Thursday, November 17, 2011

Scott Chimes in on No Response = No Controversy

I am not one who normally jumps in on something such as this, but I do believe this time I will. This is in response to the SCBWI Open letter Controversy on the No Response=No issue from publishers and agents

I have to say, in this case, I personally side with the authors on this one. I am personally someone who thinks the arguments used by publishers and agents such as:
  • Taking the no response option reduces the amount of negative letters I get from my rejections I send out.
  • The time it takes to write a rejection letter is just too time consuming
  • The business world uses this so it is OK if we do. a bunch of garbage.

I for one believe that answering letters is a PROFESSIONAL thing to do. I also believe that the approach the agents and publishers take when opening the door to submissions can prevent many of these issues.

For example:

We don't have to respond to those negative comments. Most of those are coming from crack-pot writers who will never be successful in the business anyway so why do we even need to respond to them. Along the same lines, if you provide a legitimate reason for rejecting the story, then there is not problem. I also believe that if the guidelines are clear on the publisher or agency website as to what they accept and do not accept, then this can also prevent the problems. Saying "I take everything and I look at everything" or " I want a strong story with strong characters" gives the authors absolutely nothing to work with. Still, this all comes back to the same point I made at the beginning. Why respond?

Secondly, when it comes to a response, it really doesn't take that long. I have timed my reponses and found that it takes me 1 minute to write a response. This is not a "form letter" but often contains similar comments that I say time and time again to authors. Let's face it. Most authors make the same mistakes so the comments I make in rejections will often be very similar.

I should also add that if an agent or a publisher says they take a look at everything, or at conferences, tells every writer to send a full manuscript because they either don't like pitch sessions or don't want to hurt the writers' feelings by telling them no to their face have also opened a door to having to respond.

Finally, the concept that the business world does this so we can do it to is simply a Bandwagon Fallacy. Just because other people do it doesn't make it right.

Look, the solutions are simple.
  • If you think submissions are coming in too fast and furious for you, limit what you take and make it clear to the authors your policy. Here at Greyhaus, I make it very clear, I only take romance and women's fiction. Submit something other than that and you will get a quick form response to that your story is not what I am looking for. End of story.
  • If you think your submission load is too high, quit telling people to send you material.
  • If you have an email system for submissions, put in an auto reponse that tells people that at least the submission made it to your INBOX. I am sorry to say this, but technology is not all that you think it is. Things do get lost. (I sent a fax 4 times to a publisher this week only to find out they had a jam on their end).
  • And if you are a publisher that really isn't open to new authors, then simply tell the public that. You would be surprised, but authors can take the truth.
I know, I will continue to send a response. Initial first time reponses will be "form letters" so don't count on more. If I request more from you, there will be a response. It might only be a couple of lines, but you will get a response.

As always, IMHO,



  1. Thanks, Scott. I really agree with everything you said here. You recently rejected something of mine and I greatly appreciated the professionalism with which you did it.

    I recently sent out several queries, along with the one I sent you. I personalized each letter and only submitted to the handful of agents who take the kind of work I write. I treat querying as a professional endeavor, and it's frustrating to work on queries and submissions and send them out and never hear anything back.

    I work in Corporate America and I have a very full inbox and a lot of balls in the air, myself. So, I understand why people say they do it, but I wish they'd address the underlying problem, not the symptoms--much like the suggestions you give here. My clients in my job would expect no less from me.

  2. In general, I appreciate a response, if only to know that the person I sent something to received my submission. (Technology is so very not what it's cracked up to be, especially if you've got a high volume of email.)

    Can you get away without responding? Sure, people do it all the time, and not just in publishing. But going the extra mile- minute?- to be courteous will do good things for one's reputation.

    In my not so humble opinion, anyway.

  3. I have to agree with the 'it's professional' concept. As writers we hear over and over how important it is to be professional, because publishing is a business.

    If that's the case, all parties should treat it professionally. I don't like working for companies who think that 'no response means no' to job applications, either.

  4. Great post, and I agree that it's professional to send some type of response, even if it's a form rejection letter. That way the author isn't waiting, trying to rationalize, hoping the agent is just taking longer than their posted response time, etc. It gives some closure and is just polite.

