Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, September 12, 2011

Should Agents Respond to All Queries?


One of the perennial topics of discussion in the literaryosphere surfaced this past week: The no response means no policy on queries.

On the one hand agent Rachelle Gardner discussed the reasons for her no-response-means-no policy (though she often will respond, just not always), and Janet Reid explained why she responds to everyone.

When I was an agent I responded to everyone, but it was by no means an easy task, and sometimes in retrospect I wonder if I really should have had that policy. But regardless of which policy agents pursue, I still maintain that agents don't owe authors a response. I know it's frustrating as an author to send queries into the ether, but agents have every right to set their own submission policy, and if an authors doesn't agree with it they are more than welcome to query someone whose policy they prefer.

That, ultimately, was one of the main reasons I had a always-respond policy. Like Janet Reid I hoped people would look kindly on that and give me first shot at their projects. But it was by no means easy to maintain, and I certainly would never pass judgment on agents with a different policy.

What do you think? Should agents respond to everyone or is it too much to ask? Do you check an agent's response policy before deciding who to query?






153 comments:

Mr. D said...

When I was still querying, I did think more of those agents who responded. It seemed more polite, I guess.

Angela Ackerman said...

I don't think they should 'have to' respond--we're talking hundreds of emails a week, which takes away from clients.

However, one thing I would like to see is no form rejections on Full requests. In that case, I believe the agent should provide a quick sentence or two as to why they are passing...it's only respectful to the writer in my mind.

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

Yes, I think they should respond. This won't stop me from querying or respecting agents that have a no-response policy, but those agents who always respond, even with an auto-form, get priority in my book.

Geekamicus said...

I think as long as they have an auto responder that notes that the query has been received, it's at least better than wondering your whole life if it got lost in cyberspace. On the other hand, I think that the world has lost a little something if the common courtesy of a response to a direct question is considered too much work.

Authoress said...

I always thought your response policy as an agent was excellent.

It's not about "owing" anyone anything. It boils down to common courtesy in the context of a business communique (which is what a query really is). If you are open to submissions and someone submits, it is common courtesy to respond.

This applies in many areas of life; not just querying agents.

(Imagine how much business a real estate agent would get if he only responded to phone calls from people who had a certain type of house. Or lived on a certain street. Claiming he didn't have *time* to respond to everyone who inquired about listing with him. A silly analogy, but you see my point.)

I am still cheering from the rooftops over Janet Reid's excellent post. She's got it nailed.

lauralynnelliott said...

The only problem with agents not responding is that the author is hanging out there in limbo with no idea what the answer might be. How long should an author wait before deciding the agent isn't going to answer?

Whirlochre said...

As I see it, the rules for writers and agents should be the same as those for strangers bumping across one another in some eternal limbo, ie if someone nods at you then it's rude not to nod back.

Given that writers and agents have potentially more in common than strangers chancing upon each other in limbo, I'm with the Reids rather than the Gardners on this one.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I don't think agents owe anyone a response, but I also don't think a confirmation email is too much to ask for. It's automated and triggered by something hitting the inbox, which would alleviate the questions of whether something was received or not. (Which is the biggest flaw in the "no response = no" system.)

There are ways to semi-automate the responses, too, by sending each email to a specified folder (as opposed to deletion) that would automatically email each rejected submission a form rejection. Then, all the agent would have to do is clear that folder at the end of each day.

The only extra time required is that extra click of 'delete all'

Amber said...

I'm not sure anyone ever "owes" a response to an email, but it is certainly polite and the standard practice for business communication, which this is. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth for someone to give detailed instructions for submissions and inordinately long response times, even for the positive, yet they can't be bothered to copy/paste a form rejection. Of course, agents can do anything they want, but I think the best authors, the ones agents really want to represent, can and do vote with their submissions.

Allison M. Dickson said...

If an agent has the common courtesy to either acknowledge the receipt of a query or sending some sort of rejection, either form or personal, I will think more highly and will be more likely to query that agent.

Do they "owe" us? Well, I'm not big on that phrase. But is it unprofessional or rude to expect writers to adhere to often strict communication standards and then not even deign to acknowledge the people who are working their asses off to get an agent's attention? Hell yes, it is rude. If you're that jaded or so bogged down you can't work professional courtesy into your schedule, then maybe you're in the wrong business.

Roger Floyd said...

Yes, I think an agent should respond to all queries, even if it involves nothing more than a postcard or an e-mail reply. Whether they respond or not isn't likely to keep me from querying, but it seems only common courtesy to respond. Look at it from the author's POV. How does he/she know if the agent received the letter? That's especially true if the query went by snail mail. The only exception might be if the agent makes it clear in advance that no response within a well-defined maximum time means no.

Lisa Aldin said...

If it's in the policy, then I have no problem with an agent not responding. It's nice to know how long to wait though. So if I haven't heard anything in, say, 2 weeks, I know to write it off as a rejection. That's helpful, so I don't need a response then. My rejections folder is getting awfully full anyway!

Anonymous said...

I understand why many agents don't respond, but I sincerely appreciate those who take the time to send a quick response (even canned). While querying, I kept a very organized agent spreadsheet, and it was great to be able to note rejections.

I imagine that most agents probably appreciate it when editors respond to their queries as well.

Rick said...

I don't think agents should HAVE TO respond or be THROWN IN PRISON, and from a pragmatic side of things I understand the the no-response-means-no as a timesaver and way to increase efficiency. I won't NOT query someone because they don't respond.

But I think it's rude, and yes, I think you do owe it to authors. Like agents, authors are professionals, we are expected to go through a series of arduous rituals if we intend to query successfully - I've seen lots of agents who prefer personalized queries, and I'm talking about more than just their name.

They want details, they want comparisons to their lists, and they want specifics and nitty-gritty and things that take a lot of time and opportunity cost from the author's end of things.

To not even respond with a form letter that lets an author no they're no longer under consideration is... hypocritical, in this context.

Agents may not "work for" authors, but we don't work for agents either. Professional relationships are a two-way street.

Christine Fonseca said...

While I really appreciate the agents that respond, I don't find myself upset or frustrated in the least when an agent doesn't respond to a query. I take it as a no and move on.

Patty Blount said...

I have to say yes. Queries are business letters and should be acknowledged -even if it's by form rejection. Authors have no way of knowing if spam filters ate a query, a network was down, or your dog ate the print-out.

We wonder, should I follow up? Will I be annoying and unprofessional if I do?

I'd take the form rejection over no reply any day.

Monica Shaughnessy said...

When I was querying agents, I did give priority to those who responded. They were on my "A" list. Those who had the policy of not responding were usually on my "B" list.

It's perfectly fine for agents to set their own policies on submission. On the flip-side, writers are able to set their own policies, too.

Rebekah James said...

I have to agree that no response is really difficult for authors. I do understand that the sheer bulk of email makes it difficult for agents, but queries aren't spam, there is someone sitting on the other end waiting for a response. A simple form letter of "sorry, but no thank you" is fine. If an agent can't be bothered with the simple courtesy of a form letter to show that they actually received/glanced at your project, then why on earth would you assume that they would be able to sell your work in a field where personal relationships and good manners are everything? Double that for agents who ask for full submissions and don't bother to respond.(this has happened to me several times. It's unprofessional and busy or not - it comes across as terribly arrogant.

Lydia Sharp said...

I have no problem with the "no response means no" policy as long as there is a time frame given. Such as "if you haven't heard from me within 4 weeks, it's a no."

That helps the writer keep things organized on their end, and prevents a LOT of frustration.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Good questions.

On the one hand, an agent's response/submission policy has nothing to do with whether I will query him or her. My reasons for querying have to do with whether I think we will work well together, what books they have represented, the level of editorial guidance and overall communication involved with this agent, etc.

HOWEVER: I am much, MUCH more likely to re-query with a different project if the agent or agency has responded to me with a kind rejection, and a HUNDRED times more likely to re-query with a different project if the agent has gone so far as to include a quick note about why they are passing on my project. One agent told me that my book was too similar to another book by an existing client, and my respect for him as a person and opinion of him as someone who would be good to work with multiplied by about a million.

