Sunday, November 27, 2011

And the Debate Goes On...

I am very glad for the responses to my last post, and I can appreciate where everyone is coming from.

But I want to add some more things to chew on, as I'm curious what the responses will be to them:

1. Are people taking into consideration the sheer volume of submissions agents receive now, in comparison to when agents first started? Our agency receives up to 150-200 per DAY via email; four years ago, paper only, my old agency received up to 100 per WEEK.

2. Are people also taking into consideration that agents are paid on commission? Which means that to answer all those submissions, roughly 1,000-1,400 per week, is unpaid time?

3. AND, that of those 1,400 submissions...almost half aren't even things we'd represent, i.e., things sent without reading our guidelines and interests?

I know how much time I spend per week answering unsolicited queries - about 5 hours, and personally, I don't mind. I'm a younger agent; I have the time to do it, and I believe in our agency's policy to do it. But...does everybody?


4. Many agents are working two, if not THREE jobs, to be able to keep agenting - because commission takes a few years to start paying any bills. We work 24 hours a day - no joke. Reading, reading, reading at night - pitching, editing, negotiating, taking calls back and forth, smoothing bumps and feathers and possibly even stuffing a Happy Meal or two during the day.

Some agents just may not HAVE that extra 5 hours. Doesn't seem like much, I know...except, keep in mind that that is the time spent ANSWERING only - not including all the reading. Life as an agent isn't really all that glamorous. It's full of rejection, stress, and lack of sleep.

But...I posted this, and my last post, because I'm honestly curious to know the responses to these things (and I should add: I'm directly debating the no response=no policy to unsolicited submissions; I do think requested submissions deserve a response).

Do any of these points justify the action? At least make it more understandable? Enough not to throw insults, at least, while entering the debate?

And, whether they do or not: IS there a happy medium to be made...or is there just no pleasing everybody? (Because trust me, even though we respond, THAT is not even enough for some people).

Like I said before: I'm an agent. I'm biased. I'm going to defend the agent side. None of this will change our current policy at the Bradford Agency; this is all on me, not representative of my agency or employer at all.

The reason I'm still prodding this snarling beast of an argument is the same reason I blog: to provide more dimension to this side of the fence. And if I'm going to do that, only fair to open up the floor for others to provide more dimension for me as well.

So: thoughts?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think agents are justified in a no-response means no policy as long as their agency or the agent states that. This is pretty fast world we live in, time = money, and we can't expect agents to respond just because we think they should. If you want someone to form reject you then query an agent who does that. Also, we should really think more about it from the agent's side as you've pointed out in this post. All the points you've mentioned opened my eyes to things I'd never even considered.

  3. Well there never can be anyway to please everybody, and I think the people who truly understand the workloads of agents can understand those who choose the "no response means no" route. I've read a lot of posts by agents who have shared the insulting responses they've received by authors and I tend to think those authors do not have the right grasp on the publishing industry and therefore aren't ready to be in it. During my query process I've queried a lot of agents who have stated no response means no, and it has never bothered me, it has never made me wonder why the agent doesn't have time to respond because I figure that's just their personal choice and they have their reasons. Sometimes not getting a response is a little easier to handle than seeing an agent's email in your inbox only to open it to a rejection. I appreciate the responses and the no responses the same, it's only frustrating for me when an agent's guidelines don't necessarily say "no response means no" and I never hear from them at all, but all I can do is push forward with my writing and querying, I don't think too much time needs to be spent being angry at agents who don't respond. People on both ends are busy...writers are working hard to hone their work, get better, edit and re-edit, write good queries, and properly research agents, and agents are busy dealing with loads of queries, their existing clients, and everything else that encompasses being an agent, so I just respect both sides.

  4. I just started querying yesterday, and I'm in favor of "no response = no" for queries as long as there's an autoresponder to verify receipt. Requested material, on the other hand, deserves a response.

    A ridiculously high percentage of people who query are submitting material that's unpublishable. An agent shouldn't be expected to respond to every rube who thinks they've written a book. They've already wasted enough of the agent's time by submitting the query.

    Submit and forget about it. Be pleasantly surprised if you get a response. Life is less stressful that way.

    Or if you don't like the policy, then don't submit to the agents who follow it.

  5. Understandable, yes. But quite a few agents DO take the time to respond with a simple form rejection, so obviously it can be done. I think writers notice and remember when they receive this basic courtesy from an agent. On a practical level, I also agree with the point made by SCBWI that the "no response" system encourages multiple queries, further clogging agents' in-boxes -- which is the very issue the "no response" policy was supposed to address.

