Friday, December 7, 2012

In Defense of Requesting Slush Pile Responses from Agents

The Professor, Barred Owl,
wondering what is wrong
with the fool behind the camera.
Let me say from the outset that I work at an Academic Press and have seen the types of WTF "query" emails that come in to a generic email address for a publishing company.  If you think for a moment that Slush Pile Hell is kidding in terms of the queries s/he gets, lemme tell ya: You. Are. Wrong.

I get that agents are inundated with queries that verge on spam/laughable/WFT? that someone has to sweep into the DELETE dustbin.  I have been there.  I've been the one to do the sweeping and the deleting.  I understand the pain the Agency/Assistant /Intern/Whoever has to put up with to keep the Agent's inbox free of waste-of-time  submissions.

I get that these people are not sending agents reasonable queries.  They haven't done any research on the agent to see what kind of books they represent; they haven't taken the time to learn how to write an appropriate query; they aren't personalizing their queries with reasons for sending their query to that particular agent.

The easy way to look at the situation is to say that these writers aren't following the rules agents have set forth for appropriate, serious contact.  I can't blame an agent for not wanting to take the time to send even a form rejection letter to these people.

However, I would like to respectfully ask that agents who do so reconsider a blanket "No response means I'm not interested" policy.  For writers who are taking their writing, their queries, who they query and why seriously, I don't think this is fair*.

Here's the thing: If we writers are playing by the rules
  • if we're writing a decent query
  • if we're addressing it to the agent correctly by name
  • if we're querying the agent with a book in a genre that they represent
  • if we give the agent a reason why we've chosen to query that agent
  • if we're following rule after rule after rule after rule after rule after dizzying rule...

Then I believe we deserve the courtesy of an answer.

Even if that answer is a form "Thanks, but no thanks" it is an answer.  And a quick, form "no" is better than unending silence.

We're big people.  We can handle rejection.  We have other agents on our list, we can move on.  Your silence has the power to string us along like an unhealthy relationship.  If it's a no, just let us know.  Please.

Just as agents talk to one another, we writers talk to one another as well.  When I go through the list of potential agents to query over at, it's no surprise that I'm going to be more likely to send a query to an agent who will write back than one who won't.

To those agents who have sent me a personalized or even a form rejection,: Thank You.  To those who have worked with me on a Revise and Resubmit basis and have ultimately decided to pass: Thank You.  I appreciate and respect the time and attention you have given my manuscript and me as a person, regardless of your final response to the manuscript.

To those agents who have have deleted my query without a response, I understand the pressures you likely feel from the onslaught of slush pile queries inundating your Inbox on a daily basis.  I simply and respectfully ask that you find a way to not treat all rejections equally.

-- Tom

* And, yes, I know I recently wrote that the entire querying process is unfair to writers.  To me, though, this has more to do with respect, mutual respect for the vital roles we each play in each others' professional lives.  Writers need agents; agents need writers.  I'm simply asking those who hold all the power to be more equitable and respectful of those without the power.  No one knows who might have the next Harry Potter series query as a second query sent to a slush pile.