Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A reminder that no means no

I've had a spate of emails from people who say they read the blog but clearly missed this post about "what happens when you hear no."

I don't offer referrals.
I don't offer explanations of why your query was rejected.

More than one email like this and your email address gets tagged to bypass the inbox and go straight to delete.

Here's why: I will reply to all queries, but that's all. My job is not coaching you on your query letter or helping you find an agent that's not me. My job isn't to answer your questions about why your query letter wasn't right for me. It's not. Move on.


Rebecca Knight said...

It's amazing to me that some folks think that your "job" is to give out free advice to people who aren't even your clients :(. What the heck?

They wouldn't provide a free consultation for you from their business. People need to let you guys work and be grateful that you take the time you do to respond :).

Rick Daley said...

If you want coaching on your query letter go to The Public Query Slushpile at:

I usually post submission in a matter of hours, and feedback from followers generally begins the day the query is posted.

Margaret Yang said...

I wonder if, in the long run, personalized responses are causing this. If every single response from an agency was a form letter, then everyone would quickly realize that a "yes" or a "no" is all you get. However, if some agents offer personal responses some of the time, then soon everyone wants one all of the time.

Viva the form! I wish that was the absolute standard.

laughingwolf said...

geez janet, all they have to do is check the links in your sidebar for all kindsa help...

Liana Brooks said...

I know some good critique groups where writers who want advice can get it if they want. A good critique group is a must have at the query stage, at least for me.

Mira said...

I can definitely second Rick D's comment, and recommend the query slushpile. Very helpful.

Janet, please don't take this the wrong way, but you sound alittle grumpy here. Is the number of e-mails driving you nuts?

From my perspective both make sense. I understand why the writer wants feedback. I absolutely understand that. I want feedback all the time. Heck I want feedback on this post! I also understand why they want referrals.

But I also understand that agents are just unbelievably swamped and pulled on at every turn. It probably get really exhausting to be dealing with so much....need. So I get that too.

Tracy Loewer said...

I know it really shouldn't be this complicated, but maybe you should just add a tag to your response that says "It's not you, it's me. I just didn't like it. I'm sure there's someone out there who'll want to take it on, but it's not my job to help you find them. Best of luck."

Or is that too harsh?

Mame said...

Two years ago, I made a lot of the mistakes agents groan about.

I wish back then, I had the wisdom I have now. Of course, I wouldn't have been the same idiot.

There should be a required test before you're allowed to query...lol.

Alicia Evans said...

Actually, Miss Janet here didn't sound grumpy to me...she sounded downright annoyed--and she's probably nicer than what I would have been.

If you're a writer, than obviously you know how to read. There is absolutely NO reason not to see the information on the side bar. Like--seriously, that's just plain laziness. And if she sounds a bit snippy, it's probably well deserved.

And another thing, if the rest of us can search the internet lookinf for writer's resources and critique groups and such, why does some other person feel they need to be piggy-backed to the right information?

Being a writer takes iniative and a sense of humility.

If an agent says no--you know what, I don't have the balls to ask "Well why not?" or "You're too stupid to see real talent, so mind telling me where I can find a more suitable agent to query?"

Dude, seriously? There's like a GAZILLLLLLLLION agent listings and blogs with their guidelines RIGHT SMACK IN YOUR FACE.

The moments you spend trying to get someone to explain themselves or their reasons to you are methods that you're wasting moving forward.

I dunno. I'm not even an agent and this stuff urks the crap outta me.

Laura Martone said...

Right on, Janet! I don't think you sound grumpy... everyone's time is precious. Although I give people free advice at times, I wouldn't expect a busy agent to waste his/her time offering feedback on rejected queries. What's wrong with people? The Internet is a vast resource of free info (some good, some not-so-good), but it's our job as writers to do our proper research before querying.

Mira said...


Don't be silly. Of course she sounded grumpy. Doesn't mean I don't like her. Janet sometimes sounds grumpy. That's sort of.....Janet.

This is moderated, which means - I think - that Janet wants to keep controversial discussion to a minimum, so....I'll leave it at that.

Janet Reid said...

I don't mind controversial discussion at all as long as it's on topic, and not full of ugly personal attacks.

Just cause my assssistant wears army boots doesn't mean I can say yours does.

Discuss away.

inkgrrl said...

Oy. Someone I used to know would say: "We're not selling orange juice here; we don't give samples."

Mira said...

Oh, okay, good to know, thank Janet.

Well, I tend to be critical of the agent/author dynamic. But I also really like all the agents I've become familiar with on blogs. Alot. That makes me look at both sides.

So, the agent is overwhelmed and feels pulled on. I totally get that. We're talking upwards of a thousand or more queries a year. And the reality is, many agents find clients through referral anyway, so queries are a long-shot as it is. And that is a huge amount of work for little return.


I think it would be unbelievably helpful if agents would tell people why their query is rejected. Is it the writing? The market? The query letter?

The reason an agent might want to do this is it helps to develop the writer. The writer has a sense of where to start or what to do. It's guidance.

There could be an argument that says: why should an agent develop a writer who will not be their client? I'll tell you why.

The more good writers there are out there, the more the market will develop. The scarcity model, that there are only so many readers out there, is disproven over and over again by phemomenas like Harry Potter and Twighlight. How many of those kids who read those books will go on to read more books? Lots! I've heard J.K. Rowling credited with re-vitalizing the YA market.

The more good authors out there, the better. Everyone benefits.

That's what I think anyway.

So, although I understand that no means no, I think there is benefit all around if there was a reason attached.

Anonymous said...

The thing is...there are so many other ways out there for writers to develop themselves. They shouldn't be looking to agents for that. Frankly, I hate to think of my agent spending too much time helping people improve their query letters or whatever. I spent my own time improving myself to *get* that agent, so I want him on the phone selling my book.

Shanann E. Schnell said...

A Huge Thank you!

Amanda Coppedge Bosky said...

It seems like writers often err on one side or another . . . I definitely fell on the "I don't want to bother anybody" side of things and was very slow to status query (and found out some requested partials/fulls never made it through, likely caught in the spam filter somehow). On the other hand you have people who try to demand explanations for rejections.

I think the thing that kept me on the level most while looking for an agent was knowing that a rejection didn't mean my book was bad. I believe agents really truly mean it when they say "This was good but not for me." If you're repping a book you have to love it, not just like it.

The one thing I wish was universal/standard was an estimated response time or a response policy. I loved it when an agent profile said "I usually respond to queries within X weeks/months" or "No response from me within X time means no." My first query to the person who wound up being my agent got eaten by her spam filter! If friends hadn't told me she always responded to queries I would have assumed the no-response meant no. I am so glad I requeried!

Etiquette Bitch said...

Good to hear. I imagine that those of us with a business background, skilled in the art of networking, are wont to ask, "well then, who do you recommend?" esp. if it *is* a personalized rejection that includes some form of, "I'm not the right agent for this book." In the biz world, the climbing-savvy then ask, "well, who is? or whom do you recommend?"

I share this not to justify or excuse annoying behavior, but to shed some insight. It's enlightening to hear your insight. Thanks, Janet.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

maybe it's time to be firmer - "no means hell no!" :)

L.L. Muir said...

Two thoughts.
1. If a writer can't read well enough to understand "no", doesn't that bode ill for their writing capabilities?

2. Maybe a form letter with five possible boxes to check would be helpful.
a. craft
b. voice/style
c. story/originality
d. no further feedback is available.
e. none of the above, please send proposal.

I dig blunt.