  6. You are a professional agent.

    I respect that, and I write a good query letter for a novel that I know falls into a category that you represent, because I have taken the time to research your tastes.

    You read my query. While you like it, you decide it's not for you.

    Now, I have not only taken the time to write a novel--you realize we writers are only paid if our work is published, right? And then, we only get a percentage of the profits--but I also took the time to research you, dear agent. Probably a good hour of my time, at least. Besides the time it took to write the query letter.

    It took you two minutes to reject my query, if that long. You can't take an extra thirty seconds to punch up a form rejection?

    Surely you respect my professionalism that much.

  7. I'm a writer, but I have previously participated in Nathan Bransford's Agent for a Day challenge. There's nothing like experience to make you appreciate the other side of the coin. And Nathan remarked that he only really understood it from the writer's side when he wrote a book and submitted it.

    Yes, agent's can be super busy and should not have their time taken up by unsolicited submissions especially those that are just plain wrong from a submissions guidelines POV.

    And writers can be super busy (I work full time, volunteer part time, have a family (furry kids) and try to squeeze in writing and reading) - talk about working for no pay! So we, too, have the 24 hr days. It would be nice to get a definitive "move on" rejection instead of having to wait out the specified time before submitting to the tier two (three, four?) list.

    There is no easy answer and I think everyone has to make the decision for themselves. The agents to decide if they will respond to everyone, no one, some of them. The authors to decide if they will submit to agents with a no response policy.

  8. I disagree with Anon. It doesn't take 2 minutes to send a form rejection. It doesn't even take 30 seconds. If it did, I would think that any agent who sent rejections to everybody was borderline insane. I do believe that with the proper use of technology, an agent can send a form reject in no more than 1-2 additional seconds to the time it took to read however far into the query that he/she cared to. I said this on the last post, but to me the debate is whether or not I should expect agents to be able to go that fast.

    One additional note, I have every bit of respect for agents who close to unsolicited queries from time to time so they can focus their efforts on their current clients. I know that's where the money comes from, and I don't mind being told to query another time. I'd actually prefer an agent who does this to one who tries to remain open to queries all the time, even when they really can't spare the extra hours to read, let alone respond to anything.

    My 2 cents.

  9. As an author, I'd appreciate even a form rejection so at least I know and don't have to sit waiting, wondering if my query was ever received by an agent who has a no reply=no policy. I do appreciate how busy agents are but I think a little polite professionalism goes a long way in building good relationships between authors and agents, between authors and the traditional publishing industry which may succumb to the self-publishing industry in the future. I don't hold it against an agent who form rejects me but I immediately wonder about agencies with this no response=no policy - it seems too impersonal, like the author is just a number to be dealt with and not a person. Perhaps we authors just take this way too personally ;)

  10. 'No repsonse = no' is fine as long as the submission guidelines give a time limit: 'if no response within four weeks, take it as a no' (though more politely).

    Email has made the submission process far easier, but for some people too easy. Whereas authors could reasonably expect a reply before email, after all you had to put some work into it to submit, nowadays I'm not so sure that can happen, especially with the workload you have.

    The suggestion to close for submissions from time to time may be good, but that may also result in a rush when you're open and not solve the problem at all.

    The publishing scene is changing before our eyes and until things settle down, this is only one problem of many waiting for a solution.

    Up till now the agents have been used by the publishers as the gatekeepers to publishing. Maybe, they will now pick up self-published authors that are doing well instead of reading submission? I don't know. All I know is that everything is changing and whatever else good agents like yourself are doing, you are asking the question and listening to the answers.

    'No repsonse = no' is fine for now, for me at least, as long as there is a time limit.

  11. As a writer tring to get published, when I'm not working my day job, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and other mother/wife duties, I get to sit in my comfy chair and write. The hardest things I have to do is polish, revise, edit and send queries.

    I cannot possibly imagine the real work that an agent does. You have to put up with ungrateful and rude writers while having to deal with publishers. I feel for you.

    With that said, I greatly appreciate a form rejection letter. Its up to me to figure out why, but at least it frees me to move on.

  12. I think this is a problem with technology that will be rectified once the appropriate software has been created. I can imagine a developer (even a private consultant) making a killing on software that filters all emails into a simple reader with buttons on the sidebar: "REJECT," "ASK FOR CHAPTERS," "CUSTOM" (or something like that, I'm not an agent, I'm not sure what the most useful functions would be). Each button sends out a form email, and the CUSTOM button has some additional form fields in case the agent wants to personalize a response.

    Then rejecting is as easy as a single click. The software could even automatically close the email after "REJECT," so it's effectively as quick to close/delete a query as it is to reject it.

