When agents respond to queries

Poll time: How valuable is it when agents send form rejection letters?

At both agencies I’ve worked at we respond to query letters with form rejections. I know there is a movement not to respond: a ‘no answer means no’ policy. So how important is a rejection letter to you? Share your feedback in the comments section or answer the poll here.

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44 thoughts on “When agents respond to queries

  1. I personally feel closure when I receive a rejection letter. I don’t have that nagging fear, “Did they even get my query letter? Maybe I should send it again?” Rejection may sting, but it’s nice to know it WAS rejected.

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    1. This is my opinion as well. Not much of a sting … I assume the agent is acting in our mutapual interest in seeking a good match. But it seems polite to withdraw proposals once an arrangement is found, so it is good for an argent to indicate rejection. A short form email is fine.

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      1. Those are always a comfort to receive, too :-) If I get an auto response like that, then the rejection email isn’t as important. However, I still like to receive one just to sure it was rejected and I can mark that agent/agency off my list. Again, all about closure. There’s no lingering sense of “I wonder if…”

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  2. With automated email, there’s no reason not to send at least a form rejection. Then at least I know the agent got the query and read it and the agent knows I know that and will not need to contact her again.

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  3. Even a form rejection is a big help. Besides the clarity that the query was received and the sense of closure, receiving a rejection can also help speed things along with new queries. At some agencies, you can query more than one agent, but not simultaneously. If the agent has a “no response means no” policy without a clear timeline, it’s hard to guess when the next query can be sent. Even if there is a timeline, the agent may be faster. Maybe the agent has mentally rejected a query within three weeks, but without a written rejection, the querier has to wait the full three months (or whatever the timeline is) to be sure the deadline is up.

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  4. I appreciate a form rejection because then I can notate for my records and move on. I know there are several stages for the agency and it is helpful to receive a response. In this day and age, form emails are mandatory in all areas of business so I do not take it personally. :-)

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  5. If it’s a no, I like being able to mark it off. However, I’m ok with a no response policy if it’s clearly stated and gives a time frame within which to mark it as a no. It only drives me crazy if there isn’t a clearly stated policy or time frame. Then I wonder if I should follow up or not.

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  6. It’s just nice to know one way or the other, even if it’s a form rejection. Then I know I can move on. The personalized rejections are godsends, because it tells me what needs work or why a particular ms was rejected.

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  7. Agreed, it seems a simple matter to send off a form rejection and the issue of closure is huge. Writers need to know if it’s a no, not keep silly hope alive, even if in our hearts we know it’s a no. I think it shows some respect from the agents too – after all we’re expected to follow their rules of submission. I don’t think it’s a big ask to expect a formal rejection, especially in this day and age of form emails. Seriously, it’s a couple of seconds to add in the name and address and then send.
    Personalised rejections are amazing even if the no is still a no – it’s a don’t give up no and that all helps.

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  8. I responded “very important” to the poll, but will only follow-up if it is the agent/agency policy to respond to every query.

    For agencies that choose the “respond only if interested” policy” (and given query numbers, it is understandable that some do), it would be considerate of them to set up an auto-receipt email (as some agencies have already done) so at least writers would know that their email query (the vast majority now, I think) was received and not lost in cyberspace.

    Thanks for this informative poll (and for being in the we respond to every query camp).

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  9. Understandably agents have a lot to do and read, but it’s always nice to get closure like others have stated and just know to mark it off their lists. And sometimes the form rejections or even a brief polite rejection can mean a lot in terms of moving forward with this book or knowing what the agent’s interests are as well. From our end, as submitters, it never hurts to get some contact good or bad.

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  10. Often I’ve had agents say that if you haven’t heard from us in six weeks then it’s a no go. I don’t particularly like the form letter either, although it’s a step better than no answer but doesn’t tell me much about what needs to be done on my MS.

    I understand that agents are overworked. Everyone wants to get their book published.

    Lately, what I’ve been getting is your premise is interesting but not for me at this time. I don’t really know what this means. Should I ask why not?

