Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Response=No Debate

I'm sure many of you have heard more than enough on the no response=no policy and SCBWI's open letter to the industry causing all the hullabaloo lately.

I’m disturbed by this debate, but not because of the topic – rather, because I don’t feel like it’s stemming from the issue itself. I feel like people are frustrated in general with the industry, and blowing a lot of that frustration into this steamy argument.

We currently live in a time where there is already doubt on NEEDING an agent OR publisher; not responding is seen as an act of selfish authority, when authors are questioning if agents and editors should even HAVE a leg to stand on to enforce such authority.

Additionally, though SCBWI’s open letter addresses both agents and editors – most blogs I see seem focused on the AGENY side. I would argue that only shows more that this debate is being used as a front to express frustration with the industry – because, since more and more publishers are closing to unsolicited submissions, agents have become the ultimate “bad guys” who “make or break” a career.

Writers are focusing on the “guilty” party, in other words, who is the “most” responsible for not getting what he or she wants - which is a publishing deal.

Now hold on – before you explode at me that it’s the morality of it all, an issue of respecting everyone’s time and that, even if everyone got offers, it’s still not right to leave people hanging - let's put it all into perspective:

When people submit job applications - do they always get a response to let them know the application has been received?

When called in for an interview – is there a guarantee the potential employer will call back, regardless of the decision made?

Does that mean we should enforce regulations on employers to provide auto-responses to applications, and form letters to interviewees, so potential candidates aren’t left sitting around for months and months agonizing on whether or not they’ll get The Call?

In truth: submitting a manuscript is EXACTLY this process. I know it’s hard to hear, because writing is so very personal, but the process of publishing is business, not personal. And just as a “sorry, we went with someone else” is absolutely no help in the rest of the job hunt process, except to assume there was someone better - are we REALLY helping by sending that form letter? Or are we justified in thinking that, with all the writing resources out there, these people we don’t respond to should really be moving on and searching elsewhere, while at the same time looking at how to improve their WORK, not the rejection process?

In other words: should people spend less time worrying about those not responding...and more time trying to help those not being responded to?

Easy to lay blame, after all, rather than take responsibility.

I’m biased; and I can understand that people don’t like being left with loose ends. To be honest, if the shoe were reversed, and publishers started saying no response=no to AGENTS…boy, would I not be happy.

I am personally in favor of auto-responders for agents who have a no response=no policy, so writers at least know their work has been received - but that doesn’t mean I’m going to vilify an agent who disagrees.

We live in a time of change in the publishing industry; there are more ways to be published and submit than ever – which makes the competition steeper than ever – which makes the frustration higher than ever.

But maybe we should stop focusing on ways to fix others...and focus on how to make our work impossible to ignore.


  1. Very insightful post. I would add that submitting to editors and agencies is a lot like applying for a job. Some companies respond to let you know they received your resume and will contact you if they decide to interview you. Others you never hear from at all.

    We tend to take that attitude as a no and move on when it comes to work, so it stands to reason we could view silence from agents or editors in the same way. If our work really is good and sells well, chances are they'll be the ones kicking themselves in the future.

  2. Only an agent would compare a manuscript to someone who is homeless. As someone who works with homeless people, I am APPALLED at the analogy. Maybe I am a bit fraught because a 15-year-old hung herself yesterday, but your analogy is utterly crass. So there are writers who cannot find an fricking hoo. Try telling the woman escaping domestic violence with young children that this predicament matches hers.

    I'm overreacting possibly, but please get your pretty head from out your butt. You haven't got a clue. This will be forwarded on.

  3. While I don't have a problem with agents who don't respond, I am frankly appalled by your homeless analogy and your utter disregard to the plight of people in this circumstances. Not to mention your somewhat proud declaration of the cleverness and astuteness of such an analogy.

    Get a grip and maybe readjust your world view. This reeks of privilege and a troubling lack of sympathy for your fellow human beings.

  4. Hmm... I think I'm going to stay out of the can of worms surrounding the analogy and just stick with my opinion on the "no response means no" policy.

    Keyboard shortcuts and online submission forms are both great methods for cutting the time to send a form rejection down to a second or two, if that. Do agents have a obligation to use these methods? I think that's the essence of the debate.

    Speaking for myself, I do think agents, at the very least, have an obligation to keep submission guidelines up to date and accurate. An agency that adopts a "no response means no" policy should update their guidelines as soon as that decision is made and include a timeframe after which the author can assume a no.

    I do think most authors are sane and know that a rejection is not personal. Of course I don't like to hear no, but if I must, I'd like to hear no as soon as possible. That way I can learn from the experience and write the book that gets the "yes!" that much sooner.

  5. Like Katrina, I'm sticking to the no response=no issue, and I think the auto-response is a good way of solving a lot of the frustration. I've not been doing this enough to get frustrated with the industry as a whole, or perhaps it's because I'm going into it with more realistic expectations (though there was that one time I typed "The End" on a first draft and queried Avon directly...but I was young and stupid and...we won't go there).

