3.06.2007

"we'll get back to you if we like you"

Dear Miss Snark,

A protocol question.

Many agents who accept or even prefer email queries indicate in their listings that they will respond only if they're interested in seeing more. Aside from whether a no-repsonse policy is "fucking rude" (your words for it more than a year ago) or whether it's even logical (it takes less time to hit REPLY, paste in a form rejection and hit SEND than it does to stuff the same letter into a SASE and seal it), it also creates a problem for writers considering a subsequent query to another agent at the same agency.

Let's say I do my homework and assemble a list of twenty agents to start with. Agent 5 and Agent 19 both work at the same large agency. Both accept only electronic queries, but due to the overwhelming number of submissions they receive, they are afraid they can't respond to each of them.

I email a letter and some embedded pages to Agent 5 and wait, oh, six weeks. Does her lack of reply mean a lack of interest? Probably, and I'm okay with it. But I've worked my way down to Agent 19 in the meantime.

I know enough not to send simultaneous queries. I could shoot Ms. Five a quick email to make sure she's already moved on, but how clueless does that look -- and how effective is it likely to be -- in an environment in which replying to a query is too much trouble? I could assume that two months on a query is long enough, but that would be just a guess, and I once received a positive response after waiting longer than that.

So at what point does " " shift from "I'm working, be patient" to "not right for me, thanks"?



30 days minimum, 45 maximum. If someone can't bother to reply to an email in 45 days, fuck em.

I find it loathsome that my colleagues do this. And if you're reading this, and you're an agent, and you do this, stop it. You're making us all look like arrogant asswipes, and frankly I don't need any help on that score.

51 comments:

typemonkeytype said...

Whoa. What's this? "I know enough not to send simultanious queries." And Miss Snark replies 30-45 days? What am I missing?

Of course you should send simultanious queries. Or does this example only refer to a specific case with two agents within the same agency?

Southern Writer said...

This is such a hot topic right now, and one I feel strongly about. I wrote about you and this very subject on my blog just the other day. Tonight I closed shop for a while, but I'm tempted to reopen just to write some more. Actually, I'm more than tempted. Lord help me not to fly off the handle.

Anonymous said...

Equally troubling - 3 fulls out for about 6 weeks. A call from an agent for representation. After much discussion, I tell the agent I am interested and will cll her back within a week. I email the other two agents and tell them I have an agent who wants to rep. my work. Could they just tell me if they are still interested or what is the status. No answer after a week. What to you think?

David said...

If you're a publisher and you do this, same dealio.

Toddie said...

Miss Snark says:If someone can't bother to reply to an email in 45 days, fuck em.

I say: Dog bless you, Miss Snark. You are a whiff of lavender scent in an otherwise shitty kitty litter box.

Grendel's Dam said...

O Divine Miss S--

Thank you for arguing so eloquently the case for good manners. Fuck rude people!

Anonymous said...

Depends on who you want. If you stop patronizing agents who take forever to respond, they'll speed it up. If you stop patronizing publishers....well, ooops. I forgot. It's their playground, so they make the rules.
Bottom line. Be organized, be consistent. There's more than enough excellent agents in the world to go round. You don't need some self-absorbed vunderkind.

Twill said...

Well, without the unneeded profanity, I'd just say, include your own time frame in your query.

The agent's policy is "I can't be bothered to reply if I'm not interested."

So you politely state, "Since your policy is not to respond unless you are interested, I will take a lack of reply by (insert date) to mean you have declined this project. Thank you for your attention."

Notice, you aren't even assuming he can be bothered to read your email header and count 30 days.

Heidi the Hick said...

Well this is good to know.

As for simultaneous queries, most agents just want to know who else is looking at it. This is what I've learned so far.

So today I'll go through my big black book and put a red X beside the ones I haven't heard back from in, oh, eight months!

John B said...

quote: "Whoa. What's this? "I know enough not to send simultanious queries." And Miss Snark replies 30-45 days? What am I missing?"

I think the writer was referring to sending queries to agents at the same agency.