    Then everyone (well, most everyone) is happy.

    The publishing industry is going through a digital transformation, and in my opinion this is part of it. We went from paper queries -> email, and we'll go from email -> agent software.

    I wish I was a better PHP/Python programmer, I'd write the darn thing myself.

  13. I see both sides of this debate. I can see how time consuming it must be to go through those submissions every day.

    I don't like the no response = no policy, but that's because I'm on the writer side of things. Honestly, from a practical perspective, I see why agents choose it. However, I think if an agent or agency wants to implement it, they need to:
    1 - Have an auto-responder so a writer knows if their submission got through. I know, emails don't usually get lost these days. But it does happen. I've never seen a week go by in 15 years of working for technogy companies where it didn't.
    2 - State the policy clearly in their submission guidelines.
    3 - Still try and give an estimate to review the work in their submission guidelines. I'd like to know when to cross a name off my list if I don't hear back.

    And to the authors - yeah rejection hurts a lot, and I think (I'm making a big assumption here), it's easy for us to justify no response with 'the request for more material just got lost in cyberspace', but...we need to suck it up too. This is a business, after all.

  14. An auto responder to verify receipt plus a timeline is as good as a form rejection for unsolicited queries. It really doesn't matter HOW the news is delivered if it's the same end result.

    If an agent wants a revision and resubmit, the author will know, regardless.

    I agree that requested material always deserves a response, though if the agent only read three pages I would rather know where he or she stopped reading than receive a fake-out vague comment on the reason for the rejection (one that tries to make me think the whole book was read if it wasn't).

    Yes, we think hard about every comment received and whether it can help make our work stronger.

    But there is no reason that an agent should be consigned to reply to every unsolicited query. Especially when the response would only be a form rejection. Use all that freed up time to work on your own novel or something.


  15. 'No response means no' is okey dokey with me.
    But please format an auto-response suggested by Abigal and Anon.
    Rejections don't faze me, er, not much anyway. But silence? Well darn it, I just spent hours and sometimes days researching YOU. Please let me know you got the query. That is all I ask.

    And regarding submission requests and responses: six different agents have responded with silence after asking for partials and fulls. Nudging does nothing. Think I'll darken their door again? I don't think so.

  16. I'm a querying writer, and I have to say that the rejection vs. nrmn is one that even I struggle with. On the one hand I'd prefer to get a definite no. On the other hand, I could do without the let down (but really, that's the cowards way out).

    I admit that when there is no response, a tiny part of me feels like my query wasn't even good enough to get the rejection smack down (yes, all writers read too much into every agent correspondence, even no correspondence). I doubt this is the real case, but it doesn't help our sometimes insecure feelings about our writing.

    Another problem is that often times the NRMN policy is for 6 weeks! That's forever, and the agent isn't going to send a definitive answer at the end, just let that hopeful little query die a silent death. If you're going to move to a NRMN, I think you can at least pass along the savings and drop it down to three or four weeks maximum.

    I'm sure everyone agrees that NRMN must be accompanied with a solid auto responder so we at least know your side got it.

    Of course, the reason this is such an issue is because the act of querying is emotionally charged. Those little letter feel like our future. They might as well be college or job applications. We writers all would like to know, not only if we were rejected, but why (was it the query letter, the pages, the premise, the title, was my writing not there, was there actually no hope, was everything fine except the voice, was the voice great but the subject crap, was it my stupid bio at the end, what made you say no?) And that's where the "rejection letter leads to dialogue" problems stem from. So much of the process on the writers side is fumbling around in the dark. Even after polishing pages, and query letters, it's frustrating to still meet with the ho hum "It's not for me," or worse the dreaded silence. This frustration is largely the cause of the "I MUST HAVE A REJECTION LETTER!" crisis in many authors. Realize, that it's difficult to understand the query letter, do it well, and get it right the first try (and we only get one try per agent). That's a ton of pressure, and that's why it hurts if there is no response. That's why it hurts if there is a response of no. We bleed over those query letters, and we've already bled for our manuscripts.

    All of this boils down to one simple problem: there is no easy answer to your question. I'd prefer a response (anything!) but I understand that you are approaching the time limit for breathing, so I can't help you there.

    But if one of your concerns is that over half of the people querying you aren't even doing enough research to figure out that you don't rep the stuff they're sending, then make your submissions more complicated.

    For instance, you could only accept queries on Mondays (actually, I would vote for Thursdays, I never quite got the hang of Thursdays). That way you'd get the writers who actually research and one seventh of your usual query spammers. The rest of the time, your query in box just shoots out a blanket "I only consider queries emailed to me on Mondays. Try again next week."

