generalizations about what they do or think).

What it boils down to is, we're all plugging along doing the best we can every day, right? So why get all caught up in the fuss...

I'll join the rest in saying kudos to you, Nathan, for keeping above the fray and not getting too frustrated over it! You'll definitely see a query letter float across your desk from me in the near future!

Anonymous said...

I think that part of the frustration about agents not respecting writers comes from the fact that the writers that do research, do write good queries, and do have viable books are often lumped in with the clueless masses.

People that don't research and don't know the ropes are given the same "form rejects 6 months after the fact," and "requested partials unread after 6 months" as if they WERE stupid. And that's upsetting.

On PubRants today, K. Nelson's post is about why you need to finish a MS before querying and posters are actually arguing with her -- saying it's not fair. Well, none of us (readers of this blog) would do/think that, and it's painful sometimes to feel we are lumped in with those that are that green, that new to the business.

M. Dunham said...

Agents are people, too. Also, I can't believe people would want to badmouth a potential future ally.

Lupina said...

I'm not going to read Agentfail. If I want to read negative rants I have plenty of perpetually pessimistic relatives who are only to happy to supply their thoughts.

The only agents I don't query (within my genre) are those who do not accept e-mail queries. I figure they are so hopelessly behind the times that I'm not sure I'd want them to represent me.

Lupina said...

Oops I meant "too happy," not "to happy."

Kristin Laughtin said...

I read part of that thread before my head started to hurt. (Never having queried or worked with an agent, I had nothing to contribute--and hopefully I never will.) To be fair, though, a number of people did ask for an #agentawesome thread in the future as well. :-)

While I can see why a "no response means no" policy could be frustrating to writers (we all want to believe agents are just behind on work and really do want to accept ours, even if it's months down the line), if the agent clearly states they work that just have to deal with it.

Jan said...

If you send me a personalized query that follows my blog suggestions I'll send you a personalized rejection.

Personalized rejection?

I certainly HOPE that my query and response policies make you want to work with me and that you'll query me instead of someone who doesn't respond. I'm building my list and I want new clients.

Sorry, I couldn't help but copy and paste your comment Nathan. The promise of a personal rejection if we follow your blog suggestions, cracked me up.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

When no response means no interest
Maybe we aspiring writers should supply a response form with tick boxes - perhaps on the back of the SAE:
No this is badly written
No this is a bad idea
No I'm on my way out
No I'm just writing my own book
No I have a headache
Yes? No - just teasing!
Anything to make common politeness easier

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm more than a little amused that many of the people complaining about the "bitterness" and "anger" in agentfail had no problem whatsoever in bashing the hell out of authors--without their permission--while pretending it was "educational."


Nathan, I think what you said initially is instructive: you don't do these things. Many agents don't do these things. Rather than defending the ones who do, why not recognize that your own professional behavior is something which should be emulated, rather than being some odd but charming quirk?

And as for the "get over it" business--this has gotten very, very old. No one forced these people to be agents. At the point when they decided to start taking in queries, and mocking those who don't fulfill every point of every sub-rule on their particular lists of rules (lists which, by the way, change radically from agent to agent), they do have a basic responsibility to act professionally in turn to authors. Why authors have decided to invest agents with god-like authority, feeling the need to apologize for even daring to submit work on which the agent will theoretically make money, is beyond me. But having done this, why authors are then supposed to endure being punched in the mouth repeatedly and "get over it," "get a thicker skin," etc. is even more incomprehensible. Instead of dismissing the anger out of hand, taking a long look at what is causing it might be helpful for all concerned.

Nathan Bransford said...


I defend the other agents who have "no response means no" policies because I might be one of them someday. It takes an enormous amount of time to respond to queries. If I have a sudden uptick in my work responsibilities or I am no longer looking to build my list, responding to queries is naturally the first thing to eliminate simply in order to stay afloat.

Now, obviously I would still try to deal with everyone with courtesy and respect, but I honestly don't think writers should have such high expectations for query responses.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, but I still think you're selling yourself short, Nathan. I'm with people who think #agentNOfail should be the next step, and you should be top of the list, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Also: I don't think "getting a response at all" is a high expectation. In no other business would no response of any kind be acceptable.

Anonymous said...

I think 90% of those that posted on agent fail just wanted an automated response so that they knew their query hadn't got lost in cyperspace. That is just a matter of turning on an auto reply; kind of like an automated office response. Easy Peasy, even the techno-dip I am can do that. Personalization not necessary on query, but maybe it would be good on requested material.

Different Anon than prev

Horserider said...

People always find something to complain about. ;) It's in our nature. Let them complain; it's not going to get them an agent any faster. In fact, they should probably stop their complaining and turn their energy into working on their query and manuscript.

I can't wait to query you Bransford. :) You're #1 on my list.

Nathan Bransford said...


I appreciate the kind words, but most businesses don't respond to all job applicants, for instance. I doubt film or music agents respond to everyone either.

And it's more than a simple courtesy. It adds up. If you figure that I spend 30 seconds responding to each query, considering that I'm on track for 15,000+ queries, that translates to 125 hours a year. That's a lot.

Nathan Bransford said...

It's also not just a matter of turning on auto-reply. Either you have to establish a single dedicated e-mail address for queries only (which gets confusing quickly) or everyone is getting your auto-reply, including the non-query people you're working with.

Jen said...

Great post, Nathan. I don't think people realize how much work agents actualy do. :)

Anonymous said...

I've queried a lot of agents over the years and I have no complaints. For the most part, they all responded--and when they didn't and I really was interested in them, I sent a follow up snail mail with an SAE. Of course there were some no responders. But come on people--consider that no one owes you anything. If you have something of merit you will hear from them. But, I do think it is just plain rude not to fire out a form rejection if someone takes the time to query you. That is just good business sense and it should be part of the job.

Anonymous said...


It doesn't have to be a dedicated to just queries. It could be I recieved your email response.

And to the job reply, if they asked I gave a response.

jimnduncan said...

I think there is likely a large number of writers out there who just don't really understand the amount of time responding to queries takes. I'm honestly surprised most agents don't have the 'will respond if interested' policy. Writers just need to understand and deal. Of course, agents need to communicate this policy clearly if they use it. Agents should all have websites, even if it's just to have submission guidelines and what the current response times/status is. Databases like agentquery aren't always up to date with this info.

Nathan, you actually amaze me with response times. Maybe you are just more highly organized than most. Or you just haven't been around long enough to get overwhelmed with all the other stuff. I hope you can maintain it.

Nathan Bransford said...

How would you set up an auto-reply for your existing inbox? I mean, yeah, you could set one up that would be triggered by the word "query," but not everyone queries with that word in the subject line.

