Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Recap #3: If You Were An Agent, How Would You Handle Submissions?

Now that you have walked 50 queries in an agent's shoes and likely pictured yourself answering 50 queries a day stretching on into infinity, how would you handle your slush pile if you were an agent?

Would you personalize? Would you form reject? Reply-if-interested? Crawl under your desk and hope no one finds you?

I'm really curious to hear everyone's submission policy. Knowing what you know now.


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RW said...

Form reject.

Reply-if-interested is tempting given how time consuming the rejections are, but it's just not fair to the applicant.

Personalizing responses would be too much work day after day and ultimately not the agent's job for people who aren't their clients.

arcady said...

It has been instructive to see the slush pile. I think authors that get no response often wonder if perhaps something has gone awry and the query wasn't received, even though that would be rare. As agent-for-a-day I'd use an auto-response upon receipt, thanking the author for the submission and informing them that if the project was of interest, they would hear within two weeks. If not, it wasn't the project for this agent and best of luck in their quest.

Perhaps moving the response action to 'upon receipt' rather than 'upon rejection' would be of help.

Kristan said...

I'd probably form reject but address them by name, reply to all inquiries (so no one bugs me, plus I'm OCD like that), and I might try to have 3 forms that gave a slightly better indication of why. (Maybe: strong idea but weak query, vice versa, or both seemed weak?) I'd do email or online only, no print - environmental & efficiency thing - and probably allow them to send first 5 pages like you do.

terri said...

WOO HOO! First comment. At least until someone beats me while I'm typing . . .

If I were an agent . . .

1. Form rejects for everything that didn't fit, didn't like, was just wrong for more reasons than I have time to detail,

2. Save personalizations for special cases, to-wit: queries that have potential if whipped into better format, storylines with promise, those who had been referred to me, etc.

3. Definitely take the occasional 'query holiday'. Post it on blog and website and set up an auto-reply that your query will be deleted, and then summarily delete anything that came in during the holiday. Being able to follow fundamental instructions is job #1 in a professional relationship.

4. Hide under my desk at least one hour per day and refuse to answer my phone and/or email.

verify word: rhevalin (perhaps a new drug for hyperactivity?)

reader said...

Great question.

When I replied to the fifty queries, I didn't bother with stating "Dear Author" or naming the title of their project, because that would've slowed me down significantly.

But, in most instances I was able to let the querier know in a few sentences, off the top of my head, why I was passing.

Anything from, "This reads like a synopsis, not a query," to, "You've given me no plot specifics, so I have no idea what the story is about."

I think that both educates and also didn't drive me crazy with uneccessary typing of Name, project title, etc.. which I think would bog any agent down.

The interesting thing, though, is that I never had to think very hard about why I was passing. It was pretty evident from the get-go, so it really took no time at all.

KColley said...

Auto response, just to cut out the mystery.
Respond if interested. I'd reply with a few lines to writers that had potential but just did a few things wrong perhaps they weren't aware of. But only about 4 like that stood out to me the other day.
If interested, I'd reply personally, of course.

Carrie said...

I've never had a problem with form rejections.

I prefer it if the form rejection has my name on it, because that way it's clear that someone DID read my resume/query/job application/article submission/whatever, but I don't expect personalized comments (and if I do get those, I consider it AWESOME).

I would do a form rejection letter that can quickly have the author's name added... a saved template file for responding to hard copy submissions, a pre-programmed macro for emails.

And my form rejection would be pretty terse: basically, "this doesn't meet our needs at this time." I don't like the overly-chipper rejections I saw some other posters writing in the comments... maybe it's my law background, but if a form rejection letter goes too heavily on the "don't worry! it only takes one person to say yes! I'm sure someone else will think you're a rock star!" it comes across as really condescending to me.

Nathan, just so you know, I didn't think your rejection of my query was condescending. I think yours was similar to the "best of luck in your current job hunt" phrasing that is standard in the legal industry I'm used to. Polite, courteous, and not un-encouraging. Works for me!

Heather said...

I would probably form reject most.

However, if I thought a query was well written and met submission guidelines, but just not for me, I would probably personalize.

I'm not sure I would have that as a policy if I hadn't attacked the process as a writer first, though. But having gone through it on both sides (um... ish. It's not like I've had to even deal with a week of agent life), I think writers who take the time and who are on the cusp of being there need the encouragement to keep at it.

(And I have one of those mentor personalities.)

My response times would probably suffer accordingly. But I'm willing to bet most writers wouldn't mind if they knew they'd get a little bit of feedback out of the deal.

I was interested in what Ginger Clark said about not responding because she was tired of getting the abusive emails in return. That really upset me for her. But I'm really thick skinned about stuff like that, which would be easy to ignore for me.

Selestial said...

I would probably have a form rejection. However, I would personalize with the author's name (we didn't have that option, and titles are generally too long to mess with - and mess up). However, if it was something like the a genre I didn't rep, or the word count being really high or low, I would mention that as it might help people understand why they receive so many rejections.

I would definitely request pages, at least one, even over a synopsis. The page would let me know more about their writing than the query, whereas many authors have as many issues writing a synopsis as they do a query, so it wouldn't be a good measurement of their ability to write.

As I said before, I have new respect for you guys doing this every day. One was fun, but I'm not sure I'd want to deal with it day in and day out.

reader said...

I'd like to add that for queries for genres I didn't represent, I'd definitely do a Form Reject, because the querier *should* know better.

By the way, I skipped the intro agent love part of every query and read only the "pitch" part of the query. I wonder if agents do the same, with so many in their in box? How many times do you have to read "I'm a fan of your blog," before it sounds like trite sucking up?

I was surprised only one person, for the book, BECOMING EMILY NOVAK, mentioned the term you coined, "Book Club Fiction." That was a nice inclusion.

Mira said...


I am not done!!!!

How can people be done??

But I can tell you I would absolutely personalize.

In reading these queries, I saw how much of their dreams I could potentially hold in my hands. To ward off the emotional pain of saying 'no', and to take advantage of the opportunity to make a difference to them, I tried to be as honest and encouraging as possible.

I also think over time I could develop quicker responses that were still personal and warm.

No way would I ever use form rejections.

There was also the lurking fact that I could be potentially turning down a great novel. I would never want to discourage anyone.

Mira said...

Oh, another thought.

Doing this reinforced for me the idea that seeing a query without pages is almost completely useless.

It's the pages that are the key.

Lara said...

I think I'd do form rejections. But there's no way to be sure, really. I can see how different agents might have different policies based on their workload. It would totally depend on what kind of agent I turned out to be.

For example, if an agent is trying to build their list, maybe they want to seem more accessible, so they go with a nice form rejection or a personal reply.

Whereas if an agent has about as many projects as they want and maybe room for one more, it probably doesn't hurt to seem a little frosty with the old respond-if-interested or whatnot.

"Agent for a Day" was probably really helpful anyone who is writing an agent character into their next novel.

Samuel said...

I'd write a five-hundred-word reply on why I was rejecting the query in question. I would then offer the writer the opportunity to meet me in person, where we could discuss any questions the writer may still have.

I feel this is only fair. Ahem.

Anonymous said...

I would answer every query. But I would definitely form reject for the easy rejections: ones where the person clearly can't write, ones that aren't in a genre I handle, ones that sound too derivative or crazy, etc. Also, just anything that I didn't think could sell, but I couldn't put my finger on why.

For ones that sound like they could be promising, but I'm rejecting them for whatever reason, especially if I take a little longer to make that decision, I think I'd send a *quick* reason why I'm passing.

I would always give a reason after asking for a partial or full. It might have varying levels of specificity, but I'd never form reject a partial/full.

But form rejections for queries? Absolutely.

Lots of love,

hannah said...

Respond to everything, with forms. I anticipate I'd have a very low request rate.

I'd try to get in touch with authors whose material I had fairly frequently--letting them now when I started reading, if I was showing it to someone else at the agency, etc. And I think I'd try hard, when I requested something, to let the author know I really was enthusiastic about his work--I know how much it means to have someone believing in you, especially when you have other rejections rolling in.

Anonymous said...


I REALLY liked the "agent" who had the form letter followed by check-offs for certain reasons, followed by a brief comment. That was the most instructive and thoughtful way to respond. Writers would learn a lot from such an agent, and this would improve overall submissions.

Responding only if interested is RUDE and unprofessional. This does not even acknowledge that the writer wrote to the agent, or that the query was received. I like an automatic receipt note that let the writer know the query was received. Responding with a form letter only is easy but cold and does not teach a writer anything that would improve submissions down the line. This is why, I think, the same bad queries go out again and again.

Thanks for this activity. I did not participate, but I read the queries and comments and look forward to your summary analysis.

--Anon. on the East Coast

Carrie said...

Ah, I forgot to say that I would personalize if I *really* liked the project but couldn't take it on for reasons that were not the author's fault (list full of that genre for the year, perhaps), because the people who do that well should know it!

And perhaps also if I could explain my non-personal reason for rejecting in one line: we don't accept poetry, word count problem, etc.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the literary magazines use an online submission manager...I would seriously consider using that. It would work great for queries and the first 30 to 50 pages (if the agency submission guidelines required them).


Sheila said...

I'm impressed that you manage to personalize queries that are personalized to you. No, more like amazed, given the number of personalized queries you must get. I would strive to do that. But, honestly, I don't know if I could keep it up.

I know that agents are averse to personalized rejections, because it opens the door to a back-and-forth dialog with the rejectee that they don't have time for. What if you could personalize a rejection from an email that didn't accept replies? Is that possible? I might try to do that, because I often want to say something, or give some encouragement.

Owl Sprite said...

Definitely the "crawl under the desk" option.

I am not good at making decisions. I would be a lousy agent!

Anonymous said...

Okay, it's funny that Mira @8:52 (above) isn't done yet -- "How can you be done!"

And then still states that she'd personalize every query.


Nathan has this load every day. If you aren't done yet, don't you realize you're still behind by four days -- Nathan still has queries coming in on Tuesday- Friday, too. Plus, actual reading and editor lunches, and real clients.

I'm not picking on you, I just found that amusing. :)

Martin Willoughby said...

There are two things I want to know from an agent/publisher: have you received my submission & when will I get a decision.

Both can be set up in an auto-reply, especially if a 'submission only' email address is used. Emails may occasionally get held up or lost for technical reasons, but MSs can get lost in the post as well.

I also expect form rejections unless the agent/editor has something prescient to say. If I do get a personal response in a rejection, I cheer as it means the story is a cut above the normal.

I don't want to make an agents job harder than it is, I just want to know where I stand...and you're doing a GREAT job of informing us mere mortals of how to make things easier for the Gods of publishing (agents) and the worshippers (writers).

Kim Colley said...

As a submissions editor (i.e., slush reader) for a magazine, I've followed these threads with interest.

As a writer, I think we all need closure, so not responding unless interested seems cruel. I don't like it.

