Ignored? Could be an Error or a Philosophy

This post is inspired by a question posed by Cindy (Thank you!) on a recent entry regarding rejection. (Click here to find the original entry)

Despite following all the guidelines, this author never received a response from an agent and wondered why. The reasons may be quite simple:

Office Error

My office tries not to ignore emails, although we certainly aren’t mistake-proof. If we ignored you, there is an almost 100% chance the email system glitched, because we try to respond to everyone – even if only with a few words.

Since I’ve been an author in the past, I realize the value of rejections. A form letter says one thing, whereas a message with helpful advice says another, and an invitation to submit a different project in the future says something else yet again. Of course, being ignored is its own declaration, but the problem is, an overlooked author doesn’t know if she’s been unnoticed on purpose or if the submission hit a snag. Or maybe it never arrived.

When Blankets Don’t Work

In my office, the only emails consistently deleted are those whose address fields reveal that the same letter went out to a lot of other agents at the same time. A blanket submission makes me feel more like I got an ad for free breadsticks with a large pizza order, as did everyone else in town, than a submission from a thoughtful, hardworking author. If you are thoughtful and hardworking, don’t throw all that effort with this major mistake.

Deliberate Disregard

I don’t know how common this idea is industry-wide, but I heard at least one agent from another agency publicly say (this is my paraphrase) that unsolicited submissions can fall by the wayside because there’s no way to monetize responding to them. The agent is too busy with solicited work and clients. As an active agent myself, I understand. But I’ve ended up working with clients after we’ve gone back and forth over time, even though I didn’t offer representation on the first submissions they sent. Not responding cuts off the chance to develop a relationship with the writer.

Stick with It!

How to approach mail is a matter of philosophy. Perhaps this process lets the writer see a little about each agent’s philosophy, benefitting the author in the long run. Since it’s a two-way street, consider the submissions process your way of evaluating agents.

Next week I’ll talk about substantive issues that could be keeping you from getting a response.

Your Turn

Has an agent’s response changed your mind about him?

How often do you prod an unresponsive agent?

Can an agent respond too quickly, especially with a rejection letter?

44 Responses to Ignored? Could be an Error or a Philosophy

  1. Brennan S. McPherson May 11, 2017 at 3:37 am #

    The single hardest part of submitting, for me, is wondering what I should do in response to silence. It’s always situational, directly impacted by what the agent themselves have said about their response rates. Then, if you’ve been waiting a considerable time beyond the proposed response rate, you have to imagine what sort of life events could have gotten in the way, and what time of year it is, whether there are any conferences or big events in the publishing industry, etc. I try to project, and work within what seems to be reasonable boundaries, always assuming the person is overwhelmed rather than neglectful.

    I think if an agent responded within 24 hours with a rejection letter, I’d be suspicious of whether they read it, but I’d be thankful for the promptness so that I could have some closure and move on.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 7:57 am #

      Brennan, you definitely have a point about life and other work getting in the way!

      I can also understand how you feel about a quick rejection. However, one thing to keep in mind is that because so many agents and assistants review proposals, we have become quite good at making quick assessments on what absolutely won’t work for us. So no news can be good news!

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 11, 2017 at 4:13 am #

    It’s not really an issue about which I think. If my proposal is meant to lead to any kind of dialogue, I figure that the Man Upstairs will do the needed prodding. If not, then not.

    If I don’t sweat the small stuff – and in the scheme of things my writing ambitions ARE small stuff – I figure I’ll live longer, which is kind an important concept for me these days.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 8:07 am #

      Thanks for the reminder about perspective.

      I imagine your submissions get attention and responses because so many people know you as an active and wonderful member of our blog community! Truly, when any author is more than just a new name in an IN box and the agent has interacted with the author, I think it helps.

  3. Adam Blumer May 11, 2017 at 5:30 am #

    Good post. True story. I met a well-recognized agent I won’t name at a conference and had a nice meeting. I did my pitch, and she said she really liked my novel idea. She asked for the proposal, which I promptly sent. To this day, I haven’t heard a peep by e-mail or any other means, and that was in 2009. I guess you could say I’ve moved on since then, and the novel was published. But I lost respect for the agent and would never send her anything again. The situation has also made me cynical and distrustful of writers’ conferences and the agents who go to them. Do they just say what they think I want to hear, or are they really interested in my project? I’m afraid all trust is now broken. I realize I pretty much have to work with an agent these days to get a publisher’s notice, and I’m now working with one I trust. But I’d caution newbies who expect to be treated honestly and fairly in all quarters of the publishing world, even the Christian one. Bottom line: work hard and trust God but recognize that agents are sinners just like you and me. They make mistakes too.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 8:19 am #

      I’m so sorry you had a bad experience, Adam. At least you now have an agent you enjoy working with!

