What Silence in Publishing Really Means

calendar_agendaThe dreaded silence. Everyone who has submitted a project to an agent, or works in the business knows about silence.

Here’s my guide to what silence from agents and editors really means and why you shouldn’t jump to conclusions:

1. We haven’t read it

This is the most common reason. If you’re nudging an agent after 4 weeks and you think, “4 weeks! They’ve had it forever! They must have read it by now.” Honestly, for an agent, 4 weeks is not a lot of time. Depending on the time of year those can be a busy 4 weeks of client deals, conferences, editor lunches, proposal writing, pitch writing, and client manuscript editing. I’ve talked about this before–that client work comes first–but if you think about it: reading a manuscript takes 4-6 hours for me. That means if multiple clients send me their work AND I have multiple unsolicited manuscripts on the go, that’s at least 24 hours of reading I have to do at any given time. Plus all those emails to respond to…

2. We’re thinking

I genuinely try not to take too long to think because my reaction to unsolicited manuscripts is often instant. However, there are some times I think about the following:

  • Timing (do I have time to fit in a new client?)
  • Editorial notes (how do I really feel about this and should I write up notes?)
  • Gaps in my client list (do I have something too similar?)

I know how writers feel about waiting (checking email multiple times a minute) when they are waiting for a response. But I think you want us to make a fully informed decision. And sometimes that means waiting for weeks while we clear our schedule to make time to think!

3. We’ve read it, but we’re sharing it with other people

This is more common with editors, but sometimes I’m waiting for a reader’s report which is an in-depth analysis of the manuscript from an editorial point of view. So not only is there reading involved (the 4-6 hours) PLUS there is an extra couple hours to get thoughts together and write up a report. That’s a whole day’s worth of work, right there. Once I get a report in hand, which can be 3-10 pages, I go through everything carefully and compare the thoughts against mine. I want books that connect with people, so those reports are important to me. It’s a subjective business, so those other comments are valuable, but I always make my own decisions at the end of the day.


Remember 9 times out of 10, silence means it hasn’t been read yet. So forget those fears and try to be patient. (I know that’s a tall order.)

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

13 thoughts on “What Silence in Publishing Really Means

  1. Thank you, I shall stop waiting and get on with even more waiting for other things I sent out :) Actually I am practicing the art of forgetting it existed and get on with another project and trying to convince myself it is working.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The dreaded P word! I’ve been waiting 5 months now on a full (from an agent in London) and my patience is taking a real battering. I worry that she didn’t actually receive it, worry she tossed it aside and forgot to send the rejection…. How long should you wait on a full before nudging?


  3. I’m fine with the waiting. No issue there. The problem is, with email filters it’s easy for emails, even requested material, get shunted to a junk folder. It’s actually happened to me. I would appreciate some sort of automated confirmation of receipt. Then I’m fine with waiting.


  4. I agree. I think automated confirmation should be standard. I’ve followed up after many months with emails and heard nothing back even then, not sure what to do after that! In other cases I’ve been waiting more than a year and never heard a thing ever.


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