On Publishing: “No Response” Agents (My Thoughts)

“Success is something you attract by the person you become.”

–  Jim Rohn

 

Two days ago, my dream agent requested my full manuscript, thus brightening an otherwise dreary Wednesday. However, I’m not here to talk about that, as there really isn’t much to discuss. Instead, I wanted to share my thoughts on the hot topic of agents and their varying degrees of interaction with hopeful queriers.

Translation: here are my thoughts on how some agents give the kindest rejections and others don’t even reply to you unless they want more material.

It’s an interesting topic, isn’t it? But after all, this is a strange industry. A cover letter is supposed to be a formal proposal that you’re submitting to a potential business partner. In any other industry, that would warrant a definite response. And yet in publishing, it’s becoming more and more common for agents to have a policy of, “I’m only going to reply to you if I like your letter.”

When I tell my friends of this, they usually respond with, “That would make me mad if I were you.” But honestly, it doesn’t. I understand that some agents are busy people and don’t have time to respond to every proposal they receive, especially considering that some queries are nowhere near coherent. But I do think that there’s a right way to reject people.

Some agents I’ve submitted to make it a point to respond to every query, and they say if you haven’t heard back within x-weeks, re-send. Those are my favorite kinds of agents.

Even if the rejection is your standard “Dear Author” form, at least I have closure, you know? I can check that agent off the list.

Personally, I would aim to have that policy if I ever became a literary agent. However, I understand that some people are still crazy busy and can’t manage to reply to everything. That’s why some agents use a policy along these lines: “While I try to respond to every query, if you haven’t heard back within x-weeks, please consider it a pass. You will receive an auto-confirmation when we receive your query.”

That last part makes a world of difference. I’m entirely fine with a silent rejection as long as I know it’s indeed a rejection, and not a glitch in my email system. Queries get lost in cyberspace. Agents’ emails crash, as do authors’. If I send a query and never receive so much as an auto-confirm, I’ll never be sure if it was read and passed, or simply lost in the internet.

Once again, I understand that agents are busy. Truly, I can appreciate that, and I have no hard feelings towards most. There’s only one type of agent I have a real problem with, and that’s the agent who promises to reply to all queries, then never does so.

A while ago, I queried one agent who looked especially promising. Her guidelines specified that she aimed to reply to all queries within a certain amount of weeks. I waited, the weeks went by, and no response.

Normally, I would’ve assumed my query was lost in cyberspace. But, as it happens, I was also following said agent on Twitter at the time. About a week after the response time frame had passed, she tweeted a sentence or two from several queries which she’d deleted without response because they were such a quick pass. Mine was among them, being cited for “lack of specificity.”

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I’m not bitter about the rejection; hell, that’s the best kind, because it included feedback. But I would’ve preferred to hear that from an email, not a social media feed which I happened to check.

My bigger point here is that while I don’t hold a grudge against agents who treat queriers badly, I do have an enormous amount of respect towards the ones who are courteous—even in dealing with the slush pile. I accept this is a brutal industry, but I think that some agents (and I place extraordinary emphasis on ‘some’) view queriers as people who are so used to rejection that they won’t mind at all if their proposal is deleted without a promised response.

Again I say, I’m completely fine with agents who say, “If you haven’t heard within x-time, please consider it a pass.” No problem! Now I can mark my calendar and hold my breath. But likewise, if you say “You’ll hear from me in x-time, one way or another,” then prospective authors count on that.

The other thing I think people can sometimes forget is that the agent-author relationship is a professional partnership, and that requires mutual respect in equal amounts. If an agent sends me a kind rejection, even if it’s a form, I think, “Man, that’s a loss; he/she would’ve been great to work with.” But if an agent gives a specified period to reply and doesn’t (and obviously received and read it), then I admit I do feel a slight bit of, “Well, I’m not sure I’d want to work with them anyway.”

I’m sorry if I sound naïve or whiny, but what I’m trying to explain is that the kindness and respect of an agent, even a rejecting one, is a warm and welcome feeling in the business of querying. It truly does make a difference between my image of some faceless lady in an office versus a real human being who’s friendly and personable but simply doesn’t connect with my material.

In any case, the two agents reading my work at the moment have been every bit as respectful and friendly as I could hope for.

To them and every other agent out there who treats the slush pile kindly…thank you!

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