  4. Loretta Eidson May 11, 2017 at 5:46 am #

    I heard that we should give agents at least three months before expecting a response, and if no word arrives then it’s okay to send another email confirming their receipt of your submission. I did this. A couple of them responded that it was still in their stack of submissions, whereas others didn’t respond at all. But like Andrew, I trusted God to put me with the right agent…and He did.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 8:20 am #

      Thanks for your patience! Ummm, seems I have to type that A LOT when writing to many authors!

      Agent time moves faster than author time, and editor time moves faster than agent time!

  5. Edward Lane May 11, 2017 at 5:49 am #

    Thanks, Tamela. I like it that you try to respond to everyone. What would you recommend to a writer who has “completed” his manuscript but has issues as to which portions need cutting? Does the author rely on his agent to do that? Or should the writer do it before he sends to an agent? Thank you again,
    Edward

    • Nicola May 11, 2017 at 6:23 am #

      I’m with you, Edward. I am doing the best I can and I realise there will be substantial editing when a publisher takes my work into the system. As well, each publishing house will have its own opinion and direction for my work. How much raw material should I deliver?
      Thank you Tamela, for your kindness and concern for authors. I see how you manage to find purer gold through your deeper digging.

      • Edward Lane May 11, 2017 at 8:58 am #

        Nicola,
        Thanks for sharing that thought. Do you leave everything in your novels when you send them off or do you cut materials you’re not sure about?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 8:55 am #

      Edward and Nicola, I recommend making the manuscript as polished as possible before submitting it anywhere, particularly since it seems you have identified fixable problems. It’s true that editors may change it, but they’d all still rather work on a polished manuscript.

      • Edward Lane May 11, 2017 at 9:02 am #

        Thanks again, Tamela for your prompt response. It’s really nice to have someone with whom one can brainstorm!

  6. Janetta May 11, 2017 at 6:21 am #

    I’ve received plenty of rejections. Some gave helpful advice, others left it to my imagination what they thought. One stands out as my favorite. I receive my SASE back. Inside is my cover letter only. Nothing is written on it. I look closer. Someone had run over it with a chair. The smudge of the wheel down the center of the page. Since I write comedy, I laughed and decided his/her wheel needed cleaned and my submission did the trick. 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 8:56 am #

      Wow, that’s truly bizarre! Sounds like a comedy of errors to me!

    • rochellino May 11, 2017 at 9:48 am #

      Janetta, love it! I would frame that rejection with the wheel mark over it under glass and display it prominently for all to see. An engraved plate would be mounted on the frame under the letter which tells the exact story related in your comment. What a collectors item for the day when you’ve “made it big”.

      Usually, wherever two or more authors gather the traditional publishing industry with related success/horror stories always comes up. As stories are compared you can truthfully contribute “I’ve been literally run over roughshod by the traditional publishing industry and can prove it”.

      Thanks for the very humorous story. I can see great success for a comedy writer in it.

  7. Carol Ashby May 11, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    Tamela, it’s been said that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s apathy. I applaud you and your agency colleagues for caring enough to send any kind of rejection. Apparently many agents don’t, and they even think it’s a good business practice.

    Coming from a career where successful proposals funded everything and rejections were common, I don’t buy the argument that it would take too much time. An admin could paste the email addresses into the bcc of a form email and send it out at the end of the day. Even with dozens of rejections daily, that’s a simple task that would take less than 5 min each day to acknowledge the hundreds of hours of painstaking labor of an aspiring author. I will never believe that a form rejection is too much to ask.

    I have no personal complaint because the only agent I ever sent a proposal is in your agency, and I got a response (rejection), as promised. Kuddos to you all for caring enough to take the time to reject instead of ignore!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 8:57 am #

      Carol, thank you for your kind words and excellent point!

      • Carol Ashby May 11, 2017 at 10:08 am #

        I’ll be going to the ACFW conference for the first time this year. As an indie, I’ll be giving away my two agent slots, but I sure hope I get to meet you. You’ve made a big difference in helping me succeed, and I want to say thanks in person.