    Maybe it would be good to have a list of code language of what agents really mean when they say “not for me at this time” or something else. Sort of like when a guy is not interested in you he’ll say something like let’s call each other. And then of course, when he never calls you’re suppose to guess that he’s just not into you.

    Interesting post, Carly.

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  11. Dear Carly, In this practically post-SASE age of one-click, split-second robo-automation there is absolutely no excuse for the rudeness of not responding at all. Your agency’s form reply, by the way, is classy, kind and encouraging – and that is how it should be. Agents and publishers who have time to tweet and text should take the time to briefly acknowledge a submission with a nod to common human decency and a modicum of compassion. Praying that the “non-reply” is rejected for the unacceptably arrogant behavior that it is.

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  13. I welcome any comments that will help me become a better writer. When you don’t get any feedback it can be hard to figure out where you are going wrong. And yes, we do all worry about whether an agent has received our much slaved over manuscript.
    Now I only send things to agents I already know will reply even if it’s a no.
    Personally, I think it’s rude not to respond!

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  14. I’m with the majority here. At least by getting the form letter, I know that my work has made it to the proper destination. Even though it’s a “form” letter, it is a source of feedback.

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  15. No reply doesn’t really bother me; hey, if that’s your agency’s policy for whatever reason, cool. Actual rejections are rather important for me. It’s not that I need closure, it’s just that they tell me more than no response. Each one by itself may not tell me anything, but together they can paint a better picture of why they’re being rejected, even if it’s the “sorry, not for me” variety.

    If I get a bunch of rejections telling me the timing is wrong, or that the agent liked it but represented too many things similar, or that they loved the premise but was overworked with current clients, I can work with that. That tells me I’m probably on the right track, and it often lets me know what tweaks I can give the query or story to make it work even better.

    If I get rejection after rejection saying “thanks, but no thanks” or “sorry, not right for the agency” (often a polite code for “aw, hell no, this sucks”) then I may have something that isn’t working. A larger number of those types of queries tell me I have some work to do before either query or story is where it needs to be.

    So while I don’t gripe about no responses or ping the agents if I don’t get one after a set amount of time, I would very much rather have a rejection, even if it’s the “aw, hell no, this sucks” variety.

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  16. I’ve always thought that agents who have the “only respond if interested” policy are being disrespectful of writers. After all, without writers, agents wouldn’t have anything on their plates. For agents that don’t send at least a form rejection, there’s nothing to indicate to the writer that his or her query was even read. For all we know, the agent could just funnel all queries into an auto-delete script unread. I certainly hope there aren’t any agents out there who do that, but again it comes down to respect. My own policy has always been not to query agents that espouse the “only respond if interested” pattern. I figure that if an agent can’t be bothered to at least send a form rejection, which is the least painful and most clear way to tell anyone “no,” I don’t want that agent potentially representing me.

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  17. I agree with what has been said. I like a thanks-but-no-thanks letter just to give me certainty that the submission/enquiry has been received and to enable me to move on…closure if you like. I appreciate how difficult it can be with so much traffic coming thro’ an agent’s office. I’ve started putting a stamped, addressed “reply” postcard in with my submissions with Yes, No, Maybe options. Sadly most of my postcards have the instincts of a homing pigeon and fluttered home with a No :)

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  18. I don’t necessarily follow up if I don’t hear back because I know of the “no response=no”, but I’d far rather get that form reject than nothing at all.

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  19. You rejected me! No hard feelings. I appreciated getting the form. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, if you look at Query Tracker a lot of agents DO respond to queries (sometimes positively) *after* the stated length of time on their website. If the agent says 6-8 weeks, and it’s been 7 weeks, and the author gets an offer of representation… should we alert the recipient of that 7-week-old query? In that case, if the author assumes it’s a no when the agent has actually been too busy to respond, the agent may also lose out on an MS they would have liked!

