Pub Rants

An Actual No Means No–For Us Anyway

 49 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: Chutney is asleep. I need to follow that example.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? COULD YOU BE LOVED? by Bob Marley and the Wailers

Today I took fellow literary agent, Kate Testerman, out to lunch. We even had a pint of beer (Kate) and a glass of wine (Kristin) to celebrate.

Why? Because her author Ransom Riggs has a novel that’s been slowly climbing up to the #2 spot on the NYT list for the past 12 weeks. #1 spot is within spitting distance.

I would be talking about Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

Darn right we need to celebrate that. After all, we agents are notoriously bad at actually doing celebratory moments to acknowledge our achievements but can cite every book we passed on that then became successful. LOL.

So it was an enforced celebration because hitting the NYT list is an achievement. Staying on for 12 straight weeks is an achievement. Have sales increase rather than decrease over that 12 weeks is huge and last but not least, hello! The #1 spot is not out of reach.

If you haven’t, you might want to buy this book this week is all I’m saying.

So Sara and I are out with Kate celebrating this amazing debut when Kate mentions there is a brouhaha going on about an agent’s policy to respond to every query or simply say “no response is a No” and authors should move on.

I gotta get myself on twitter. I’m always missing the hoopla.

Actually it was more of a discussion than a brouhaha but it was causing comments aplenty.

Our stance? We respond but that’s mainly because I have the amazing Anita who screens all queries and pulls out the ones I actually need to look at. Without that, trust me, I’d probably seriously consider the “no response means a No.”

We can get upwards to 200 queries a day.

That’s crazy people!

This day alone we received 4 calls from nonfiction writers with deals on the table looking for an agent.

We don’t even rep nonfiction and none of them were memoir. How on earth do people find us is what I want to know.

Now if Sara and I read a partial or a full manuscript, we do offer a line or two on why we are passing but trust me, when I’ve read 12 submissions and I know it’s going to take me at least 40 minutes to type in my one or two lines of feedback, I seriously consider whether it’s worth the time.

I could just hit the NO button and be done. Trust me, it’s tempting. Very very tempting.

But for now, we still add the line. If I were a writer, which I’m not, I’d so appreciate that personal note. So we keep that in mind but we aren’t inured to the day when that might not be a possibility.

49 Responses

  1. Angie Cothran said:

    As a querying author I appreciate your thoughtfulness. But I also understand how “no reply means no” and I’m okay with that too. I want someone to rep me who LOVES my MS and if that isn’t a certain agent, that’s okay too. I believe we should all be considerate of others time 🙂

  2. Anonymous said:

    As a published author who queried you many a times, I can assure you: you do not always offer a line when you reject a partial or a full. I know this from personal experience.

    It’s not a problem; many agents are the same way. I just feel a need to point out the inaccuracy of that statement.

  3. Kathleen Bittner Roth said:

    Two comments here:

    1. I totally understand the no response is a no, but puleeze (pretty please) if agents will just acknowledge receipt of the query, I then know for certain it was received and not lost in cyberspace. Thanks.

    2. Just posted this on Facebook:
    OMG! Just read Pub Rants (Nelson Literary Agency) where Kristin recommended a book set to hit NY times #1: “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.” On to Amazon to peek inside the cover. Awesome! There are wants, needs and requirements in one’s life. This is definitely required reading for me!

  4. Anonymous said:

    Can I just say that
    I was also listening to “Could you be loved?” at the time that I am reading this post. How coincidental could some things be?

  5. Ebony McKenna. said:

    I completely understand why some agents are saying ‘no response means no’. It’s their prerogative to operate that way.

    200 queries a day? If you spent only 1 minute reading (skimming) then auto-responding to each one, that’s three and a half hours of the day gone.

    One person can’t do that and represent their existing clients. So you have assistants to deal with most of it – which will mean authors get even more upset because ‘the agent didn’t even see it, the assistant rejected me’.

    I honestly don’t think you can win. Certainly, you’ll never please anyone, and if you try you’ll go mad.