    Or every week you have a counter on your query inbox and you only take X number of queries (preferably a number you could respond to every week). Once the number of queries fills, your in box spits out an automatic "I have as many queries as I can consider this week, please try again next week."

    I could go on, but I think I've said enough already

  17. I would prefer a response, even an auto-reject, than nothing but I understand why a no-response policy is put in place.

    We are all extremely busy which is why I am so grateful when an agent does take the time to respond. But ultimately agents have to do what works best for their own individual schedules and we need to respect that.

  18. As long as there is an auto-receipt, no response is ok. I find Anonymous' sense of entitlement disturbing. If they had an agent, I bet they would rather have that agent's time dedicated to selling their book instead of telling others no thanks.

    I do think requested material deserves a response, though.

  19. I'm firmly in the camp of "at least send an auto-responder" to verify you've received the query. This would also be the perfect place to state "and if you don't here from me within X amount of time, then that means I'm taking a pass."

    As writers, we have so little means of validation, and we also tend to be a little paranoid, too. :) An auto-response that says "Yes, I got it, here's a timeframe for response, and if that date passes, so do I." satisfies both those needs.

  20. Thank you for posting about this issue do forms like this help? filter out people who know what they are doing (at least a little) vs. those that are clueless?

  21. I respect the amount of work it takes to perfect submissions based on individual guidelines. For that, I think listing a timeframe is a fair expectation. I also think if an agency is asking for an exclusive submission, but is not willing to respond- you should not submit to them to start with.

    On the other hand, I feel that authors sometimes expect a lot from prospective agents. When the simple truth is... if they love it, they'll let you know. If they don't love it, they're not the best fit for you.

  22. OMG...Rena...your solution of complicating guidelines to Thursdays only made me LOL. :D

    This is fantastic...thank you everyone for your responses! And would someone PLEASE create Abigail's program??

  23. I don't think an agent should respond to queries that don't meet the submission guidelines, and I actually prefer NRMN. But I still do understand why after spending endless hours writing something and a year revising it, people would be annoyed by the agent who can't press reply and send the form rejection.

  24. I agree with Karen. I guess it makes sense that writers are such a dramatic bunch, though. I know I'm the drama queen of my household. But we have to develop thicker skin if we're going to go the distance to publication. Nrmn can be a training ground for us and a humbling point where we realize maybe we didn't write the Next Great American Novel and we drop the diva attitude. If they're not interested, they're not interested. Move on.

    Okay, skipping down from my soapbox now. :)

  25. Here's my solution idea: allow writers to read your slush for a day, sort of like an intern. You could auction off these day-intern spots and we could see what your side of the yard looks like.

    I'd love to see what those incoming queries look like and how mine would compare. By the end of the day, I'm guessing I might like that auto-response.

    But once I move back to my writer side, I'm sure it won't be long before I can't believe I'm not getting a response on that next great Canadian novel that I wrote (thanks Amy).

  26. Ha! I wish I'd seen this a week or so ago because I addressed it on my own site (I'm a writer, FYI). Not to be self-serving, but here are my thoughts:

    To sum up... everyone needs to settle down. Agents who do not rep you do not OWE you anything. If a mutually beneficial relationship springs into existence, that's a different story. When everyone's still a stranger to each other, you really need to treat each other as polite strangers. Which means no one owes anyone a thing. As an aspiring writer, you do not OWE a submission to Agent X, just like Agent X does not OWE you a response.

  27. Really, Natalie, it sounds your agency is swamped and you'd need more agents or assistants. I know some agents hold lists of 40 authors and can write books alongside it, like Mrs. Diver. I want you to persevere because you're awesome. There's part of me that felt quite bad when I read your story as a writer. Why'd you give up, why didn't you rewrite your novel with more plot? I don't know if you realize it, but, I'm your advocate in spirit. We're all struggling in some way in this industry. And I think Marry The Night was a good representation of that reality.
    Beware, Natalie will become the ultimate badass of the agency world.

    Love you :D

  28. I don't have a problem with it. I think those who do are either writers who do aren't new to the process and therefor are used to repsonses, (everyone resists change its normal, especially a change that is for agents, not writers). Or are niave and really don't know a lot about the industry and therefor think they are owed something. They'll learn.

    Either way I think the high emotions will settle after a while. You'll still have some people who complain (just like people complain about waiting 3 months on a full. Getting responses too fast and saying they weren't even read.)and other people will be there to bring them back down to earth (why I love Absolute Write)

  29. Good and another post from you admin :)