Otherwise editors, my clients.... everyone would get an auto-reply when they e-mailed me. That would be insanely annoying for everyone.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Speedy, polite and personal! Go Nathan.
My favourite thing about the two rejections in my intray (so far) is that yours didn't come with a suggestion that I buy YOUR 'How to ...' book.

Anonymous said...

But that is a legitimate rule to establish. "The subject line of your E-mail must read QUERY for [Title of Book]; all other query E-mails will be deleted sight unseen." No one could have any objection to that, and it would allow an agent to set up the auto-respond feature so that people who queried him/her properly could at least know he/she had received it.

Moreover: not true about the businesses not responding to applicants--the vast majority do, most with a form letter ("thanks but no thanks," essentially). If music and film agents don't do that, well...that's more about the agents than about the practice being generally acceptable in business, right?

Finally: this isn't just a matter of "people always find something to complain about." We need to stop dismissing these legitimate complaints as the product of insane bitterness and consider the very real possibility that there's something going on here, and it's not just bitching from angry prima donnas with a hot laptop and an itchy typing finger.

Nathan Bransford said...


That's probably how I would tackle it if I decided to go that route, but trust me, people would still complain.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you ever do, and they do complain, I promise to call them out and expose them as clowns. And not particularly funny ones, either. :)

I certainly agree that authors can complain with the best of them, and no one has the "right" to have an agent. But I think the pendulum has swung strongly towards the "why are you even bothering me with this garbage?" attitude from some agents (see #queryfail for details), and I think that's wrong. Courtesy and professionalism should be a minimum expectation from authors and agents alike.

Anonymous said...

Writers bitch when they dangle their babies and no one coos. If everyone read your blog, Nathan, there would be no more complaining. I have an agent, but it's only thanks to you that I get a deeper insight into how the agent world ticks. Reading your blog has bridged the writer/agent gap. Thanks.

Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Nathan, you mention in your blog about 'Partial' submissions. Do you accept queries for books that are in the process of finalizing but not quite finished?

other lisa said...

Late to the party as usual. I haven't read AgentFail (or QueryFail, for that matter), but...

I think that writers in general are just not happy, sunny personalities. Moreover, writing takes a certain amount of, well, narcissism, and narcissism at its heart is a pernicious, deep form of insecurity. So basically you are taking personalities not necessarily well-equipped to handle rejection and putting them in a business where they are constantly facing it.

I say this as a writer, just to be clear!

You have so many writers competing for so few opportunities, and it is just a tough, tough thing to do at times. There's the huge, existential question of whether you are good enough or just another wannabe with more ambition than talent.

Add in the expectation of instant communication in the internet age, the frustration of communication in the phone tree/overseas call center age, the (somewhat) equalizing effect of the internet - where anyone can communicate their opinions - and oh yeah, mix in an unhealthy dose of snark (on both sides). It can make for a pretty toxic environment.

I completely get the "no response" frustration, especially in the email age, because there's always the nagging doubt that maybe your email ended up in somebody's spam filter, and just not knowing if you got through at all is the worst. Maybe there's some kind of technical solution to this, as some have suggested. Otherwise, "no response means no" is a reasonable policy, and I would only suggest that agents make this clear upfront in their submission guidelines.

I could be wrong about this but I think agents take much more flak than say, publishers and editors, because agents are really the primary gatekeepers in the industry these days. You are the crap-filter, and that means you get everyone, from the best to the worst (and the craziest).

Personally, I found querying agents to be much harder emotionally than submitting to publishers. When you don't have an agent, you're still at that place of fundamental insecurity - "Can I do this? Am I good enough?" It's harder to depersonalize that rejection, thus the potential for more anger aimed in agents' directions.

Jen C said...

Sun Up said...

As a side note: it would be awesome if I could find an agent made out of candy.

This idea intrigues me. Yes, it intrigues me very much.

Regarding #agentfail, I read about 10 comments until I couldn't stand it anymore. I can understand the need to vent, but man this negativity is starting to get to me.

All of the complaining about agents and publishers and blah blah blah, and all of the low self-esteem and "I'm just a lowly, unworthy writer" attitudes, and all the anger and misplaced sense of entitlement... I think I've just about had enough!

On Planet Jen the sun shines every day and we ride unicorns to work and sprinkles fall from the sky. And that's the way I would like to keep it, so I won't be reading any more #anythingfails.

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, of course people will complain. As every writer knows, you can't please everyone. what?

The no-response thing is a consistent complaint among writers, though. It's not one person complaining about not getting line-by-line critiques or another saying they'd rather the agent let their query age than get a response in minutes.

It's one writer after another saying they find "no response means no" to be unprofessional and discourteous. It's honest criticism from the other half of the potential business partnership.

Shannon said...

"it's like being mad at oxygen." Thanks for the laugh Nathan. Your turnaround times are dizzingly impressive. Thank you.

Sooki Scott said...

The negative comments yesterday fed off each other and deteriorated as the day progressed. It had the feel of a mob scene toward the end.

Thanks for your upbeat attitude. (It makes me smile.)

Confucius says, woman who put dish soap on top shelf, jump for joy.

Lucinda said...

Nathan, we live in a very volatile society today. Everyone is angry, it seems. At work, in the stores, on the highways, in homes and just about anywhere there are people, anger is present.

From reading your blogs, and from reading other agent websites, you have a caring and careful attitude. We like you. (even though I have not submitted anything to you...yet)

Oh, and I like the idea of the agent piñatas. Give out enough margaritas, and we wouldn't be able to swing very accurately, though.

Thomas Burchfield said...

As has been said elsewhere, talent simply isn't enough--it's only the start; and while I wish someone told me different when I was young, arrogant and naive, maybe it's just as well I learned it the hard way. So I don't complain too much, though I might in specific individual cases where I am treated with genuine incivility or criminality.

But, after talent, there must come hard work and more hard work and then some more hard work. After that, some hard work. And then there's the cool--not cold, just cool--clear inner eye you need to know when what you've done works and when it doesn't. After that, hard work. (And did I say "patience"? Tanker-loads!)

Then comes the hard work.And luck. Don't forget luck--as in the things you cannot control once you send your hard work out to face the chaotic world.

I haven't gone to "#agentfail" and I likely won't. If I want nihilism--real nihilism--I can go to the local flea-bar and get earfuls of it until my liver falls out.

In the meantime, I am happy to drop by a blog as gracious and informative as Mr. Bransford's.

Anonymous said...

To Anon at 3:22--exactly. I think it's important to emphasize this over the constant drone of "get over it" and "everyone will complain about something" and "writers are narcissistic by nature."

We're talking about basic courtesy, which should be a given. It's got nothing to do with whining or negativity, and everything to do with a minimum level of respect. It's time to stop blaming authors for having the reasonable desire to be treated humanly and professionally.

Nathan Bransford said...

Again, I don't know that it should be considered a basic courtesy. Everyone should be clear up front with their response policy, but there's a point where responding to 15,000 people a year becomes excessively arduous.

