Here's why you haven't heard back-1

Pulled from the comment column about non-responsive agents:

As an agent who receives e-queries exclusively, I try my best to respond to all queries in a timely fashion yet admittedly I do get overwhelmed by the volume that floods my inbox every day.

It's very difficult to review each query carefully AND manage to get through a whole day's email submission pile in one or two sittings. I go blind after about ten or twenty e-queries; at that point I start to realize my ability to judge has started to wane and I have to walk away before I reject something that upon further inspection isn't so bad after all. Still, walking away isn't easy to do when I receive anywhere from 50 to 100 queries each day.

One way I've cut down on the number of e-queries I respond to is by refusing to respond to the ones that don't follow my submission guidelines. I'll overlook a mistake here or there, but if you're blanketing the agent universe with your "Dear Agent" letter and not bothering to appeal to me and my individual interests directly, then I'm going to guess you haven't taken me seriously enough - so why should I return the favor?

And if you haven't bothered to include a sample of your writing as instructed, then how am I to decipher whether you have the writing chops I'm looking for? You could have the best story idea, but if I'm not drawn to the writing then I'm not going to be able to sell it. But I need to be able to experience your writing in order to make that judgment call. (And no - the writing in your query letter does not count.)

Furthermore, if you've attached your sample chapters when my web site explicitly insists in big bold letters NO ATTACHMENTS PLEASE, then the response you get is my mouse cursor pouncing on the DELETE button while I'm cursing you for wasting my time and threatening my computer system with a potential virus.

As for requested material, I always respond though not always in a timely manner even though I try very hard to do so. It takes a lot of time and energy to carefully review a full-length submission all the while catering to the authors I already have in my stable. Agents are like day care workers trying to keep up with twenty-five children at once. Some need to be fed while others need their diapers to be changed. Some, thankfully, self-sufficiently go outside to play all day and you rarely hear a peep out of them unless it's truly urgent.

With all the many things that an agent has to do, the submission pile unfortunately doesn't always make it to the top of the priorities list. That might explain why you might get a response from me at 3:47 on a Sunday morning - or better yet 2 minutes after your e-query lands in my inbox. We agents usually know instantly whether something is not right for us, and also when there's an instant attraction to something. (Imagine George Clooney passing by Miss Snark's table at Michael's unexpectedly. How long do you think it would take for her to get him into her...um..."submission" pile?) (nanosecond)

What I hate is when I get a complaint from a writer because I've responded too quickly...as if I didn't really give that writer's work the time of day it deserved. This happens more often than you might think, and unfortunately makes me wish it was proper etiquette not to have to respond unless I really am interested. So, in that regard, I don't fault other agents who actively dismiss e-queries without bothering to send a rejection. Time is money. Spend it wisely.


s.w. vaughn said...

An excellent response! Thanks to Agent Frog for posting it and Miss Snark for pulling it out.

Rachel Vater has an excellent post on her blog about a "day in the life" that further illuminates the response delay:


(Sorry, I don't know how to make the link live...)

none said...

We used to have a problem at NFG back in the day with accusations that we'd made our decisions too quickly. Almost as if some of the writers submitting to us believed that when their stories spent months with other magazines before a decision was made, it was because the editors spent all that time reading and evaluating them. Riiight.

A pile, guys. They sat in a pile.

Maria said...

I like the quick responses. A no is a no. If you want to tell me no without reading it, that's even fine because I can move on to someone who may be interested.

I don't spend time wondering or caring if you read it--only on "what was the answer?" No. Okay, move on.
What difference does it mean why the answer was no?

Anonymous said...

I currently have a partial with an agent, who states she'll respond in 2-3 weeks. This seems lightning fast to me. Looks like I can, in fact, be taught!


Anonymous said...

So writers are infants to her? Really? That's not quite the attitude I'm looking for.

Anonymous said...

I think you miss the point. Don't be so fucking literal. Writers are not like infants - but the agent is like a mother, though. Tending to her children. All the fucking time. Are you a mother? Do you know what it's like to feed 25 children every day? Isn't that the average number of clients most agents maintain? Imagine all the responsibility. It's a lot on one person's plate. Give agents a fucking break.

Anonymous said...

An immediate response to an equery, even when it's a polite NO, gets a thank you from me. I appreciate the consideration such a response represents.

No response at all is rude and unprofessional and just plain LAZY. But haven't we said this before -- like a hundred times?

Anonymous said...

These comments definitley sound like agent to agent weariness and frustration. For me, as a new writer who tries very hard to learn and follow the requirements, this is depressing, discouraging, and demeaning to read.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Maria on this one. If someone says that he or she has a two or three month response time and I haven't seen a reply after one and a half or two times that amount of time, I write a short, polite email or snailmail asking if the person can verify that my submission is simply waiting in a long line, but is not lost.

I once recieved a nasty email about how the agent recieved X number of queries so how could I possibly expect him to keep track of mine? After deeper research (beyond the initial P&E scan), it turned out the agent was a charlatan pulling a new version of an old scam and advertising on places like Craigslist.

More frequently, I've recieved no reply from supposedly reputable places. Things get lost, sure. People get busy, or extremely busy, sure. But I follow guidelines even when they involve jumping through non-traditional formatting hoops. It appears very rude when someone can't be bothered to say, "No," (two whole letters) so those submitting can be free to look elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I love the lightening fast responses...really, I love any response at all! As a mother, I can totally relate to the day care analogy, and I think it's probably right on (and I would lose my mind working in a day care!!). Agents do an amazing job, and although I think about becoming one every now and then (not too seriously, because I'm not willing to move to NYC where I could get an internship), I don't know if i have the patience....