Writers Can Handle the Truth from Editors

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Writers are the lifeblood of the publishing industry. I would expect agents and publishers, who work with them every day—and whose livelihood depends on them—to understand and respect writers. Most agents and publishers would claim that they do. But an industry practice that began some time ago, and has increased dramatically in recent years, belies that. This practice is not bothering to respond to rejected queries and submissions.

Agents and publishers who don’t respond will point to the warning on their submission page that says something like, “If we have not responded to you within x number of weeks or months, assume we are not interested.” In what other situation in business or personal life would such a practice be acceptable? If you sent out a party invitation that asked for an RSVP, would a response reading, “Assume that if I don’t respond by the day of the party, I’m not coming,” be considered anything but rude?

A writer has much more at stake than someone hosting a party. By nature, a writer has an active imagination, so this “negative option” approach can play havoc on the writer’s mind. Once the stated number of weeks or months passes, the writer, knowing that agents and publishers are busy, will begin to speculate that the agent or publisher hasn’t had time to read what was submitted. Or the writer will imagine—and hope against hope—that it’s taking so long because whoever read the query or submission first then passed it on to someone else at the agency or publishing house, who is still considering it.

All it takes to relieve the writer of this illusion, to prevent the writer from hoping against hope, is to send a rejection letter—something that was long a standard practice in the industry. Receiving a rejection letter is painful, of course, but at least it provides closure for the writer. It means a lot to a writer just to know for sure that the agent or publisher is definitely saying no. Someone once wrote that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference, and the indifference to a basic need of writers displayed by many agents and publishers today shows a disturbing lack of love for writers.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

But a rejection letter would cost 63 cents for the stamp! Add to that the cost of a publishing peon who pulls out a form rejection letter, puts the letter in an envelope, addresses the envelope and drops it into the outgoing mail box where another peon puts it in a sack with all the other outgoing mail and drops it off at the post office.

Even an SASE would only save the 63 cents and the peon’s time spent hunting and pecking out the return address. The peon would still have the burden of putting the rejection letter in the envelope and dropping it in an outbox.

The practice of not responding reeks of entitlement, scorn for authors and a paper-thin profit margin.

Plus a total lack of class or consideration. It’s a sleazy business up and down the line.

5 thoughts on “Writers Can Handle the Truth from Editors”

  1. At my literary agency, we do respond to every query. Not always quickly, but we do. It’s respectful.

    What writers may not realize, though, is the volume involved. For us, it’s between 7500 and 10,000 queries per year. Every one of those must be read and responded to. The overwhelming majority are pitching manuscript that aren’t ready for representation. Bluntly, it’s a dead cost. The actual dollar cost to (respectfully) respond to all those queries runs to tens of thousands of dollars every year.

    Should we regard that simply as a cost of doing business? Sure, we do. However, writers might also consider whether the novel they are pitching is truly ready. Is it one’s very first novel, in its very first draft? Just finished during NaNoWriMo? Fully 80% of all those queries are clearly at some level of unready.

    Given all that, you can see why some agents and editors don’t respond or periodically close to queries altogether. I’m not saying that’s professional or right but do take a look at it from the other side. Non-response may not so much indicate disrespect as it reflects a costly reality. Just sayin’.

    • The last time I communicated with an editor at a major publishing house, he liked the pitch and asked me to send the full manuscript, which I did. More than a year of silence followed. I eventually resorted to the nuclear option: I phoned his office. He admitted that he had rejected the MS. a long time before – but had never bothered sending me a rejection letter. He said he would send me a letter explaining what he thought was wrong with the MS.

      That was about twenty years ago. I am still waiting for that letter.

      When people in publishing behave this way in dealing with solicited submissions, it does indeed indicate disrespect – or perhaps total incompetence.

      The OP suggests that this state of affairs ‘shows a disturbing lack of love for writers’. If I want to be loved, I’ll get a dog. What I want is to be informed. If a publisher or agent rejects my manuscript, I want to know it so I can move on in a timely manner.

      (By the way, Mr. Maass: I once made a solicited submission to your agency. It was rejected, but the decision was quick and I was notified right away. Publishing would be a better industry if more people in it had your professionalism.)

  2. The only new thing I learned from this article is that a first-class stamp now apparently costs 63 cents. Who knew? The rest of it? Meh. Publishers and agents have never respected writers anymore than the farmer respects the chicken, who regularly delivers eggs and occasionally, a Sunday dinner.

    • Exactly what I learned… Way back when the price went over 22 cents, I bought several sheets of the forever stamps. Many, many years ago – and I’m not out yet. (They’re the Christmas themed pictures; Christmas cards are pretty much the only things I actually send out by regular snail mail.)

    • I had to look up the current price of a first-class stamp, H.

      I think the only stamps at Casa PG are the forever kind of first-class stamps that don’t show a price. At the rate we’re using them, most will end up being inherited by my children.

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