Bane of Anubis said...

Nathan, I think you hit the nail on the head w/ the job reply comparison - it's always nice to get a nice "shove off" from whomever is rejecting you, but to expect it (particularly if the agent's info says they only respond to interesting queries) is a bit naive in today's world...

In other notes, I'm not so sure the Kings are gonna be helped by the draft this year - BG's a good solid post, but he only strikes me as a notch above erstwhile King, Corliss Williamson... This draft class looks weak.

Over/Under?: 0.0001% = 1/1,000,000 (pretty damn stark, TYVM) -- Kings making the playoffs next year.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, this draft is extremely weak. The Kings always pick the worst years to have a high pick. I don't think they'll sniff the playoffs for at least one more year.

Bane of Anubis said...

Anon 2:55 - I want to know these companies that give responses - I've applied to more than 30 jobs in the past three months - I've heard responses from 3 of them, of which two were for interviews.

Anonymous said...

I just eat hot peppers and Thai food.
It's much more tasty and easier to digest.
Good writer food.

Mira said...

Okay, I read some and skimmed through the rest of the agentfail responses.


I work in management. Every now and then my staff decides to get together and tell me how much I suck.

When I was a new supervisor, I got really hurt by this. I got angry and decided the real problem was my staff. Therefore, the real solution was to get rid of them and get a new staff.

For some odd reason, that didn't work well. :-)

But as I got more experienced, I learned it was best to push past my hurt and listen to them.

Sometimes my staff isn't really angry with me, but something else and I'm a safe target. But sometimes they're right. I suck. I'm doing things I don't realize are hurtful or wrong.

Either way, there's always something real going on.

People feel the way they feel. You can't argue with feelings. Well, you can try, but it won't work.

There is always a reason why people feel the way they feel.

Yes, anonymous venting on the internet can build into a crescendo of hatred, and that's not healthy, but that doesn't change the fact that if so many people are that angry, there's a reason for it.

I'm in the field of psychology, and most professionals believe that anger is a secondary emotion. It stems from fear and hurt.

I think if you read the comments from agentfail alittle differently, you see alot of people who feel very hurt.

Anger is always safer to express than hurt.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

"Again, I don't know that it should be considered a basic courtesy. Everyone should be clear up front with their response policy, but there's a point where responding to 15,000 people a year becomes excessively arduous."

This is the wrong venue to keep trying this line, Nathan - everyone needs recognition of their existence if not their efforts (no-one is expecting constructive feedback with tips and pointers in the margins).

Thanks but no thanks doesn't take long.

Anonymous said...

Although, sadly, after 800+ applications for teaching positions when I had had my university's top -and unprecedented twice top- honors,
I could not get even an interview for a teaching position,
I didn't get negative, I just quit trying.
I think being a writer is a LOT like that sometimes. You keep writing, but you quit trying to win the popularity game.
Folks like Nathan help to show you a little better what the game rules are and I sooooo appreciate that.
Thanks Nathan, all around.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, it does take long. It takes really really really long. One response: sure, only takes a few seconds. Multiply that by 15,000 and you have yourself a full time job that isn't making you any money.

Look, I know that writers want validation. They want to feel like agents respect them enough to get a response. That's why I do it -- it fosters good will. It's what everyone would do in an ideal world.

But it's not treated like a courtesy -- it's treated like an author's right.

And I'm sorry, it's not an author's right. It's up to the agent's discretion. If they don't want to do it: maybe they'll receive less queries, but it doesn't make them less of an agent or less of a human being.

AndrewDugas said...

I'll vouch for Nathan. He IS a class act. He rejected my query in 24 hours with a tasteful "I'm not the best advocate" declaration. Would I want someone who didn't believe in my work to rep it?

Thank you, Nathan. This blog is awesome.

Anonymous said...

How's this for a solution: A "query" web site where authors can post their agent queries, then wait for agents to correspond with them?

It sort of reverses the process and gives authors some power because they can pick an agent from the many (hopeful!) that respond to their query.

Agents don't have to reply to hundreds a day; they can pick and choose. Authors can have "no response" policy if they like.

What a hoot that would be ;-).

AndrewDugas said...

Nathan, your math is convincing, but how about just setting a limit? After X number of queries pile up, just set email to auto-reply: "Overwhelmed with queries for now, try me again later."

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Such a classy response - restores my faith in people - truly.

Anonymous said...


Since we're on the topic of agents/rejections I was wondering if I could get your advice on something.

I've only submitted to one agent so far, and she came back and said my novel wasn't for her, but she gave me the name of an editor at Nelson and offered to give her a call for me. She said I could probably submit to Nelson without an agent.

So, I'm not sure what to think. Should I start querying more agents and wait for representation, or should I pass my manuscript on to Nelson and take my chances?

Thanks in advance!

writtenwyrdd said...

I read a bunchh of the agentfail comments and just shook my head at the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Really, what it boiled down to for me was people who got mad about agents who didn't do what they wanted.

Sometimes life is not fair. And this process is not designed to be fair. Not every little kid (writer) gets handed a ribbon or trophy for participating. Only winners win. it's unfortunate, but it's the reality.

Selling your precious creations is very soul-killing at times. And agents are doing the best they can under an overwhelming workload.

Anonymous said...

I must have been high on something when I read Agent Fail. I saw around 10, maybe 20, angry people out of 235. Rainbows and puppies here. The rest I saw as legitimate questions/suggestions.

Not understanding or asking for improvements does not equal anger. Asking for courtesy does not mean answering every email personally, it means not seeing your name flashed on queryfail or bashed for asking a stupid question, and if you get past the query stage letting you know yes or no. I'm not sure which 10 posts everyone else read and couldn't go on, but it surely wasn't the first or the last 10. Several published authors blogged unanonymously. I'm sorry but I think I am the one who rides unicorns and eats chocolate.

B of A did you call and ask if they were interested in you, and they blew you off? I have never had anyone do that to me, and if it was a job I wanted I always called. I think people get upset when they are made to think they are stupid for wanting a response.

I think your taking this personal and none of it implied you. You are the epitome of agents. Chill dude, you are all good.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Debate; don't you just love it?!
I await the next blog with great enthusiasm as usual - but writing as person who writes 140,000 hand written comments yearly (few being as simple as thanks but no thanks - or better luck next time)- surely it's just a matter of the out tray being nearer than the recycling bin?
The eye contact in the street that is writing.
ps Your still my hero! It says so on my wall at school!

BookEnds, LLC said...

I want to pop in for a minute since I was skimming the comments here and am still reeling for the comments on my own blog. I wanted to step in and stand behind Nathan on the no response policy. I understand why writers want the validation and in a perfect world all agents would not only give a response, but they would try to make it personal too. This is not a perfect world and responses do take much longer then you think, even if they are form responses. The last I timed it, it took me over an hour to read and respond to 60 equeries. I don't have a free hour every day to do that.

