Q2: Response

(This question is part of a larger subseries called Perpetual WIPs: Literary Agents. For the remaining questions, see here.)

Do you respond to all manuscripts (including with form rejections) or are you a “No Response = No” agent and why?

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I always respond, with a few qualifications. I appreciate people thinking of me for their work, and if they’ve taken the time to seek me out and personalize a query letter, I believe responding is the right thing to do. A query letter takes (or should take) a lot of time to write, and it only takes me two seconds to send a polite “no thank you.” The only queries I don’t respond to are those without a salutation (would it have been that hard to add my name at the top?) and those with dozens of agents cc’d.

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I try to reply to everything that is appropriate for me (is something I represent, queried according to guidelines) within 6 weeks. Though depending on the time of year, it may be much faster than that.

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I respond to every query.  It is more time consuming than the no response = no method, but I think it is really a good thing to give an author the closure and the assurance that the material was indeed reviewed.  I think that authors will often wonder if their material was received or read if they just never hear what happened with it.

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I reserve the right not to respond (just in case I wake up to 1,000 queries one morning!), but I always send a rejection letter.

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I respond to all queries (although not always as quickly as I would like) and I also have an auto-response that lets writers know I received their query (provided it has “query” in the subject line, as my submission guidelines request). I remember well applying for jobs and feeling like I was just throwing resumes into the ether. Getting any kind of response was appreciated, so I think most queriers feel the same. I’ve also set up an easy way so that responding to all my queries takes at most 10 minutes out of my week. Of course, as you might imagine, this means the majority of my responses are form. (Also, the 10 minutes is simply in the sending a response. The actual reading and considering takes much longer.)

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I respond to all queries that conform to my rules. People who violate my rules do NOT get replies. I just delete their email.

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I try to respond to all queries. I like to have them marked unread with an arrow saying I replied so I know I read them. I worry about something brilliant falling through the cracks. But I understand why agents who get thousands and thousands of queries might not have time to reply to everything. I believe the not replying strategy only works if you’re not looking for new clients, or at least not many new clients.

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We respond to all queries. When we go on submission, we know that we’d rather hear “no” than nothing. Plus, it’s polite!

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I respond to everything, unless the query is sent as an attachment or it’s part of a mass email. I understand why some agents have the “no response means no” policy. The number of queries agents receive is pretty staggering, and sometimes even I feel like I don’t have time to copy and paste my form rejection. One-minute responses to hundreds of queries a week adds up. Still, I can’t imagine ever not responding at all. How maddening that must be for writers!

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I answer every single query I receive even if it is with a form letter. I know how crazy the waiting makes authors and I generally try to keep that in mind.

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Our agency sends out form rejections for submissions sent in the mail so long as they include an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). We do this because that’s the way it has traditionally been done, and because this method of submission provides “verification”, for those who desire it, that the submission has been duly considered and found wanting.  However, the majority of our submissions these days come via email, and our policy with regard to email is “no response = no”.  The reasons for this are purely practical (and yes, selfish) and have to do with the sheer volume of email as compared to regular mail we receive. I don’t want to respond to queries I’m not interested in, and provide a rationale for why I’m not interested, because doing so for every query I receive via email would take a tremendous amount of time, and ultimately that time spent wouldn’t end up making either of us any money.  I get at least 100 queries via email a day, and finding time to read them all can be difficult, much less finding time to provide each individual querier with honest criticism about why their book doesn’t work for me or wouldn’t work in the marketplace.

Since I don’t run a charity that seeks to provide advice for struggling authors, but rather a business that requires nearly all of my time, I opt not to respond even with a form response to email queries I’m not interested in.  That being said, I really do enjoy reading submissions and thinking critically about them.  It’s my favorite part of the job, and I don’t wish for there to be less queries, I wish for there to be more.  I want you to send me your query, I just don’t want to bothered about it after you send it, unless I reach out to you first.  I understand that sort of one-sidedness can be frustrating and make you feel powerless.  I know that it is painful to feel that you are shouting into the vacuum every time you press send on a submission.  But you’ve got to understand it’s not a picnic on this end either.

Not everyone is a conscientious and kind querier who has done meticulous research and read blogs like this one to try to understand how to navigate the submissions process in an effective way. Not everyone follows submission guidelines, or writes brief succinct queries, or can act in a sane and rational manner.  Extending the courtesy of a form rejection means extending it to everyone in the submissions inbox regardless of the state of their query (there’s no SASE equivalent in email), and not everyone is prepared for that.  For example: several agents just recently had to get in touch with the FBI because a querier they had sent a form rejection to had sent threatening emails and phonecalls to them after being rejected.  Some agents I know complain about people who respond to their form rejections as if it were an invitation for a dialogue about the merits of their project.  Dealing with those situations seems to me an unnecessary expenditure of time that I would much rather devote to reading yet more queries, and getting back to the people whose projects have potential in the marketplace.  In addition, our submission guidelines give a pretty clear window for how long you should wait for a response, and we don’t request that you send submissions exclusively to our agency.

I know people who query often wonder “how do I know you got my email? How do I know you read it?”  The answer to those questions are simple:  Our spam filter is set so that anything that has the words “query”, “inquiry”, “submission”, “book”, “novel”…etc. gets to our inbox, and I peruse the spam filter every week or so to make sure nothing gets caught in there that wasn’t supposed to be.  So if you sent it, and  you didn’t get an error message, chances are it wound up in my inbox.  As for the second, it’s a silly question. Of course I read it.  I read all the queries, it’s in my best interest to read all the queries, because if I don’t then I might miss a genuinely good project that could potentially make me lots of money.  If I didn’t read every query I’d be stupid, and why would you want to be represented by a stupid person?

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