    It’s your business, you run it however you want.

  6. Natalie Aguirre said:

    I appreciate that you and Sara take the time to add a personal touch. And do all the query critiques in your web seminars.

    You’ve had lots of great news lately. Congrats!

  7. Jeni said:

    I am so excited to read this book. This week is my birthday; based on the trailer alone, which I watched yesterday, I’ll buy this book as a birthday treat.

    I do appreciate the one or two lines of personal response for a full or partial request that is being rejected. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

  8. Anonymous said:

    Well, I think you should be glad you receive so many queries. That’s how you get business, right? It’s a good thing there are so many authors seeking your representation and not just hiring a good editor and self-publishing.

  9. Anne A said:

    Ooo, I gotta get that book. It looks amazing! Will try to help and get it this week…

    And as for agent responses, I agree with Kathleen: of course I appreciate a response, but an automatic acknowledgement of arrival is priceless, especially if “no response means no”. I’ve had email messages go awry for all sorts of reasons, including the time we got a message saying sorry, but several thousand messages had been found “stuck” on an outgoing server (“stuck”, what like in honey? How does an email message get stuck?). So knowing that it actually arrived sets aside the wondering.

    Also, glad to hear you give personal notes. As a writer, I greatly appreciate any feedback to help in my quest of constantly trying to improve my work.

  10. Delia said:

    I’ve had my eye on that book. How can you not want a book with such an amazingly, subtly creepy cover? Plus, I’ve heard good things about what’s inside. It’s gorgeous, and it’s on my list.

  11. Cassandra said:

    The discussion is not about leaving a line of comments. It’s about agents having a policy of no response whatsoever if they’re not interested, not even a “No, thanks”, leaving the author to wonder whether the query has not been read yet or was even received. Nobody commenting on any of the three primary blogs involved (as of midnight, Sept 12/13) was saying that agents should always explain a pass.

    It started when the wonderful Rachelle Gardner posted an explanation of why she has a “no response means no” policy (essentially, not enough time). The wonderful Janet Reid rebutted with, among other arguments, instructions on how to set up an automated “no, thanks” reply that would take less than 10 seconds. The wonderful Nathan Bransford highlighted both posts and invited comments.

    Hundreds of replies indicated that virtually every writer wants an automated acknowledgment that the query reached the agent, and that if an agent has a NR=N policy it should (1) be clearly stated in their submission guidelines and (2) include a time frame –like “If you haven’t heard from us in 6 weeks consider it a pass”. The great majority (including me) seem to think that, given that a five-second automated rejection is possible, agents should use it. It’s part of the job.

    Nobody is holding out for personal replies to queries. Now, requested full manuscripts are another matter …

    And, you did pass on my query with personal comments. Which keeps you way at the top of my list for the future. Thank you.

  12. Joseph L. Selby said:

    Cassandra sums up the issue accurately. Janet’s position on “it takes too much time” is also accurate, and I think a little generous. She says it should take no more than three seconds to reply with an auto-rejection, where someone who sifts the slush on a regular basis should really be able to accomplish this in two or even one second with an efficient rhythm.

    But we’ll leave it at Janet’s generous three seconds. Hit the reply button. Select the auto-reject signature. Hit send. The end.

    At 200 queries per day and three seconds per query, responding to those queries with an auto-rejection takes 10 minutes out of Anita’s day.

    Claims of “but then people respond to that rejection and that wastes more of my time” are erroneous for two reasons. One, no response elicits emails asking for confirmation of reception or even re-querying, so that washes out (or may even generate more emails, who knows). Second, any response to those follow up emails shows a lack of discipline on the agent’s part and not a fault of sending an auto-reject. Delete any replies and move on with your day. I hear you’re busy.

    And as Janet pointed out and which I whole-heartedly support, an agent that replies, even if it’s an auto-reply, moves to the top of my querying list. And while she may not have wanted this submission, the next one may be the book that hit’s the NYTBSL and she’ll get first dibs because of the three seconds she spent replying to me.

