Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Silence A NO Answer?

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STATUS: Good. I still have a lot of reading that needs to be done but I’m starting to catch up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SUDDENLY I SEE by Kt Tunstall

When I was in New York, I did spend some time talking to a variety of writers at BEA and at the Backspace Conference.

One writer asked me if silence on a full request meant a NO.

Not knowing the agent or agency, I didn’t really have an answer to that but I might be able to shed a tiny bit of insight on to the question.

I would not consider silence a NO response, but I also wouldn’t wait around for this agent or agency to get back to you. Get those queries out there. Get more sample pages in agents’ hands. Don’t pin your hopes on this tiny glimmer of interest.

Because some agents are like a few editors that I know and avoid, they won’t start reading until they get a heads up that there is other interest. I know, it’s awful to say but often times the truth.

At my agency, I really do try and stick by the maxim we highlight on our website that says we will respond to full manuscripts within 2 months. The key word there is “try.” I can count numerous times where I’ve been woefully behind and the fulls we requested were the last thing on my to do list. I hate that; it happens.

Now we never ask for an exclusive so it doesn’t really matter if I’m late to the read or if I don’t get a chance to read at all because the writer has been offered representation by an agent who read in a more timely fashion. It’s simply too bad for me.

If I were that writer though, I’d still continue my inquiry as to the status of my submission—politely, professionally, but persistently (as in maybe once every 3 weeks). Because you are owed a response. I’m not saying that you’ll get one but you really are owed one.


30 Responses

  1. Liana Brooks said:

    If I don’t hear from you about a query I probably won’t follow up. I’ve probably forgotten I queried you. You’ve been deleted from the list and I’ve moved on.

    But for a full or partial? I’d keep querying and sending things out, but I’ll be counting down the days until your “max turn around”. I’m a bit obsessive like that. If I hadn’t heard by then I’d probably drop the agent and line and make sure everything had arrived on schedule and that the agent was still alive.

  2. KTDP said:

    forgive my ignorance but why would an agency not just answer “no” rather than ignore the poor bastard?

  3. Anonymous said:

    “You really are owed one.” Thank you for saying this! I needed some reassurance.

    One of the agents with my full has a reputation for not responding unless there’s another offer on the table. (I didn’t discover this until after I queried and he requested the full.) He’s had it for months now.

    I’ve had other agent interest and I’m pretty sure if it came down to a choice between him and one of the agents who has been prompt and professional I’d go with the other agent just on principle.

    No response for months just doesn’t seem like a good way to start a working relationship.

  4. Tabitha said:

    What about agents who don’t advertise their response times (there are plenty who do, as well as a lot who don’t)? Some let the writer know when they ask for a partial or full, and some don’t. Is there an average industry response time, or is this simply a stand-up-and-ask kind of thing?

  5. DebraLSchubert said:

    Kristin, Thanks for this important post. I’m amazed at how long some writers wait to follow up on a partial or even a full that’s out there. If you’re afraid to contact an agent to check on sample pages, either they’re not the right agent for you or you’re not persistent enough to survive this business. IMHO.

  6. C. Anne Morgan said:

    I once had a requested full manuscript out at a publisher for 6 full months without a response. Finally sent a follow up letter. Got my manuscript – mangled up bad – back two days later. No note, nothing. Just my mangled book returned.

  7. Anonymous said:

    Would it be kosher then when replying to an agent who requests exclusives on partials and fulls but does not advertise turnaround time to grant the exclusive with an end date, after which the exclusive would expire (politely worded, of course)?

  8. Anonymous said:

    Kristin’s quote: “…Because some agents are like a few editors that I know and avoid, they won’t start reading until they get a heads up that there is other interest…”

    Thanks for your honesty. This kills me. You finally get an agent, agent sends out the ms to editors. NO one replies for five months. It seems to me they are ALL waiting to see if someone else is going to offer before they bother reading it.

    Nothing like working your ass off for a year to write a book, another six months to get an agent, another three months of revision and waiting for whatever holiday season to pass so the agent can finally send to editors, only to have editors ignore it for five months.

    (rant over)

    BUT, this is why I think agents and editors don’t like their jobs very much. Sure, plot matters, but for YA lots of it is if you like the voice and concept. How time consuming is it really, to flip open a ms and scan five/ten pages? Most rejections don’t tell you any sort of in depth reason why they didn’t want something anyway.

    (another rant over).

    Ah, I feel better now 🙂

  9. Anonymous said:

    Anon 9:55 — please don’t think just because an agent or editor asks for an exclusive you have to give them one. You don’t. It’s the same as saying, here, hold my work hostage for two months so you can sit on your ass and not read it.

    If you do agree to an exclusive (and again, please don’t) and no time is stated, then YOU state it — you can have this as an exclusive but only for a week.