Terry said...

Brava! You can say that. Poor aspiring author's can't. We're stuck trying to be polite, not nag, follow the rules (don't call the agency, send an email).

I keep a spreadsheet of submissions, and it's depressing to see how many un-highlighted entries I have, which means I've heard nothing. Yes, I write them off and move on. But there's always that, "did you really get it?" question nagging in the back of my head.

I've had a requested full with one agency since last AUGUST. Have followed up with 3 polite emails. Not a single reply (and yes, I called the agency to see if she still worked there--she does).

I'd love to see if any agents reading your blog respond with their reason for behaving that way.

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that some of the agents who are accepting e-mail queries are getting snowed under. It's a lot easier to lose an e-mail than a regular old letter.
For the past few weeks I've been sending snail mail queries, and I've had almost an 80% return. On e-mail, it was more like 50%. I also think that policy of "if we want it you'll hear from us" is a "cya" policy in case they lose something.

kitty said...

Just recently Lori Perkins asked: If I've had a query letter for months, should I bother to respond or do you just assume that you've been rejected already and get pissed off that I held on to it for so long and then rejected you?

Sam G. said...

I no longer send e-mail queries. Another writer in my critique group sent out a number of queries to agents, and used the same cover letter for all the agents. The exact same letter. With one agent's name and address, etc., details of the agency.
Dumb. Very dumb. But easy to do. I wouldn't be surprised if this happens a lot. Check your e-mails before you send them. Or if you're like me, use the mail.

Anonymous said...

Another thing that sucks is when someone gives a tentative yes to attending a workshop with the promise of getting back to you within the week. After six weeks, you e-mail a friendly nudge. No response. Another 2 weeks, finally a "I'm so sorry! I meant to write back sooner that I won't be able to make it after all!" Two months have passed and your workshop is in two months. To invite another speaker at this late stage makes it look like s/he is a last resort.
Not cool.

In this case it was necessary to invite one person at a time. I would've preferred a flat out 'no.'

If there's a next time, I sure as hell won't wait more than two weeks to get an answer.

Anonymous said...

Agents who blog have consistently said that their slush pile is way down their list of priorities.
Like, even below the blog.
There are so many agents out there, and the ones who are the least responsive are the ones who get the most: most of the notoriety on blogs, or conferences, or other forms of self-promotion. SELF-PROMOTION. They are busy because you've made them so busy, so try another route.
Get out a writer's guide and go through the entries. Google some of these people. You'd be amazed at how many really famous and successful authors are represented by agents you've never heard of! They're flying right under your radar. They don't need new business, but if something wonderful comes along it might be tough to pass up. They're established. Not starting out and building businesses.
These people are busy, but maybe not inundated with the tons of promotion-induced submissions.

Cynthia Bronco said...

After no response from an e-query (2 months), I re-queried the same agent stating in my cover letter that perhaps I had been stuck in a spam filter. A few days later, I got a request for a partial.
I believe that some e-queries become casualties of spam filters.

Anonymous said...

Never mind query letters not getting a response. A few days ago my son came in from school carrying a large envelope addressed to me in my own handwriting. Inside was a full manuscript I'd sent out per request of the agent TWO YEARS AGO!
Despite a few emails to the agent about status, no answer. I finally just gave up. Inside the return SASE (envelope - with some extra stamps) was a letter saying no thanks. You think I hung my hopes on that agent?

Lora said...

What is it with agents who request material right away, and then take forever to get back?

I had a fairly quick response on both my query and partial from a very well-know agent. The agent requested the full and I was ecstatic. But now, it's been ten months. Ten months! This is worse than when I was waiting for college acceptances twenty years ago. At least I knew then when the response would come.

I've still been querying, but I'd rather focus on my writing rather than marketing. Also, no other full requests. I would so love to pull it back!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I've had the experience where 3 agents simply did not respond. Maybe this book will make it. Maybe it won't and I'll have to write another and start the process over.

But I know that I will be crossing off ALL agents that say they will only reply if interested.