Should agents be obligated to do this? Of course not. But I'll like them a lot more if they do. It shows that they respect my time - both the time I took to research and sub to them, and the time that I'll spend waiting to hear back from them before sending out my next batch of queries. If I send out 5, and wait to hear back, it's better for me if I hear from everyone within a month than if I wait the whole two months for a response that might not come. I can move on to someone else that much faster.

I wonder, if agents are really too busy for even a pre-fabbed form rejection, why they open themselves to queries in the first place. Why not say that you aren't actively building your list? Surely that would cut down on the sheer volume of queries in the first place? Or is that an inaccurate assumption on my part?

anaquana said...

I believe that agents have every right to institute whichever policy they think is best for them. That said, when I was querying, I put all of the agents who had a no response = no policy at the bottom of my list.

E. Arroyo said...

I think having a form response that they got it would suffice. Just so I know it went into some inbox. That would be nice.

Cheryl said...

I think, if the agent does have a 'no response means no' policy, then they should definitely outline that in their submissions and give a reasonable timeline, after which you can safely assume they're not interested. Then the writer is not sitting there in limbo because they know if they haven't heard from agent Jane Doe in four weeks, she's not interested and they can move on. That wouldn't be unreasonable to me.

Personally, though, I would prefer even a form email to say 'sorry, your novel is not for me.'

Annie said...

As other commenters have mentioned, I always think more highly of agents who give some kind of response--even a form rejection. It's nice to be able to move on from that query if things just aren't going to work out. I certainly don't begrudge no response policy agencies (they must get an insane about of email), but I don't necessarily think better of them.

That said, I also appreciate when agents give a timeline for their no response policy, like "If you haven't heard from us in two months, please consider that a rejection." It may be cold, but again, at least you can move on with your querying.

Seleste said...

I don't think agents should have to respond, however, as others have said, I think it's more polite. I *do* think agents' policies should be made clear on their website, and if a no response stand is chosen, an auto-responder with a timeline ("If you haven't heard back in _________, it's a no.") is important.

Also, if pages are requested, there should always be a response. On a partial, a form reply is fine, but I agree with the person who said a full request should at least get a brief sentence (even if it comes from a list of canned responses) as to why the agent passed.

To me, those things are in line with authors personalizing queries and not mass-emailing. Polite and professional.

On the agents' side, however, I don't think "Dear Agent" or mass-emailings deserve responses. Those are the queries who didn't take the time to do it politely or professionally, and as such can be responded to in kind (those I would sort of look at like junk mail).

Remus Shepherd said...

Agents should always respond. Especially those who receive paper manuscripts with SASEs. I can't count how many stamps I've put on SASEs that have never come back. I hope the agent at least peeled the stamps off and reused them.

Sheila Lamb said...

Respond. Even with an auto-response. It's common courtesy and it's a business.

Agree 100% with Geekamicus: "On the other hand, I think that the world has lost a little something if the common courtesy of a response to a direct question is considered too much work."

Krista V. said...

When I'm querying, agents' response policies absolutely play a role in when - and if - I query them. While I understand how difficult it must be to stay on top of so many e-mails, quite a few agents still manage to do it, and that's definitely a point in their favor.

And like several others have mentioned, those who decide to use a no-response-means-no policy MUST have an auto-responder of some kind. There's already too much guesswork involved in querying. Trying to decide whether or not your query actually arrived in an agent's inbox shouldn't be something you have to guess about.

But don't even get me started on agents who've decided to go with the no-response-means-no policy with regards to requested material...

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

I have a feeling if agents read this, they'll put my name in the blacklist section...

When I was stationed at the clinic, I saw between 20 to 70 patients a day (depending on how many of my colleagues helped out). That's between three to five hours straight of talking to one patient after another, advising them, checking up on their progress, arranging for surgery date or imaging studies, referring to peripheral hospitals for follow-ups, and the worst of all, breaking bad news.

My discipline of Medicine gets depressing, sometimes.

Anyway, an agent's no-means-no policy is like me not explaining to patients their diagnoses, the prognosis, the outcome. It's like me just telling them "You have so-and-so condition." That's it.

Writers are by and large a sensitive, anxious lot. We send out our works to publishers/agents and we wait. We worry. We wait. We spam the refresh button on our email accounts, all of them.

An agent gets paid to read queries, answer queries, read manuscripts, sell manuscripts (I think). It's part of their job scope. So by not answering a query, they aren't doing their job to the fullest.

What's wrong with hitting the 'send template' button? At least writers will know in black and white the agent is not interested, and move on to the next one.

Remember: when you are sick, you want to know everything about what you're going through. Most people, anyway. Doctors hold the power of such information.

Agents hold the power of informing writers if a query is interesting to them or not.

Again, what's the hassle with sending a template rejection? I like submitting my works to venues with a quick response time, even if it's a rejection every time. I believe an agent will build a good reputation by giving a quick response, even if it's a form one.

Kat Sheridan said...

I'm going to agree with Authoress 100%. In what other business is it polite or professional to ignore a request for business? I think too often both agents and authors forget that it is the AUTHOR who hires the agent. If your work is accepted, you—as the author—will be paying the agent, as you would any other employee. It's only good business for a prospective employee to do whatever it takes to make a favorable first impression on a potential client.

Loralie Hall said...

It depends for me...if I'm on the fence about an agent, maybe something on their site doesn't quite sit right with me anyway, but most of it looks good, a 'No response means no' policy will keep me from querying.

But if I've decided I want a shot with that agent, their response policy doesn't change that opinion.

Lorraine Devon Wilke said...

I remember back in the day hearing that Sherry Lansing, then head of Paramount Pictures, made it her policy to return every single phone call (pre smart phones and email!) within a 24 hour period. Whether she actually did, I don't know, but the fact that she said it and I remembered it all these years later speaks volumes (and it inspired me to follow suit!).

Obviously it's got to be tough when bombarded with piles of unsolicited queries to respond to them all, but just as we writers must accept certain aspects of this industry because "it's just part of the process for writers," so, too, do agents have to accept that bombardment! And like others on here, I DO feel an uptick in respect and good will when an agent takes the time to respond. Would I love a less generic, less formulaic respond? Certainly. I already know how subjective and tough it is out there! :) But the fact that someone at least took the time is deeply respectful... something we can always use a little more of in this industry!

Natalie Whipple said...

When I first started querying, I didn't like the "no response means no" policy at all. I wanted replies in a bad way.

After about a year querying? I actually LOVED the "no response" policy. I was so tired of seeing NO that I preferred to query agents that would give me a yes if they wanted and nothing if not. It meant I had less tangible rejections in my inbox to look at:)

At that point I felt like I understood how hard it was to keep saying no to people—because it was certainly hard to keep hearing no. Where I used to think it was rude, I began to think it was merciful.

Maia said...

I think that an auto-response saying something like, "If you don't hear from me within six weeks, I am not interested" is much better than nothing at all. Writers take the extra time to adhere to agents' specific instructions (often told that our queries will be thrown out if we don't), and I do think it's rude to make us wait for nothing. I've received replies to queries six months after I've sent them, so it's hard to tell if silence is a definite "no".

Julie Butcher-Fedynich said...

When I was querying, the numbers were important for me to tell if my query was working but I didn't mind a no response as long as there was an email stating that the query was recieved. I did mind wondering if it was lost somewhere in cyber-space.
I'll have to admit that after you get your agent, the no-response makes your now immediate response to emails PURE JOY.

Melinda said...

I think these days it's very easy to send a form rejection letter and it's only polite business practice to do so. Yes, I think agents owe a response to any legitimate query. The author went to all the trouble of following the agent's guidelines to the letter, often painstaking guidelines. For that effort, the author deserves a response.

If an agent wants a friendly working relationship with someone, then they should start out that way. I mean, how do they like it when they want something and the person on the other end simply refuses to acknowledge they exist? I'm sure they walk away grumbling, taking their money with them. In this case, the author walks away grumbling, taking their product with them. AND most likely all future products. And most likely, if it continues, their money that they would have spent on other projects the agent has going.

I don't expect a long treatise on the reason for the rejection. A simple "Thanks, but no thanks" would suffice. I also think as a business practice an auto-reply indicating you actually GOT the email is in order. With spam filters being what they are, I always wonder if my query got there or if it flittered away in the ether. And that takes no time from the agent whatsoever.

Prity said...