As a slusher, I know that the slush pile can be overwhelming, and when you're sending out multiple rejections every day, personalizing every one of them becomes impractical. Sometimes the nicest thing to say is nothing at all.

I will only personalize a rejection when a story has come this close but just failed to make the grade.

I should also add that, as a submissions editor, I don't have nearly the slush pile that you and other agents do. You have my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

I would probably form reject on queries but if I asked for a partial or full I'd give some sort of real explanation why I passed.

I once had an agent request a full and then write me back with a form rejection pass. Scribbled at the bottom was 'not my cup of tea'. Huh?


The Classic Carol said...

Although I learned TONS reading the added suggestions, I'd approach being a real agent differently. Agents work for their agency, not the gazillion of writers applying for a 'job.' I'd form reject it, encourage when merited, and move the mountain of slush as quickly as possible.

jnantz said...

Form rejection.

Form acceptance.

Once I have a feel for A)what I want to represent, and B)what will sell in those markets and genres, I'll be able to be a little more picky. I would also make sure my guidelines specified the first ten pages, because I think the writing may be better than the query in some cases.

If I request a partial and then reject, form rejection. If I make it to requesting a full, I would at least send a letter with some of my reasonings.

Oh, and it would have to be all electronic, 'cause I'd be so bad at being an agent that I would never have money for things like paper and return postage.

word verification: erabs = Arabs online?

Heather said...

I'd definitely form reject, with a (rare) few exceptions for queries I was truly on the fence about. If I were an agent and had to shoehorn slush in among my more pressing daily tasks, I'd probably try to set aside a specific chunk of time each day or week to deal with it. And if the virtual stack grew too tall, I might make like Colleen Lindsay and close submissions for a while.

Bane of Anubis said...

Quick form rejection - within 1 week if possible. I hate tardiness on my part (and I'd expect promptness from clients/potential clients).

Karen said...

I'd love to say that I would personalize each reply, but that's just not possible. Some queries are just so bad that I wouldn't even know where to start. So I would use a form reject for probably the bulk of them. Projects that seem like they could have potential but just don't feel like they are ready right now would probably get a personalized response with some suggestions.

Kirsten Hubbard said...

Friendly, personalized form reject.

I've been working as a TA for a University's writing program, and must grade 60+ 8-page research papers in three-day periods. Let me say, that's the closest thing to juggling slush. But I don't get to request the content I have to read! Though now I can definitely relate to the whole weird, blinky wilted-brain syndrome caused by attempting to analyze reams of computer screen text, all day, day after day.

WendyCinNYC said...

Separate email just for queries with an auto-response letting the sender know it's been received. No response after a set time--no more than 2 or 3 weeks--means no.

I've never been bothered by the "no response means no" policy, but it's nice if it's not open-ended.

M. Dunham said...

I would form reject projects that didn't interest me, but I'd make sure to include their name and title so they know I really am talking about their project. I might also include 1-2 lines if I was really on the fence about it.

Moth said...

E-queries only. Form rejections. Personalizations for partials and fulls.

David said...

I have to believe that I would reply to all queries, even with a form rejection for ones I wouldn't be pursuing. Certainly, I could find an unpaid intern (high school or college kid) to handle the actual sending out of the emails after I'd read them if the query load became too overwhelming.

That wouldn't be too hard...right?

Bane of Anubis said...

And probably would just ask for query, maybe 1st page or 5, though I found myself turned off by most of the submitted pages (at least w.r.t. the opening line). Never a synopsis - hate writing them; hate reading them.

Bill Greer said...

My query was one of the fifty and it's been an interesting experience. I didn't have a problem with most of the form rejections. Most of the rejections that had personal comments were greatly appreciated! The feedback on what was wrong with my query will help me edit it to make it better. For those who requested partials or fulls, party at my house tonight. Oh, heck, you're all invited. You too, Nathan.

Trying to play agent was hard, though. I can't step inside the agent role completely without letting go of my writer's perspective. The writer in me wants something more than a form rejection and the agent in me would go nuts trying to send personalized rejections to each query received. Colleen Lindsay said she was getting 700 queries a week before she closed submissions last month. Wow!

As an agent, I'd try a multi-pronged approach. I'd have form rejections for queries that obviously didn't follow the guidelines or weren't in the genres I represent. I would like to have a personalized rejections for those that were close but no cigar. If I were getting 700 queries a week, though, I'd do all form rejections and would consider the "no response means no interest" policy.

Carrie said...

Coll said:

"I once had an agent request a full and then write me back with a form rejection pass. Scribbled at the bottom was 'not my cup of tea'. Huh?"

I think that's positive! Maybe I'm wrong, but I would take that to mean that there was NOTHING WRONG with what you submitted, except that the agent just didn't get that "zing" that this is the right book for him/her. A form rejection WITHOUT a note could mean anything, including, perhaps, that the query was poorly written or the book plot was trite, but no one would bother to add a handwritten note to such a rejection.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Anything beyond form rejection has often backfired for me in my slush, but the "favor of a reply" is always appreciated--so I'd stick with form reject. And, putting a time limit on myself (if you don't hear in two weeks or two months, whatever) doesn't always work for me because I sometimes get behind--unlike Nathan--the King Of Prompt Replies. (What is your secret, btw??)

I'd utilize technology to keep clients and potentials up to date with where I stood in the query process (no static websites for me!) For instance, a logging program could let potentials check in and see where their query stood in the queue. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, a form query program with such a tracking system could eliminate the need to email rejections. It could all be done on the system, logging the arrival and processing, reading the query, and response. The system could provide an auto-response email at the beginning and the end of the process. Gee. Someone should build such a program.

I wouldn't bother with a personal reply unless I was interested in seeing a rewrite. I've sat on the editors side of the table for too long, and my slush is too big. It'd be even bigger if I was an agent, I bet.

Carrie said...

(That said, I hope that if I were an agent, I could give more feedback to people from whom I'd requested a full manuscript, not just a query or pages.)

Bane of Anubis said...

Kirsten, I feel your pain... A few years ago I was working for The Princeton Review teaching SAT/ACT... part of it involved grading essays online... for each essay, we were paid $1... If you think queries are difficult to wade through, try going through high-school essays - all w.r.t. the same 3 or 4 prompts. I think the most I did in one day was 400 -- I was practically a driveling idiot by the time I was done.

Jen P said...

1. I'd have a separate email for submissions from other business.

2. I'd have an auto-reply receipt on that account.

3. I'd have a specific hour (or more as you deem daily average necessary) to review slush pile and do nothing else (I'd find it too distracting if they ping in, amongst existing client business).

4. As I got more established, and therefore received (even) more queries, I'd beg, borrow or steal an assistant to filter out the obviously awful ones - three lines, Dear wrong agent name with poetry, no subject etc. And depending on assistant's level of expertise, get help to flag/forward the top ones - and then browse the rest from time to time 'just in case'. Never if helper really good. (And I'd give them a monthly office Starbucks card for helping me not want to crawl under the table.)

5. As to replies: I too, I REALLY liked the "agent" who used a standard rejection letter with check-boxes for certain reasons, followed by a brief comment if deemed worth the extra mile.

Nathan Bransford said...


I try to answer all queries as they come in as long as I'm not otherwise occupied, and I don't go to sleep until I've answered all of the ones that come in by 5 pm. I just know that if I let them build up it will get overwhelming, and I'm probably not going to have more time in two weeks than I have that day. So I just keep my nose to the grindstone, even if I don't feel like it.

Anonymous said...

I would use a standard form rejection for most, but with their name and title filled in. And maybe a couple of other forms for certain types of rejected queries. I would give reasons to the ones who almost made the cut. And - most definitely - I would ask for 5 pages to be included as part of the email query. (The first 5 for fiction and maybe allow a different sampling for non-fiction - once I got used to how non-fiction is handled.)

Having the 5 pages would make it much faster for me to decide whether to accept a partial or not.

And I would ask people to put QUERY in the subject title so I could have a filter put them in a folder where I wouldn't loose them. Same idea for partials and manuscripts.

(In my last career, I used to average 200-300 emails a day at work. And I know how easily emails could get buried in my inbox. So, having a filtering process would be essential for me.)


Lisa R said...

I think I'd hide under the desk a lot! LOL. I read all fifty queries in one day and it seemed like a lot and the whole time I was thinking about all the other responsibilities agents have to tend to. I would have to go with the form rejection and try to write personalized rejections if the project sounded interesting but the query needed work or in other unusual circumstances. TRY being the operative word.

After doing this I have a whole new respect for form rejections. They just don't seem so ominous anymore. You do always secretly wonder why the agent rejected it but after having read all those queries myself I see that it could be so many different reasons. I too liked the check-off list that one agent-for-a-day came up with.

Although I've received a few personalized rejections which have been very instructive in helping me revise my query and/or book. I would like to think if I was an agent I would try to give feedback whenever possible but I think sometimes it is just not feasible.

Bane of Anubis said...

Nathan, along those lines of having an overflowing inbox, do you like seeing the "Thank Yous" or, like C. Lindsay, would you prefer not to get them to keep your inbox cleaner?

Cat Hellisen said...

Form reject, and ask for partial and synopsis.

Chances are if they can't string a understandable synop together, then the book suffers from lack of focus.

Partial will give me a better idea of writing style/voice/basic grammar and spelling skills.

Laura said...

If I thought they had a chance with someone else, but there were one or two glaring problems, I'd personalize and give a little crit.

Otherwise, form rejection.

Oh, and I think, after having your job for a day (and not even your job, but part of your job), I'd have submissions open 2 weeks out of the month, and spend the other two weeks every month closed and reading what I got in before.

Is that silly or viable?

Nathan Bransford said...


Thank yous are okay, but it's really the "can you refer me to another agent" or "please tell me why you rejected my query" that are 1) more common and 2) drive me up the wall. Honestly, I think these are a big reason agents have no-response lists. They just add up.

And I have special voodoo dolls for the people who put me on their e-mail blast list without my consent. These people had better watch out for falling anvils.

writtenwyrdd said...

I was always behind the form rejection idea, and this exercise just firmed that opinion to concrete.

However, if I really liked something but it didn't sound there yet, I'd likely say so.

I also agree with the poster who said the query without pages is practically useless. I think I also would ask for the first few pages to be in the body of the email to give me an idea how the writing was. Because I'd hate to give no chance to something because the query wasn't that great.

You don't have an easy job, Nathan!

Neil said...

If I had to sift 76 queries a day, say, then I would basically offer a polite form rejection to those I immediately knew weren't right for me/were very badly written. I would skim read every query waiting for something to really grab me, and respond personally to those that got my attention immediately (likely with partial requests -- mainly because I think with such a workload, partials would enable me to sift a greater number of manuscripts more efficiently and decide more quickly what work had real potential and what didn't). Where I was undecided I'd leave the queries "on the bubble" and read them again later in the day, hoping that things would be more clear to me a second time around. Where I was really grabbed (ie, amazed at the quality of the writing) I'd request a full, but I imagine I'd limit the full requests to a couple a week. Then, in a bid to improve the overall quality of my queries and reach the widest possible audience of would-be writers, I'd start a blog and open a dialogue with the waiting world.....

