Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When No One Answers Your Query

You read your query aloud one more time. You print it off, reading it backwards to catch mistakes. It's ready. Your novel or magazine story is the best you've ever done, and it's time to ask someone to represent you, or publish you.


Now the waiting. Darn it's hard watching the email, or hope of hopes, waiting for a phone call. The guidelines stated eight weeks. Seems like forever, but okay. You aren't the only one pitching. You know that. Editors and agents are busy. They do thing other than read queries from newbies. Well, you've been writing for years, but you'd be a newbie to them. So you gather up buckets of patience and vow to wait without going insane.

Nine weeks later, no answer.
Twelve weeks later, no answer.

You've been told not to harass these professionals. You read it all the time . . . how they are so darn busy that they get behind. They have contracted deals already--a stable of writers already approved. They command attention.

But how hard is it to send a friggin' rejection letter?

Some writers get furious hearing zero from a query letter. Paper-ripping mad. How dare these so-called professionals ignore you? How rude.

There are many reasons that agents and editors do not reply. Let's look at few of them:

They don't have the staff or time to reply to rejections. Time is money. So is the paper to write a rejection. I know. You put your email address on your query, but how many emails do you send per day? Multiply that many times over. Some agencies, magazines and publishers receive so many queries that rejections could dominate a full-time position. They choose not to afford the cost of a clerk whose work is only turning away business. A pure expense that recoups no value for the company. It's also thankless (have you ever thanked someone who rejected you?).

Rejections open doors to the irate. Nobody gets happy over a rejection. Once some receive an email telling them that the work "isn't right", they can't contain themselves from hitting send and offering a counter offer, or worse, an argument. When these professionals receive fifty to two hundred queries per day, and spend hours rejecting, only to receive a dozen sarcastic, depressed, or nasty replies, can you blame them for hesitating to reject?

You won't like this suggestion, but try to do what I do. I don't expect a reply. Frankly, I never have. Call it being a realist or self-deprecating, but in my early days of submissions I assumed nobody would bother writing me. I was new, green as my July butterbean garden , and not worth the time it took to write the letter. Maybe I didn't want the truth, but for me, it was less painful to NOT receive a rejection letter. Those damn things sting!

But when I received one, I held my breath as I ripped open the envelope, or clicked on the email. The very same negative feeling that agents and editors feel when they spend hours turning writers away in a rejection letter, I endured reading the words telling me I didn't make the cut.

I tallied my submissions on spread sheets, shot them out one after the other, and marked a follow-up date for each. Some of these publishers/editors/agents, especially the ones I craved to see my name involved with, got a second letter from me. I tacked on another two-four weeks of time on my spreadsheet, then moved on if I heard nothing. The rest I just marked "no reply."

This is a hectic business. Time is money for all involved. The more you dwell on why you didn't receive a rejection is time you could spend sending out another. Get over it. The submission process isn't like a funeral, where you need closure in order to move on. Assume they don't want you after an appropriate time period. Don't get mad or upset. If you can't handle something as small as a no response, you're in for a hard time downstream . . . assuming you make it that far.

Thick skin, people. You've heard it before. A little empathy would be nice, too. These professionals are working as hard as you to make ends meet, doing what they love. I say submit, submit, submit, forgetting about the replies. That way, one day, when you least expect that acceptance, it'll smack you between the eyes and make you smile until your face breaks. And you will not have wasted all that energy on negative feelings - feelings that can't help but interfere with your productivity.

Agents who've blogged on this subject:
Jill Corcoran
Rachelle Gardner
Kristin Nelson
Janet Reid (who replies to everyone - she's just short and sharp when she does, a generic  "no")


Lane Diamond said...

Is it any wonder the legacy publishing industry is circling the drain, now that authors have a viable alternative?

In what other industry can people say ... "No, we don't care a whit about your desires or expectations as a prospective customer, but please forgive us and stick with us, just in case you are that 1 in 10,000 we'll want to talk to. And please let this posted notice suffice in lieu of any actual, direct communication." ... and actually survive?

And why does that 1 in 10,000 keep making apologies for these people?

Hope Clark said...

Traditional does need to wake up, not only for their own good, but for the need of publishing. Traditional publishing is sorely needed.

Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

I created a spreadsheet that sounds just like yours. The submissions with no answers are so frustrating to see over and over again!

I'd rather be able to mark them off and know that I can resubmit the same piece at another place.

I am confused by the replies that reject my work but encourage me to keep submitting, without telling me why I was rejected!

Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

Thanx for all you do Hope, I really appreciate you!

widdershins said...

Janet wrote about this a while ago, (link below) and like most of the commenters, I reckon I'd like at least a form response, because at least then I know where I stand. And I have to say I did get a response from just about all of the queries I sent out.


Kelly Robinson said...

I've only ever sent one book query, but I send out a minimum of one magazine query per week. About half of those never get a response. Like you, I've learned not to count on one, but I can't help that feeling of wondering if there's a chance it went astray and no one ever saw it at all.