    I used to think exclusives meant I was doing something right — that an agent was so interested in my ms that they wanted it to themselves so they could mastermind a plan for a major book deal. Usually, what has happened though, is the agent is just lazy and wants to know how long they can keep something before they *sigh* HAVE to read it.

  10. Samantha Clark said:

    Great post. I just sent out queries and got a request for a full. I was thinking I’d give the agent three months, so I’m happy to see three weeks is more standard.

    I haven’t heard back from some of the agents I queried yet. Should I let them know that a full has been requested? I figured I needed to only let them know if I had an offer of representation. As you said, a request for a full might still mean a wait.

    Thanks so much for the information. And for the quick turn-around your office gives.

  11. Gumbo Writers said:

    This is great advice, Kristen. While a query letter can be compared to a resume, a request for a manuscript is like an interview. Even if the “interviewer” (agent) doesn’t like your manuscript you still deserve an answer after going through the effort of sending your manuscript.

  12. Aimless Writer said:

    Good advice.
    I never expect a reply on a query. If the agent responds that’s super but if not I just move on. When I get a full request i expect a timely response because that’s something they requested of me. I think it’s always best to read the website so you know how long it will take. However I’d hate to interupt their reading or let them think I’m a pest so I’d wait it out.

  13. Rebecca Knight said:

    Holy helvetica! Thank you for letting us know that some folks sit on something “good” until they know there is other interest.

    That shocked me, although I’m not sure why :P. I agree with some of the folks here, that it doesn’t seem like the most respectful way to start a business relationship.

    If they can’t trust their own taste/judgement, then isn’t there a problem?

    Of course, I haven’t been in their shoes, so there could be a number of reasons why that makes good business sense.

    But thank you for the explanation and the head’s up, Kristin :). You are fabulous, as always!

    -Becca
    http://rebeccaknightbooks.blogspot.com/

  14. Kimber An said:

    I don’t wait around for a response and I don’t followup either. If I don’t get a response within the stated or average time, I consider it a ‘no’ and cross the agent or editor off my ‘To Query’ list for future projects.

  15. Wiggy said:

    One agent has had my full for more than a year and a half. Yeah… she WAS my dream agent. Ha ha ha. Way to crush a dream. Anyhow, she’s been written off. I sent her a rejection after sixteen months. It went something like this.

    Dear agent,

    Thanks so much for requesting my full MS sixteen months ago. Since you haven’t had time to read my manuscript in all of those months, or even to respond to my nudges… ” (I was VERY patient, only sending nudges every four months or so) “…I can only assume that you too busy to be my agent, thus, not the right agent for me…”

    Now, I can proudly sat that I have rejected an agent. It hurts, but hey–it feels a lot better than checking my email for a message from her every day.

  16. Suzette Saxton said:

    Thank you for this post, Kristin, and for bravely telling what no agent has told before. 😉

    Way to go, Wiggy!

    Tabitha, while many agents don’t publish response times, there is a free website that collects data on this so it is easy to see how long agents *really* take to respond:

    http://querytracker.net

  17. Stephanie said:

    I had a request for a full and never heard & never heard. So I wrote a follow-up e-mail, polite but firm w/o being pushy. No reply. So I wrote to the head of the agency, said that Agent D asked for a full, which I sent on this date, that he never replied and that my follow-up was unanswered. She wrote back telling me that he’d “left the agency” and she offered to look at the first 10k as an apology. So you never know why there’s no reply.

    I don’t think a reply is too much to ask for. On a query? Maybe not but when you have a full out with him/her? Yeah.

  18. Anonymous said:

    I am glad the Kristen confirmed that some agents sit on full manuscripts waiting to see if any other agents bite. I had two instances (so far) where highly recommended agents requested a full or the first 50 pages and then never responded.

    In both cases I sent a very polite “just checking in” notice and was promptly rewarded with an apology and a “not interested, but I am sure another agent will be” note. It made me wonder if my follow-up query was the kiss of death.

    I assume most writers, like me, start by querying their top choices for representation. That said, I wonder if it is better to not follow up too soon and leave the door open should some other buzz get generated around your manuscript.

    Certainly, I have decided that in the future all my follow-up notes will mention either a blog, website, or some other activity that I am pursuing to help support the publication of my manuscript.

  19. Demo said:

    One thing I would like to get is simply better responses. I have no ego about being rejected, and actually listen to critique, but it would be nice to actually get rejections in the first place. In many cases I never hear back. I’d really like to hear “why”.
    If my writing lacks any element, has some error, or simply isn’t “it” I would really love to know. Not just to identify the demands of the agent or publisher, but to absorb that critique and ensure that the works I produce increase in quality.

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