Nathan Bransford said...

Also, I am amazed at the bravery of agents who have query holidays. If the next JK Rowling queried me during my holiday I'd probably jump out the window.

I'm on the ground floor, so I wouldn't die, but still. I'm completely paranoid about missing something. To spend hours and hours and hours going through queries and then missing something like that..... it gives me the chills.

Sooki Scott said...

Form rejection for the lion's share of queries. (Informed writers know what this means. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. Okay, back to the drawing board.)

Personalized rejection for the interesting, yet not quite there queries. (Informed writers also knows what this means. He likes me! He likes me! Okay, so it's only a little, but heck, I'm not greedy. All right--back to work now. But did I mention? He likes me!)

Request a full (via email) from the cream of the crop. (Break out the bubbly, but don't go overboard--stinks to work with a hangover--just ask Moonrat. Particularly since there's work and setback still to come.)

Confucius says, "Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness."

Scott said...

Here's what I'd do:

1) Make all my submissions via my website, with clear indications of what I'm looking for.

2) Create a form with fields delineating exactly the info I want, some of them limited to a certain number of characters: 400 sounds about right for the synopsis part of it, a little less for genre, themes and very brief blurbs.

3) Have a place to upload .pdf's for three chapter samples.

4) Once the form is submitted, the author receives a "Thank You for submitting. If we're interested, expect a response in a few days (this could be changed depending on current workload). If we're not, understand that this business is very subjective, and we encourage you to keep writing, etc."

5) Have the form set up so that each field is categorized, allowing me to instruct an intern to keep his or her eye out for certain things I might be looking for at the time, and prioritizing them.

The above guarantees that the author a) knows their work has reached the intended recipient, and b) is given certain future on a response. Also, everything would be kept in a digital, orderly file in the event that submissions dry up or diminish in quality so that I can return to some for a second look.

It'd be cool if I could mail them a lollipop automatically, too, or something. :)

Kats said...

I would reply to all queries, mostly using a form rejection but sometimes personalised if it nearly made it.

I think asking for the first few pages with queries would really help as there was more than 5 queries I thought could be good, but couldn't tell without seeing the writing.

Amy said...

Here is my idea, but I'm not a web programmer.

* All agents and writers sign up for this web service with unique IDs.

*Writers upload a query, bio, synopsis, and first ten pages.

* Agents have their own inbox (web based, like a message board kind of).

* Writers "send" they're writing to agent's inboxes. Writer doesn't have to personalize, just types in the unique IDs and sends to agents, up to ten at a time.

* Agents review, click yes or no to the ones they are or aren't interested in, which then goes back to the writer.

* Saves agents from having to open and read mail or emails, saves writers from having to send and personalize millions of things. Quicker for everyone.

Under today's process. Honestly, I would adopt a no response means no attitude towards QUERIES, with a separate email than I normally use with an auto-responder and update my blog weekly with where I'm at. ie: I've read up to April 1 and requested two.

Anyone I've requested from I would send personalized feedback (a couple of lines). And I would try to do these in a timely manner.

I would ignore any of the resulting hate mail in my inbox for not responding to emails, because, if I don't read it, it doesn't exist. Right?

The no response means no policy doesn't bother me at all. I think it's more annoying if you keep a spreadsheet that has the blanks where the responses should be. I decided to stop keeping a spreadsheet, and now, seriously, I don't even notice it.

To me, querying is like dating, if someone really wants you, they'll call. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

I say old chap, I happen to see this about your contest.

Agent XXX

I think I'd use a form rejection, but expand the answer on the ones that came close but no cigar.
I think it's just like getting dumped by a love interest, you don't accept it, but you just want to know why (however, I do realize there are some people who won't accept no, and it doesn't matter how you spell it out)

Matilda McCloud said...

I read slush at for three years. The first year I was kind-hearted and wrote a lot of personalized letters. But I found that this opened up a dialogue, and these people would keep sending me not-so-great manuscripts--sometimes for years.

By the end of three years, I was so jaded I probably passed on a lot of decent stuff and sent form letters to everyone. A year or two after I left, they stopped accepting unsolicited ms. altogether (This was for a children's book imprint).

This was also before e-mail submissions--so I'm not quite sure how I feel about that and can almost understand why agents don't want to feel obligated to answer every email.

But as a writer, I find it leaves me hanging in a weird limbo not to receive an answer. Perhaps agents could respond only to those emails that are legitimate, but not to the "Dear Agent" kind.

A form letter is fine for me--when an agent scribbles a little message on the bottom it's been helpful--ie, I know not to bug them in the future, but I also get a bit of valuable feedback.

Dorine White said...

I would reply to all. A writer deserves an answer even if it is no.
I think I would use a form rejection, however, if the query had potential, I would add a personal note giving encouragment and perhaps offering a few pointers.

Laurie said...

Great question now that we've lived it for a day! I would actually do exactly what you do, Nathan. I'd answer every email as it came in so I didn't get bogged down.

I'm pretty sure I would answer each email personally, but probably the content would be similar to a form letter, because that's what I found myself doing here. But I did try to leave a personal note on the ones I thought were good that I had to reject because of the limit.

To the anonymous poster who got the "not my cup of tea" response: I'll bet I can guess who that agent is. She's actually quite lovely! She appeared at a conference in my area that a few of my friends attended - and used the exact same phrase.

It just means that the work isn't something she could be passionate enough about to vigorously try to sell. Keep trying!

Rubenesque Writer said...

I would probably form reject. I have to say, it was a much bigger job than I thought it would be to read and decipher all of those queries, so kudos to you for changing my attitude significantly. Like some of the others who've replied, I don't mind form rejections because at least I know my query made it to the office! I would probably personalize rejections for projects that showed potential but just weren't the right fit for me. I would also require email submissions, because I don't know if I could, in good conscience, waste that much paper every single day just to send form rejects.

ccallicotte4 said...

I'd respond to everyone, because as a writer I hate wondering if my query made it to the agent. I'd have a polite form rejection for queries that would be a "not a chance" (if the query is miserably written, for example), and for queries where the author obviously put some work and research into it, I'd try to plug in a specific or two. For the close calls, I'd try to personalize.

This was a great exercise, Nathan. Thank you!

RB Ripley said...

Great question!

I think that circumstances dictate each agent's individual approach. So, let's assume that 250 queries a week are coming in:

1. Auto-response for the submission and stating response time.

2. Form rejection for queries that don't follow stated guidelines.

3. Individualized email for those that that came close or for whom material is requested.

I would work like crazy to develop online, real-time technology that tracks submissions from the query process all the way through sale.

In today's day and age, there's no reason why technology isn't used in a way that both parties can see the progress. As an agent, I can respond and writers can see the response right then. I'm also kind of geeked by the idea of all this taking place online where people can see it. This exercise, with queries being posted was so incredibly helpful, why not make it the way business is done?

Not only could this eliminate the need for most email, this kind of technology can also be set up to ensure that submissions are only in specific genres, limit query length and ensure that required information is provided.


Anonymous said...

I think I would have one of those detailed form letters I saw one participant using - where all he had to do was check the appropriate box for "why". Though if people got nasty about it (like I've read in a blog or two), then it would be the "no answer = no" route.

helenf said...

I haven't taken part yet (mostly because I've done slush in the past), though I might try if I can find time this evening.

But I would form reject and make a serious effort to ensure everyone had a reply. I would only do personal replies if I had requested fulls or in special cases.

Brigita said...

Form rejection. It's better than no answer and I don't see why anyone would be insulted by getting a form rejection. I'm not. :)

spinney said...

For this exercise ONLY I was a non-responding rejecter. But that's only because it seemed unkind to add another rejection to the 80 that were already there. But in real life I'd form reject. Everyone deserves a response.

Perle_Rare said...

I'd be sending form replies, possibly with checkmarks to indicate area to improve or whether I care to see any future submissions from that person.

"Agent" Mira above said that the pages were key to her making her decision. I only looked at the submitted pages if the query intrigued me at least slightly. A few lines into the pages and I'd already made up my mind and rejected the story.

In general, I went by the assumption that if the query is too wordy, the novel will require too much editing. If the query is disorganized, chances are so is the manuscript. No need to look at submitted pages in those cases.

Not that I'd be a great agent but I sure found this exercise fun!

Jenny said...

So if I were agenting I'd stick to form rejections until I read a full that was close. Then I'd give feedback if the changes needed were simple enough that they could be described in a paragraph or two and if I'd be willing to look at the book with revisions.

I wouldn't give a personalized crit unless I was willing to look at a revised version of that same book or other books from that writer.

It doesn't cushion the blow to get a personalized rejection if the door is closed to further interaction.

Mira said...

Anon 8:58.

I know you were teasing, but I'm going to take your point seriously.

I'm deliberately taking my time with these. I do have a full time job and other commitments, and there's no need to rush.

If I worked as an agent, I would develop ways to respond that were personal, warm and still quick and efficient. I think it's possible to do that.

I also don't think my priority would be to get through queries as fast as possible.

If I were an agent, I would post amid my guidelines that I take my time with queries, and ask people to be aware of that in advance.

I don't like the idea of queries and quota. If I were an agent, I would be looking for the best idea possible, and I would not want to go too fast to see it.

I also would take my position of power seriously and try to act responsibily.


There you are.

Chris Eldin said...

First of all, I'd require the first 10 pages as part of the query. Saves time in requesting partials.

I would have a very clear policy stating that I'd only respond if I'm interested, and my response time is (x) days/weeks.

I would give feedback on every full requested.

But you know, Nathan, I think agents are doing everything they can, for the most part.

Rick Daley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vicky said...

It took far too long to read these 50 queries and respond, even using a copy/paste form rejection (which most got). Honestly, I would probably consider hiring a part-time assistant to handle the queries so I could focus on my client list. The initial training would take time, but in the long run, it would free me to focus on my current clients. Having participated as an Agent for a Day, I realize it would be folly to keep a current client waiting on the slim chance I'll find a gem in the slush pile. It just doesn't make good business sense. Seriously, you need a gatekeeper.

Rick Daley said...

I would form reject, and try to do it as timely as possible.

Of my 45 rejections, I modified my form rejection slightly to personalize it for about 5 of them.

I think the bigger struggle would be what to do with a manuscript that had me on the fence.

When you get into a manuscript (full or partial) and it has potential but needs work, how to you determine if you will request a revision or reject it?

splatter said...

Here's what I'd do:

I'd have a bunch of different form rejection letters, as follows

(1) form rejection for anything that doesn't meet my query requirements

(2) form rejection for anything that I just don't like

(3) An encouraging form rejection for "I liked it but it's just not right for me - best of luck"

(4) A from rejection for "not accepting any queries at this point".

After that, I'd have a form "please send pages letter"... but I would totally allow myself to write an OMG SEND NOW".