If you say only snail mail - and I send email - then you absolutely can ignore it. But if you accept emails - you need to hit the reply button.

Maybe as more writers become frustrated by this practice - those agents will get their wish and have MUCH LESS EMAIL - ie - much less material to represent.

GSKearney said...

To quote Dave Barry, wouldn't "Arrogant Asswipes" be a great name for a band? --gk

Mark said...

I've had this happen a lot.

Anonymous said...

Testify, Miss Snark! I recently queried an agent through _snailmail_ who said NOT to include an SASE and that she'll contact me if she's interested. Yeah, why'd I send her anything? LOL.

Jack K said...

I'm still waiting on a (paper) query that I sent out on Dec 20, making it a good 75 days of limbo. I've got several other people at that agency on my list, and I'm about ready to send to one of them. This agent may be kind of old, but his website and many listings say that he's still in business, still takes on new clients, and still accepts queries. He might be an established big shot but I think after 3 months, I shouldn't have to remind him that I am young and hungry and have a book to sell.

soren said...

Hey, I thought Miss Snark said:

You don't have to inform anyone it's a multiple submission at the query stage (UNLESS the agency website specifically says you do). We assume you're querying widely.

bjh said...

Miss Snark may be arrogant, but never an asswipe. Sages are not asswipes; they know enough to avoid the excrement.

Robin S. said...

Wow. I found your blog a few months ago – seems to me you’d be equally at ease saying what you mean “in person” or “on blog”.
I like that.

I appreciate what you wrote - as it’s just common courtesy to give an answer – even simply a yes or no – especially as the recipient of a query email knows how very much that answer matters to the sender.


And- as for simultaneous submissions- I think in this case the reference is to simultaneously submitting to more than one agent in an agency, which I think is “frowned upon”.

Southern Writer said...

bjh said... Miss Snark may be arrogant, but never an asswipe.

What in dog's name makes you think Miss Snark is arrogant? Let me see ... could it be that she's here every day, suffering nitwits? Could it be the COMS she runs for us twice a year? Could it be the way she's taught us everything there is to know about the publishing business? Her sense of humor? Her kindness? Oh, I know! It must be that she answers her damn query letters.

Here's a url to an online dictionary. Make it your friend.

http://dictionary.reference.com/

Anonymous said...

The agent who said not to include a SASE was saving you money and herself time so she can work for her clients.

Yours was a snail-mail query but regarding email - some agents aren't that good at it, spam filters get in the way, etc. Not everyone is as savvy as Miss Snark. Writers have to toughen up and consider this method like you do a lottery. If the writing is great and you've written a book that is sellable in today's market, you will hear back. Not all agents are right for all books. Move on and keep writing (and reading and taking classes, join a crit group).

Kimber An said...

I wonder if agents realize that many writers fear their eQueries are lost in cyber-space when they don't receive a reply. As a result, these writers query again.

Virginia Miss said...

I have put the agencies that can't be bothered to reply at the BOTTOM of my agent list.

I understand that my queries are unsolicited. I get that the agents are busy, even overwhelmed. I'm okay with waiting patiently for a few months for an answer. But not to respond at all is so frustrating. (All the agency has to do is hire a temp for a few hours each quarter to stuff SASE's or hit reply and cut-and-paste email responses.)

Plus, the IRS expects writers to have documentation that we are pursuing publication, and this will be a tad difficult if rejection slips become a thing of the past.

EGP said...

I think we writers have to take a middle ground here. Of course it is unprofessional not to reply, and it doesn't take much to do it.

On the other hand, these agents are in business, and if their business methods weren't working, they'd change. I am ignoring submission methods or the existence/lack of a web site as I develop and prioritize my list of target agents. But once I get to the stage of sending out the first 10-20 queries to the agents I have put near the top, things like a lack of response to queries will be one additional factor I consider. I don't see any devidence to suggest that agents that do this are not good agents, so I would be stupid to eliminate them solely on this basis.