I think someone here pointed out that most companies do not send a response to a resume and in some ways a query is very similar to a resume. The difference is you are doing the hiring.

I'm not sure there's a simple solution and I know if there is it won't please everyone, but I just wanted to back Nathan on this because I think his argument is very sound.


Azimuth said...

There is so much more involved in writing a novel and getting it published than I realized when I started writing one several years ago. It's a developmental process. It would be nice if everyone did their research before querying agents, but some people don't even know that is a good thing. Queryfail, as nasty as it can be, is a real eye opener and learning experience.

From an aspiring writer's perspective, this writing business is hard. Having a finished manuscript is just the start. You need feedback from more objective readers on whether it works and on the competency of the writing. As a writer, sometimes I'm in love with my work and can't see it because the darned rose-colored glasses get in the way. :D
Writing 100,000 words is tough slogging. Even if you succeed in writing your novel, it may not be a fresh and exciting to anyone but the writer.

Next, you have to figure out the whole business end of things -- how to get it published? Agent slush pile? Publisher slush pile? Pitch an agent at a convention? How do you query? What makes a good query? What makes a good synopsis? Who is the best agent for my book? Polish those first five/ten pages. Get each agent's reqirements right.


Then, after all that work, you submit your query and get a response in an hour -- or never.

I am just at the stage of planning to query agents. I think that queryfail and agentfail are expressions of the frustrations of both sides, but the mean/nasty part of both is not good.

My belief is that it's best to treat everyone with courtesy, agent or aspiring author. Nathan Bansford sounds as if he's going to be top of my list, when I get to it. Courtesy wins.

Jen C said...

I must have been high on something when I read Agent Fail. I saw around 10, maybe 20, angry people out of 235. Rainbows and puppies here. The rest I saw as legitimate questions/suggestions.

Not understanding or asking for improvements does not equal anger.

I think the general feeling is that there was too much negativity. Anger and negativity are two different things.

Jan said...

I wasn't actually surprised by the venting, I know a lot of writers are tired and depressed and ticked off by the process and they vent...loud. What surprised me was the actual serious ...well, ickiness mixed in.

Asking for a full or asking for an exclusive -- asking for it, then not responding at all. Not even a form letter. Ick.

Shopping someone's manuscript to see if there is interest at the houses BEFORE passing on it so that when the person DOES get an agent, the agent is hit in the face with -- hey, I've seen this manuscript. Ick.

Passing on a manuscript and telling the person they should go with this self-publishing company that's giving the agent a little bonus for the referral. Ick.

Those things surprised me. I knew about the "no answer means no" thing for queries and unsolicited and though I don't exactly like it, I understood it in light of the flood of submissions -- but when the agent ASKS for something when THE AGENT solicites it, not responding to it at all does seem...well, wrong or at least rude.

And I wonder how many agents put those things in the guidelines so writers can decide to just not query them...I can see the guidelines now:

We don't respond to manuscripts we have solicited specifically unless we decide to represent them.

We don't respond to manuscripts we called and asked for revisions on unless we decide to represent them.

We shop your manuscript around to see if there's any interest among our usual editorial contacts before deciding to represent you.

When we do send rejections, we suggest you go with self-publishing because the self-publisher will give a little something extra in our Christmas stocking.

Which of us would send to them? I'm not sure some of that was about being mad at oxygen. I think it's getting mad at things you maybe can't know until they happen because they're NOT in the guidelines, and when they happen -- they really stink.

There was plenty of venting there...but mixed in were some real surprises that made me sad to think agents somewhere did some of those things.

Agnes said...

Nathan, maybe some of the misunderstandings are technical difficulties. I've never received a response from an e-mail query (I always get responses from snail mail queries). I've queried four agents (including you: 3/21/09 and 3/31/09) and haven't received a response. Now I'm wondering if there's something wrong with my e-mail? Though it doesn't bounce back and I never have trouble with it for any other business. I don't get angry (just disappointed)-- people must be a little immature to let it anger them -- but authors who aren't hearing back maybe should figure out if they've done something that isn't working?? Should I e-mail you again?

Nathan Bransford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for weighing in, Jessica! (oops, originally made that a question mark for some reason)


One thing that I noticed that baffled me were the people who sent a requested manuscript and then either never heard back or waited 8 months or so to follow up. How do they know something didn't go awry somewhere?

If an agent requests your manuscript, follow up once a month, politely, via e-mail.


Yes, it sounds like you're having technical difficulties. Did you check your spam filter?

Anonymous said...


There is an auto response simply installed on email that says yes I got your email, it wasn't lost in cyperspace. You can be in Hawaii and your computer in California or New York it will still answer. It can be triggered by a key word such as query. I think a lot of people worry you never got their query and then get abused by a few agents if they resend. I realize not everyone is a computer geek, but that goes for writers also. They just want some reassurance they aren't being killed by computer stupidity.

K.C. Shaw said...

I've had a requested full out for eight months now. The agent also hasn't responded to my emails (actually, I think I've only sent one) asking if she received the manuscript. I don't expect her to sit down and read the damn thing RIGHT THEN, I just want to make sure she got it. (Although why she requested it if she apparently wasn't excited enough by it to open the file since last September is just beyond me.)

I'm querying a new project now. Needless to say, she's not on my list.

Leigh Lyons said...

perhaps most of the frusteration comes from the one-sidedness of the publishing world. I think writers just feel like the ms they've cried and bleed over (paper cuts suck!) are looked down upon because of so many people competing for an agent. It's like being in high school and a asking someone out to the Winter Formal, along with everyone else in the school and not hearing back on who the person in question will be going with.

And thanks for actually telling us if you're going to pass! My query was rejected by you (though, I look at it now, and it sucked). It really was better to know I'd been passed over than not knowing anything.

Mira said...

Wasn't it just last week we were talking about someone who decided to self-publish, even if it meant a loss of money, because they were so frustrated with past experiences within the publishing industry that they had an axe to grind?

That included passing on getting an agent.

Publishing is changing. The power balance is shifting.

If writers are that angry at agents, agents should pay attention.

Of course agents have their side to things. What does that have to do with the price of China? If a system isn't working, it's not working.

Digging your heels in is not helpful. Compromise, negotiation are helpful.

Have agents never considered that alot of what they do can be taught as self-help? Look at Nolo press with lawyers. As self-publishing through e-books becomes more common, programs to negotiate rights on your own can also be developed.

Nathan, you of all people should understand that digging your heels in is not the way to go here.

When people are that angry, listen to them.

That said, I hate it when I'm in conflict with you.

I'll have to mail you a list of my beliefs so in the future, we can think alike on everything.

Jil said...

Yesterday on my Google mail site they offered a new service in which the computer reads incoming mail and automatically answers it in the receiver's own style. Voila! no need to get out of bed in the morning!
It sounds horrendous to me but it may settle an agent's problem.