From an Agent's POV, I can try to understand the work load and pressure but think about it from a writer's POV.
The moment we click on the Send button, we start the countdown and keep thinking, has he read it, what must she be thinking, did it go to her spam, when will get a response... I know it sounds crazy!
A polite rejection helps us to close old doors and head towards a newer one. One towards growth, maybe lot of editing and some more new Agents.
But would this policy change my mind, I don't think so. I'd still query!

Anonymous said...

No. They shouldn't. No answer means not interested. It's life in publishing.

Don't call us, we'll call you, is life in show biz.

And it's also a way to break the newbies in so they learn not to expect too much when editors and publishers ignore them...even when they are bestselling authors. Because it's not just newbies who experience this sort of thing. It's every author in publishing.

Leigh Ann said...

The only *real* issue to me - and it's only *really* an issue for the agent - is that queries get stuck in spam boxes or cyberspace all the time. A simple autorespond would do the trick to let us know our query arrived in the agent's inbox.

Combined with a "one month with no news means no" policy like Jill Corcoran has, the author can be one hundred percent certain that her query was received and rejected after a month's time.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

I think it's only fair for agents to respond to all queries. Like Janet said in her response, the responses can be streamlined to the point where it literally takes a couple of seconds per email. There's simply no reason not to.

From the writer side of things, how would an agent feel if they sent out an offer of representation and a writer had a "no response means no" policy? I think agents would be (rightfully) miffed and would likely not want to work with that writer in the future.

Writers jump through a lot of hoops for agents, editors, readers. They spend countless hours researching how to write the perfect query, searching through all the different agents to find the right one to query. Yes, I think the agent can spare them 3 seconds of their time to paste in a rejection.

M. G. King said...

The auto response which states a query has been received seems like a basic courtesy, with pretty minimal effort. At least I know the query arrived at its intended destination, regardless of the outcome.

I understand the reasons agents have for not responding (gah! can't imagine how jaded I'd become if I had to say no a million times a day). But personally I would prefer a little more closure. It's the "slow jilt" vs. the breakup.

Huntress said...

If the only response I get to a query is "I received your query" auto-reply that is good enough for me.
Just lemme know that you got it, Mr. or Ms Agent that is all I'm asking. I've spent hours researching your profile, agency, clients, preferences, and submission guidelines. An auto-response is better than crickets chirping. Do you owe me anything? Nope. I chose to query; you chose this profession. Somewhere along the line, good manners must come into play.

Anonymous said...

As someone who recently had to leave one agent and is now looking for a new agent, I have to say that what is important to me now goes way deeper than the agent's submission policy.

Communication and a track record of sales in the genre where I'm submitting matters more than whether I have to wait 8-10 weeks for a yes or a no. Their answer or lack of answer doesn't stop me from continuing my search.

I'm an author, so I, of course, did a little cheer when I read Janet Reid's blog. But the agent who is right for me is the one who loves my work enough to champion it AND has the contacts it takes to sell that work and sell it well.

Dave Clark said...

How's this: As an agent, you may see an "almost" query, so responding with a reason for an "almost-but-no" may turn into a re-query both parties will welcome. For the kind of query that just isn't lighting the fire, either a polite form rejection or no rejection would work with me, so long as that's mentioned up-front on the agent's website. As an agent gets many queries in a week, an author should query many agents, so politeness with someone you've made multiple correspondence with is always in order, for both parties. Still, it's a dating bar for both ...except maybe the agents are dressed sharper.

BuffySquirrel said...

As much as I would love all agents to respond to all queries, I suspect it's an unrealistic expectation. I have seen agents who set a definite deadline--if you haven't heard within so many weeks, it's no. I think that's a reasonable compromise, as it doesn't leave the querier wondering for months whether there'll be a reply.

I also suspect that should those who complain about 'no response means no' secure an agent, they will then want the agent to attend to their book(s), not to queriers! So I think a lot depends which side of the gate you're on.

Laura said...

I keep a very detailed query response sheet, and yes, I will prioritize future queries according to how or if an agent responded.

That being said, some agents (like Kathleen Ortiz) have solved this whole problem by posting a "Query Update" ticker at the top of their blog or website. It says, "All queries have been read as of *date/time* If you haven't received a response, I'm sorry to say your project isn't for me."

And that works just fine for me, too. As an author, I just want to be able to update my query spreadsheet and know who to contact should I be offered representation.

abc said...

It's nice, but no way should it be expected. I feel they have every right to do as they are able or as they see fit. And no, I wouldn't check to see if an agent responds before I submitted. I might check after awhile, if I hadn't heard anything.

People are too hard on agents sometimes!

Rick Daley said...

I think it's a professional courtesy for agents to communicate their response policy. It's not that hard to do, just post it on the submission guidelines on the agency website or a professional blog. If the agency has no online presence, that's not the agency for me, anyway.

Setting an expectation is the best way to effectively manage the next step / follow-through.

Megg Jensen said...

Here's one reason no response can be a bad policy:

- I queried an agent who does not promise a response.

- She never responded; I moved on.

- A full year later, I got an email from her: "I was cleaning out my spam folder and saw your query. I'd love to see more."

- At that point, it was far too late. I had moved on and had to explain that to her.

- Guess what? She was frustrated with me and said I should have sent her a heads-up six months ago.

- Isn't the rule that you never send a heads-up to an agent with a no-response policy? Color me confused.

That's when a no response policy doesn't work. Personally, I'd rather receive a form rejection than no response at all. But, as you say, if it's in their policy and someone decides to query anyway, that's the chance they take.

Megg

Shawn Lamb said...

If an author takes the time, effort and energy to follow all the set forth rules of protocol in submitting to agents then yes! agents should take the courtesy to respond.

I don't buy an agent's excuse of being overwhelmed. This is the system the powers that be - agents & publishers - have set up, forcing authors must query first. Letting everyone within the system make their own sub-rules is disingenuous to the hopeful authors.

Tricia Clasen said...

I prefer it, and I will query those who respond first, in part because I like a definitive answer. However, I do understand why agents adopt a no response policy.

I would really appreciate a response on requested material however. Lack of response there is somewhat more problematic for me.

Anonymous said...

I don't query agents who have a no response policy any more than I frequent any other business if someone was rude to me. Most of the reasons that I have heard from agents as to why they don't respond seem silly to me. Most make it sound like they are the only ones in the world who have kids or busy jobs. I have kids, a full time and part time job (and a cell phone that I use to reply to email) and I still managed to write a book and send in a query.
This is a very large part of why I gave up on agents and just went to the publisher when I had my book published.

Darley said...

I would be fine with an agent indicating on their website (or blog) that if an author doesn't hear from them within X amount of time then the answer is no thanks. Otherwise an author has no idea whether to cross them off their list.

Richard Mabry said...

The only course that makes some degree of sense is an auto-response that says in effect, "We got it. If you don't hear from us in X weeks, we're not interested." More than that can start a dialogue. No notification of receipt leaves most of us suspicious that our precious query is snagged on a bramble beside the information highway.

Kate said...

Well, I didn't get a response every time I applied for a job when I first moved to NYC. Like agents, employers receive hundreds of applications for one opening. I've even gone in for plenty of interviews where I never heard from the company again. I thought it was ok if I didn't hear back after submitting an application, but if I went in for an interview I thought it was better to at least get an email.

So I'm not offended if I don't hear back from an agent after sending a query. I equate it with that first job application. After a partial or full request, though, I'd prefer a polite "no thanks" over radio silence. And if the agent says their policy is to respond, then they definitely should. Otherwise the conscientious, guidelines-following author will think their query was not received.

Karen Stivali said...

As someone who has sent out many a query letter I have to say the whole "no reply means no" thing has never sat well with me.

Yes, I respect that agents are busy, but agents have to respect the fact that writers need to at least know that their work was received. Email is not 100% reliable. There were many times when I checked in with agents and it turned out they'd never received the email in question. At the very least agents who insist on the "no reply" policy should have an autoresponse that notifies the writer that their query was received. They still won't know for sure that it was ever read, but at least they won't be wondering if it was a "no" or if it never really made it to its destination.

There's so much waiting and not knowing in this business, and it takes so long for writers to research agents and personalize every single query, it doesn't seem like too much to ask that they get the courtesy of at least an auto reply, if not the 5 seconds of time it takes to hit auto reject.