  13. Bluestocking said:

    I’ve been fortunate enough to get a few lines of personal feedback on a partial from Sarah, and that was SO valuable to me and my craft.

    I understand the logistics of such a huge volume of queries can prohibit your ability to respond, but the respect you show to querying authors by responding is priceless. Even if it is a rejection. There’s nothing more dehumanizing than no response.

  14. Alex said:

    I don’t think it’s that big a deal for an agent to have a NR=N policy, so long as they state that on their site. If they don’t I would say they shouldn’t get upset if the same author where to requery.

    I keep all my queries on an XL spreed sheet tracking the dates sent, so it’s not really a thing for me, maybe others might though.

    I do however think at least a few lines of feedback on a requested partial and certainly a full should TRY to be given.

    I feel at that point a relationship has been developed between the author agent budding as it may be, so a NO deserves an explanation.

    I received a form rejection on a requested partial and that really didn’t feel good.

  15. Judy Sizemore said:

    I am an actress, and the rule has always been “no response, no job.” I’m used to this treatment, although I must say that the occasional director who calls to say they loved me and will keep me in mind for another project is greatly appreciated.

  16. Lucy said:

    I’m perfectly willing to go with “no personalized or form response means no,” but please, when that day comes, make sure your autoresponder is set up to let us know the query got there. It will save time, doubts, and wondering if maybe we really should re-query, just in case.

    I will add that the sheer volume of queries agents are fielding these days sort of stuns me. And you all have my sympathies–even as I prepare to join the slushpile.

  17. Stephanie J. Blake said:

    When I was first starting out, a very kind personalized “your writing is very good and you have a lot of potential” response from Sara was very encouraging.

    Thank you.

    P.S. Agents owe non-clients nothing.

  18. Jonathan Dalar said:

    As an author, I would much rather have a response than not. No response leaves a guy hanging. Did the agent even get my carefully scripted, agonizingly word-smithed query, or did it disappear into the netherworld of teh interwebz?

    I can easily handle a form response. Just format it to say “Dear Author,” or whatever. Cool. Got it. I really appreciate you letting me know you’re not interested so I can move on in the query process, even if I have several others out.

    I’d be absolutely delighted in a personal response. That gives me more of an indication of what I’m doing that just didn’t catch your attention enough, and that’s a gold mine for us unpubbed types.

    But bottom line for me, I really appreciate the quick “no” email in my inbox, even if it’s zagged off between 200+ other queries and celebratory beers. And yes, it can have some impact on who I query.

  19. rictheturtleryan said:

    First, How do so many people find you? Duh!!!!!You write articles for Writer’s Digest. Some of us actually read it and in moments of desperation, like needing an agent, might dig through the pile and find one, It might even be you. That is how I started reading your blog sometime back.
    Second, As a couple of the comments mentioned the auto reply button only takes a second. As I do some online business I solved the problem for me. I made a Word Document in which I typed a number of short replies. I open the document cut and paste the appropriate message and I have wasted minimal time. It helps me. I really like your blog, in fact it is on my dashboard. Keep up the good work and quir traveling so much. I hate the long periods with no entries…..Thanks, Ric

  20. Michael G-G said:

    Fight the temptation.

    You get 200 plus queries a day because you write a great blog, represent wonderful authors, and are a nice person (at least that was my impression when I listened to you at a Willamette Writers conference when you were starting out.)

    I actually think responding, even if it’s a “no” is good karma (since karma seems to be part of the intial agent’s post.)

    And Anita’s a godsend!

  21. Dustin Hansen said:

    Like the rest of the people on this list, I’ve had both forms of the rejection. To be honest, I’m fine either way.

    However, the “one or two lines of feedback” provided by Kristin were thoughtful, encouraging and directive.

    The NR=N from other agents simply got them scratched off the list for future queries.

    I’m forever grateful for the few minutes Kristin provided. It impacted me in a very positive manner.