  5. Scott, I really appreciated your well thought out argument for why responding is simply the professional thing to do.

    Technology glitches happen--I had two queries get lost in agents' spam boxes and they came back to me 4-6 months later requesting the full. I was lucky they checked their spam boxes.

  6. From the writers' end of things, your approach is much appreciated. Thank you.

  7. I appreciate your philosophy. The "no comment" policy comes across as a "we don't really care about you" statement, even if that is not true or intended. It is one more way of making the unagented writer feel like a non-factor. Agents are nothing without writers, and it is, as Scott says, "professional" to treat writers with at least a bit of courtesy. Thanks for defending authors, Scott!

  8. There's another area of agent "no response" that I find even more upsetting, i.e. an agent you've been working who suddenly goes radio silent. This happened to me with an agent at a very respectable agency, who stopped responding to me about a project she was representing. Three years later I sent her a note to say I had found a publisher (which I did without an agent, though I since started working with a terrifically responsive agent at a Very Big Agency). Even then she did not respond, and this was a novel she had been extremely enthusiastic about. Nevertheless, I thanked her in my acknowledgments, since she had been so supportive and had given me several helpful comments early on. I'm curious if you can offer any explanation for that kind of behavior, beyond rudeness?

  9. Joanne,

    I have to say, I see two issues here. Obviously, no response from the agent isn't something I would agree with. Not sure what would be up with that. My real question is one for you.

    If this is a behavior you have not been happy with, why would you stay with that agent? Clearly this is an issue that disturbed you. If, as you pointed out, it was 3 years that you didn't hear from her, did you contact her during that time? Did you send any project her way? What about WIP's?

    I always stress that the agent-author relationship is a team affair. You both have to be in this together.

    In no way am I placing a blame on you or the agent. I am just looking at this from someone on the outside. Hopefully, you did send emails, updates, current WIP and so forth during those three years.

    Hope that helps??


  10. Thanks, Scott. I think I wasn't clear. After six months of her not responding, which included her assistant taking messages in person, so not just emails or voicemail, I finally sent her a note saying I had enjoyed working with her, but was disappointed that she had apparently lost interest and that I was moving on. I certainly didn't sit there for 3 years thinking she was still my agent! But truly, I can't imagine any other industry where a professional would think it was fine to simply stop communicating with someone they were in the process of doing business with. And I understood if she didn't want to work with me anymore, but I would have appreciated the courtesy of her telling me.

  11. Great argument in favor of professionalism by the folks near the top who should be the most professional. Arguments like "It takes too much time to write even a form letter" prove that the policy against doing so are likely based in laziness.

  12. Joanne,

    You did the right thing to you. I am sorry to hear things didn't work out with the agent, but it does sound like you took the right approach.

    I am not sure what to say about the no response when you left the agency. I guess I can understand. "What more is there to say." I would have to say, though, if someone left my agency, I am not sure either A) why they would contact me just to say they sold a book that I tried to sell; or B) other than a passing conversation at a conference, why I would pass on a congratulations. That working relationship was over.

    Still, in the end, you did the right thing by contacting her first.

    Thank you for the insight from an author's perspective.


  13. Thank you for this post Scott. For new writers, the response and possible feedback is like gold. It says someone out there cared enough to read and respond to a query, partial or full. I just got one of those responses from a well known publisher I'd queried almost four months ago! To me, it tells me this company and/or individual isn't someone I'd like to work with. I hold professionalism and business ethics in high regard for myself. I expect no less from agents, editors or publishers. I keep saying, I believe writing is both an art form AND a business. Both sides need to treat it as such. So, thank you for your detailed and helpful rejection letter Scott. It was taken very seriously and was much appreciated.

  14. I appreciate your opinion on this matter; most writers are prepared to accept rejection, but the nature of that rejection is still important.

    I approached an agent who had a very lengthy list of do's and dont's for the submission process, which I followed to the letter. In addition, she had an entire section dedicated to showing proper respect for her, because her time was very valuable. I put together my query letter with all the requested information and in return I got an e-mail that simply said, "No." There was no greeting, no signature, just a one word response. To me, this was not only unhelpful but rude, as she seems to be implying that while the agent deserved to be treated with kid gloves, the people approaching her are not worthy of anything more than a syllable in response.