I queried plenty of agents with "no reply" policies, but it didn't leave a favorable impression of them and, for those I never heard from, I can't say if I'd ever query them with a future project. There is a perceived lack of respect for the writer. This is worsened by agents with supposed "no reply" policies who do reply to SOME queries (and writers know this because they memorize query tracker stats). When you're left knowing that you didn't get a response, but three people who queried the same day as you did, that's NOT a positive thing for the agent. Janet Reid is right, writers are readers and a writer's next submission might be the one to make an agent a whole lot of money. Seems worth the few seconds to send a pre-written, non-personalized reply, IMO.

And Nathan, I don't know a writer anywhere who queried you (and we all know thousands upon thousands did) who wasn't extremely thankful for your timely response to every single query. It was no accident that you were the most queried agent (according to query tracker), your respect for writers won them over.

Derek said...

I think a no-response policy for agents suggests that submitting writers are in some way a barrier to doing the job, rather than the means by which the job is possible at all.

It isn't difficult to set up a means to ping out an automated response after an appropriate timespan, whether the work has been reviewed or not.

Incidentally, 12 weeks plus for a response, in our digital age, seems like excessive!

Just Another Day in Paradise said...

Treat people the way you want to be treated. Writers are people too. There is no excuse for bad behavior.

mshatch said...

yes; it's the polite thing to do, imho.

D.G. Hudson said...

I like Janet Reid's approach. There is usually a way, with the tech today, to be courteous.

Comments are better, but a response keeps us moving our work to the next agent.

You're right, and so is Janet Reid, those agents doing a little extra would get first shot with my work. Why not? It's good policy in business to treat prospective clients as possible future customers. (a little effort goes a long way)

I would most certainly check what the response method is for the agent, but if I wanted that agent, the method of response might not make a difference.

Matthew MacNish said...

As an idealist, I would love to think that were I an agent, I would respond to everyone.

As a realist, I realize there are just too many writers.

Addley C. Fannin said...

In the digital age, there's just no excuse for having no form rejection, I think. Like Ms. Reid said, you can rig your e-mail carrier to drop a form rejection and hit send in two seconds. It's not even like the old days, where you had to print a whole stack of form rejections every week. To not respond when it would be so easy to is just unprofessional and rude.

Margo Lerwill said...

How many other business people are expected to respond to 20,000 or 30,000 pieces of business mail each year? Not their agency, the individual agent.

And for every person complaining about the no-reply policy, there's another author who sends profane emails back to the agent for the form rejection and another who emails to say, "Don't waste *my* time with a form rejection. Just don't respond."

Three words: big girl panties.

Cassandra said...

I love both Gardner and Reid, but I'm wholly with Janet on this question--if, as she and several commentors indicate, it's really possible to send an automated rejection message in a few seconds. No person is obliged to respond to an unsolicited email, but an agent who is open to queries HAS solicited contact. The extremely minimal time required to respond is part of doing business. If the agent is so swamped with queries that s/he can't manage five seconds each, s/he should close to queries, periodically if necessary, until caught up.

Several commentors here and elsewhere have pointed out the financial ramifications. One person (I think on Rachelle's blog) noted that a response from the agent is necessary to prove to the IRS that the author is pursuing writing as a business, not a hobby. Sending a hard-copy of even a partial plus return postage costs real money.

Other factors pertain as well. RWA, for example, requires proof of response from an agent or editor to admit the author to "PRO" status, which confers benefits not open to the general membership.

Most unpublished writers cannot afford to say they'd never query a NR=R agent; but If someone requested my full manuscript and then didn't bother to respond, I would certainly never approach that agent again.

Lastly, as to how long you wait to hear back--don't wait at all. As Ms Reid says, query widely, and never give an exclusive.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

As someone going through this process know, I will fully admit that it makes *me* feel better when agents respond, since I'm putting a lot of emotion and effort into researching everyone and perfecting my letter and blah blah blah.

But, realistically and professionally, I know that it's not an agent's job to make me feel better. Unless I'm their client. So, while I wish they could always respond, I completely understand why it's not the best option for everyone.

Reagan Philips said...

The no response policy is something I look at, sure, but it's not a deal breaker.

I've had some very nice "no's" and one I wish was just a no response. But I think if you have a no response policy and a time frame, that's fine too.

I mean a no is going to sting whether you read it or not.

jjdebenedictis said...

I agree with you--the agents can do whatever they like.

But it's a fact that I do query the agents whose submission stipulations are convenient to me ahead of those whose stipulations aren't.

I'm glad to hear many agents take that into account. As writers, our fear is no one paying any attention at all.

Vinyl and Mono said...

I sent Janet Reid a fan message when I read that post. There is no excuse for not automating the process so that authors know their work has been RECEIVED, at least. I've had the experience of an intern misplacing a query (when it was found months later, it led to a full request). Then same intern lost the full! It is torture not knowing if your work has even been received, and some agents make a big deal on Twitter and blogs about how unprofessional and uncouth it is to pester them by following up, so you're afraid to. I have been an editor for over 25 years and every place I've worked has had a policy that receipt is ALWAYS acknowledged with a form response, and rejections get at least a one-line canned message, even if the submission was insane drivel. It's not hard to automate. And at least a sentence or two on a full rejection would be nice.

Karen Rivers said...

I wish I'd thought more carefully about how the 'no response' policy would feel when I sent out my submissions. But I didn't. Mostly because I didn't go into it anticipating 'no', I suppose.

I'd liken it to working up your courage and asking someone to dance. Then, instead of simply saying, "No thank you," the person just stands there and stares right through you as though you don't exist. You aren't sure if they are ABOUT to answer, or thinking about their answer, and in the silence that ensues, you begin to think, "Oh, maybe they really want to dance, they are just waiting for a better song." You allow yourself to hope. You wait. You hope some more. You wait. And it's hard to know when to move on to the next partner, it's hard to accept that this person is really just going to blank you forever, you are that unimportant to them.

I tried to sub to only four or five people at a time in batches, out of respect for their time. If you sub to EVERY agent in the world, I guess the 'no response' wouldn't sting so much, but nor are you really giving your preferences/best likely matches the chance to answer first. To go back to the dance metaphor, it would be like going up to the microphone and saying, "I'll dance with anyone, I'm not fussy, I don't care about finding a good match, I'll take anyone. Any takers?"

And that's just not the same.

For the record, I submitted to fifteen agents altogether, got two offers, five 'maybes', three "no thanks" (including you!), and five no responses, And some of those "no responses" actually had policies that stated that they responded to ALL QUERIES within x amount of time. Still haven't heard from those people (quite well-known agents, by the way) and it's been a couple of years.

Sierra McConnell said...

I look at it like a help desk. I send in a ticket for help. I get an auto response. Whether the response is to my liking is a whole other matter, but it's nice to get a response to know what the next step is.

Not getting a response leaves a person feeling confused, unwanted, and just plain upset. It makes them feel like they aren't worth your time. Sure, it's supposed to build backbone, but in essence, it just makes valuable writers say, "Screw it, traditional publishing, you think I'm not worthy of a few words? Hello, self-publishing."

And here's where we are now. Bookstores closing, traditional publishing houses wondering why people don't want to use them, and people actually wanting to self-publish as a /first/ option.

All because you couldn't hit one button that says, "We're sorry, you're just not a good fit for us."

Wow.

Katherine Hyde said...

I can understand agents needing a no-response policy. But I do think they should (a) state a time frame in which they will respond if they're going to, and stick to it; and (b) always respond to requested material within a reasonable time. I also really appreciate if they have an auto-responder so I at least know my query reached them.

Anonymous said...

I was on the fence about this but after reading Janet Reid's blog I am with her. I like to know where I stand.

Gina said...

I can understand agents not wanting to respond to every single query, but I do think if this is their policy, they need to have an auto-response in place to let writer's know the e-mail was received.

I recently queried an agent and when I didn't hear back, I followed up and she hadn't received my e-mail. When I re-sent the query, she requested my full ms - a request I would have missed out on if I assumed no answer meant no.

