Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 26, 2010

No Answer Means No Interest

The Backspace blog STET! recently ran a series of posts on how to deal with waiting—which there is a lot of in this business! They spoke mostly about waiting once you are agented, and they spoke specifically about if you send in a requested partial or full and then never hear back. They did not address in detail the no-response-means-no-interest from agents phenomenon. Since this practice stirs up a great deal of ire with many writers, I started thinking about why that is.

Certainly, we writers are all aware of the state of the publishing business these days. We know that agencies and publishers are severely understaffed and chronically overworked. We have heard about (and contributed to) the vast mountain of queries that agents get in a day. And we have heard them tell us that if they responded to every query they would have no time for their actual clients. All of this makes sense. So why do writers still get so ticked off when they run across a no-response-equals-no-interest agent?

I think it comes down to respect. Most of us respect the agents enough to research them. We find out if they rep our genre, we find out who they rep, we spell their name properly, we find out precisely what their submission guidelines are and we even check out their blogs. We spend months crafting a query letter, send it off and…nothing.

This silence, even when expected, echoes with disrespect. It says, “My time is more valuable than your time.” Now, I understand that this is not what the agent intends. The agent is trying to get done a boatload of work in the most efficient way possible. But even unintentionally, this is the emotional impact on writers. And that is why so many get so upset.

It would be nice if the no response-no interest agents would specify on their website how long to wait for an answer before assuming no interest (to be fair, some do). I have at times gotten responses to queries 6 months later—long after I had assumed no interest. It would also be great if they could set up an automated confirmation for email queries/online submissions. Otherwise, we writers have no way of knowing if their silence is no interest or computer error.

As for the actual rejections? I don’t have the full answer, because everyone works differently. I know many agents who used to have interns to send out the form rejections no longer do. Perhaps simply cut and paste all the rejection email addresses into a document as they go, then when they’re done with queries for that day BCC the entire batch with a single form rejection?

More and more agencies seem to be switching to the no answer-no interest model, so it is here to stay. Personally, I don’t bother getting wound up about it. I send and forget about it. That way, if I hear from someone, it is a wonderful surprise!

What are your thoughts on the no-response-no-interest model?

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Responses

  1. As a professional musician, I have endured years of unanswered auditions/resume inquiries. It has always struck me as incredibly rude for those in charge to do this. I guess that’s part of our business: being ignored and rejected.

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  2. Writers need to stop walking on eggshells and grow a pair of balls. Landing representation, while it’s an awesome step in the right direction, is no guarantee that you’ve found your perfect business match, just as much as becoming a published author is not some sign that you’ve finally arrived.

    If you’re doing your part as a professional writer, that is, working on your craft, doing solid research, and having your writing workshopped, you’re sure to have a feel for the quality of your work and its relevance in the market.

    If you’re confident in the quality of your work yet remain unsatisfied with the response time of the agents or publishers to whom you’re submitting, perhaps a more professionally assertive tack is in order, that is, a reasonable follow-up protocol, and if necessary, submission withdrawal.

    So many writers seem to be focused on landing their dream agent or editor that they allow their single-mindedness to paralyze them while precious time ticks away.

    The best solution I heard recently from a writer on one of the boards is just to write more and spread your submissions/queries around. Not as easy to do when querying your novel for representation, but while you’re patiently awaiting an answer to a novel query, submitting short stories to a variety of markets is a good way to keep your morale high and your options open while increasing your odds of landing an agent who will find your published work out there when they go looking to check you out.

    While I firmly believe that the no-answer-no-interest model is here to stay, there’s no reason a hard working writer has to be the willing victim to this institutionalized laziness.

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  3. Hi, Don,

    Yes, that response about blanketing the market with more stories was a result of a posting I started at our online coffee house group. I’ve put one novel on hold, am currently juggling submission of three short stories, altering them when necessary after receiving rejections, and am currently working on a second story which may develop into a novel. The storyline of my new story has much to do with input I have received in group settings as well as taking a further look at what publishers do and do not want.

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