Those form letters also give me the chance to add a personal note if I feel like it, but save me a ton of time by not requiring it for every submission.

I would not provide the level of feedback I did on these queries - I did that here because, well, I could, and I honestly miss the slush pile. Besides - as an agent, it's my job to help my current clients, not the people I'm turning down. It's nice if I have time, but I well know how packed an editor's day is.

Martin said...

I'm conflicted about this. As a writer, I want to say I'd give personal responses to everyone. I understand the need for form rejections (and Lord knows I've received enough on my short fiction to paper the Great Wall), but novels are an animal of a different color in my mind. We're talking months and sometimes years in development. To dismiss that with canned text seems...inhumane.

On the other hand, if every response was personal, I think it would diminish the significance that personal responses currently have. I know that when I received a form rejection from Hitchcock years ago, the handwritten pencil at the bottom that said "Keep Trying" made me just about pass out. If every response was like that, I probably would have stopped writing back then. (Which may be what should have happened, but let's not go there just now!)

I'm glad I don't have to make this decision. But from this side of the transom, I know I want an agent who connects with me; an agent that's strong and tough. I suppose if I really want a nice note, I'll call my Mother. Hmm. On second thought, she'd make a helluva agent.

I give up. ;)

Casey said...

First off, I'd write a better rejection than I did for this. I wrote something up really quick and, in retrospect, don't like the way I worded it.

That said, I'd definitely do form rejects with the name and title of work added as a courtesy. If something immediately sprang to mind that I could offer the writer, I'd certainly take the time to add a personal tidbit.

Other thoughts: I think I'd need a designated time frame to tackle queries everyday (else go insane,) and I'd likely do frequent blog posts on queries to help my submitters.

Anonymous said...

I would form reject. I find the "response only if interested" rather insulting. I'd be tempted to write personal, brief reasons, but would do so rarely, because too many writers take that as an invitation for an extended conversation. I would also ask for 5 pages. That's one thing I learned from this process: the quality of the query often has little to do with the quality of the pages. I can't remember which of my 5 selections it was (I chose 6, 10, 17, 35, 46), but I would not have requested pages on one I loved based on the query alone.


PS -- my word for verification is PORKMO. Someone is having fun.

Jan said...

Even though I didn't do this exercise, I would form reject, but then I always would have. For one, reading that many queries and actually thinking specifically about why you said no requires more hours in a day than you have...and certainly more than I would care for you to spare on this if you were MY agent.

Form rejections allow the author to move on quickly but don't encourage argument...and ANY, ANY, ANY personalization of a rejection to a beginning writer invites argument against what you've tried to share.

Plus, when you get the inevitable "Well, you suck!" response, at least you didn't invest personal energy into trying to help the jerk. When I hear of an agent who sends form rejections then gets so hurt from getting a "You suck" response that she switches to being a "no response means no" agent...I have to admit, I wonder. Aren't we supposed to be thicker skinned than that?

Though if I got a "you suck" after I had invested time in trying to help the writer grow...yeah, that would totally color my urge to be helpful.

I would save personal responses for writers who really do sound ready to sell, just not to me. And it wouldn't be hugely personal...just enough to encourage the person that his/her day is surely coming, just not with me.

Kristi said...

I'm amazed you answer all queries each day - do you ever sleep? Are you addicted to Red Bull?

I'd definitely do form rejections as personalized rejections would invite too many further questions, and that's just wasted time. I also really don't think I'd request sample pages as part of my submissions, although I know you ask for 5 pages. In the 50 queries, none of the included sample pages changed my mind about the query (although they did reinforce my decision).

Corey Schwartz said...

This might be a very naive suggestion, but what about getting a college intern to help with this? I would have loved to have gone through the slush for an agent or editor when I was a student.

Scott said...

Auto response - form rejection.

Personal response if interested.

In the end, a response of some type is better than no response at all.

Kristi said...

Also, I love Scott's lollipop idea - a Cream Soda Dum-Dum would take a little sting out of a rejection. :)

Nathan Bransford said...


Some agents have their assistants screen queries if they really trust them, but I can't imagine ceding that control to an intern. Plus I'd have to (probably temporarily) set up an entire new submission system. Otherwise I'd have to forward my queries to the intern, who then reads and either responds and forwards them back to me. I'd either have to work out a completely new system or probably spend more time forwarding and re-receiving than just reading and responding myself.

romoak said...

I like the idea of an auto-reply upon reciept, but think I'd probably form reject. I would have a couple different templates though, for different types\qualities\etc. of queries.

From the point of being on the recieving end, while I get that sending a no, even a form no, to every single person who queries you is time consuming, I personally think it's just polite and business like. I'd rather get a standard, non personalized no than nothing. -- Which is why I don't query agents who say they only respond if interested, at this point.

I would request the first 5 pages, but there were some sub's on here that the query didn't strike me, so I didn't read the pages. I assume that as an agent, you guys probably do read them though.

Nora Coon said...

Form reject for the most part. Occasionally add personal comments if it really caught my eye. Reply-if-interested bugs me (what if the query was never received?) and there's no way you could ever respond personally to every query.

Nathan Bransford said...

By the way, for those who envision different responses for different scenarios, I think that goes out the window very quickly once you start going back, copying whatever form you have, going back to the query, pasting it in, etc. etc.

I have one standard response that is vague enough to cover pretty much every scenario. If I want to personalize I can type into it, and I individually type requests for partials.

But if I were to have different responses.... I honestly can't even begin to imagine the extra time that would take.

Every single extra motion adds up when responding to queries, whether that's clicking off a read-receipt, copying a different response, opening an e-mail twice, deleting a follow-up question.... you have to multiply every action you do by thousands. Everything adds up so quickly.

Deniz Bevan said...

I thought I'd be the type to offer personalized comments, but now I see just how much work that would entail! Kudos to agents that do so!

Jan said...

You do realize, Mira, that while you're taking your time, a flood is continuing to come in. While you took your time with this 50, fifty more came in the next day and fifty more the next day and fifty more the next day. Taking your time is not an option because the flood doesn't stop.

Eventually taking your time would mean you have thousands piled up in our inbox and you're being called a rotten agent for not responding to queries that are many months old.

The first submission I ever sent to an agent was because I had heard he gave personal responses to everything submitted to him. I didn't actually want an agent, I wanted to be told why the book wasn't selling. So I stopped submitting it to publishers and sent it to this agent specifically so he would tell me why it sucked.

Instead ONE YEAR later, I got an offer of representation. ONE YEAR later for a submission he actually liked enough to offer representation (even though I had sent of list of publishers who had seen it already).

ONE YEAR...why would anyone imagine that's better than a form rejection or a "no response means no?" But that was what giving a personal response to every submission had driven him too.

Eventually that agent had to give up giving personal responses to submissions. Too many people don't actually embrace having an agent "take their time" when it means waiting more than a week or two for a response.

Elaine said...

Form rejections that are polite are good.
Form rejections that are both personalised and polite are better.
Form rejections that are personalised, polite and informative are best.
Trust me - I'm an expert!

Diana said...

I did best wish a slightly personalized form letter - "Dear Query # ___," and then filled in the rest with the form rejection.

As I mentioned on another post, I didn't find getting through them as difficult as I thought I would, but then I spent a year making a living doing nothing but reading letters and responding to them on behalf of a bigwig. What I would find very hard to do is review queries in a busy, noisy environment. I totally understand now why I see so many agents twittering about their query piles at 11:30 at night. It would be much easier to do at home.

suemont said...

Could the whole system be automated? Such a system probably doesn't exist but how about this: 1) I submit by email.
2) I then go to a site stipulated by the agent where in a day or two the submission should appear as having been received.
3) Periodically, I can check to see where it is in the process: still on the slush-pile, being read, on hold, or (gasp) rejected.
4) If it gets beyond this then there'd be direct contact from the agent.

You see, I couldn't care less if the agent uses my name on a form reject or not - it's the "no" that stands out in the end.

PurpleClover said...

I can tell you right now that based on the queries that were posted I have no right to be judging these queries. Most of them would have blown mine away if it had been posted. So take this with a grain of salt:

"Interesting Premise" - meant I really liked the plot but maybe the execution or marketability was questionable.

"Needs a stronger hook" - meant it had a great premise but I was afraid the manuscript may not deliver based on the strength (or lack thereof) of the query.

"Please contact me with future projects" meant awesome query/premise but the marketability was questionable or it was limited to a particular audience (within a genre).

My "form" responses were : "At this time I don't think I could sell this", "This isn't for me", and "I'll have to pass". These meant I didn't think the writing was polished enough.

Oh and "check my submission guidelines" was just that - They didn't follow the guidelines.

I still felt the need to respond to everything but if the submission guidelines weren’t followed they may have made the first cut. Although for the sake of brevity (unlike this post) I could probably get rejections down to one or two words. "No Thanks" or "I'll pass" or "not interested".

I thought the rejection checklist that one of the posters used was a great idea!

Janine said...

Form reject.

Except, I can foresee the possibility that it would eventually be too much. In that case, lacking an intern or assistant, I would set up an auto-reply indicating a specific time frame after which the applicant could assume a negative response. At the very least, the auto-reply would let the applicant know the query had arrived.

Mira said...

Nathan - I could see drafting one response that I could personalize to the particular situation. That could work.

Sometimes just a word or two of encouragement is enough.

Obviously, if I were an agent I could not write the long type of responses I am here. I'd probably be sued for saying half of what I'm rambling on about.

Ulysses said...

I don't know how anyone would have time to do anything but form rejections. Of course, I wish rejections would provide personally relevant constructive feedback, but then I also wish I could fly, and that pirate hats and eyepatches were acceptable formal dress so obviously I'm used to not getting things all my own way.

I'd like to personalize my form rejections if the query had been personalized. It seems only equitable

All other things being equal, I'd reply whether interested or not because the alternative is to leave people hanging, and that seems unprofessional to me.

Under no circumstances would I hide under my desk. Last weekend I cleaned out the space under there, and I have no desire to go back.

Lunatic said...

Form rejection. Screw this. It's not the agent's job to bolster authors' confidence or help them along in their careers until they have something of value to sell. Let's keep it business. Besides, what if an agent tells an author, "This is really good, but not what I'm looking for." And the author spends the next ten years trying to sell that MS? I wouldn't want that responsibility. Nor would I want the responsibility if I gave a demoralizing rejection. Keep it sanitary.


Kristin Laughtin said...

I'd form reject. If it got to be too much, I'd consider an auto-reply upon receipt that would mention I would only reply further if interested, or, if I had an assistant, I'd have all the queries go to a certain folder, filter out anything I plan on requesting or replying to, and having my assistant send the form rejections to whatever's left.

For requested materials, I would give some sort of personalized response.

melissablue13 said...

I would form reject, BUT I would have an auto response that I received the e-mail. That way if I'm a horrid agent--which I can be sure of--the writer at least knows I received it.

Loulou said...

What an eye opener this has been! I can see how agents only skim through queries, looking for something that pops out.