    I remember sending queries for my first novel and out of my top 5-10 agent picks, four of them had the no response=no policy. One of them had an auto-reply to let me know she got it. With the others, I worried that they didn't get it, but didn't know whether to resend or not, because I didn't know if they would be irritated if they HAD seen it already. As often as we hear about the people who send and resend queries umpteen-gazillion times, I didn't want to be *that* writer.

    I don't like to hear no, either, but it's better than uncertainty.

  6. That's what I took it as--if my story was as good as I thought it was, they wouldn't have ignored me. So I'm still working on it.

  7. There is a small strain of arrogance in the writer who thinks they are too important to ignore. That said, if an agent or publisher refuse multiple submissions, then they SHOULD respond, something that goes for magazines too.

  8. Amen! I think the first few commenters are missing the point of your post and getting hung up on the wrong thing. Can't see the forest for the trees?

    I think I'll spend my time and energy on improving my writing and not worry about the rejection policies of a few agents. Now if someone wants to start a petition to ban synopsis'...count me

  9. I want to take a moment to apologize for causing offense for my homeless analogy; I did realize, before posting, that this is quite a difficult issue and had (probably wrongly) hoped that people would focus on its use as metaphor rather than a stance in either direction toward the issue of homelessness, or an effort to make light of the situation in any way.

    I’m not looking to offend anyone or cause anger with this post for the wrong reasons; so, I will edit my post.

    Thank you for the feedback.


  10. Cassandra,rather than insult Natalie - who is clearly only trying to help - please try and accept her post in the spirit in which it was intended. I also work with an organization that supports the homeless,and when I read this post I wondered how many folks would be offended, because the sad reality is many homeless can't just decide to "get their act together" - most are fighting mental illness and/or addiction. But unless you are in the industry, you won't know that.

    So cut Natalie a break. Let's be grateful she is willing to give of her time to help aspiring writers. Also, given that many agents talk about finding a "home" for your manuscript, I can see where the kernel of the analogy came from.

  11. PS - I do like what anonymous had to say, however; it is very true: this also highlights that there are far more important things to worry and fume about.

  12. I got the point of your post, which is that you don't want to send rejections, and that is absolutely okay by me. Different agents do things differently, whatever works for them. I've seen rejections, I've had no responses, and frankly it's no problem for me.

    But that homeless analogy is tasteless and cruel. Way to conflate the issue. This is not "getting hung up on the wrong thing" so much as it is a call out for you to examine yourself. Being a writer and having written any manuscript to shop out is a privilege in itself, UNLIKE BEING HOMELESS.

    So no, you shouldn't feel guilty for not responding to queries, or even walking past (because if you have nothing to spare, you have nothing to spare) but don't believe you're making sense while hiding behind some warped logic of long-term cost-benefit analysis. You're just doing what's right for yourself, that's all, that's it.

  13. Also, thank you for editing.

    It isn't offense you caused; you hurt people by feeding into a stereotype that being homeless is a simple issue of "keep trying," the same way that it is for most writers. You really don't have to defend yourself with that kind of analogy.

  14. Jha - I agree that my post wasn't as well thought-out as it should have been; that's why I edited. I'm not opposed to admitting I was wrong and fixing it. I appreciate all this feedback - just as I always appreciate ANY feedback.

    However, I am actually an agent who responds to all query letters - so I wasn't trying to justify not sending. Just trying to ask people to reflect on ways to be proactive in a positive way rather than a negative way.


  15. Admitting the mistake and editing the post to something far more reasonable was a classy response, so thank you Natalie. I had shown this to many work colleagues and all were as equally appalled by the analogy. As the anonymous after me stated, it was the glorification of the analogy that most found upsetting.

    The easiest thing would have been to delete the entire thread but you didn't. Again, that shows class. I will now remove myself from the debate.

  16. Not receiving a response to an email query is preferred to the old days of not getting a response to a query that included a required SASE. It's a long standing problem and each agent has to figure out the best way to handle it.

    And yes, it is a lot like applying for a job, except once the deal is struck the agent works for the author. So, authors need to be sure that the agents they query do business in a way compatible to their needs and sensibilities.

  17. I think people should do crazier queries that are a crateful of fireworks ready to go, at least that's fun :D I learned from Gaga to be outrageous and dream BIG. Lol. Go crazy and hope some agent likes your passion. :)

  18. I'm sorry, I disagree. It think the SCBWI and I just don't see how sending a form rejection can take up that much of an agents time. There is a lot of understood etiquette in the biz, and why shouldn't agents be asked to follow some standards, as writers are?

  19. Correction to my post:

    I'm sorry, I disagree. It think the SCBWI letter had some good points. I just don't see how sending a form rejection can take up that much of an agents time. There is a lot of understood etiquette in the biz, and why shouldn't agents be asked to follow some standards, as writers are?