We can certainly have strong opinions on agents and professionalism, and we can try to lean towards those agents that conduct themselves the way we feel is appropriate in this regard. But in most cases, using lack of web site, lack of email queries, lack of email response, and other similar attributes as a litmus test is not a luxury new writers can afford.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those agents who only responds to e-queries if I'm interested. If you want an answer, shell out the 78 cents. If you don't care, send an e-mail. Seems pretty clear.

I used to respond to every e-query, and you know what? Over half of the authors I rejected wrote back to argue with me. If I sent a personalized letter, they argued with my comments. If I sent a form letter, they argued with my form letter. This is why I don't respond - because I don't want to start a conversation with authors I'm not interested in representing. I would think, that as aspiring authors, once you get an agent, you want that agent to spend their time on selling your project, not eloquently rejecting others.

staggerlee said...

After no response from an e-query (2 months), I re-queried the same agent stating in my cover letter that perhaps I had been stuck in a spam filter. A few days later, I got a request for a partial.
I believe that some e-queries become casualties of spam filters.

More likely, your original email slipped below the threshold of the screen the first time, and when you re-queried, the agent took the graceful 'out' you'd supplied him/her with. That's a nice way for everyone to be happy.

Ryan Field said...

Kimber An said...

"I wonder if agents realize that many writers fear their eQueries are lost in cyber-space when they don't receive a reply. As a result, these writers query again."

The ones who decide they don't have to reply to e-queries simply just don't care. This is not the wonderful Lori Perkins or Miss Snark, but there are a few out there. And if you do re-query, even innocently, be prepared to receive the worst, brutal rejection you've ever had in your life...without mentioning any names, of course.

The Home Office said...

Thank you thank you thank you. I know agents are busy, but common courtesy must apply at some point. I made it a practice not to query agents with this policy. And in answer to the inevitable question, yes, I do now have an agent, one I'm very happy with.

Robin S. said...

Regarding the comments of the anonymous agent who wrote that the reaosn he/she no longer acknowledges rejections via email because-
"Over half of the authors I rejected wrote back to argue with me. If I sent a personalized letter, they argued with my comments. If I sent a form letter, they argued with my form letter. This is why I don't respond - because I don't want to start a conversation with authors I'm not interested in representing" -

I wouldn't like that either,if I were in your shoes. Common courtesy travels both ways - and this is rude behavior.

Anonymous said...

Someone said:
I'm one of those agents who only responds to e-queries if I'm interested. If you want an answer, shell out the 78 cents. If you don't care, send an e-mail. Seems pretty clear.


This is why I've given up the equery route and gone back to paper. Too easy for an agent to ignore; too easy to be accidentally deleted before read; too easy to spend a nano-second rather than the ten seconds a paper query would garner.

This is my career. I will spring for the 78 cents!

Ryan Field said...

"Anonymous said...
I'm one of those agents who only responds to e-queries if I'm interested. If you want an answer, shell out the 78 cents. If you don't care, send an e-mail. Seems pretty clear.

I used to respond to every e-query, and you know what? Over half of the authors I rejected wrote back to argue with me. If I sent a personalized letter, they argued with my comments. If I sent a form letter, they argued with my form letter. This is why I don't respond - because I don't want to start a conversation with authors I'm not interested in representing. I would think, that as aspiring authors, once you get an agent, you want that agent to spend their time on selling your project, not eloquently rejecting others."

Oh, buck up and get over it. All you have to do is delete the annoying responses from disgruntled writers with a simple click. No one sane can fault you for that, and you are not obligated to communicate with any fool who can't take rejection, and you know it. And for the many who probably DID take your advice to heart, and thanked you silently for the response and the comments, you will always be remembered as the agent who gave that good advice...not the asshole who never bothered to reply at all.

A simple rejection, even a form, is all that's required. Most of us don't want to become your pen pal.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous posting agent that doesn't respond to e-queries unless he's interested-

Do you state that in your submission guidelines? Because if you did, I would be absolutely fine with that. If, however, you solicit queries via email and don't respond with even a form rejection, well, I must agree on that being simply rude.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to the agent who took the time to comment here. This board benefits from agents participating. I understand how responding can lead to twice the amount of time spent on a rejection.