I now understand why agents reply only if interested. I'm grateful for those agents who do reply, even with form rejections: it is a huge time commitment to do so.

Mira said...

Jan - You're right, of course. I'm taking my time with these here. If I were an agent, I'd have to develop ways to be much quicker, but still humane.

But I'd still probably dig my heels in and take longer than the average.

I think Nathan is a good role model. I think he really does make good, quick decisions. Maybe with some experience, I would too.

In terms of what happened to you, wow. Wow. I know you were making the opposite point, but if an agent wants to take a year and then will offer me representation, fine with me. I've heard through the grapevine that it can be sort of hard to get an agent. Maybe this isn't the exact response you wanted but wow.

Now, I have 12 more 'maybes' left. I need to figure out my five. Oh, the agony of a decision!

Gryph said...

Auto-responder for sure, to start with. They're not that hard to set up, and it reassures authors.

Form rejections. Again, not that hard to set up. You could even set it up so that you could drag rejected e-mails into separate folders (just reject, hopeful reject, rejected for length, etc) and run a filter on that folder to send the appropriate form.

Personalized comments on the really good ones, the "oh, so close" ones, whatnot. These have to be few and far between, though, since time's at a premium.

Everyone has to get a response, even if it's just the autoresponder saying, "I got it, if you don't hear in a month, I'm not interested." I'd rather respond to everything, though, even just with a form. It's only polite.

PurpleClover said...

Nathan -

In response to what you said a few moments ago:

I think changing the response per person would be time consuming if you were copying and pasting pre-typed responses. I wasn't. I type in excess of 60wpm. 45wpm if I'm trying to watch my grammar. So I think for me it's just as easy to type a two sentence response as it is to click "delete".

The actual responses I gave just came naturally though.

Anonymous said...

Form rejections for all query rejections. There are a lot of crazies out there who take any sort of feedback as a personal attack, and feel they have to respond in fashion.

Personalized rejections for partials and fulls. And a brief status email if it takes longer to get to the manuscription than I thought it would. For me, rejecting requested material through nonresponse is the height of unprofessionalism. The writer might have his manuscript out with 10 other agents -- or he might be putting his life on hold because he things he's just gotten his big shot and doesn't want to blow it.

I imagine agents who fall off the face of the earth with requested materials make life a little harder for the good ones.

Nathan Bransford said...


Whoa. You can do this in Outlook? i.e. move an e-mail to a folder and it will generate an auto-reply? Could you please e-mail me about this?

Mira said...

I'm talking too much, per usual, but I did want to say that I'm taking my time here because I'm doing something much more important than trying to find a novel to represent.

I'm trying to win a contest.

Sure, there doesn't appear to be a prize for this contest, but why should that deter me?

I want to win. Win, win, win, win!


Stephanie Faris said...

I would accept e-queries only and reply to everyone one as quickly as I could with a "Sorry, but this idea just isn't right for us." If I saw promise but still the idea wasn't right, I'd let the author know as much. And then after a while I'd probably burn out and find another job! Just kidding. Who am I to talk? I work in tech support. All day I deal with everyone thinking they are the most important person and I should help them first.

Dana said...

This might mean burn out within a few years- as it did when I was teaching- but here's my plan:

1) Separate email for queries- since I use Gmail, all of these emails could still come to the same place and would just be flagged differently, or go into a folder

2) VERY clear instructions for what I'm looking for and what I want with the submissions on my website. Don't follow directions, you get deleted. I have no patience for people who can't read and follow instructions.

3) An auto-responder that says I have received your query. Not sure within what time frame- I'd have to see how quick I was.

4) Form Rejection- but I might try to have a check list of reasons why it was rejected. As an author, I'd like that and it didn't seem to take me too long as an "agent" to tell someone why I didn't want to represent their novel.

5) Personalized rejection for partials and fulls.

6) Hire a kid to help- You all were thinking college age kids, but high school, or even middle school kids can be "interns" as long as they aren't working certain hours or more than 20 hours a week. (I believe- but I'm not an expert on child labor laws) And I've know plenty of middle school kids that would just work for books. :)

It was a fun adventure... I'm starting to rethink my career as a writer- maybe I'll be an agent instead. :)

Anonymous said...

Suemont: "1) I submit by email.
2) I then go to a site stipulated by the agent where in a day or two the submission should appear as having been received.
3) Periodically, I can check to see where it is in the process: still on the slush-pile, being read, on hold, or (gasp) rejected.
4) If it gets beyond this then there'd be direct contact from the agent."

There's an agency that does something like what you've suggested for their requests. Only my full has been sitting on "Pending" on their special site since I submitted it in October. It still is now, even though I've since got an agent, let the agent in the agency in question know, and received a no thanks from him. "Pending," btw, made me continuously anxious, like maybe it didn't submit right. Or maybe he hasn't touched it since I sent it. Or maybe he's never going to read it. I didn't know. It never updated.

While good in theory, I suspect that it really just adds work for the agent, since they'd have to update at different stages instead of just sending a form reject for some queries.

lilianamama said...

I think I'd do more form rejections than I did during the past week. I'd probably have a series of letters:
1. Your query was confusing. Please rephrase.
2. Please research query letter content and structure. For examples, check, Larsen and Pomada's books on proposals and queries, etc.
3. This is not subject matter I'm interested in.
4. Please send me three chapters and a synopsis
5. WOW! Send me the whole thing via email.

There might be some inbetween responses too. I'd probably individually respond to a lot, though.

reader said...

Okay, let me change my answer.

In light of everyone's astute thoughts that giving feedback invites writers to argue with the agent over why they've been rejected, I'd say I'd Form Reject most of them.

But I still don't know why agents Form Reject on partials and fulls they've requested. To me, that is just wrong.

(also, having participated in Agent Day, I'm still confused over what incited (some) negativity about writers during #queryfail -- I felt no anomisity whatesoever about the queries, even those that had poor writing or puncuation. In fact, those with poor writing/concepts just made it easier to move through the pile.)

AgentforDay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DeadlyAccurate said...

Form reject always. It wasn't that hard to open the comments page, paste in rejection letter, type in the CAPTCHA, and hit submit. That didn't take anywhere near the time it took to read and decide. Emails are even easier: you hit Reply, Ctrl-V (or whatever the Mac equivalent is), and Send.

And I would close to submissions for a couple months a year, just for the breathing room. (And I would delete, unread and guilt-free, any submissions during those two months.

Mystery Robin said...

I'm torn. I love the efficiency of e-queries, but I would hate feeling "never done" because they can come in all the time.

I definately think I'd give queries their own email addy and only check that twice a day or something like that. So, if it's cleaned out I'm done till I check again.

I love the idea of an auto respond, and I'd reply with a form reject also. I had more thoughts about personalization till I saw the volume. I had many times just during those 50 where I would have liked to personalize, but just couldn't take the time. I also would be wary, in real life, of starting a conversation.

It does give me new empathy for agents and I thought I already saw it from your side pretty well. ;)

Thanks for doing the experiment!

jjdebenedictis said...

Polite form rejection (as I used in the contest), and I would keep my little checklist at the bottom for the most common errors. I couldn't give personalized comments to everyone--that was too time-consuming--but I would leave a note for the "almosts".

AgentforDay said...


I'm still working here! I'm only on number twenty-one, but I'll make it... really... if not, then fire me..... pretty please.

Honestly, I can't be objective enough to separate myself from the fact that these authors are my peers, who were brave enough to submit their queries for rejection.

I know this is a contest to see who among us can pick the three published books ... but the query pool is still comprised of submissions from fellow Bransfordites, who, like me, have put their lives and hearts into their manuscript. So, I am giving advice on what I think might improve their odds of having their manuscripts read ... by me ... if I were actually an agent.

If I were an agent, I would have to create an automated program (I’m a programmer). The program would prompt me to select the items that I think the author needs to improve their letter or writing skills. Click-Click-Enter, and the program would email the response. (I would include a constant statement at the bottom of the email that I do not answer follow up questions due to time constraints.)

Barring the aid of technology, my responses would become increasingly shorter. And sometime after my third hospitalization for exhaustion, I would start using form letters.

But not yet! So far, I haven't even been hospitalized once. I can make it a couple more days... I think.

Yikes! I'm running out of time. Gotta go!

Anonymous said...

I would definitely require people to send the first five pages of their work with the query. I often found myself wondering if a work would be worth reading through, and usually the first page of the work in question would be enough to help me decide yes/no. When I saw something that sounded like an interesting idea, but had nothing except the query to go on, I couldn't really tell if the actual writing would be up to par.

In terms of rejections, I see nothing wrong with form rejections. I'd go with a form responses (and would have 2-3 different forms to indicate whether or not I was interested in hearing from the author on future projects) while I was actively building my client list. If I ever got to the point where I really wasn't interested in having many more new clients, I'd set up an automated response to receipt. It's really easy to set up an email account with both an auto-response and an auto-forwarding, so you never have to actually go INTO the account to check your email - it all pops up in your email program, just like all the emails sent straight to your regular account.

P.S. Thanks again for doing this - very instructive!

Natalie said...

I hid under my desk by query five (thus I would not make a good agent). So I imagine if I were an agent, I'd be the oh-so-frustrating "respond if interested." Sad, but true.

Fawn Neun said...

Like Kim, I read a lot of slush for a magazine and we have a policy of responding whatever our decision.

We use a very kindly worded rejection form, we personalize a bit, and if it's close, but no cigar, we definitely do comment on the submission. We receive about forty to fifty submissions per week, and although the review is spread out between four or five other editors, I do all the responding. It never feels good to reject, but it feels worse to accept something and then realize that the piece just wasn't up to standard.

Fawn Neun said...

Oh, and to add, if the problem with the submission is a technical one, I do look at them anyway. I don't randomly toss out submissions without a word just because it was single spaced or the wrong font or in Wordperfect. If I can't read the file, I ask for a resubmittal in the proper format.

Anahita said...

I would set up an online submission (not with E-mail but through uploading the query letter and pages online). The material then would automatically enter a spreadsheet. I would then read each one and assess the failure risk of each project. My risk assessment spreadsheet uses, as input, my numerical rating answers to a set of questions that include decisive factors in the sales of a book. The spreadsheet then comes up with a risk number and the highest risk factor for each case. I’ll use the risk number to confirm my selection. Each person will have an account that shows the status: “under consideration” “accepted” or “rejected”. Each account also has a comment section which automatically reflects the main rejection reason (the highest risk factor) for the author to revise his/her work.

Nifaerie Noven said...

Hi Nathan,

I enjoyed the experiment, but if I had to do this everyday, I would capitalize on the fact that people seem to make the same mistakes over and over again.

The first thing that I'd do is to stop accepting queries by email. Instead, I would have all would-be clients query by manuscript only using a web form. This way technology could filter out any and all books that are too long, too short, wrong genre, etc.

Each of the too long, too short, wrong genre, etc would get an immediate email rejection via a short customized form letter telling them exactly why they were rejected.

