I’ve been submitting queries about my trilogy of science-fiction novels to agents and a few editors for about fifteen years now (possibly more), and I would say that probably around half of those agents and editors now have a regular policy of not responding to an unsolicited query if they don’t intend to pursue it further. Some don’t even bother to respond to submissions that they actively solicit (!) (That is, if they asked for it at a meeting.) This refusal to respond is a big part of the publishing world now, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. It may even get worse, and most, if not all agents and publishers may eventually decide to stop responding to unsolicited queries. I hope not for reasons I express below.
The usual reason given for the decision not to respond is the large number of queries agents and editors receive. “A thousand a month,” is a typical measuring point. Sometimes it’s even more. I can certainly understand their reasoning and ultimate decision to forego a response. Were I in their shoes and subject to all the submissions they get, I suspect I would at least give it serious consideration.
But for those of us who submit to hundreds of different agents and a fewer number of editors, not receiving a response can be frustrating. I know in my own case—and I’m speaking only for myself at this point—it is somewhat, though I try to accept it knowing that they are very busy handling the inundation of emails/letters/other stuff they regularly get, along with their other duties. But I want to make it clear to all those editors and agents that their decision has repercussions beyond the simple decision not to respond. Many agents say that if the submitter doesn’t hear back within a certain amount of time, they should either contact them or query again because the submission may have gotten lost in the mail or within the email server. Now we have to contact the agent or whoever a second time just to find out that the query has been rejected. Time consuming and, really, unnecessary.
But my most vehement concern about agents and editors who don’t respond comes from something else that agents and editors emphasize when writers communicate with them. We submitters must always act “professional” they say. We must always come across as someone who knows the rules of the business of writing and publishing, and act in a manner consistent with that knowledge. Follow the rules of each individual agency, they say; don’t be “cute” in your submission; don’t send flowers or candy with your submission; know the agent’s name and how to spell it; don’t send a letter with the salutation “Dear Agent;” don’t tell them your mother-in-law liked your book; don’t send blanket queries to a hundred agents; and so on and so forth. Always good advice, certainly.
But it seems to me that while we submitters are always supposed to always be “professional” in our dealings with those who hold the keys to our publishing success, the reverse is also true: agents and editors must always be professional in their dealings with the writers they represent and publish. And ensconced firmly within that requirement is a response to any and all communications. A negative response doesn’t have to be much, just a note telling the writer they have decided not to further pursue publication. Any query, and this applies especially to one that was actively solicited by a publishing professional, deserves a response. That’s only professional. After all, if publishing people don’t want to work with unprofessional writers, then those publishing professionals must realize that writers sure as hell don’t want to work with unprofessional agents and editors either. It’s a two-way street.