Writers who work hard to get an agent should appreciate that these agents are busy representing them, not acting as teachers for the multitudes of clueless wannabes. I'm not talking about people here, who have the sense to do their research and read Snark, but the vast majority of the slush pile out there.

bjh said...

Southern Writer - Thank you so much for telling me there are such things as dictionaries! Golly! What will they think of next!

I was responding to Miss Snark's comment that she doesn't need help portraying herself as an arrogant asswipe, which I didn't take seriously. I apologize if I offended anyone.

Anonymous said...

Another agent who doesn't respond to email queries chiming in here.

I list everywhere I can that you won't get a response from me unless you send a query by post along with an SASE. If you have to send it by email then I'll accommodate you and look at it, but I don't think this courtesy extends to a response as well.

You see, through experience I've discovered that when I reject an email query (whether personally or by form), this creates an easy link for the writer to ask for a more detailed explanation for a rejection or proceed to argue with me about my decision.

"All you have to do is delete the annoying responses from disgruntled writers with a simple click." Easier said than done my friend. Perhaps some people can easily cast off an insulting comment, but I've found that I get annoyed for at least a minute or two before moving on (and I'm thicker-skinned than many of my colleagues). And yes, this is time I could be spending working with other writers.

There are a lot of people out there who have to have the last word, and sadly email queries are a perfect medium for them.

Anonymous said...

For me the bottom line seems very simple...

It comes down to common courtesy and professionalism. If an agent can't even bother to send a form rejection letter [or doesn't want to open that line of communication] than an agent shouldn't accept e-mail queries! Most writers work years on their books-even going so far as to love their books like they would a child. So hitting reply and simply saying "no thanks" is the only decent thing to do.

p.s. Miss Snark, you truly are the snarkiest. Thank you for all you do.

Southern Writer said...

bjh - I'm sorry! I realized that after I hit the send button. Of course, by then, it was too late. Consider me properly shamed. I was all riled up yesterday. Someone ought to take my keyboard away from me when I'm like that. My sincerest apologies.

Bren MacDibble said...

Agents and publishers who ask for no simultaneous submissions need to maintain effective response times. If they ignore responding within a promised time, then we get to ignore promised exclusive submissions.

I'm still shopping a novel that's had a verbal offer on it because the contract hasn't been sent.

Last year I had three verbal offers that fell through so now I don't believe a word anyone says until it's written down and signed (altho I will 'pretend' I do, quite effectively on the phone). After all, if a publisher can't get a contract out how good are they going to be at getting a WHOLE novel out???

Ryan Field said...

Thank you for this, Anon agent.

"All you have to do is delete the annoying responses from disgruntled writers with a simple click." Easier said than done my friend. Perhaps some people can easily cast off an insulting comment, but I've found that I get annoyed for at least a minute or two before moving on (and I'm thicker-skinned than many of my colleagues). And yes, this is time I could be spending working with other writers."


I guess from years of experience as a writer my skin is so thick there's not much anyone could say for me to give a rejection a second thought, or to bother with sending a mean reply. While I can't apologize for all the unprofessional moron writers who have sent you vicious replies and don't know how to handle rejection, I can say I think your comment may have been the best on this thread so far. It's shows us that not replying to an e-query isn't always based on arrogance. (I promise you, this isn't one of those have to have the last word "things" either :)

bjh said...

Southern Writer - Now I feel guilty about becoming snitty. (I'd say snarky, but I can't aspire to those heights.) Thanks for replying.

Miss Snark and Killer Yap rule!

Colorado Writer said...

Thank you.

Southern Writer said...

bjh - I love the word snitty. And twit, too, which was just what I was being. Thanks for your forgiveness. Good on you.

Anonymous said...

Here's a twist: Sent an equery to an agent - nada, so wrote them off. Followed up with a second equery 6 months later just to be sure and still nothing.

Then a full year later, sent a snail + sample to the agent and they asked to see the full.

What are the chances of that?