Queries, Quandaries, and Just Saying No

It’s become common for literary agents to use a ‘no response means no’ policy in which they only reply to queries that interest them and no longer send out rejections in response to all the other queries they receive.  (So if you’re one of those writers who aspires to wallpaper a room with rejection slips, you’re really out of luck now — even with the switch to email over snail mail you could still print them and stick them on the wall, but if you don’t even get anything back . . .  Well, let’s just say you’ll have to find something else to decorate that room with.) 😉

The serious issue, of course, is that most writers find this lack of response adds to their stress level for a number of obvious reasons.  It can make you feel as if you’re sending your carefully prepared submissions out into a void, and you can’t necessarily be certain that your query was rejected; there are always cases where someone receives a request for materials six months or more after they queried.  (Heck, there’ve even been cases where someone got a request after so much time that the manuscript had already been picked up by another agent and published!)  So it makes it harder to get a sense of where you are in the process and how many of your queries are truly outstanding versus those that have probably been rejected.  (But maybe not.)  And unless the agent has an online submission form that confirms receipt, there’s also that nagging question of whether one’s query might have been lost or gotten trapped in an overzealous spam filter.

I’m pretty sure most writers really don’t like this policy — and would choose a definite rejection over uncertainty — but I’ve noticed that when the subject comes up, many people insist that it’s perfectly reasonable, and are quick to point out that of course all good literary agents must devote most of their time to their clients, while they don’t owe queriers anything at all.  Although those things are very true, I don’t believe ‘no response means no’ is a necessary evil we should blithely accept.  Furthermore, all the emphasis on the need to be thick-skinned shouldn’t stop us from being sympathetic to writers who find the process exasperating.  Neither should we refrain from engaging in conversations about whether there might actually be ways to improve the situation.  So while it’s not my aim to ruffle any feathers, and I won’t say that ‘non-respondence’ is necessarily a sloppy or unprofessional practice (as some people will suggest), I will say that I think there are other ways to manage the situation that are more professional as well as more considerate. Continue reading