At least Nathan's turnaround rejection called me Jil and signed himself Nathan. It did take the edge off = a tiny bit. Ms.== and Mr. Bransford would have been shattering.

wickerman said...

With all due respect to Jessica and our esteemed host, I think the point on the replies is not being taken.

While there are a few people out there who think Nathan (or whoever) should reject their book with six pages of explanation and suggestions for turning it into another Da Vinci Code, those were the kids that sniffed glue int he back of the room in Math class.

I would be perfectly fine with an agent posting in their guidelines:

'I do not have time to respond to every query. I have an automated response system that will send you an 'I got it' message IF the word 'QUERY' appears in the subject line. if not, you may never know I got it.'

To me any numbskull who emails you incessantly about you never responding (because they did not follow directions) would have been the type to nag you no matter what. You really are not inviting any more stupid emails than the avalanche you already get.

I think most of us realize that we are not getting a love letter back when we submit. But I also think the resume/job application comparison is weak. No one spent 4 years writing their resume. It isn't a submission that consumed large portions of their life for a long period of time and was forged with blood sweat and tears.

the shittiest manuscripts in the world took just as long to write as the best ones. A simple 'your message was received' canned email reply seems small consideration for that effort.

All that said, I found 99% of Agentfail as repugnant as I found queryfail. I salute the agents out there who work hard for their clients and still have the energy left to respond to the hopefuls and spend the time trying to help in the way that this site and others like Query Shark do.

Thanks from the stuggling masses :)

Nathan Bransford said...


I can agree with that. If I did have to go to a no-response system, that's what I'd do.

freddie said...

If music and film agents don't do that, well...that's more about the agents than about the practice being generally acceptable in business, right?

Not really. It may be unacceptable in many businesses not to respond to applicants, but it's pretty common for film and music agents not to respond to screenwriters, composers, etc. In fact, I would argue agents ignoring a querying artist is a business standard in the film world. And that really doesn't say anything about the agent. There is just way too much supply as opposed to demand. An agent couldn't get back to everyone, and neither can the people who work for the studios.

I think that's all that's happening here. What Nathan said about agents who have a "no response means no" policy is that they're not actively looking for new clients, which totally makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

If an agent has a "no response = not interested" policy in order to cull submissions, then why can't they just close submissions? Nobody's time is wasted.

Kristi said...

I'm in your same career field and agree that anger is a secondary emotion. However, I feel like it's our job to teach people how to recognize and express the primary emotion (be it hurt or fear) appropriately. Venting like queryfail or agentfail can release frustration but usually is not very productive. As my mom says, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

Nathan - no matter what you do there will be unhappy people involved. From reading this blog, I think you are more than generous with your time and the fact that I saw so many people post here that were rejected by you is a testament to how professional you are. Keep smiling :)

Anonymous said...

You are indeed a class act. I have never seen any other agent willing to please as much as you. If I were looking for an agent you would be on the top of my list. Firebrand has an automated response set-up. It's a good deal.
Now if you'll excuse me I need to go put on some chapstick. After reading this blog I'd bet I am not the only one. BTW Agent Fail is still getting new posts.

If you're still watching, I think another name was named.

Merrell said...

Being new to this crazy world of publishing, I am surprised at the level of hostility towards agents! If these frustrated souls started writing in order to make a living, publishing a book is NOT the only path to a paycheck. And if they started writing to land on the best seller list, hoping to cozy up next to Oprah, did they really think snuggling up next to her would happen the minute the printer exhausted itself spitting out their manuscript?

I’ve yet to hear a magical tale of an aspiring actor riding into Hollywood on a white horse and straight onto a movie set in the lead role. And just like all other artistically driven industries, success in the publishing world seems to be a lot like winning the lottery. Playing the odds, I’d almost rather search for a magical litter of talking puppies or dig for Jimmy Hoffa in my backyard.

(POLLYANNA ALERT- Cynics beware the remainder of this post!) So some agents can be mean, egotistical, and think they know more than God. If folks didn’t know that before they entered into this dream to be published, shame on them for not researching! Will the industry change because of wordsmith hopefuls complaining about it? I doubt it. And I can’t help but wonder if all this pent up frustration will somehow be reflected in their writing. Maybe that’s a good thing….

As for me, I just finished writing my first novel about a month ago. Maybe after 200 rejections, I’ll have a different take on writing. But for now, I’m just so stinking happy to have actually finished it! I walk around most days with two or three sweat towels firmly attached to my belt. I have to keep something handy to absorb the excess sweat caused by my unpredictable fits of jumping up and down at the thought….I finished writing a book!!!

If the absence of a rejection bothers me, as opposed to being TOLD my book is no good, then I just won’t query that agent. I wrote the book because I love to write. Not because I have something to say and demand they change the rules for me. That attitude seems almost as self-centered as the agents who might act that way. For every agent who may seem like an evil troll, there is surely another non-troll looking for fresh talent, ready to guide them into success! (We hope!)

For now…. I think I’ll just venture into the garage and fetch my shovel….

Anonymous said...

A lot of people were commenting on form letters and no responses...

I say more forms and no responses the better...

The good thing about this is

a) no false hope.

b)the writer won't waste their time or yours knocking on your door, but hopefully will look elsewhere or work on writing.

I say this because good feedback leads to too many questions of the desperate writer. I think we read into it too much.

I had fabulous feedback from an editor about 3 times, on 2 different MS's. Oh and from another on one of the same MS's..I didn't get it till the FOURTH letter that the problem wasn't a new story, but my writing. I love those editors and everything I've learned about myself and writing since then... But, it did take a VERY long time for my bubble to burst... Let me tell you bubble dwellers... life outside is_so_much_better...

I know that isn't dealing with an agent, but something similar happened with an agent, and I knew I wasn't ready. I think everything goes so much more smoothly if writers research and communicate well. Then they know what to avoid. And if they take the time to believe in themselves, some of the desperation and constant assurance can be avoided.

I think you have to be honest with yourself and then the frustration can be avoided.


freddie said...

If an agent has a "no response = not interested" policy in order to cull submissions, then why can't they just close submissions? Nobody's time is wasted.

For the same reason you're querying an agent who warned you that you might not get a response. You're sending in your manuscript on the off-chance it might be just the thing that agent is looking for, just like the agent is keeping submissions open on the off-chance that gem might come in.

I wish more agents would do this than the ones who say they'll respond and then don't.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Wow all this has really touched a nerve in our writing community.

BarbS. said...

LOL, I'm beginning to think I should query Nathan just for the experience of being rejected so kindly!

Christine H said...

Wow, Nathan, your turnaround times are very impressive. All I can say is... Wow.

I'm with Barb S.! I'm definitely going to query you when my book is done, just to get a personalized reply. Then I'll frame it, alongside my first rejection.