    It’s also good to let us know how our query’s doing. I’ve got 5 requests and 9 rejections right now, which looks pretty good… but if some of those “still out” agents have actually rejected my query, it might mean that my query letter is weaker than I thought it was. If ALL agents start turning to “no response means no,” authors aren’t going to know how well their queries are working… and a heads-up that a weak query (for a great novel) needs work could again, help both author and agent… if that query gets cleared up, the MS may land in the right hands. Everyone wins!

    And finally, it seems kind of cold and holier-than-thou. I know that I have DEFINITELY prioritized agents who are known to respond when sending out my queries. We are not supposed to send a “Dear Agent” letter, and yet agents can’t be bothered to send a “Dear Author”? (Bonus points if it’s polite and encouraging and they copy-paste my name, but at the very least, “No thank you”?) So, I choose to query agents who are known to respond first. Again, it’s not just the agent… if authors choose NOT to query certain agents (or at least not to query them first) because they want a response and the agent does not give one… the agent loses out as well. Books they may have been interested in will end up going to the responders first. (I know not every author does that. I also know that SOME DO.)

    Just my two cents. I’m glad that I can check you off my list and look forward to trying someone else.

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  20. This is business, and as such, it makes sense to be courteous and reply to writers. When an agency’s/magazine’s submission guidelines say that they don’t respond to queries, it makes me feel like a pesky vacuum cleaner salesperson who’s knocked on their door during the dinner hour. Even the New Yorker responds, and while they have more staff, they’re also flooded with submissions.
    Are we pests or your livelihood? As a writer, it’s a turn off.
    Thanks for replying to queries, Carly, even if it’s a form letter. This writer appreciates it.

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  21. Doesn’t form rejection letters also serve the agent in avoiding repeat queries? No response does not mean no to everyone. No response may mean you didn’t see it, didn’t consider it, and need to see it again, and again. If form rejections reduced the number of queries I received a year, I would definitely keep that practice.

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  22. Even with the auto response, I still like to get a form rejection. I can think of a hundred ways a query can get lost or overlooked after it’s received. (I’m a writer. An overactive imagination is an occupational hazard.) A rejection lets me know it was read. And, like others mentioned, it shows respect. I understand that agents are all busy, but getting the acknowledgement—even if it’s negative—feels a little more human in a sometimes discouraging process.

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  23. I personally appreciate a rejection email as opposed to silence. It’s wonderful to have that automatic response ensuring me it didn’t get lost on the way. And in the same way, it’s so helpful to know the agent (or at least, the agent’s slush reader) has decided it’s not for them. As many others have said, closure is important. The very first request I ever received was sent by the agent 6 months after I queried her. I think it’s very helpful to know one way or another.

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  24. I got a rejection letter a few months ago on my MS, not a form letter at all. It was brilliant.

    She actually told me the problems in my sample chapters, and she was absolutely right, so I’ve been spending the last few months changing my MS. When she pointed out the problem, I noticed a few more and I’ve been able to improve my story’s beginning structure and I hope to start re-submitting queries in March.

    I’ll send it to her first, of course, and maybe my MS isn’t still going to ring her bells, but I will be forever grateful for the constructive criticism. It was huge.

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  25. I’m late on this post, but I’m dumbfounded by the agents who don’t even have an auto-reply that the query was received. If I’ve spent a few hours, or even days, researching an agent and personalizing my query, it would be nice to know it’s at least received. I then also know not to query other agents at this agency, especially if I then see a tweet or #MSWL that an agent at that agency is looking for what sounds like my MS. How am I supposed to know that my query, which was potentially sent months before to a different agent, was even received? Agents have a very long list of prerequisites they want from writers, and it’s time- and energy-consuming to keep track of them all (especially as they are different from agency to agency) and yet at least 70 percent of agencies can’t be bothered to let you know they got your query. There must be something behind it – perhaps too many pingbacks or ‘I’m on vacation’ emails. It would also be nice if agencies had ‘we do not respond at all to queries we’re not interested in’ warnings on their websites so we could at least know who to avoid if we want.

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