  20. I think an auto response, form or not is nice, and those are the sort of people I would want to work with. I don't particularly think employers who don't call and let applicants know a position is filled are very thoughtful employers and not the sort I would want to work for. It is the same in this industry. And I don't think it is as easy as saying, 'well no one responded so my work must suck'. It may just be the particular agent didn't see the great thing you have created and you need to find the agent who does 'get' your project. I believe in the manuscript I am trying to get representation for. I don't believe that because some agents haven't responded means that i need to get back to the grindstone. If that was the case then why would I have ever started querying in the first place?

  21. If a writer has sent a query and received no response, that's one thing and no response can easily be considered no. If nothing shakes in six weeks I consider it rejected. It is another thing altogether when an agent specifically asks for material and then fails to respond. In addition to being impolite, it's unprofessional. You asked to see my work? You at least owe me the courtesy of a "no thanks, not for us". Agents that request to see my material then never respond are crossed off my list as persons I would not choose to have represent me or my work.

  22. It isn't acceptable to ignore a job application or a query. A form email passing on a submission is not, in this electronic age, too much to ask, much less expect. Not so many years have passed since it was SOP for a writer to enclose a SASE postcard or return envelope for just such a response.

    As long as agents/agencies advertise their services in varied venues, complete with submission requirements, receiving submissions, including those wildly off-the-mark, is the result. It is not license to ignore those who answer a solicitation.

    Etiquette in business is not one-directional. How refreshing it would be for agents to rise above the level of employers who don't acknowledge applicants with a simple "No, thank you," rather than mimic them.

  23. Not responding is rude for both employers and agents/publishers. Autoresponse is fine. It saves time, and it lets authors know their work was received and not eaten by the spam filter. Personally, when querying in the magazine world, I've had nonresponses from editors. After politely following up, I landed an assignment cause my original had gone to spam. So it's a legitimate concern.

    I think agents, employers, editors, and all people in positions of power need to get off the high horse and correspond with the common folk. It's a sign of respect. Just because you can get away with something, doesn't mean you should. Just because something is widely practiced, doesn't mean it's admirable or decent.

  24. Just give me the rules up front and I'll abide by them. If an agent says, "No response=No" I'm fine with that. I can mark a date on my calendar that reminds me to check off that submission as closed. I do appreciate an auto response, so I at least know my query arrived where I intended it to.

  25. You're an agent.
    That means you're biased.
    Of course you're going to defend your colleagues.

    Agents who don't send rejections are pond scum.

  26. I think many new authors have a hard time accepting that publishing is a business and the "bottom line" is critical at the end of the day. That means there's not time to give everyone personal attention. But I think it should be a professional courtesy for all agents to send a form letter "thanks, but no thanks" response to authors who submit to them. It doesn't take much time and it conveys a clear message about the agent, indicating that he/she appreciates the time and effort spent by the author to submit.

  27. The auto-response is reassurance. When cyber-space eats email like chocolate cake, it is only a tool for me.

    This doesn't mean I'll froth in rage if this tool isn't there but it does mean I'll try more responsive agents first.

  28. I never had a problem with no response=no policies. If the policy was stated on the agent's website, I knew I could move on after a certain amount of time. Not a big deal to me.


  29. The main problem with that policy, for me, is when a publisher has a no simultaneous submission policy AND a no response policy. Because... how am I supposed to know if I can resubmit the same piece elsewhere? It just hangs around, waiting, which takes up an annoying amount of time in which I could have been submitting elsewhere. I just like to know when I'm being rejected.

  30. If there's interest, I'll get a response. Somehow, I'm not sure I would want an agent with a silence=Not for me policy. Maybe that's because I live in Texas not NY. Just sayin'!

  31. The job application analogy cuts to the heart of the problem. If you're applying for unskilled work at the bottom of the pay scale, employers typically have a no-response-means-no policy. If you're applying for skilled work at the top of the pay scale, most potential employers send personalized rejection letters on expensive stationary. Why would any writer want an agent who sees the writer's job as a menial one?

  32. I like the last anonymous comment, mostly because without the jab at the end it's exactly what I was going to say. I haven't applied for general labor or non-professional jobs in a long time. I also haven't not heard one way or another on a job in a long time.

    But there is one more thing I want to say. I know we often compare the query process to a job hunt and in a lot of ways, I think that's fair. But when you're querying, the work is already done. When you apply for a job, it hasn't been done. At this point I personally prefer no response means no, but I can understand how after you invest years of your life in something, you would be frustrated even heartbroken or angry that someone can't take thirty seconds of their time to say "no."

  33. I think the simplest solution here is one already mentioned: The agent could easily set up an auto response to let authors know their query was received, while also stating plainly on the agency website that if no response is received within a certain time-period, then it's a "NO".

    The fact is, as an author, I completely understand our need to know why our work has been rejected; without vital feedback, how are we supposed to know why in particular a project was turned down by an agent who represents what we write? That said, agents are people, too. Busy people. People with existing clients that have already gotten their foot in the proverbial door. Clients who deserve nothing less than their agent's focus.

    So there really are no bad guys here. There's only perspective and understanding. Another fact querying authors should take into consideration is how they would feel if their agent is too busy to take their calls because of time being spent responding to queries from other authors. Again, perspective and understanding....