Furious D said...

While not getting an answer can be frustrating, I don't mind if they state that they have a "respond if interested" policy. I know their time is limited, and I won't waste it by burning any bridges.

BTW-- I just got my new subscription to Writer's Digest, and you are on the list of 100 best sites for writers. Congratulations.

Annalee said...

I stayed out of it because my interactions with agents have been overwhelmingly positive.

As you say, an agent does not owe me their time, so unless Triumph the Insult Comic Dog rejects their slush for them, rejections/nonresponses are not a fail (even if they're -gasp!- printed on a half-sheet of paper to save trees, or sent promptly to save time!).

As far as I'm concerned, the only things an agent could do worthy of AgentFail would be intentional rudeness or fraud (rudeness here defined in the traditional "not doing unto others" sense, not in the "refusing to recognize my genius even after I sent a query written with grease pencil on lettuce leaves" sense). If an agent is polite, professional, and scrupulous, I have nothing but appreciation for their time.

Writer from Hell said...

I agree - its really important to not take agents' response or lack of it too personally.

I respect an agent far more if he responds to my query, but if he doesn't - no problem. I do assume it to mean no. And I sent him the query coz I liked and respected him in the first place and even if he rejects my query, I find I continue to like/respect him.

I can't believe I just said that!

However, I saw in the link some author complain about a requested manuscript not responded to for 8 months and upon tele enquiry - told an abrupt no. That sux. That is not only indecent but truly unprofessional on the agent's part.

Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel any better, and it probably doesn't, this kind of frustration, complaining and venting aren't exactly unique to the publishing industry. I work in the nonprofit sector by day, and believe you me... well, let's just say I could write a book. But in a former career I also spent time in the for-profit sector and in government, and guess what? It happens there, too!

No matter what business you're in, including the arts, you'd be amazed how many people do not have "professionalism" in their vocabulary. If you wonder whether a writer/agent (depending on what side of the fence you're on) has #failed, replace "publishing" with, oh I don't know, "accounting," and see if it still sounds like a fail.

Example: Instead of a query, it's a job application. The company does not invite you for an interview. Some will send you a rejection letter, others won't bother. Does that give you the right to send the HR manager your resume 20 more times? To search for their cell or home phone and call them at all hours? To send them nasty emails? If your answer is yes, regardless of the industry, I'm afraid you would indeed be labeled a wing-nut.

Writer from Hell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Writer from Hell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Writer from Hell said...

Ok now I've also read the comments above. One thing sucks the most for me - that gets my goat everytime is the agented authors speaking for agents and published authors speaking about fairness of the process. Not that I don't believe what they are saying but it just looks duh - downrite hypocritical n trite - even if they mean it.

When you make it, you have to watch your words for what they now mean in the lite of your success. Success brings its own responsibilities and one of them is knowing when to shut up! Makes you a bigger person..

Mira said...

Kristi - I agree, but not everyone has the skill you're talking about. I don't always, that's for sure. Also, the invitation on Bookends was to vent. I got the impression it was a 'tit for tat' following the queryfail - something that upset alot of people.

I think agents may have been taken aback by the intensity of people's feelings. So, that's why I've been talking more about the art of listening to what's really being said.

As usual, though, I've said so much that people are probably going to start edging away from me. Just in case lightening really does strike me down where I stand.

But everything I said was actually out of caring and an attempt to build bridges.

Anonymous said...

I queried something over a hundred agents on my first novel. Got requests for three fulls and half a dozen partials.

All were ultimately rejected without comment.

Reaction: Re-evaluate/ get critical about self and writing/back to square one/start new novel.

Current Result: 50,000 words out of target 85,000 written.

Writing is artistic, yes. But it's also a business. I do not accept failure.

Writer from Hell said...

anon 8:32pm

I like that spirit! Good luck!

Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy said...

A lot of this boils down to our desire to know the “why” behind every decision. In many ways several of these posts remind me of the high school students I use to teach. When they asked for something and I said no it was almost always followed by why. The funny thing is that when I said yes no one ever asked why or how come.

Sending an unsolicited query letter does not establish a client/agent relationship and therefore no duty is own and certainly not an explanation of why or why not.

Crimogenic said...

I skimmed through the post over at bookend's site. There was a lot of frustration, but I guess we all need to express our frustration at some point or another. But although their were 200 plus posts, there are thousands of writers out there, so one can't assume that they are all bitter.

Anonymous said...

writer in the wild
sends a query
plays loves me loves me not
while he waits
chewin nails
waitin for the ferry

oh the pain of
unreturned love
sends an abuse
now there
buddy thats not merry

Anonymous said...

agent s a hawt gal
wooed by many
a woman es known by
who admires her
just as much as
how many!!!

If it ever came to ADHS for me, I'll turn into an agent.

Deb Vanasse said...

I'll admit to not having read all 200+ agentfail comments, but I like what you've said here, Nathan. People need to understand that, like it or not, this is a business. Good agents will have sensible policies to ensure they function efficiently and effectively, even though the policies won't be popular with everyone.

TecZ aka Dalton C Teczon - Writer said...

Personally, as a writer, I appreciate some type of response, if nothing else, so that I know my query was received and read. The not knowing and waiting is agony. And it leaves a big empty space on my query log records,(I like all the spaces nicely filled in). I do appreciate agents such as yourself, Nathan, that take the time to respond, especially as busy as you are. Thank you so much for your helpful blogs as well. Have a great day!

Laura D said...

I echo those who said 'fail' is now passe. It would be okay by me just to have a "we received your email" message to let me know it was sent okay. Oh, and I have never received a no response to a job application, despite the years of education and training it took to make one! (Even more than 4 years with more blood, sweat and tears that it has ever taken me to write a novel-which is love not labour to me.)

Anonymous said...

Another idea. Agents set up a query form online at a web site.

Authors have to register to send queries. Sessions are private between agent and authors.

Query and agent response is all done online. Nice and neat. Email is for follow ups.

(Gee, Nathan, I think some of these women are in love with you. How many "classys" can one guy get!)

Shaun Hutchinson said...

First off, I think most of the complaints against agents are unjustified. However, the thing about not answering if not interested kind of rubs me the wrong way.

It's not that I think I deserve any of the agent's time, it's simply that if they're seeking submissions, and I submit, then courtesy dictates they, at the very least, return a minimal reply if the answer is no. My opinion (and it's just my opinion) is that if an agent doesn't want to open the floodgates, they should close to submissions (temporarily at least).

I know there are lots and lots of reasons why an agent might choose not to reply unless interested, but our world is already so impersonal as it is. If I had to choose between an agent with this policy and one without it, I'd go with the one who took the ten extra seconds to respond with a polite no.

That being said, agents are people too, people!

Kimber An said...