As for the others, the number one problem was lack of voice/spark. The number two problem was lack of specific vision. The number three problem was focusing on minute details of the story to the exclusion characters' true stakes. I would write generic letters to address each of these and send them out accordingly.

:)Ash said...

Form rejection for queries. Some sort of personalization for partials or fulls that I was passing on.

And I'd definitely prefer e-queries to snail mail.

Oh, and I would want a really great assistant :)

Liz said...

Query by email only, no attachments. I would definitely have an automated reply to let the author know their query was received. I'd ask for the first 3 pages pasted below the query, and I'd have a response back to the author yes or no w/in a week.

Queries seem to follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of them can be handled in 20% of your alotted time for query responding because they would get a polite and encouraging form rejection (PUPPIES!); the other 20% will take 80% of the time. Queries that were almost a yes I'd try to give constructive criticism. I'm sure I'd come across the ocassional nut who'd want to argue the point with me (and who I would then move to the People I Will Never Ever Ever Represent column), but I think most people would appreciate the feedback and move on. I received some feedback from an agent that passed on my ms that was priceless. She is forever a goddess in my mind because she took the time to provide very useful data to someone who was not her client. Queries are hard. I'd provide the feedback earlier in the cycle.

Liz said...

Wow, and now that I'm reading others' responses, if I wrote software, there is totally an opportunity for someone to create a web-hosted app to filter and manage queries and generate reports and automated responses.

Christine H said...

Dear Nathan,

I am the next JK Rowling. I promise to post here before I send you my query when my book is finally done.

No need to jump out of windows.

I promise!


(Yes, I'm kidding... I know I'm not JK Rowling. For one thing, I didn't go to a fancy English university)

ryan field said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine H said...

(for another, I'm not divorced or homeless... yet. Keep having these contests, however, and... ???)

bookshop said...

As consistently as possible, I would try to:
1) Take a pile of up to 25 queries at a time

2) Quickly read through and sort them into "no", "maybe", and "definitely immediately send more right now yes" based on my level of potential interest.

2a) send out rejections to all the Nos, most likely form rejections for the most part, but even a form rejection from me probably would have a slight bit of personalization in it somewhere.

3) Put the "maybes" away in the Maybe Pile

4) carve out a section of time every day where I went through up to 10 queries in the Maybe Pile more carefully.

5) make a final decision on the 10 Maybes and send out rejections with encouragment, or requests for partials, as needed.

jimnduncan said...

I'm no web guru, but I know there has to be an easy way to auto-respond to queries. Has to be. I'm going to assume this can be done, which is what I'd do. I think a lot of writer's angst comes from just wanting to know the agent actually received the query (nevermind that if it's properly sent, it's really really rare for it to not get there).

With auto-respond in place, I would definitely do a no response means no interest. If a form rejection could be set up in an auto-respond format, then I would do this, but I would want it to be little more than a drag and click sort of thing. I would give some kind of time frame, say 30 days for reply, but honestly, I think writers need to be ok with this, especially given the current deluge of queries that agents are receiving in the inboxes.

I don't believe agents owe queries a response if they aren't interested. Much like sending in a resume for a job opportunity. If they don't reply, I know they aren't interested. If one goes into this assuming the response is no, getting no response isn't a big deal. I realize many agents feel it is the professional thing to do, but this may be based on the old ways of snail mail, where people took the time and money to send in the query as well as enclosing postage for a return. The internet has changed that premise.

Writers want their agents to maximize their time dealing with their authors and issues pertaining to contracts, marketing, etc. I don't want them burning valuable time saying no, not when doing nothing says the same thing. So, as an aspiring writer and pretend agent, I fully support the 'no reply means no' philosophy. It makes sense, it respects the agent's valuable time, and really...we can deal.

Anonymous said...

AgentForADay -


EMC07 said...

I'll admit my answer to this differs from when I first started this project. I would say reluctantly, it would have to be a form letter for rejections, unless a particular rejection sparked something. If I get the spark, I would email them back and ask a little more about the project, if I like it, I'll request pages. Who knows if that would even work... I would suspect that would end quickly, but this is hypothetical anyway.

I really tried for the sake of the agent-a-day project to give personalized responses to the critiques I did, but there is no feasible way I could do that every day.

Nathan- Just have to say, I look forward to reading your blog every day and it was the first agent blog I found when I first started writing. So thanks for always posting interesting questions and stuff...

PPP said...

I would ask hopefuls to submit a few pages along with their queries. The pages made me reject some of the queries you posted.

But I would use a form rejection letter. As a writer, I know how agonizing it is to never hear back from an agent--you have no rejection letter to show for your efforts, and you're left wondering if you letter even made it through in the first place.

PPP said...


Don't you think writers want to know one way or the other as quickly as possible so they can get on with it? I'd rather have a quick response than a kind one.

Just curious how others feel about this.

Dearth of Reason said...

As an agent, which is happily not the case, every second I spend personalizing a response when I know I am not interested is one second I could use to make money today, or to do something meaningful to me. Those seconds add up fast. Hell, if I collected 60 or 90 of them I'd have enough for sex, or maybe some quality time with the kids.

As a writer, I'd trade away a hundred personalized rejections if every agent I submit to could respond as quickly as Nathan. If I have the grit, I can get feedback from industry professionals in ways that do not make their jobs harder. Example: I once paid $50 at a conference for the fiction editor of "The Atlantic" to read my story and spend 15 minutes with me going over it. He was sincere and focused. He crucified it. Nuked it. In a nice way. Truly, it was the best feedback I ever got. No one has ever done more for my writing. Not even those sorority pledges I knew in college... but that's another story.

Raven56 said...

I think I'd use some sort of submissions form and a program to send automatically send a form rejection if I so choose. I'd personally respond if so inclined, but wouldn't try to do so for the majority of submissions.

And I'd definitely make sure all submissions got a reponse, even if it's just an auto-reject. Anything else is just mean.

Central Content Publisher said...

I would expect to read maybe fifty two manuscripts a year from beginning to end, and to drop maybe four times that number after a chapter or two. That would allow me to request about a manuscript a day. The rest I would send one of two rejection forms. One form would encourage the author to send queries in the future and one would not.

Rejection forms would not offer a detailed critique for an appropriate fee - unless business was slow.

The Spidermonkey said...

When I was querying I was so grateful to the agents who gave me feedback, even a couple of lines scribbled on a form rejection. But I think I could only do it to those who show promise. I once ran a small and catastrophically unsuccessful record label. We set out promising to give feedback to everyone who sent a demo, but in the end we just gave up. It wasn't just the quantity, it was the appalling standard of most of the music. I didn't want to encourage them, just say, give up, you have no talent. Why encourage people to waste their lives trying to do something they're no good at? That said, though, I'd set clear timescales for my response, and keep to them. People are owed that much courtesy. Most of the venom against agents is because people think there is some conspiracy stopping them being published, when it's just the poor quality of their work.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan said:
"By the way, for those who envision different responses for different scenarios, I think that goes out the window very quickly once you start going back, copying whatever form you have, going back to the query, pasting it in, etc. etc."

I learned that the hard way during the course of this contest. I decided to evaluate all 50 queries in one day, so that I could return to writing my novel the next day, and also because that would be closest to an agent’s real time frame. Within minutes of beginning to look at queries, I suddenly realized that I was going to have to send out form letters in order to make my deadline. Hesitant to use only one form letter, I wrote up five different types of form letters to fit different situations. I also cut-and-pasted the author’s individual book title into each letter, taking the time to retype it in all caps if the author hadn’t done that. About seven hours into the contest, I found myself thinking, "Make it stop! Make it stop!" I started making mistakes. I found myself going in the wrong direction on the Blog (down instead of up) to find the next query and had to waste time scrolling in the opposite direction, I forgot to record some of my decisions on a list I was keeping and had to go back to the Blog to record the type of query letter I had posted, and I started misspelling my own name when I entered it into the Blog. I managed to finish evaluating all 50 queries, making my final decisions and posting responses to all of the queries by 5:30 A.M. the following morning. Granted, I didn’t start until 3:30 P.M. the previous day, I took an hour off for dinner and two hours off to watch Battlestar Gallactica, and I spent a fair amount of time updating a detailed list of my query choices – but an agent has lots of other things to do as well, and it still took me eleven hours of solid work. I realized that, if I were a real agent, I would have to use form letters for most rejections, automate my reply system, and personalize my responses only for projects I thought had amazing potential but weren’t quite right for me.

This contest has had an amazing effect on me as a writer. I feel so much freer. After sending rejection letters to so many people with amazing talent, I feel that receiving rejection letters in the future will have much less power over me. Although they’ll always make me feel sad and frustrated, I’ll probably stop reading between the lines for messages like "You suck! Stop writing!" I think I wrote some of my best work the day after this contest because of the freedom I felt. I also suddenly see the entire publishing field in a new light. Although literary agents can’t critique every manuscript they read, an author can approach editors for a critique. And, for good books that aren’t mainstream, there are many reputable small publishers who will publish them. It’s nearly impossible to make money as a small press author, but it’s a way to get book reviews, enter contests, and be a part of the writing community. It is what it is.

Lois Lavrisa said...

Nathan you are practically perfect in every way that an agent should be, such as:

1) You respond quickly (often within the hour) to email queries.

2) You request five pages with the query which is beneficial to the writer and you. Because - some writers are average at query letter writing, and great at the actual story writing, and of course the reverse is true- some writers have perfected query letter writing, but then you get into the actual story and they fall short.

3) You have a blog that keeps writers up to date on the industry.

4) You have great resources for writers on your blog too (Anatomy of a good query for example)

So Nathan, as far as I am concerned, keep doing what you are doing.

And thanks again for the “Agent for a Day” contest- it was a blast

Lois Lavrisa

TecZ aka Dalton C Teczon - Writer said...

Submission Policy:

"Teczon Literary Agency" represents adult, YA and children’s authors of all genres. If you would like to submit a manuscript or proposal, please send us a query letter with a one page synopsis via email to _____@____. Include "Query" on the subject line. We accept email only at this time to be environmentally supportive.
We typically respond to queries within 2 to 4 weeks.
• We do not charge reading fees.
• We are accepting screenplay submissions at this time.

I would use a standard reject form letter, (preset template), and insert their name and the title of story, so they know that their query was definately read. In the body of the reject form letter would be encouragement that, though it wasn't right for me, it may be right for someone else and to keep persisting. If I really saw that they needed help, (as most of us start off with no idea what a query is supposed to be, 'til thankfully read find agent blogs), I would encourage them to read "How tos ___."

If I was interested, I'd still want to read a little more of their work and request first 30 pages. I would also want to talk to them on the phone to gauge their personality and see if there was a personal connection, a good working comfort zone, before making a solid offer of representation.

Jason Crawford said...

I would have two email accounts--one for unsolicited queries and one for my other business dealings (other agents, editor, authors, etc...)

