The Silent Treatment

Empty MailboxIf you’ve every queried an agent you’re probably familiar with the no response = not interested policy. This is when an agent/agency says if you haven’t heard from them within X-amount of time, they’re passing on your project. This isn’t a new policy. It’s been around for years.

Writers hate this policy. We get a little neurotic about it. Waiting to see if someone likes us – Ahem! I mean, likes our project – is hard. How can we know if an agent “just isn’t into us” if all we get is the silent treatment?

On the other hand, agents are busy. I mean busy! One agent reported getting 20 queries a day, and at the time of the blog-post, had 967 queries in her in-box. Is she supposed to send a personal email to all of them?

This has been a controversy for a while now, and there seem to be great points on both sides of the debate.

too much spamThe agents say:

  • Not having to send rejection letters means they can actually read more query letters, request more materials, and find YOU sooner!
  • An agent’s time is valuable! They’re busy. They have their normal day-to-day duties to tend to – like selling their client’s books!
  • It’s a business transaction. Do you get a response from every job you apply to? No.
  • There’s negative karma with sending out rejection letters.
  • Agents have the right to create whatever submission policy they like.

But… some agents also say:

  • Responding to queries gives them a “leg up” on other agents. Now they have the “kindness factor.”
  • They like to send responses because it allows them to feel like they have no loose ends.

Patience ImageMeanwhile the writers…

  • Find it discouraging. A no-response can feel harsher than a rejection letter. Does the agent not respect them or their time?
  • It can make a writer feel like they are in limbo. Did the query letter even get to the agent? Was it ever considered? Did it get stuck in the SPAM filter? (To combat this problem, some agents have created auto responders which let a writer know the query was received).
  • May the mass-querying begin! If a writer knows they aren’t going to hear from an agent for months (and possibly never at all), they may start to send out mass queries. Of course, this creates more letters in an agents in-box, and the cycle begins.

Is there an easy answer to this? No.

I think an agent has every right to conduct business any way they see fit. But I do have respect for those who have sent me a rejection letter in the past. It shows me they’re a professional and they respect me. Personally, I am more likely to recommend that agent to my writer friends (even though I was rejected).

As for us writers, I think we all need to take a step back and practice our skills of patience and perseverance. The right agent is out there waiting for us – and they will contact us when the time is right.


Want to read more about this subject? Check out these other interesting articles:

SCBWI Open Letter to the Industry

Agent Natalie Lakosil’s Opinion

Agent Rachelle Gardner’s Opinion

Agent Janet Reid’s Opinion

5 thoughts on “The Silent Treatment

  1. Writers who complain about the “no response = no” policy aren’t looking for agents to give them personal rejections. All they want is a form rejection, showing that the agent received it and read it.

    I recently withdrew my ms from agent consideration, and I was surprised by the number who wrote me to say that they lost track of the requested materials I had sent and were sorry. So if requests can get lost in the shuffle, certainly queries can.

  2. I’m an artist agent, but I feel the same applies…. creators should get a reply!…however short and perhaps in email. I also get many requests a day and respond to ALL of them. If I can help with a comment I will, if not I’ll just say it’s “not’a match.” At least the artist isn’t left hanging! it takes seconds to do an email… surey this isn’t too much if you stay on top of it. Just saying, agents! 😉

  3. Wow. Great post. I’ve had the silent treatment from one or two agents. I understand the policy and the decision to not send responses. But I’ve had form responses from agents who are just as busy. I appreciated hearing back from them. Also, I used to be a manuscript reader–the person who had to send form responses to writers. The publisher received over 3000 manuscripts a year. That meant 3000 form (and sometimes personal) responses. It took a lot of effort, but the publisher’s policy was to send a response to every writer.

  4. I agree with Lexa Cain. I don’t need anything more than acknowledgment that my submission was properly received. Things get lost. I’m fine with that, and happy to resend! In order to be polite, responsible submitters, all we need is a little bit of information.

  5. Yeah…I think we’re in different headspaces entirely. I’ll explain in the next paragraph, but I don’t intend to argue about it. I’m just stating a position to give context.

    Like this: I’m not sure how an agent would be helpful to me, or why I’d want to hire one unless he or she were bringing a good deal to the table that I couldn’t get on my own. Which seems really, really unlikely.

    Regardless of the above, my feeling is that not answering business email in a timely fashion is all the reason I’d need to refuse to do business with -anybody-. Except, possibly, a utility company with a local monopoly. Even then it’d be iffy.

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