On the other hand, agents make it clear that they want us to do our homework on them before querying, and even go as far as to flatter them in the letter. But why go through such trouble and not get the courtesy of a response? I have to wonder if agents would appreciate the no-response policy if it applied to editors receiving the manuscripts they send out for submission?

R K Gold said...

Is the Janet Reid link broken... or is it just me?

Anyway- I second the opinion of someone who said that it would be nice to have a response to let you know it has actually got to the other person's inbox.

My word verification was "pretend"... is this cyperspace telling me what to do as a writer?

Ulysses said...

I have no problem with "no response," provided the following is true:

1) A time frame is mentioned: "No response within 90 days should be considered a no." Otherwise, I'll spend eternity wondering if they didn't like it, or if they just haven't gotten around to it.

2) They commit to considering everything sent to them within the time period they mention. I just want to be sure that I've gotten my moment in the spotlight before the trapdoor opened in the stage.

Stephanie said...

I understand the reasoning for not replying....but it is so hard for us authors...wondering if the query got lost or was just rejected.

BP said...

It is true that we have a choice, but I think the reason writers look more favorably on agents who DO reply is because A, It's shows endurance and B, if they don't have enough time to send an auto-reply, what makes us think they can manage time well enough for us as a client? Some agents take the liberty to assume that most writers cannot or simply do not take the time to sympathize with the enormous amounts of work agents have facing them daily, which is very true. But that's no reason to counter with a no response means no policy; although I'd certainly submit to an agent with a no-means-no policy, I completely understand the plight of those who chose to submit elsewhere (and the agent better be a hack of a dern famous to register such a demand, and seeing as Nathan Bransford and Janet Reid don't/didn't have the policy, I'm really wondering how the heck of a much busier agent could one be????).

CPatLarge said...

I'm with Janet Reid and the majority of comments on this one. It's only common courtesy to send a quick 'no, thank you,' even if it's automated.

As professional writers, we go through the trouble of customizing our queries, following all the agent's guidelines (we all do, don't we?!), they least they can do is show us the same respect. It's not 'owing,' it's as others have said: treat others as you wish to be treated.

Anonymous said...

The sense of entitlement people have nowadays fascinates me. I'm not sure, but I think Oprah may have started all this.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks RK, should be fixed now.

Kerry Gans said...

While I would prefer all agents answer every query (as others have said, I think it's a sign of respect, not a matter of being "owed"), I also know their policy is beyond my control.

If I am interested in an agent, I have to abide by their policy, and there's no sense in getting up in arms about it.

I do check their policy before I query, but only so I can note whether I should be looking for an answer or not.

jesse said...

As an author, it doesn't seem like a big deal for agents to send a quick no thank you. As an agent, it seems like a waste of my already limited time. I suppose every agent has to consIder if the time investment is worthwhile, and every author has to decide exactly what that decision implies before resubmitting to that agent.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Querying involves finding out about the agents. If agents aren't going to respond to every query, they just need to make it easy to find that out.

TeresaR said...

I think everyone else already said it better than I would, but just wanted to mention that I like Josin's idea of an automated response to when a query is received. After that, an agent can follow the method of "if you don't hear back from me in ___ weeks, then it's a no" and the writer would know that it truly is a no, rather than a "eaten by cyber-gremlins" scenario.

The Editor Devil said...

No, agents don't "have to" respond. I also don't have to thank my barista or be kind to my neighbor. It's a choice of respecting others and their energy and presence. It's about being gracious in this world and grateful. After all, it's that band of authors that keeps agents in business. So I think better of agents who reply, less of those who don't. There is a system, like the others have said, for auto replying. To me, it's just part of the business.

Thank you, Nathan, for being someone who cared enough to reply. That was kind and gracious!

Hiroko said...

I feel like an agent's job is to represent an author, and this does not necessarily required for them to deny your request--they don't HAVE to answer you with a "no" if they don't want to, really.
However, it is a lot nicer to see an agent who goes out of their way to reply, even if the answer is no. Even if the message is a generic document, they still took the time to answer.

Gregory K. said...

I think there's another question to ask here: if you're in a business and can't respond to all your inquiries, perhaps there's a better way to do your business?

Instead of focusing on this response/no response policy, I see it as a symptom of changes in our business and a failure, somewhere/somehow of us all to keep pace with the change. Until we deal with that, I don't think the rest matters much (though put me in the "you should respond" category for many reasons).

Mira said...

I liked they way Rachelle wrote her article, since this is a tricky topic, but I think Janet Reid was absolutely on target.

Her point about customer relations and not alienating writers, in terms of:

a. Possible readers for her books and,
b. Potential clients for another project

are both absolutely on point.

But she left out something important. Which is that:

* In June, adult paperback sales declined 64%, while e-books increased 161% (from your Sat. re-tweet of Livia's link)

Agents are likely to become an increasingly optional part of the publishing process. Given that, any agent who doesn't do everything they can to endear themselves to the general writing population is not only shooting themselves in the foot, they are hastening the probable demise of their profession. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, NUTS.

And that's what I think. Busy or not, send a nice response letter.

Keith Mansfield said...

As a publisher I'm inundated by queries, many of which are hopeless where I really don't want to enter a dialogue. The more time I spend on these the less I can give to my authors. I try to respond to everyone, but know full well I don't succeed. Reading this post I may try to instigate an official policy of "If you've not heard within six weeks..."

As an author, when querying agents I was amazed that every single agent I ever approached responded promptly (a couple of days to four weeks max), almost always personally. Given what they must have to deal with in terms of numbers of submissions, I can't sing their praises highly enough. Bad submissions can just be the equivalent of spam so I disagree with comments here saying everyone should be replied to. If you have 100-300 emails a day and have to do a lot of other things beyond your email, even a form rejection can take too much time.

The harsh truth of publishing is that if someone's interested in your book they will respond quickly and prioritize it above others they're less enthusiastic about. If you haven't heard within six weeks don't expect to. But to make that rule work, you need to query several agents at once (but of course you make all your approaches *very* personal to the agency or you don't deserve a response).

[Angela A's right that if someone asks for a full read they should at least give you a couple of lines saying why they're turning it down.]

John said...

I'm with the majority: they don't owe me a response, but it is polite.

That said, I queried seven agents before deciding my novel needed more work. Five of those emails never got through the internet (fortuitous, I would think). Emails get lost.

Setting up an auto-reply is the least they could do. It shows they respect me enough to figure out a small piece of technology.

So my policy is to re-query agents that have a "No response equals no" policy and no auto-reply to show receipt. If I haven't heard from them in x weeks, I have to assume they a) didn't get my query or b) said no. If it's a), I have everything to gain be re-querying. If it's b), I have nothing to lose.

Am I wasting their time? Maybe, but they don't mind wasting mine and could fix it with a little courtesy.

Seabrooke said...

Like many others, I would just find it polite to know that my query was received and passed on, even if it was simply a form letter.

Maybe agents need their own email client, with an extra reply option that inserts a pre-written text file, like a signature: "Reply", "Reply All", and "Reply with Form Rejection".

David said...

Each agent is different, so any expectation that every agent should reply to every query sounds ridiculous. Everyone has their own preferences, their own pace, their own style.

There is an inherent ambiguity in the 'no response means no' pattern: it could mean 'no', but it could also mean 'I have not read it yet'. There's no feedback to the author, letting him/her know it's time to let go of this particular submission.

That said, personally I like it better when I get a response, as there is no lingering doubt where I stand. I won't hold it against an agent if not replying, as long as they have made their 'no response = no' policy very clear on the web and in their submission guidelines. I need to know up front that I may never hear back about this again.

Anonymous said...

When I first started querying, I was under the impression from what I read on-line that I should wait for a response before querying someone else. After 18 months and 9 or 10 agents/publishers I gave up and self published through one of the supported publishing services.

It seems to me that if it will take more than 3 or 4 weeks to look at a query, perhaps the agent should close queries for awhile.

I appreciate and remember the agents who replied and even gave a reason.

janesadek said...

Agents should have a policy, they should make it known and they should follow it. The nature of their policy is up to them, but what benefit is to anyone for writers to wonder what is going on with the query they sent.

This is the age of the internet. Any agent can make their policy known with little to no effort.

"No response means no" is fine and if the agent decides they want to respond anyway, the stars will not fall from the sky. If the agent wants to offer responses, then I agree that it seems a little more professional and polite, but it does set them up for a lot of work. But if their stated policy is to answer, then they should.