    Great, now you all know Kristin rejected my MS 🙂

  22. Matthew MacNish said:

    As a writer I would love to get a response to every query, but as a realist I simply could not imagine being an agent and responding to that many queries.

    I can barely respond to all the email I get, and I’m nobody.

  23. Agent Kristin said:

    Anonymous 12:16

    It’s easy for something to slip through the cracks I’m sure but my statement is not inaccurate.

    It says “Now if Sara and I read a partial or a full manuscript, we do offer a line or two on why we are passing.”

    30 page submissions are screened by Anita. If she reads it and doesn’t forward it to Sara or I, then it’s just a standard NO response.

    Maybe Sara doesn’t add that line (I haven’t checked with her on that in awhile) but if I have read it, I always include a line about why I’m passing.

    For Full manuscripts, both Sara and I write a personal note explaining why we are passing. We keep our letters on file for future reference.

  24. Brenda McKenna said:

    I’ve never posted before, but I have to say: comments from you and other agents on full manuscripts helped me make a much stronger book. I understand that your sentences are a gift, and they’re invaluable for a first-time author like me!

    So thank you. And Anita and Sara, too. Sometimes it’s easy for a writer to get caught up in the bitterness of rejection, but if agents like you can be so understanding of what it’s like to be submitting, surely those of us who are submitting can imagine what it’s like to read 200+ queries a day…

    Authors should be good at empathy–we write fiction! Or we should, if we’re submitting to the Nelson agency. 🙂

  25. Ruthanne Reid said:

    I’ve appreciated the rejections I got from you. 🙂 Silence is really, really hard to take – especially when it’s silence on a full manuscript request (not from you, but from others). Your time is very, VERY appreciated!

  26. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    I always wonder if “no response” has a time limit. It would be sad if an agent finally responds only to discover that the would-be client had signed with another agent during the interim.

  27. Nicole said:

    While I love getting an actual response, I don’t mind a “No is no” policy. But what bugs me is when the agent webpage (or anywhere else for that matter) doesn’t state their policy. I never know if no response means no or if my email got lost in the spam filter.

  28. Doug said:

    When an agent has requested a partial or a full, it is just plain wrong for that agent to not respond (however briefly). This has nothing to do with the publishing industry or bad writing; it has everything to do with common courtesy and treating others with respect. I’d rather have agents make fewer requests than get so overwhelmed that no time is left for basic politeness.


  29. Anonymous said:

    I can see some legitimate argument for a no response means no policy. What’s astonishing is how testy agents get when a query hasn’t been painstakingly researched and personalized…and then those same agents send a form reject on a partial or full. To me, that represents a serious imbalance of power and a lack of regard for writers. No wonder writers are jumping on the ebook revolution.

  30. Elissa M said:

    I’m surprised by the number of writers (not necessarily in the comments here) who feel entitled to an agent’s time. Yes, I spend hours on my queries. Yes, it’s disheartening to not even receive a response. Until there’s an actual contract signed, why should I expect an agent to treat me like someone other than another one of the anonymous horde of writers with a computer?

    I get that we writers can be a sensitive lot, it’s part of being creative. But the minute you want money for your art, you need to stop being sensitive and get on the pragmatic bus. Business is business, and agents have the right to run their business any way they see fit.

  31. Ellen said:

    I’m a happily represented author so I have no skin in the game, but I’m infuriated by the agents who say they don’t have time to send out form rejections. I don’t have a second to spare in my day either, but when I walk through a door I pause to hold it open for the person behind me. Why? Because if we don’t take the time to treat people with civility and respect we’ve got nothing.

  32. Jamie Lewis said:

    I suppose this is as good a place as any to ask–browsing through your website, I was under the impression that you were the type of agent to respond to every query with a yes or no. However, I’m wondering if it’s actually practice for your agency to move past the queries that aren’t right without responding? Obviously this is very standard procedure, I’m just curious as to which way you run your business. 🙂

  33. Kristi Helvig said:

    I LOVED that book and recommended it on our blog a few weeks back! As far as responses to queries go, my feeling is if you follow query guidelines and are professional, you deserve a response–even if it’s a no.