Oh, yes, there was plenty of angst, but it was honest angst even if a lot of it wasn't reasonable. I mean, good grief, people aren't usually rational when they're upset. And a lot of them have been treated disrespectfully. When you're new to a game, that's especially hard to take.

Nevertheless, I think a lot of valid things were learned by all. And I hope those things will resonate in a good way in the coming months.

I agree it's a good idea simply not to query those agents who don't respond unless interested. Rather than losing sleep, I also think it's a good idea to avoid querying agents, to put it euphemistically, whose business style is incompatible with one's own.

Anonymous said...

While I can see it's annoying for agents to see this venting, and there was a lot of vitriol, there were some good points made.

No response equals no. Well, how long do we wait? A week, a month, six months? I've seen several agents whose websites state 'If we do not respond in X time, it's a no' This works fine, because then we KNOW. I've also seen an agent state 'If you haven't heard from me in six weeks, e-mail me a nudge and I get back ASAP' And I did, and he did, with a very spiffing and informative about the publishing industry form rejection

Keep your website updated. This was mentioned more than once, and it should be standard practice for any business really. If you mostly rep YA, and all of a sudden you decide actually you want to rep erotica, it might be worth mentioning your change in genres! Also you'll get more queries for what you want, rather than what you don't, so benefits run both ways. Same goes for if an agent leaves an agency. Take their details down ASAP - you'll get less e-mails to answer ( or not) and we won't have wasted our time.

Professional courtesy. I've lost count of the number of agents I've seen who state 'If you can't get my name right, it's auto reject'. And one of those agents rejected me, getting both my name and the name of the book wrong!

Really all we want is what you want - courtesy, even if you're rejecting us. You're busy, and we get that. But so are we. I have two jobs ( three if you count writing) a husband and two young kids to look after. I don't have much in the way of spare time either. But I don't use that as an excuse not to be as professional and courteous as I can. And while I know you don't either, many agents do.

And it's THOSE agents that people get frustrated with. The ones who insist on a certain level of courtesy, refuse to return it, ( and occasionally even publicly ridicule authors) and then wonder why writers get frustrated and vent.

Oh, and by the way, thank you for your timely and polite rejection :D

Judy Schneider said...

Excellent advice. If you don't like an agent's response policy, don't submit to him/her. Thanks for sharing your insights, too, on what a no-response-unless-we-want-more policy might mean. Common sense wins again!

Alice Berger said...

I never had any idea how many submissions an editor or agent receives until I became a book reviewer. We're a relatively small and unknown site, but we still receive a LOT of requests.

My turnaround time has gotten longer as we get more books, and soon I may need to put a temporary hold on new review requests. If I'm feeling overwhelmed just reviewing books, I can certainly understand how an editor/agent feels!!

Julia from Atlanta said...

I read them all too, and was surprised at all the wrath. If most agents are like those, then you are a gem for responding so quickly, professionally and politely. I just hope that my recent query to you was rejected on its own basis and not because I (nervously) did not paste my first 5 pages below. I did resubmit it with those pages, but with no response, I understood that your answer was still No.

I did not see these on agentfail - and they don't fall into the anger category:

1. When an agent says: If I pass on your work, it may be that I just wasn't in that mood that day, kind of like when you go to a bookstore, open the cover and decide that just isn't what you want to read, whether it's good or not. That comparison doesn't work for me, Nathan, because if I put a book down in the store, I may later go back to it and buy it; but if an agent passes, you are done - you don't get a second chance. And,

2. When an agent says: As an author, you can't just write a good book, you have to 'Get it'. While I am all into learning/knowing/keeping up with the publishing business, I can't believe that an agent would pass on something great because the author just wasn't as savvy as the agent desired her to be.
That's it!

terri said...

I have a case in federal court, so I have developed the patience of the freaking Sphinx.

I have won my first case, in two decisions, both rendered exactly one year apart. I sat quietly and chanted 'ohm' to keep my sanity while waiting for the court to act. I also put it out of my mind and worked on other parts of the case.

I tell myself that delay can be good. Rejection is quick and easy, delay may mean the submission is getting more thought and consideration.

As for the truly sloppy agents who don't deal with queries until the pile files over on their desk or blows out their email capacity, well, if an agent is slow and sloppy at this stage of the game, how do they handle everything else? The writer is likely better of without them.

verify word? rester (a writer contentedly waiting to hear back on queries)

Adaora A. said...

I know it's such a rare thing these days, but I really love the way you opperate Nathan.

I think it's great that we have the option to query agents (good, solid agents) who are actually looking for new clients. It all comes down choice. So I don't understand why people get so angry about the fact that some agents are full. If you've got a closet that is stuffed too capacity, you're not going to attempt to fit more into it.

I have to say though (in conclusion before I rush off to work), that I like the #agentfailfail# title. A lot.

Psue Dohnyme said...

#agentfail: Writers, there are good reasons for not pissing into the wind.

#queryfail: Agents, you can't win a pissing contest with an elephant.

Oh yes, and most of you have lovely sentence structure. Looking forward to the day it's employed in more constructive debates.

Jil said...

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." That was my school motto. We writers spend years writing, rewriting, editing and polishing our manuscripts. Then we write that query letter following the agent's directions as best we can. That is our job. Why should we accept that an agent can be offhand or rude back to us? He/she chose that profession. If that agent gets overwhelmed, hire someone to help in some way. It's part of the job. That's their problem and no excuse for the rudeness of no reply. The same goes for everything in life. Kindness counts.Remember those sad words in The KiteFlyer.; "There is no kindness in Afghanistan anymore."
We are lucky to know someone like Nathan, so keep the faith, there must be more.

Glen Akin said...

I said this before: agentfail = waste of time. People are going to cause more problems than solve any.

However, I do sympathise with most of the comments I saw there. A lot of people up here are saying stuff like, "If you don't like the agent's policy, don't query them," when the truth is half the complaints are about agents not keeping to their policies.

If agents claim on their site that they represent x type of books and they reply to a query about x type of books with a, "I don't represent this type of books," then why is it on your website?

That was one of the complaints I saw there from a lot of posters that I thought was legit. There were others to do with the time-frame agents claim to reply queries, and how agents request an exclusive full MS, don't reply for ages (thereby trapping writer into a long wait), and then coming back with a, "It's not my type of book." Lolol! Gotta love agents.

Anyway, my advice is to just keep trying. If an agent says they'll get back in 2 months and they haven't got back in 3, scratch them off your list and move on.

Stay positive - that's the key, brothers and sisters!

Nona said...

". . . for the most part it unleashed a vast fount of angst. So much you could bottle it up and sell it to those crazy people who fight in mesh cages."

First of all, I haven't read the thread. Wouldn't waste my time. Second of all, why not bottle up the rage and sell it to people who need the energy to improve their work?

