In this month’s SCBWI bulletin, the heads of SCBWI, Stephen Mooser and Lin Oliver, penned an open letter to the industry, expressing their thoughts on the response policies of agents and editors, particularly those who have a No-Response-Means-No policy.

In in a professional and tactful way, they basically said the No-Response-Means-No method of rejection is unprofessional, unnecessary, and inconsiderate of the writer’s time and efforts. In this day and age, all anyone has to do is click a button to send an automated response. This at least lets the writer know that their work was received and looked at.

I’m all for agents and editors giving some kind of response, even a short form letter. Some writers get their undies in a knot over a form letter, but that never bothered me. At least it told me that they got my query/book and someone looked at it (maybe.) But a no response causes me to question whether they even got the query at all, and that thought process can be maddening. What if they would have loved it and it’s stuck in cyberspace?! #$%@!

But then SCBWI also had this argument, which I found intriguing and somewhat perplexing:

From the writer’s point of view, never hearing back encourages us to undertake multiple submissions so as not to waste time waiting for an answer that may never come.

To say that the No-Response-Means-No method “encourages us to undertake multiple submissions” is a bit misleading in my opinion. Most writers would do multiple submissions in any case and I believe agents and editors have come to terms with it. Sometimes the average response time for an agent is 3-6 months, and not only because they have a mile-high pile of queries, but because they have work to do for their already existing clients. If I were to have queried one agent at a time before I hit the right one, it would have taken me years to find my agent. Even in the magazine market it can take months for a response.

So let’s not strike a deal where agents and editors say they’ll always respond if we’ll just query one at a time. That’s not practical. But it is practical to push a button, a form rejection auto-response. I’m trying to think under what circumstances this doesn’t make sense. I’m lead to assume that these agents and editors don’t look at all their queries, and the No-Response-Means-No method is a way to release them of any burden to respond to those they don’t look at. Hey, that’s their right. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge any agent or editor for not looking at something. Unlike some, I don’t think they owe the writers querying them anything at all. It could be their loss in the end.

But even so, most agencies and publishers take email submissions and unless their queries go directly to spam, they still have to click on the “Archive” or “Trash” button. Wouldn’t sending an auto-response be just as easy? One click. That’s all it takes to just say “I saw this. I’m not interested.” I don’t even care if it’s nice. We writers just like clear communication. That’s what writing is all about, isn’t it? Sending a message, even if people don’t like it.

Can anyone think of a reason why the No-Response-Means-No makes any sense at all? I’m really interested to know.

Oh, I just thought of something! Maybe they fear any kind of actual rejection, even a form one, will cause some writers to respond with malicious emails. We’re a passionate, funny bunch. Janet Reid has posted some pretty funny ones. I can see that as a reason maybe. Still, I don’t think that many people do that. Or maybe they do?


10 comments

    • Jess

    • November 9, 2011

    • 1:23 pm

    Maybe you’re right! Either way, I think that publishing will always be a long and tiring process and that even an automated response saying that they at least SAW your work would be nice!

  1. I think a lot of agents have gone to the no-response-means-no policy for precisely the reason you mentioned – because writers respond to those form rejections with hate mail and/or solicitations for free advice.

    The thing about no-response-means-no agents is, I don’t have to query them if I don’t want to. At this point, if I see on QueryTracker or Absolute Write that an agent has a history of not responding, that agent moves far down my to-query list. I already know of a lot of good agents who do respond, so why give myself unnecessary worry? I’m not saying I’d never query a no-response-means-no agent, because a lot of good, reputable agents have gone to this policy, but they definitely aren’t the first agents I query.

  2. I kind of like the way Weronika Janczuk is handling queries now. It’s not as nice as a response from my perspective, but it’s better than total silence.

    Her email sends an automated response to say that she received the query and will read it. Then she posts on her website the date through which she has read all queries. If it’s after the date you sent yours and you didn’t get another response, it’s a no.

  3. I don’t understand it either. If you ever find out the real answer let us know 🙂

  4. Krista, that makes sense.

    Ben, I agree. Anything is better than nothing. Nothing is torture!

  5. I’m kind of torn on the issue, but I lean toward being okay with agents giving no response as long as they’re some sort of indication that they received the query and a timeframe for their response. As long as writers are given some idea of when they should cross that agent off their list, than cool.

  6. I actually don’t mind the “no response” means “no” as long as I get an auto-response stating they got my email. Agents are so pressed for time. SO MUCH of what they do is unpaid and sending hundreds of one-click rejection emails adds up.

    AND SPEAKING OF AGENTS!! I JUST GOT ONE! 🙂 Just posted…

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  8. You know, I don’t really mind no response means no. I totally understand it and since I did submit to multiple agents, it wasn’t like I was salivating over my email box for one reply in particular. Of course, I appreciated the replies I did get, but if the agent states their policy on their website, I didn’t hold my breath. 🙂

    Amy

  9. I’ve never liked the “no-response-means-no” tactic. I’m one of those people who hates loose ends, and to me querying someone and not even getting an automated ‘no thank you’ feels like a loose end. You’re left wondering if the agent even got the manuscript.

    I suppose the agents are worried about hate-mail, but if they have any internet presence at all, they can receive hate messages any time of the day or night. Disgruntled writers can find them and harass them on Twitter, their blog, or just leave bad reviews on Querytracker. So, the hate-mail excuse isn’t very strong to me. They need to think up another reason.

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