In this technically driven world, one erroneous letter or digit could send your query into never-never land. If you've done your homework on an agent,then you really want them to represent you and a no answer from someone with a stated "will answer" policy leaves the querying writer in a quandary.

So agents, have it your way! Just let us know what that way is.

Lexi said...

Agents should remember that their livelihood depends on writers - and that even if they are okay with rudeness towards those they think are no use to them, they don't always get it right.

Who else in business doesn't bother to answer emails? I can't think of anyone.

Anonymous said...

I pass over agents who I have heard don't have the courtesy to respond to submissions they are not interested in. Their reasons may be good from their point of view - but it is still rude and potentially wastes my time and messes with my head. So I won't consider them .

Scott Springer said...

First, I don't think it's too much to read an email query, smirk, hit reply and paste in Thanks, but I'll pass.

But I suppose if an agent is afraid of getting carpal tunnel from that extra clicking I understand.

However, to agents that don't repond I figure I owe them nothing. I send it and forget it.

No big deal right now, but maybe someday I will actually send a query that's interesting to more than one . . .

Kristin Laughtin said...

I know when I start querying I will prefer agents who at least send a form rejection, but I can see both sides of the issue though I side more with Janet. (Seriously, I have to do something similar in my day job sometimes. It kinda sucks but is over quickly and makes people happier in the long run.) At the very least, I'd appreciate if agents use an auto-response that at least indicates something like "If we are interested, we will respond in X days..." if they don't already.

DearHelenHartman said...

No response means 'n'o is okay IF that's made clear in the agent's material. Even a auto reply is acceptable, if the information is available about how the agent works.
When I was agent shopping my opinion dropped greatly of agents who asked for material then never responded again and yep, more than half of them did this. I do not believe that they were so overwhelmed by requested material they couldn't have a ready made note saying - not for me, good luck.
Again, to me, this goes back to the old world of publishing when agents were a big freakin' deal and publishers held the cards and writers were to come before them like Dorothy before the Wizard - now we know what's behind the curtain and the guy you turn away may be the next ebook phenom, why not treat writers like, you know, people?

Stephanie {Luxe Boulevard} said...

I honestly can't imagine how time consuming it must be, and overall exhausting. One agent who I follow always mentions how she does her best to keep up, always getting back within two weeks if possible. I remember her posting on Twitter that she responded to someone's within a couple days and he wrote back, thanking her for not bothering to thoroughly read his query since she had responded so quickly, she was no longer of interest to him. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Golly!

I would like to say I wouldn't take offense if no one responded, but I'm sure it would sting a little. Essentially, no answer is a no.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone, that agents don't 'owe' the courtesy to respond with a yes or no, but it would sure be nice to put a closure to a particular query. My other concern is that I'm reading more and more that agents and editors want to know if the query to them is 'exclusive'. If it is, than an author supposedly gets served first. That's hard to know if you have a query that hasn't been responded to.
I like the professionalism of a response. It shows integrity and its part of the job just like following the submission guidelines is part of the author's job.

JM Leotti said...

I'm a fan of auto-respond to queries. What agents do after that is up to them. At least I know it got there, and I agree with Natalie Whipple--too many 'no's' can be rough on the ego.

On full requests, I think they should respond with a personal letter.

I'm sure you all saw BookEnds' blog about the author that fought with the auto-responder, but in case you didn't, hop over there. Hysterical! (And a bit sad!) Bookends Link: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2011/09/lol.html

Tres Buffalo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sanna said...

Try turning the roles around: If a writer decides to say "no" to an agent, is s/he obliged to respond? Or is it OK to let the agent twist in the wind? Agents need writers just as writers need agents, and the simple courtesies help keep the gears of the relationship greased.

An auto response is fine for an unsolicited ms. Auto responses are fast for the agent, and they give the writer closure. When an agent passes on a partial or full, a little more feedback is in order because both parties are invested in the outcome.

Janet Reid is an exceptionally nice, generous person. The goodwill she earns for the rest of the agent community guarantees her spot in heaven. She makes the discussion of what an agent "owes" writers irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
When I finished my book, you were the first agent I queried. More fool me. I think you responded within 17 minutes with a canned rejection that mentioned not only me but also my manuscript by name. Did it hurt? Sure. Did I learn something? A lot. One: My query sucked. Two: I wasn't really ready to query. After I recovered from my hurt feelings (one bourbon, one Scotch and one beer) I was grateful to you for at least answering me and for letting me learn something in the process.

That said, as far as the "no response means no" debate goes -- if your job is too big for you to handle, maybe you're not big enough for your job.

Tres Buffalo said...

Nathan responded to my query and I could tell that the submission had actually been read. That is probably the reason I still follow this blog.

Kimberly said...

It depends, does that agent expect a response from the author if they would like an opportunity to work with them. Let's say the author already signed with someone, would they like a a quick email explaining the situation, or silence?

Response is simply common decency.

bekindrewrite said...

I like to print out all my rejections and stick them to my wall. I can't do that when they don't respond.

Laura said...

If I may be truly blunt, I think it's downright rude of agents not to respond in some way. I'm not asking for anything but a form reply, but SOMETHING to acknowledge receipt would be nice, and just plain courteous.

After all, I've taken the time (sometimes weeks!) to research the agent and personalize this letter to their specifications. The least and agent can do is acknowledge they've received it.

And I'm sorry, if you can't take 2 seconds to send a form back, you either need an assistant, or you need to be closed to submissions.

Anonymous said...

For many years I read articles claiming that it was unseemly for writers to send multiple queries. The rationale seemed to be that it was discourteous of the writer to allow the agent to waste her time evaluating a manuscript that had already been accepted by another agent.

It seems to me that a policy of "no response means no" is inconsistent with a policy that demands serial submissions.

Any agent who maintains both policies at the same time shouldn't be in business.

Pam Calvert said...

Well, if the agent expects us to get back to them and allow them "in" on representing us when we have other offers, the least they can do is answer a query.

If not, they shouldn't be surprised if we leave them out of the loop.

Adam Heine said...

Janet makes really good points, and if I were an agent, I'd probably follow her advice.

But as a writer, all I want to know is if the agent received it (I've had a couple of queries get lost in the ether only to get requests when I followed up) and whether they want to see more.

All that requires is an auto-response and guidelines that say "After X weeks, assume it's a no" (that guideline could even be put IN the auto-response).

A form rejection is effectively the same thing, but it hurts a little more (getting any e-mail from an agent raises a tiny, misguided hope, even when we know most of them are rejections) and--no matter how well we know not to read into a form rejection--we still try to convince ourselves that "opinions vary considerably" means something more than "no."

In the end, I don't think it matters which method agents choose. The agents I query first are the ones I've heard of. And the only agents I'm hesitant about querying are those who offer no response, no cut-off point, AND no confirmation they received my query.

And anyway, I still query them.

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

I agree that agents can set what ever policy they want and writers can submitt based on those policies or not.
To me it come down to manners, plain and simple. With all the work that goes into crafting different queries for different agents based on what each one specificly wants, I think it deserves a response. Getting to many queries to respond to? Then you shouldn't be open for submissions. And Nathan is not the only agent that claimed to answer every query, and didn't. I keep pretty close track of who responds and in what manner.
No response doesn't bother me, but will but that agency will move way down and probably off my list of prospects. Unless I really want that agent. And the bigger the name, agency, the more likley you'll get some kind of response. So I rate their proffesionalism that way.

AM Riley said...

All I ever wished was that someone would let me know they'd received the ms. Ages ago, when submissions were always in print and mailed through a post office, I submitted something and never heard back. A couple of years later I met one of the editors who told me she'd only received a few submissions and mine had not been one of them. Apparently there was a glitch in the information and everyone was submitting to a bad address.

Now that many queries are via email, and one gets an automated 'got it' I'm happy. If they can post in their submissions guidelines how long I should wait before submitting elsewhere, I am very grateful. I don't need a personal email telling me 'no'. And I don't think less of someone who doesn't send me a note.

Louisa said...

Totally agree with Janet Reid! Agents forget we are customers of their clients and sources of income to both parties. Readers read their client's books, not only to research the agents taste but to read in the genre. And the reason the agents are still in business IS US! So I think a response is warranted and deserved.