When a person's a writer, artist, musician, etc., the work's gotta come first. The rest is icing. Does that mean that I wouldn't love to get paid to sit around and fantasize all day? No, it does not.

I work very slowly because I only write when I'm inspired. I've found that if I write when I'm uninspired, the writing is "okay." Not mediocre, just "okay." Okay enough to leave in place; not something I'll ever go back and change. So I avoid writing when I'm not "up for it."

This leads to slow writing. You will be the first one I query, Bransford, so you better be ready! I have plenty of back-up plans but you will be the first since I am paranoid and I'd rather work with someone I'm familiar with rather than send it off to people I don't really "know."

Scott said...

I think Jan @ 5:02pm nailed it pretty well. Agents can complain all they want about being inundated with submissions, but another way of putting it is being "spoiled for choice". Again, Nathan, you handle your business with respect for the writer and I know you get a lot of stuff that's just not up to par or for you. In the future, if things change, just let folks know how it's going to be.

I guess it's all about being honest. The agency that requested my full said straight off: if we're interested, you'll know right away. If you don't hear from us or within a few days, assume it's not for us. Luckily for me, I got the request within a half-hour. Time to email them, however, as it's been almost two months since I sent them my MS.

And for those who are angry that an agent isn't sticking to their policies, I suppose you cold claim "too busy to see if you've queried them already" and query them continuously until you hear something. ;)

Eric said...

Nathan, it's probably been suggested...but why not have an email address dedicated soley to queries set up with auto reply to confirm reciept?

Alot of the anger in this query thread I suspect shares something with the previous topic on whether one thought they are better than the pack.

PurpleClover said...

Nathan I would query you in a heartbeat if you represented picture books. lol. But since you don't I'll have to wait until I finish my SciFi Thriller...soooo couple months?? lol.

As for the comments...that is the only downside to inviting anonymous commenters...suddenly everyone takes it as an opportunity for a long rant. It's sad that so many (allegedly...for all we know it was one person - lol) felt the need to be anonymous.

I think there is a fine line between constructive criticism and destructive. I think it was crossed several times by people that would rather b*t*h and moan than state an opinion respectfully.

But Janet Reid did an awesome job at responding on her blog today.

Sheila said...

Late to the game, once again. Nathan, do you really read all of these?

I don't mind agents who don't respond if it's a no. Is that really different from a form rejection? Yes, you can complain that you don't know if they got it, but, c'mon, you know they did. Their email address is correct, you double checked. They got it.

You have to have a good query mindset I think, to not take things personally. Research agents, craft a personal letter, send it and forget it and move on to the next one on your list. And see things from an agent's perspective. Be forgiving, not judgmental. We all make mistakes (sorry to the agent I sent my query to before reading their submission guidelines. Oops!)

Anonymous said...

Well, here is the thing about form letters...

agents don't want to be addressed:

Dear Agent,
Here is my form submission...

and writers don't want to be addressed:

Dear Writer,
Here is my form rejection

so I suppose that if the writer has to personalize it, they take it personally if they are treated with a formula letter back.

but wow 15000+++ queries (and counting) is a lot of name spelling I suppose

being a writer can be a lot like (oh no -duck! simile coming)a sperm trying to get to that darned egg

But blogs like yours, Nathan, help us feel you are talking to us, personally,so thank you!

(Blogs, like us, Baby we were born to write!) (sorry, couldn't help myself)

Anonymous said...

I am not an author but a reader of fiction, non fiction, memoirs, bodice rippers—basically anything with words. This discussion reminds me of the advice that a teacher gave our commercial illustration class in design school. "Nobody cares about you, get over it."

Anonymous said...

If an agent really makes you mad, don't just boycott them. Boycott their client list.

Let them know that you are, too. Even if it's anonymous.

Kristi said...

Mira - I agree with you. I just think there's a difference between not knowing how to express yourself appropriately and not being capable of doing so. I managed a 23-bed locked unit of juveniles with serious criminal and mental health disorders, and if they could be taught to express emotions in a healthy way, I just have to believe there is hope for relatively high-functioning writers and agents. :)

Susan Gabriel said...

Good for you, Nathan. A call for sanity. There are so many bitter writers out there. I fight, daily, to not become one of them. And most of the time I succeed.

I've been at the writing and submitting process for over a decade and have my share of frustrations. But negativity doesn't do anybody any good. It just leads to premature heart attacks and all other manner of dis-ease.

At the same time, I think writers aren't always appreciated in society, which includes literary agencies and publishing houses. Perhaps we could all treat each other with a little more respect.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I Brake For Blogs

Re: "...some of us see agents notoriously unable to get their day job done, even closing submissions to catch up--but are avid bloggers and tweeters. Um...shouldn't they also suspend blogging/tweeting ...cause it doesn't pay the bills and that 30 mins might be better spent?" (from BookEnds blog post)


As someone who has spent (and probably in the future, will spend), long days staring at a mass of text on a computer screen that must be gotten through somehow, someway (medical transcription) - and then the next day, there's another mass of text - a veritable Sargasso Sea, or pile of used tires, or Mount Rumpke Sanitary Landfill amount of text - no, 30 minutes of blogging, tweeting etc could not be better spent...the human mind wants relief. I would consider it cruel and unusual punishment to have to do 8-10 hours of work on a computer, and NOT be able to "brake for blog entries" and what have you. I wish OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health) would mandate scheduled "blog breaks" for computer workers.

I can't even imagine having to plow through THOUSANDS of queries. I'm sorry, they could be the greatest queries ever, but a thousand is a thousand. The human mind wants relief.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Fun Friday Factoid from Wikipedia:

"In the 1930s, Barney and Bill Rumpke collected garbage from their neighbors for free in the neighborhood of Carthage in Cincinnati . Most of the waste was food scraps, which they fed to their hogs on their hog farm. Eventually, officials told them that it was unsanitary, so they stopped feeding the garbage to the pigs, but their neighbors wanted them to continue to remove their garbage. Therefore, they sold their hogs and charged money to take the garbage away, creating their trash business. The Rumpke Landfill started in 1945 and has expanded today to occupy over 230 acres (0.93 km2) of land [1].

In 1996, lightning struck Mount Rumpke, causing a massive landslide [1]. The north face of the mound cracked, then fell forward, exposing 15 acres (6.1 ha) of buried waste [2]. The crack was filled in and Rumpke paid one million dollars as a fine. Attorney General Betty Montgomery called the incident, "the largest trash landslide in Ohio history"[1]."

Josie said...

I can comment as someone who got an R from you. It was quick and professional and obviously hasn't scarred me enough that I don't read your blog anymore.

If someone respects an agent enough to send them a submission, that opinion shouldn't suddenly change because they don't get a favorable answer.

I don't take exception to those who don't answer, they're busy and most of them say on their sites that if there's no answer, assume they passed. People who complain about not getting an answer fail to see that they did in fact get a "not interested".

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