Wednesday, July 30, 2008

QUERIES: SHOULD I DELIVER THE BAD NEWS?

Jon and I have been working feverishly for the past few days, reading and responding to the snail-mailed and emailed queries that we've received this month. Like all agents, we are flooded with queries. We are so glad, because that means people are writing; even better, the writers know about us and are interested in working together.

That's the good news. The bad news is that we sometimes feel overwhelmed with the wealth of queries we receive. We try to treat each one with the respect and the attention it deserves; when we feel our attention lagging, we stop and move on to another project. Now, here's the part none of you want to hear about and I don't blame you. We reject most of the queries we receive for a variety of reasons: the topic does not interest us; we don't represent the genre; the query is poorly written and unfocused; or, in the worst-case scenario, the query is awful and so is the book idea.

With the exception of gang-queries (the ones with all the agents in the world listed in the "to" section), or the queries where the author specifies that we answer only if interested, WE RESPOND TO ALL QUERIES, usually within 6 weeks. But maybe we shouldn't. The truth is, our responses are pretty boring and are not unique. We've learned that we have to be cold and perfectly clear about the turn down. I used to say, "...your project does not meet our agency's needs at this time." I don't say that anymore. "...at this time..." acted like an open door through which many a hopeful author shoved in a foot asking, "If not now, when will you be interested?" Shades of meaning are nothing but trouble in a turn down response.

Jon and I are of two minds here. He feels very strongly that every query deserves an answer.

I am not so sure. If I delete queries that do not interest me, how would you feel? (Jon handles all snail-mail, so if that's how you query us, you'll get an answer for sure.) I know lots of other agents don't respond to any but the queries that they want to pursue. Maybe most authors assume that a non-response is a turn down. But I'm just not sure.

The responses to queries I don't want take up a lot of time--time that I could spend reading manuscripts and chapters, visiting and pitching editors, and writing this blog.

How do YOU feel about that the dreaded turn down? Would you rather get a standard "so sorry" response, or would you prefer silence from me when I'm not interested? I'm just askin'.

12 comments:

annathepiper said...

Hi there,

As someone who recently queried you and was turned down, I actually appreciated the response, fwiw. :) I prefer even a short, quick form letter over the uncertainty of knowing whether my query even made it into an agent's mailbox.

Thank you for giving your blog readers a chance to speak to this!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

A reply, even a rejection, is imperative.

It's not hard to write up a form rejection and set your mail program so that with a few strokes of a key, you can paste that rejection into a reply window and send it on its way.

This helps the authors know to move on -- and that their mail was received in the right spot. That cuts down on multiple queries sent to you.

Besides, not responding when someone speaks to you is just rude.

Joe Iriarte said...

I would definitely rather get a reply than not. Lots of times, e-mails don't get through. There are spam filters on both ends and more mundane technical glitches. I've had e-mails that were sent to me not arrive, with no indication I could find that a message was even prevented from getting through. If I don't receive a reply, I'll always wonder if you never received the query. Or if you received it, asked for a partial or whatever, and I never got the message.

-Joe Iriarte

Anonymous said...

Book Ends Literary Agency recently did a post where they let writers vent. The number one problem seemed to be non-response.

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2008/05/time-to-vent.html

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2008/05/now-good-stuff.html

Generally I don't query agents who state they will only respond if interested. Non-response is a big pet peeve for me. A simple form letter is fine with me. A personalized response (if the time and inclination) is even better.

Kae and Jon said...

Wow. I asked for your opinions and you were good enough to respond. Thank you so much for settling a mild argument here. Jon and I will continue to send our "no thank you" responses, knowing that they are an important part of the process

B.E. Sanderson said...

Personally I've learned to mark 'no reply after six weeks' as rejected, but I still prefer the actual 'No' to no response at all. Thank you for being an agency to listen, and for continuing to send out a response - even if it ends up being a form letter. =o)

Feliza said...

Well, as a writer, I'd say at least send a form response to the ones that are truly terrible or uninteresting. I'm still waiting on response for two queries I sent at the end of May, and it's better to just know that you don't want it rather than keeping up hope forever and a day.

Kae and Jon said...

Feliza:

I am so sorry that we have not replied. I can't imagine what happened to your queries because we are now responding to those sent in July. Were your queries sent by regular mail or email? Please resend both.

Anonymous said...

That you would even *ASK* such a question shows a callous disregard for the very people you claim to be looking to represent. So thanks for the waring.

Joe Iriarte said...

That's silly, anon.

Here is a blog I found, of someone who posted a comment at Query Shark:

http://rejectionqueen.blogspot.com/2008/08/first-rejection-of-2008.html

"Sometimes I wish these agencies wouldn’t response at all if they don’t like your work, which would make my day less depressing."

Now I think this person is horribly misguided on a number of points, including this one. I disagree with his or her stance on whether or not agents should send rejection letters, for the reasons I mentioned previously here.

But the fact that this writer would just rather not know unless the news is good is indicative of the fact that the right answer on this question is not so self-evident that nobody could possibly see it differently.

I know from experience that there are agents and markets that never respond if the answer is a rejection. I don't like this, and I appreciate the fact that Ms. Tienstra asked before simply going ahead with a policy that would, in the end, not be unprecedented. That she would ask is a point in her favor, not a point against her.

I never want anybody to feel that they lose points by asking my opinion. That can't possibly encourage anything good.

Anonymous said...

I am torn on this. I am also coming into this conversation way late in the game. I sent a query and received an automated reply from an agency that confirmed receipt. This solved the problem--It let me know it at least made it through the spam filter, and if I don't hear back...I know it was rejected. Win win if you ask me.

Kae and Jon said...

Hi Anonymous:

That's an interesting take on the query question. Thanks for writing!