And here here Laura! I've spent hours to days researching they types of books agents represent, agents clients, listening or reading to interviews of agents, then to get form rejection which isn't even 5 minutes of their time. Doesn't seem fair.

Livia said...

We recruit for fMRI experiments over e-mail, and often get a lot of responses. We usually have the no response means no policy, but in one case, I did respond to an e-mail and got cussed out as a result. I must say that experience gave me much more empathy with agents who adopt a no response means no policy in order to avoid further interaction.

And I do agree with you that agents don't owe authors any kind of response. They're not getting compensated in any way for reading queries. Authors who don't like the policy don't have to query that agent.

Nephalite said...

Agents should send a reply or not have a no unsolicited policy. How rude to open a shop and then ignore your customers. Only the arrogance that comes with power would convince a person otherwise. Janet is one of the best secular agents in the business and politely responds. Rachelle does not and she is a Christian agent. Is it unfair to say that Janet is the one following the "golden rule?"

Gregory K. said...

Livia - agents aren't getting compensated for reading queries? It's part of the job. Any compensation they get covers that, doesn't it? The issue is that agents always need to be finding more talented folks as 1) clients leave 2) businesses change and 3) other. If they don't want to read queries, that's their choice and then this issue goes away. So... who's the first agent who's going to close their doors to queries? Then, and only then, would I say it's not part of what they get compensated for.

Jaden Terrell said...

When I was querying, I had a list of agents. (Yes, Nathan, you were at the top, and I appreciated your quick response, even though it was a rejection.) I told myself I would never query an agent with a no-response policy. While I don't require a personalized response, an automatic response verifying receipt of the submission (and an explanation of the timing of the no-response policy) is the very least anyone should expect. It's the only way an author can know if his or her work has even been received. Any agent who can't figure out how to do this (or find someone to do it for him or her) isn't someone I want to trust with my career.

I did break my rule once and query an agent with a no-response policy because she was someone I thought I would very much want to work with. As soon as I sent it off, I forgot about it. Into the ether it went, and had I gotten an offer the next day, it would never have occurred to me to let her know the book was off the market. She ended up meaning exactly as much to me as we submitting authors obviously meant to her.

Matt Larkin said...

I would look more favorably on agents who always respond. Even a form letter fired back at least tells me they acknowledge I sent them something. It would make me more likely to try them first. And I was much more likely to try those that accepted email submissions.

Regan Leigh said...

In total selfishness as a writer, I'd have to say YES! :D Seriously. I can imagine it's a real pain to respond to everyone, but writers really do put their heart into the writing. And queries are such an ugly beast! Remind us that -- even though you may say no -- our hard work was not unrecognized. ;)

sobriquet said...

I second (or third...or maybe hundredth) the Everybody-Wins Solution of having an auto-response note of receipt, then NRMN to your hearts content.

*NRMN=no response means no

Anonymous said...

Why is a query letter any different than a resume?

At the end of the day, a writer is just looking for a job, and their query letter is pretty much their resume.

I don't understand why writers expect to receive a form rejection letter. Most HR departments at corporations rarely send out rejection letters for all the resumes they receive.

Anthony J. Langford said...

It's just plain rude not to reply. How hard is it to email a form rejection letter? Put in a bunch of addresses at once in BCC and fire off the one. It should be factored into the job requirements.

Sending out queries takes time away from our families too, and our writing, but it's part of the business. This should be the same for agents.

It's called professionalism.

J.C. Martin said...

I think even a form rejection (which take seconds to send) would be preferable to never hearing back from agents. If we'd spent hours on a manuscript and cover letter, I feel it's just common courtesy to acknowledge receipt and to let us know we don't need to keep waiting on said agent.

Michelle Levy said...

But if I don't get the rejection letters, how will I finish decorating my office? Wallpaper is expensive and I have a theme going now.

Istvan Szabo, Ifj. said...

Yes, they should. It's called; basic courtesy. If writers spend days, even weeks to write a query, it's rude that some of them are not even willing to answer, just says, if I don't respond within two weeks, you know the answer. These people should get down from the high horse as this is highly unprofessional, especially as usually they work for the writer and not the other way around.

I don't mind personalized auto-forms, even if it's only few lines. But at least I do know the agent opened the letter one way or another. I honestly don't care about the usual excuse what some agents said; I'm toooooo busy to response. Here is the newsflash; I'm also busy, so I don't care about fabricated excuses, especially if it's your job. Reading hundred of query and responding none a day is a quantity work. Reading fifty and responding fifty is quality. That's what many agent can't see in their endless snobbism and ego. These people should take an example from former agent Nathan Bransford, or Janet Reid, Jennifer Jackson and few other top agent who still do know how to work.

Em-Musing said...

With all the technology out there, surely there could be a way to respond to e-submissions with one key stroke of their finger.

Kelly Bryson said...

I get that it's a pain to respond to hundreds of emails- I think I'd shoot myself. But why don't more agents have an auto-response "We received your email?" That takes the question on if it even got there out of the author's mind. And if an agent can update on Twitter what day they've made it through, even better. (I think Ginger Clark does that.)

It just doesn't feel good to be in the dark, and knowing that my query was received makes me more likely to query an agent with my next project. Not sur eif that's good or bad for the agents involved;)

kronides said...

As long as I know the recipient has received the document, I understand if they don't return a reply. The silence speaks for itself. I wouldn't bother waiting to hear from them before going on with my business and submitting to others anyway. That really is a waste of time.

Ann M said...

I agree that each agent should be able to decide his or her own terms. And, I also agree that each writer is then able to decide which agent he or she queries.

I don't think, as an author, you should seek out an agent based only on their response/response time, because there are *so* many other factors that should be considered when looking for that (hopefully) happy, successful relationship.

Of course, that said, when I was querying I really appreciated quick response times, (and, indeed, a response). While I know that detailed responses aren't likely, it was nice to know that I would at least receive a form letter yes/no at some point (especially when some agents take many months to reply). During those initial queries when you're already biting your nails, it was nice not to have to worry over lost mail and the "to resend, or not resend" issue.

And, I think you're right, too, that if an agent has a quick response time, authors are more likely to come to them first (provided their a good match otherwise). As an author, your responses Nathan, and response time, was always so incredibly appreciated :)

Anonymous said...

If agents don't have the time to say "No Thanks," I don't query them. Frankly, I believe there's a special place in hell reserved for agents who don't reply.

Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot and publishers decided not to respond unless it was a yes. I bet every agent would have a lot to say about that. Why? Because it's a terrible way to do business.

Agents could stream line the submission/rejection/acceptance process with a submission manager. Many magazines use them, more everyday.

The other thing that irritates the crap out of me is their refusal to accept attachments. (I'm not convinced that they're at any more risk than a magazine or publishing house.)In general, for all their talk about the future of publishing, their business practices are often outdated. Not responding to writers is a prime example of taking a step backward, instead of forward.

Khanada said...

What Anonymous on 9/12 at 10:15 said! When I was sending out resumes, the only responses I received were for interview requests (or partial/full requests in the writing world). Has this changed? It has been awhile for me, so if companies (especially small ones as lit agencies are pretty small, too) are now responding, that might change my mind.

Sure, it's nice to get a response, and even better to get a personalized response. But that's all it is - a nice extra. A lot of us here seem to really just be saying "I will only do business with nice/polite people," and I think that's great. But "nice" and "polite" are subjective. Some people just aren't that bothered by no-response policies. I want to do business with nice/polite people as well, but I just don't take the no-response as mean and impolite. I guess I just think of it as these agents are spending more time on their clients.

That being said, I'm HUGELY in favor of the auto-responder! Helps me a lot!!

And Megg Jensen - IMO, that agent you were dealing with was WAY out of line. I don't see it as a problem with the policy in and of itself, but she seems to have chosen the wrong policy for her style. She was probably frustrated because you were far from the only one whose good work she missed!

Daniel McNeet said...

Nathan,

I admire your approach. It is considerate of the hard work and long hours authors put in to produce their works.

G W Wright said...