I'd set up an auto-reply in the submissions account letting writers know I received their submissions and that I will reply if interested. I would keep the reply updated with the typical response time and other info regarding things I'm looking for and not looking for. And I would be sure to thank the writers for considering me for their representation.

The other account would not have an automated reply (unless I'm OOO and won't have access to email). From there I'd conduct regular business with my author list, fellow agents, and editors.

Marilyn Peake said...

Jan said:
"... ONE YEAR later, I got an offer of representation. ONE YEAR later for a submission he actually liked enough to offer representation (even though I had sent of list of publishers who had seen it already)."

Congratulations! That's awesome! I know another author who went through a similar experience. I met him in an online book group. He had really wanted to be published by one of the major science fiction publishers – TOR or DAW, I forget which one. He submitted a novel. THREE YEARS LATER, he received a rejection. He did this two more times. That’s a lot of freakin’ years! However, his third novel plus a series based on that novel was finally accepted by the publisher. After that, I started seeing his name popping up all over the place. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen to so many authors now, I’m thinking there’s something to be said for patience and hard work.

Nat said...

Very short form rejection- just "no thanks, not for me." I think the whole bit about tastes varying and such just gets redundant. All the author wants to know is that the agent looked at the query and either liked it or didn't. Keep it short and sweet.

I'm going to be brutally honest here: I also think agents shouldn't be concerned about writers personalizing their queries. Most writers send out A LOT of query letters. And yes they should follow the guidelines on the websites of each agent. But I think it is kind of silly and maybe a little arrogant to expect a personalized bit on each one. It just gets in the way of reading the blurb which is what the agent should be interested in anyway.

So I'd say just make the whole process easier. Agents should expect a well written form query letter about a book that meets the specifications listed on their websites and writers could expect a very short form letter in reply so they aren't left wondering if their query got lost in cyberspace.

Meggrs said...

I think one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of handling this type of situation is that there seems to be NO "good" way to manage it.

Form rejections are the most efficient all around, but no matter how many times you say "Please, please don't take it personally" writers desperate for perspective will beg for specific feedback in the hope of nailing it on the next try.

You can try and personalize in order to cut down on that response, but as you said, that's a crazy-making proposition. Just how big of a "form-but-personalized with tidbits" list can you actual deal with?

And this is just handling rejections--add in responses to partials and fulls, and I'm truly amazed that agents DON'T spend all their time underneath their desks.

It's a no-win, so I think the agent is simply best off doing what makes their lives bearable. You CANNOT satisfy every querier, no matter how kind you are or how hard you try to be fair, so settling on what keeps your head above water is logical, reasonable, and professional.

Should every query get a response? Absolutely. Do you have to hand-type every single one? Nope. Take advantage of whatever programs let you retain focus on your job--finding projects you believe in and selling them.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't recommend personalized queries because I need to be flattered or I'm trying to make an author's life more difficult, I recommend it because it works.

Chances are an author who personalizes is someone who goes the extra mile. This means 1) they usually have a better query letter, 2) they went the extra mile when writing their manuscript, 3) they know what they're doing and are more professional. In other words, they probably are the type of author I'd want to work with.

I wouldn't think of personalization as a hoop to jump through, but rather it's the equivalent of putting PAY ATTENTION, BLEARY-EYED AGENT, THIS IS PROBABLY A GOOD QUERY at the top of the letter.

You don't have to do it, and I request unpersonalized queries, but it's one of the best and easiest ways of increasing your odds. As you can see from the contest, this is an odds game and if I were an author I'd do everything in my power to make them as good as possible.

Christine H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sex scenes at starbucks said...

Hey Chris,

I love the idea of always getting a partial. More info is there if they want to read on, or not if they don't like the query. With technology these days, it's so easy. 10-30 pages is sufficient.

Thx Nathan. 5 o'clock. Good rule.

Kate H said...

I would send form rejections or requests in response to queries, unless I saw something I really liked but couldn't take because it didn't fit my list or whatever; then I would give the author a word of encouragement.

To partials I would respond with a few sentences of critique if I could easily sum up why the MS didn't work for me. If it did work, of course, I'd be mildly effusive in requesting the full.

I would always try to answer every query, with the possible exception of the "impossible" ones (like #7).

Anonymous said...

Form rejects sent as a batch by the intern once per week, so as I read the NO's get flagged for Reject batch so the intern can reply with the form to each one. Custom responses by me for requested material.

No blog, all preferences/guidlines/formats etc. outlined on the website.

No snail mail except for sending requested fulls.

Custom responses to all requseted partials and fulls (even if just the form letter with writer's name inserted).

Nat said...

Hey Nathan,
Wow, you are quick. Yes, I get that personalization is a good way to tell if a person is on the ball and goes the extra mile. All I'm saying is that reading through the 50 queries the personalization just slows things down. And seriously, would you rather have an author surfing the internet for personalization tidbits on their agent list or refining their manuscript.
On a personal note, I haven't actually sent a query yet, and when I do I'm sure I will do everything possible to satisfy the agents on the receiving end, including writing personal notes. I just think that when I consider that writers are people with limited time, if I were an agent I'd want them to be spending that time WRITING.
And on another personal note I understand that while you expect personalization coming from writers you also try to write personalized rejections. I can definitely respect that, given this exercise.

Nathan Bransford said...


Actually I'd want a writer who both refines their manuscript and takes the time to familiarize themselves with the business (and personalization goes along with this). Especially given how utterly difficult the marketplace is at the moment, an author who really is plugged in has a big advantage over an author who merely sees their job as turning out a good manuscript.

There are obviously limits to this, and I'd rather have a brilliant manuscript from a hermit without an internet connection than a mediocre manuscript from someone plugged in, but the ideal is an author who is dedicated to both craft and business.

Scott said...

I think you'd have to do mostly form rejects to keep your sanity - and your job. Either that, or only reply to the ones that have potential.

You have a tough job, Nathan.

Other Lisa said...

I'd definitely ask for pages with the query.

Form reject. Slight personalization if it came close or was otherwise intriguing.

I'm coming around to agree with those who think that if you already get pages with the query, go from that to requesting fulls rather than the intermediate partial. You can always stop reading if it goes off the rails.

Nathan Bransford said...

other lisa-

Yeah, I go back and forth on that. On the one hand, partials on an electronic manuscript seems kind of pointless, but at the same time I think there's an implicit assumption that the agent is going to read all or most of whatever is sent to them.

Also the first thing an author wants to know when passing on a full is "at what point in the manuscript did you make your decision?" I don't like getting into that dialogue because it's a rabbit hole. But when I pass on a partial this doesn't come up.

Alexa said...

Much as I'd want to give everyone a personalized rejection. I think you'd have to do form or go crazy!

Anonymous said...

Nat -

So are we to assume you spend every extra moment of your time writing rather than blogging or commenting on blogs, etc?

I mean if you don't have a few extra minutes to find a blurb to work into your query how will you have the time to revise or market the manuscript once it's sold?

I find it amusing when people say they shouldn't waste invaluable time "marketing" themselves when they should be writing. Writing is just one piece of the whole experience. Yes it is a large piece but it won't work with the other pieces.

Besides - who cares if it's flattering? That's a good thing! People like to read about themselves and if it puts a good taste in their mouths just prior to reading your query (maybe they just got off the phone with someone irate and screaming to click on your query) you may get a small chance of catching their eye and improving your odds.



green ray said...

Nathan, I've been too busy to participate in this wonderful thing you've been doing, but I've learned from reading some of it. You are just tops in my book. I wish my partial had been more to your taste, but thanks for requesting it a while back. I am just in awe of your kindness. Thanks from a big fan.

Diana said...

As a mentioned above, I did generally go with a form rejection (that did use the author's name), but I tried to acknowledge the blog readers. I ended up with two form queries:

Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, this project isn't right for me.


Thank you for your query, and for being part of our blog community! Unfortunately, this project isn't right for me.

Sage said...

Am I the only one here who doesn't like getting an auto-response when I query? God, nothing's worse than seeing you have e-mail in your querying account than finding out it's just acknowledgement that the e-mail wasn't lost. That's not even the closure of a form rejection. It's just a build up of anticipation for a non-answer. How anti-climatic.

Lots of love,

Shannon said...

I'd use form rejections mostly with the author's name and book title included. I could foresee occasions when I might personalize, but that wouldn't be the rule.

I would likely restrict queries to email and have them include first 5 pages (even though it surprised me the number of times I didn't read the enclosed pages, but there were a couple of queries where I really wanted to see a few pages to help me decide).

Nat said...

Point taken

Mira said...


I don't know the answer to that question, really. I think different writers probably want different things - some want it quickly, some would want you to take their time.

I think I'd have to make my choice based on personal integrity - to try to do the best job possible.

Marilyn, I really liked what you said above about the process freeing you up. I hadn't looked at it that way, but you're right.

I also think your point that writers can go to editors is well-spoken, but that won't even occur to many of them. For some, contact with an agent is the only professional feedback they are going to solicit.

Don't agents take the job because they love writing? Every single query letter is an opportunity to impact writers. Why waste that?

Other Lisa said...

Nathan, that makes a lot of sense.

Okay, then, first 50 pages for partials. If rejecting, I'd try to personalize, probably using a form as the base.

pengwinz said...

I know this breaks all the rules (and in fairness to those who beyed them, I appreciate your comments) and also completely sidesteps one point of the challenge (being, "How would you reply..."), but as a full time unpaid writer with a full time paying job on the side, my schedule, unfortunately, just does not allow me to devote more time. Still, I wanted to put in my votes.
Request MS: Queries # 9, 17, 24, 26, 40.
Personal Reject with comments: 2,12, 10, 15, 19, 20, 30, 31, 44, 48.
All others, reject with one of two or three different form letters, depending on why (eg. "Work on your CL," "Character or premise not compelling," or "Character or premise not original.")

Venus Vaughn said...

What amazed me was the people who said they were going to go back and re-read a few queries to make their decisions.

I can't imagine, with the constant influx of queries that an agent would have time to go back and re-read queries then take time pondering whether they'll ask for more pages.

It's probably simply a matter of experience knowing that immediate yes or no, but even as an AFAD, there was no re-reading for me.

Madison said...

Form reject most of the time. However, in that form reject, I would put the author's name and probably the title of thier work as well. I like it when I get rejections like this so that is what I would like to send. :D

Carolyn said...

Great question.

I would accept email queries only and I would require 5 pages be included. My policy would be to reply in 2-3 weeks and if nothing has been heard by then, to please inquire, as things do go awry.

If possible, I'd have an intern or assistant do the first pass through the queries with he/she doing the first round rejections leaving me with only the maybes to consider.

I would have a template email for form rejections, which I would hope is kind but firm as to No, thank you.

I'd implement some kind of aging system as well such that unanswered queries approaching the "stale" date get looked at first, balanced with an expedited process for queries that show promise. A published author looking for new rep, for example, probably merits being pushed to the top simply to prevent a proven commodity from signing elsewhere without my having the opportunity to pitch some woo.