  8. Heather Letto May 11, 2017 at 7:57 am #

    The duality of your profession (author and agent) gives you a unique perspective… and is much appreciated! Hearing the compassion you have for those who feel ignored as well as sharing from the ‘upper room’ is a breath of fresh air. Because I’m often stymied by how much the Christian book industry parallels the secular, hearing a bit of truth and love is encouraging. Thank, Tamara!

  9. Heather Letto May 11, 2017 at 7:59 am #

    and when I say Tamara, mean Tamela! 😀

  10. Nancy May 11, 2017 at 8:38 am #

    It seems, in this day and time, we rarely receive replies, not only from agents, but other personnel. I’ve called as many as five times about important issues or emailed repeatedly until I finally gave up and moved on to something more productive. but I will say, each time I’ve contacted Steve (he’s the only agent in the agency I’ve contacted so far), lately or in the past, I’ve received a prompt and encouraging reply. Writing can be a discouraging ministry, and although we may not receive acceptance of our work, a positive and prompt reply makes the wound a little less painful. Thanks, Tamela, to you and all the others in your agency who find time to help us improve our writing and find success in publication.

  11. CJ Myerly May 11, 2017 at 9:10 am #

    I’m very green when it comes to submitting my proposals–as in I haven’t done it yet. I am polishing my manuscript now and hoping to submit in a few months. Following this blog has helped me in so many ways to know what to expect.

    I have no experience to answer these questions, but I have thoughts. I can see how an agent’s response would change my mind, but I don’t think I’d be too concerned with a quick rejection because I’ve heard that agencies often have an idea of what they’re looking for–and I know they’re are tons of proposals to sift through. I think I would prefer a quick rejection over no response.

    I don’t know if I would prod an unresponsive agent. I haven’t thought that far, but most of the agencies I’m following seem to give a timeline–and the suggestion that if you haven’t heard you should assume it’s a rejection. I figured I’d go by that.

    I love that you desire to help those who are seeking agents by responding if at all possible. I’m sure it adds to your workload, but it is so worthwhile to us.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

      Thank you, CJ. I don’t think it’s impolite to prod an agent once during the process if for no other reason to be sure the manuscript arrived.

  12. Jerusha Agen May 11, 2017 at 9:25 am #

    Thank you for another informative post, Tamela! I have such respect for agents. I don’t know how they manage to handle all the work they already have on their plates and then add reviewing new submissions at the same time. It’s an amazing job I’m sure I couldn’t do.

    Coming from the writer/client side of things, though, I definitely appreciate the agents or agencies that make an effort to respond to the submission, even just to verify they received it. That is SUCH a relief for a nervous writer. I’ve been in the situation of never receiving a response after an agent at a conference asked to see something, and right now I’m also supporting a writer friend who hasn’t received even confirmation that her submission was received. With this age of emails, such silence makes the wait all the more difficult, because we also have to wonder if our submission was lost in cyberspace!

    I appreciate that the Steve Laube Agency and others do a much better job of confirming receipt of submissions. The next part, waiting for the agent to review and respond, is the longer wait with all agencies, I think. But a writer’s life is full of waiting, so it’s good for us to have the practice early on. 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

      Great way to look at the situation, Jerusha! I always advise writers to keep working on other projects as they wait. Then the time moves a little faster!

  13. Jaime May 11, 2017 at 9:34 am #

    The only time I’ve ever contacted an agent was Steve. It was a couple of years ago, and in hindsight, before my work was polished and ready. But he replied very kindly in full, and even though it wasn’t a ‘yes’, it left me feeling encouraged.

    The way your agency responds reminds me of how God deals with us when we’re not quite on the right path – never leaving us to feel hopeless and discouraged, just a gentle reminder that things aren’t quite right.

    I can’t help but have the highest respect for the kindness and integrity of your agency. It should be the way we all try to do business, as believers.

    And these posts are gold for those of us who are trying to learn and grow. Yet another gift from your agency!

  14. Amanda Wen May 11, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    I don’t mind quick rejections; as you said, agents become skilled at quickly identifying projects that aren’t a good fit. It doesn’t always mean the project doesn’t have merit; the very best fantasy novel in the world still won’t secure representation from an agent that doesn’t represent fantasy! So in situations like that, a quick rejection (or re-direction, as I like to think of it!) is ultimately the healthiest for all involved.