My problem is not whether or not I receive a reply, but agents that simply won't read a single chapter of my work - based on the fact that they 'have a roster (that) we are happy with' -

If agencies continue to close their doors to potential new talent simply because they have a comfortable level of proven authors on their books, it will soon reach a point where getting one's break simply becomes impossible.

I am based in Oslo, but write in English and I've actually been refused to submit a MS to a uk agent because I was not based 'near to their office'.

Trish said...

Like thousands of other writers, I got tired of the 'no reply' policy from some agents and went and self published. I don't regret it and have even managed to get my children's books into some bricks and motor books shops as well as the online ones.

(Nathan, you always sent lovely rejection letters, and that was so appreciated.)

Though I'm still looking for an agent, I'm more picky now.

Sara said...

YES. Agents should always respond. Good manners and common courtesy never go out of style and are always appreciated.

Having just honored the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th, the most major thing I'm taking away is that in today's world we should all be gentle and good.

David Tieck said...

Massive pet hate of mine - agents who say on their websites to not send copy and paste queries and then reply with a copy and paste form rejection.

Maya said...

"and if an authors doesn't agree with it they are more than welcome to query someone whose policy they prefer."

Yes, of course agents are free to make their own submissions policy. We authors know that. But I definitely *do* place those agents lower on my query list than agents who respond. We the slushpile have no idea if our query was even reviewed or ended up in the ether/spam filter/lost snail mail. I don't mind form rejections, I just want to know whether I was in fact rejected.

Anonymous said...

So many writers, so many stories. Too few agents.

But, a one word "Sorry" isn't a bad exchange for 50,000 words.

Trish said...

Just thought I'd share some news with my fellow writers. Some publishers are now taking unsolicited submissions from self-published authors. :)

John said...

To well-seasoned query vets, agents build a brand name for themselves in the eyes of writers.

Before I realized that I could sell tons of books without needing an agent or traditional publisher, I queried about once a year on different novels. I had many agents who would request a full and never get back to me. I can't tell you how unprofessional that is.

Queries are one thing, but fulls are entirely another.

I still have agents that I like simply because of how they treated me during the querying process. I still visit their blogs. I still click through to their clients. I still buy their clients' books.

Some agents say they're too busy because they need to help their clients. Guess what? The way you treat queriers will reflect right back on your clients. Because, as Janet said, writers are readers too.

Ted Fox said...

I agree that I'd prefer to receive a response, but I can't fault anyone who doesn't have time to do it. What did you say one time, Nathan--that you got like 20,000 unsolicited submissions per year? Answering that much e-mail, even with a form response, boggles my mind. Meanwhile, getting an auto-reply "Thanks for the submission" isn't exactly something to write home about.

Totally different story when the agent follows up and asks for a full or partial. Then I think common courtesy really does need to kick in.

Karen Doniere said...

I'm torn about this issue. While I was in query mode and sending numerous queries I often wondered if the agents were even receiving my documents. It meant a lot to me in terms of respect when I received a response to my query. But on the other hand, do agents really have the necessary time to respond to each query? Would an auto responder stating that the query has been received be enough for the author? It would suffice for me.

Melinda Williams said...

I think you said it perfectly here!

Thanks, Nathan!

Ramona Dark said...

I completely agree with Janet Reid. It's just plain rude to ignore queries. I wonder if agent's would like if their submissions to publishers were simply ignored if they weren't interested? It seems like poor business practice, and I try at all costs not to query agents with no-response policies.

Ms. NotQuerying said...

A query is not a resume, in that a query must be personalized to the agent you are sending it to. Authors are told over and over again to do the research, personalize the query, make it plain why *this agent* is best suited to represent *this work.*
A form rejection is painful enough, but totally understandable. But no response at all? When an auto-reply would take two seconds? Totally hypocritical, and very bad business sense. (But I can understand Rachel Gardner's policy. Didn't she also say that out of the thousands of author queries she received last year, she signed with...zero?)

Reena Jacobs said...

It's not a matter of whether an agent should or shouldn't respond. They don't have to do anything. But from an author's perspective, it's nice to have a response, even if it is a rejection. Even a simple "thanks, but no thanks" or "not for me" is better than nothing.

Here's why. Sending out queries can be quite an emotional experience. Authors put their hopes and dreams in those queries. They're waiting and trying to be patient, but it's difficult to move on if you never know. Does the agent still have my query? Do I still have a chance? He hasn't said yes... perhaps just this time. It's a false hope which can be an energy drain. It can sap motivation, and frankly it's real a real downer to hope and wait indefinitely.

In terms of it being bad karma to send out a rejection? I would think giving the cold shoulder to be equally so. It's a lot easier on the writer to just know for sure, so he/she can move on to the next agent, publisher, project.

For those who take the "no response is a no" policy, it'd be nice if agents post clearly on their website a time limit. Still, it's nice to know right away an agent isn't interested rather than spend a week, two weeks, a month, or indefinitely being anxious about a "no response" rejection.

Mrs. G.I. Joe said...

I think its very kind when agents do respond, especially if its fairly quick. Case in point...today, like 5 hours ago I just got my first ever rejection. I have spent years on various book projects and finally one came out of me that I have utmost passion to pursue. I sent it to an agent for the first time less than a week ago. Her policy and her agency's policy is basically "we only respond if its a yes" I was shocked to find a rejection email but now I'm free to pick up again quickly and get down to finding an agent/agency that fits for me and my work. I am so grateful for that. I could have spent the next 4-6 weeks wondering.

Certain negative responses can also be super beneficial because at times you can get an encouraging "Just because this doesn't fit here doesn't mean it isn't good. Don't give up" type answer.

There is a lot of good that comes from agents who respond all the time no matter what. But by no means do I think they are obligated to do this. They are hired by agency to bring in authors who fit with their program. If they are bombarded (which many are) with requests they *have to* respond to they won't always have time to do the job they are paid to do and I 100% respect that.

Anthony J. Langford said...

It's your first rejection Mrs GI Joe. Give it time.

Let's see if your opinion is the same , after you've sent out 100 queries and only half responded.

Jan Morrill said...

When I was querying, I didn't expect a response for every submission. I did appreciate even the automated responses that the query had been received, however. Now that I have an agent, I would hate to think that time she might be spending finding a publisher for my book, was instead spent answering every query.

Anonymous said...

Speaking from personal experience, I know queries get lost, dropped in spam boxes, missed completely, etc. so either an auto responder or something similar to Janet's method (I think she's amazing btw) is a perfect solution that would streamline the agent's use of time and also keep the author informed. I also absolutely agree with Janet's remarks that follow up questions, tirades, arguments, etc. should be deleted after that first auto response.

I don't think agents "owe" authors anything, but sometimes the reasons given for instituting the "No response means no" policy makes me roll my eyes.

I don't have a lot of sympathy when an agent says they ignore or don't respond to authors because they're overwhelmed, get too many queries, are too busy, etc. First, your website says you're open to queries. You are inviting people to query. Guess what? That's what they'll do.

If you're getting overloaded, shut it down until you can catch up. You're too busy? We're ALL busy. I work two jobs, parent three small children and write. When I was still querying agents, I carved out the time to customize according to the particular agent's criteria. And e-mails? In one of my jobs, I receive between 100 and 200 emails a day regarding questions about tax regs. Responding to those is only a tiny part of my job duties--and I don't get 8 to 12 wks to respond to those e-mails. My employer doesn't think I'm exceptionally nice for responding; he considers it me doing my job.

IMO, "no response means no" is acceptable if there is an auto responder stating the query was received. The same policy used on requested partials and fulls? No. That's rude, unprofessional and unacceptable.

lisekimhorton said...

I understand the issue of how many emails/submissions agents/editors receive. As I am frequently told at my day job when I complain to my boss about how much work I have and how much more he expects from me - "not my problem". Contracts are issued in this business. Money changes hands in this business. And as a (hopeful) collaborator in a money-making business I expect to be treated as a business partner. As someone who receives the same respectful treatment as I am sure the editors and agents expect. Having been an actor for a couple of decades (the only other field I can think of where "thanks but no thanks" is heard just as often) I always got a response. Usually on the spot (ouch) but at least I knew and could move on. Do I read submission guidelines and submit based on them? Absolutely. So I won't have to worry about this policy because I won't be approaching those entities. I still think that the authors should not be the only party in this business who gets less respect than the others.

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