Both gmail and Thunderbird have a tagging feature that could help filter and flag queries. It would be easy to create custom tags and apply them to queries. Outlook has a limited capability for this and would have to be hacked to be as useful as custom tags. I think it would be possible to write a filter based on age as well, come to think of it.

What's unclear to me is whether I could reasonably commit to a daily review and sorting into "No, thanks" and "hmm." I would imagine there would have to be a query hour or query day routine that is not neglected, if only to actually find clients.

I suspect the form rejections would be fairly easy to zip through. The rest would need to be sorted for closer attention; previously published authors, a great query and/or pages. Upon review, some would still get the form rejection, others might get an expanded rejection, if there was merit and passion in the pages. (Keep me in mind for future projects... or even a statement of what I feel might need to worked on.)

Of the remaining (if any) I'd request anywhere from 25 pages to a full.

Submitters do deserve a timely response, and authors whose work is close should be encouraged.

Eva Ulian said...

Basically, I have put more effort in giving an answer to these 50 queries than I would do if I were a real agent. As a real agent I would only give an answer as to why I am rejecting a project only if I think that author shows potential and can resubmit.

Ink said...


A lot of people here have mentioned how they'd respond to a great query or partial by saying something like "Wow! Fantastic! Get me that partial or full right away!"

Except I have a feeling that's a bad idea. It seems like it would build a lot of unnecessary expectations in the writer, sort of an "Oh wow, I'm gonna get signed and get a book deal and everything will be amazing!" When, really, more often than not the response will still be a rejection. Which leads to deflated writers, more uncomfortable responses, etc.

Just wondering what your experiences have been like on delivering good (but not great) news.


scj said...

Form reject - takes too long to personalize (although yes, as a writer submitting, it is nice to get a personalized rejection... but it's still a rejection). As an "agent", I'd DEFINITELY form reject to make it go by quicker. It's not that difficult to cut and paste a rejection, and no response is rude (not to mention VERY frustrating for writers!), so yep - gotta go with form rejection.

Jenn Johansson said...

I think I would use a personalized form rejection on queries. I would try to give feedback on submissions... at least mention why it is no.

Carolyn said...


You may not be using the full power of your email program. A template email can be brought up in a click or two - much faster than finding your form email and then doing a copy and paste into your reply. Setting up a template reply would save you bucket loads of clicks and keying.

Melanie Avila said...

I think I would try to to respond to every query, but certainly use a form rejection for most.

Thank you again for this contest -- it's really opened up my eyes, and man, it was hard to write with them closed.

Nathan Bransford said...


I definitely try to keep things on the even keel for just that reason.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the aspiring writers could host a conference for agents on filters, templates, and auto-responses. lol.

Laura D said...

I must be really thin-skinned because as a person, I'd rather submit and not have my hopes dashed by finally getting something from Nathan Bransford-only for it to be a "no". So, as an agent, I would follow the no response means no route. I would however adopt the receipt received method-so no one was left wondering if I got it.

Nathan Bransford said...


I feel like I'm pretty tech savvy, but if someone wanted to give me a tutorial on how to create a folder in Outlook that then sends an auto-reply every time I move an e-mail there I would really, really appreciate it.

Kristin Tubb said...

I haven't played along this week, but I have read most of the queries, and I kept a record of which ones I would request. I considered "accepting" those queries and (politely) disregarding all the rest. So that places me squarely in the "respond if interested" camp!

As a writer, I've never been offended by this policy. It's a business decision. Now that I've seen just how time-consuming it is to respond to a mere 50 queries, I'm certain that this is not a reflection on the quality of the query.

Thank you for organizing this! I've been lurking here all week.

dhole said...

What I found was that query letters gave me an idea, but sample pages told me if I wanted to see something or not.

I'd probably go electronic only, and have people send full manuscripts right off the bat -- if I want to see more, it's there, and if I don't, it's just as easy to delete a full as it is to delete a query letter.

Form rejections for most, personalized rejections for things that strike me as being almost, but not quite right -- Basically, I'd personalize if I actually wanted to see the next thing the author was going to write.

In a batch of fifty, say, there'd be maybe two or three personalized rejections.

Sharon aka Sapphire said...

I hate receiving form letters, but am now a bit more understanding of the need for them. If the agent/editor can jot down a note on the form letter, the manuscript, or on the query (as they are reading) it would be helpful to the author. Perhaps the next time they submit they will have addressed what the did wrong in the first place.

Cindy said...

A definite response for those I'm interested in and I'd love to be able to allow the first few pages along with the query letter.
I'd like to personalize responses for everyone who at least did their research because I know at the very least then can follow simple rules, but I doubt I'd have time. Can't do it. Word verification says, "ressist". I must resist!

Nathan Bransford said...


How do you do that in Outlook?

Nathan Bransford said...

My kingdom for a tutorial! My kingdom for a tutorial!

Lorin said...

Nathan - make that "my kingdom for a critique" and someone will bite. too bad I know nothing about Outlook or it would be me!

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm all about the barter system. If someone can save me from cutting and pasting I'll try and help them out in kind.

Lorin said...

or rather, my critique for a tutorial.

Gregory said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gregory said...

Hi Nathan;

Thanks for the insightful replies here. Helpful!

You mentioned that you fear missing the next Harry Potter. Interesting. I found the exercise a little addictive that way. Kept looking for the next "great one." BUT....

I think something like 100+ agents passed on Rowling. Then a small, local publisher took her up on it with a 2000-book run, or something like that. Then there was very limited distribution, in one or a few local bookstores. Zero advertising. 100% word of mouth. Two years to catch on.

Out of curiosity, do you know if you've passed on some best-sellers? I'm sure agents do it fairly frequently.

Like Wm Goldman said in his classic, Adventures in the Screentrade, "Nobody knows anything."

To further paraphrase Goldman: "Not one person in the [publishing] field KNOWS for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess--and, if you're lucky, an educated one. They don't know it when the [book] is finished."

Ergo, Raiders of the Lost Ark was offered to every single studio in town--and they all turned it down. All except Paramount.

Star Wars? Universal passed on it. To finish with Goldman's humorous conclusion to that segment: "And why did Universal, the mightiest studio of all, pass on Star Wars, a decision that just may cost them [when all is said and done] over a billion dollars? Because nobody, NOBODY--not now, not ever--knows the least goddam thing about what is or isn't going to work..."

Heh heh...

Know what? I think he's right. As true in publishing as it is in movies, at least when it comes to fiction. But, what can one do?

Nothing! Because nobody knows anything.

Bija Andrew Wright said...

I would basically use a short conventional rejection that I'd email in response to queries--"Sorry, but this isn't right for me. Best of luck." It's mostly like a form rejection, but it doesn't start with "Dear Author."

Years ago I submitted a short story to a literary magazine, (one of many) and the form rejection was a full photocopied page that began with "Dear Author." The form letter apologized profusely for being a form letter, and told me that I no doubt feel very disappointed to have my work rejected, and went on to tell me how much the editors feel my pain and deeply regret that they couldn't take the work that I no doubt had worked very hard to perfect and certainly deserved more... for a full page.

And I kind of felt insulted. It's not that I was rejected with a form letter; it's that the editors assumed I (or anyone writing a submission) was so delicate that they had to send a sympathy card with the rejection. Also perhaps the inflated importance--like appearing in their journal would be my life-long dream, crushed before my eyes. It's just a small-press journal, one of many, and I got rejected so I sent it back somewhere else. If I'm a professional writer, I don't need someone to tell me not to get discouraged, that maybe another publisher/agent will feel differently, that they receive lots of quality work that they must reject. I basically just need to hear "Sorry, it's a no."

Lupina said...

Scott had it exactly right with the web form, auto-replies for all to acknowledge receipt. Technology is here, why not use it?

I am never offended by a form response but I do believe it is inexcusable for an agent not to even bother to reply. If they are accepting email queries, then these are invited correspondences deserving of at least "thanks but no," minimum. How hard is it to hit "reply" and then "copy?"

AndrewDugas said...

This really has led me to revisit my own query. How would it sit? I think about my most common reactions, and wonder if my query elicits similar responses.

"Where's the story?"

"If the author can't write a query, what kind of novel can I expect?"

"Get to the meat already!"

"Too much brown nosing!"

And so on.

Lupina said...

Gregory, I can add another to your list. An author who was an Oprah pick (whom I'm fortunate enough to know) went through the entire Writer's Marketplace list of agents for her highly acclaimed first novel and didn't get one until she hit the Z's. That was a couple hundred of agents at least who are still probably gnashing their teeth.

Endless Secrets said...

I actually had always considered being a Literary Agent as a side option, but after reviewing the queries I feel that I would love this job!

As for rejections and so on, I think I would do the usual, I apologize but I feel that I am not right for your project, best of luck yata yata...

But then at the end of it, if I felt like I could offer some advise, possibly a fellow agent that would be more suited, I'd like to think that I definately would because I love helping people.

That is how I imagine it going down but I suppose i'll never know until I try.

Quick question: Is it very hard to get accepted as a Literary Assistant?
I know that you need to do this for a few years before beginning and I read your FAQ on it, and it said that experience as a receptionist could help your chances, but is there anything else?

Thanks a bunch for the amazing experience.

Craven said...

For one thing, much as you have done, I would permit the submission of ten or so pages along with the query. More material to review, sure, but on the ones that were close calls, it made things easier, and usually within a paragrqaph or two.

Some queries sounded marginally intriguing, almost a thumbs up, but the sample pages said the writing wasn't there. In one case, the query didn't do a good job selling the book, and based on that alone I would have said no. But the sample pages were outstanding.

For the clearly not publishable manuscript, a form letter seems like the best idea. For the tough decision where the writing shows promise, but something about the story was wrong, I took a little time to say what I thought was wrong to give the author the chance to revise if possible, or know I might be interested in their next work.

Thanks for the window into your world. It was actually fun.

allegory19 said...

RUN!!!!!! Run far, far away!

Nathan Bransford said...


Whoops, you deleted your response, I deleted mine.

I've passed on one bestseller that I know of, and I specifically remember the query. But nothing on the order of JK Rowling. When you spend soo much time looking for the gem it's nervewracking to think that you could miss it.

More on this on Monday.


how hard is it to hit "reply" and "copy"?One time is not hard, but it adds up, particularly when you're copying and pasting other things throughout the day. You always have to go back and copy your standard rejection letter.

That's why I really want to know if there's a way around cutting and pasting.

Anonymous said...

Is Your e-mail address set with a default rejection of any and all materials? I only ask as I was able to receive a response within one minute. More than a minutes worth of material was in the e-mail.

Is this is a sick joke on all those people foolish enough to aspire toward writing?

Nathan Bransford said...


It depends on what happened. If you received a rejection letter it means I read it. If you received some sort of automatic reply about spam, it means it didn't reach me. Our spam filter has been giving me fits lately.

PurpleClover said...

Which version of Outlook do you have?

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