  34. Christine said:

    I loved Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I keep shoving my copy at my husband and saying, “You have to read this. I need someone to talk to about this book.” Alas, he isn’t interested. Not enough explosions and car chases, I guess.

  35. Daeanarah said:

    I am curious, has any agent thought to use speech recognition that comes with their computer to type, or dictate a response, click on send via email, or have what you dictate typed into the body of the email?
    I would love a response, even if its one or two lines, which could say, sorry not at this time. which gives me hope that perhaps in a few months I could query with a different ms.
    Anyway I was just curious thanks for blogging about this.

  36. Lyndia Titus said:

    I find myself inspired by the little things: a fresh sheet of paper does me wonders. But what really intrigues me is nature. Have you ever just stopped and listened? I mean really listen and looked at your surroundings! There is inspiration all around us. The freshly cut blades of grass, the weary smells, airplanes, the wind, moon, and stars. My inspiration is life and just having the ability to geer my mind to whatever ends I desire.

  37. Anonymous said:

    I’ve never gotten so much as a sentence of personalized response from any agent I’ve queried (I guess my writing doesn’t have any potential). It doesn’t really matter to me if the agent has a NR-N policy or sends form rejections, since I don’t have any idea what I’m doing wrong either way. I see nothing wrong with a NR-N policy as long as it is clearly stated on the agent’s web site.

    On the other hand, if you’re an agent, even if you clearly state that you have a NR-N policy on your web site, you’re still going to get inundated with “did you get my query” emails because we all know that some writers don’t read. :)I think a form response letter that says “We’ve received your query and if you don’t hear from us in x weeks, we’ve decided to pass” might work better. (I’ve received emails like this in the past and thought they were very efficient.) If you send a response, even an automated one, people WILL read that.

  38. Jessica Brady said:

    I think this is where the distinction between “writing as a hobby” and “writing as a professional” comes in. If you’re attempting to get published, then you’re treating writing as a potential job.

    And if writing is your job – or at least your second job – then there’s no real need to treat it differently than any other career. Anyone who’s been on the job hunt during the downturn will know that lack of contact means lack of interest on the employer’s part. Agents and publishers don’t necessarily need to feel guilty for the “no response means no” policy. You may not be employers in the traditional sense, but it’s a similar process.

    That said, in the age of digital submissions, it’s good to get SOME kind of response letting us know that our project didn’t fall into an internet crack, never to be seen again. Going back to the “real job” comparison, most companies that do digital hiring will send you some kind of message that lets you know your application was properly received.

    Everyone likes a personal touch, though, because we writers are creature of fragile ego. If you have enough time for form rejections, I say embrace that for as long as you can. Just don’t feel guilty when time runs out.

  39. John said:

    A very good way to align yourself with the high-efficiency impersonal profit-driven corporate types is to justify omission of simple etiquette on the grounds that it’s more efficient/saves time/saves money/no one cares.

    Go ahead, if that’s where you want to fall in the professional spectrum.

  40. Vivian said:

    This got me thinking. As someone who’s been rejected dozens of times, sometimes by agents who sent a form letter and sometimes by agents who had a NR-N policy, I actually preferred the latter. I think it’s because you don’t actually have to look at the rejection letter. Yes, you will eventually realize that enough time has past that they’re just not interested, but somehow, for me at least, that was much easier than reading yet another form rejection letter. Maybe it’s a psychological thing. I would rather get no response than get another rejection letter.

    That’s just my opinion, but if Ms. Nelson or any other agent thinks an NR-N policy would save the agency time, I say go for it.

  41. Anonymous said:

    I wish all agencies that practiced NR-N policy would at least have an auto-responder stating the query was received and if you’ve not heard from us in 6 weeks, it’s a pass. Keep it moving! 🙂