    That said, if I know from the onset that an agent’s policy is “no response to your query after ___ weeks means we’re not interested,” then I’m fine with that. While it’s not my preference, I can only imagine how overwhelming being an agent can be at times, and even though it only takes a few seconds to send a form rejection, those few seconds add up. So I feel agents are well within their rights to make that a policy and state it clearly. Then the author knows what to expect, and if they simply cannot deal with the prospect of not getting a response, then they can choose to submit to another agent!

    Thanks for another great and helpful post!

  15. Mary Felkins May 11, 2017 at 10:37 am #

    This is such a good word, Tamela. I have so appreciated the prompt reply from you since I first started reaching out following ACFW, August 2016. As a consumer, it makes me want to work with an agency/agent who will communicate well and within a reasonable time frame. We’re both busy people. Serious, pro-active writers who want representation are not sitting around staring at their laptops waiting. We’ve got demands and pressures on us, as well, and will choose to accept an offer, not out of desperation, but from one who has invested time to review the manuscript/proposal, etc and will be reliable. I don’t want to push “send” and feel like I’ve put a letter in a mailbox with a hole in it 🙂 You’ve honored me as a writer and I thank you. Look forward to meeting you, Lord willing, at BRM-CWC in a few weeks.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 2:46 pm #

      I’d love to see you! Thanks for the encouragement. You also make a very good point about writers’ lives. And so true, we don’t want writers signing on with us out of desperation, either! 🙂

  16. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 11, 2017 at 1:01 pm #

    Tamela, I often get emails from students and feel that they deserve a reply within 24 hours, even if the only thing I tell them is “I’m working on it.” While I realize that agents and publishers are very busy people, it is still nice to be acknowledged….even if the future holds a rejection.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 11, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

      Sheri, recently I instructed my assistant to try to acknowledge receipt. You are correct in that at least the “got it” verifies the submission arrived, which alleviates at least some anxiety.

    • Carol Ashby May 12, 2017 at 8:05 am #

      I bet your students love that, Sheri. I would have. Having a prof who cares makes a big difference.

  17. Lori Closter May 12, 2017 at 4:33 am #

    This was an encouraging post, Tamela—thank-you. I actually did sent Steve Laube a query/email per agency guidelines on Jan. 9 and never heard anything. Based on your “near 100%” intentions of some sort of response, I think I will re-send, especially as my YA novel is now an ACFW Genesis semi-finalist. (I did have to inactivate my website rather than gut it for the next month or so, as the title appears throughout and cannot for the next round of blind judging.)

    Could you please clarify one thing: that if a work seems worthy but isn’t an agent’s cup of tea, they will pass it to another within the office? That’s the impression I had, and it’s difficult to choose amongst you all.
    Thanks again!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 12, 2017 at 8:16 am #

      Lori, yes, I definitely recommend resubmitting to Steve. And congratulations!

      I almost never pass a submission on to another agent in the agency, although I might suggest that the author submit to another agent and name that agent. I can’t vouch for how other agencies work.

      I’m glad it’s hard to choose from among us! We are all so different, with unique styles. I hope following our blog has helped you come closer to a decision.

  18. Jodie May 14, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

    What a great post! I pitched to an agent last September at ACFW (first time pitching) and we got on like a house on fire. We talked about lots of things, including my manuscript and what I was working on next, and she seemed to really be interested. As requested, I sent her my manuscript, and since then I have not heard anything. Not even an email to say she’d received it.
    For the last month or so it’s hit me that she might not have gotten the email, so should I send it again? Or just leave it?

  19. Damon J. Gray May 18, 2017 at 5:29 am #

    Establishing the Agent-Author relationship is only slightly less involved then choosing a mate! I have endured a number of rejections from agents, and there have been a couple that I have declined after phone conversations and lengthy email exchanges. The author is choosing the agent every bit as much as the agent is choosing the author, or the manuscript.

    As for prodding the agent, I tend to err on the side of caution with this, because I have no desire to appear “high-maintenance” to the agent. For example, one who requested my proposal mid-February has yet to respond, in much the same way as Jodie mentioned above. I have pinged her twice via email and am getting no response. Though I do not know this to be true, it feels like what my son calls “being ghosted.” The idea is, if they simply ignore me, perhaps I’ll eventually go away. I hope that is not the case, but that is how it feels.

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