Friday, December 2, 2011

On the Spread of the "No Reponse Means No" Policy Among Agents

"Don't call us, we'll call you."

It's the classic Hollywood line--the epitome of Tinseltown, that city of dreams built on a deep foundation of broken dreams. While we might be tempted to look down on callous film people, they're simply responding as rational economic actors in the presence of a dramatic oversupply of dramatic talent.

And now, more and more agents are going Hollywood: not that they're turning to film but that they're adopting an analogous query policy that no response means no. The more thoughtful agents have set up email auto-responders so that writers can know their query didn't get lost in a spam filter and have a publicly stated response time frame after which authors can assume the response is, "no thanks."

The SCBWI weighed in on November 15, 2011 with an open letter asking agents to reconsider their policy. Among other things, the SCBWI worries that the policy will not help agents reduce their query load because the absence of feedback will encourage writers to treat querying as a numbers game instead of targeting submissions after careful research.

Much of the discussion revolves around the question of what's right. If writers put lots of time into their query, aren't they owed the courtesy of a response?

While I would like to think that the industry still has the civility to cloak self-interest with the decency to encourage professional development, at a purely economic level the, "no response means no," policy means that agents have an oversupply of queries.

What caused the over supply? Has the number of writers querying publishable manuscripts grown dramatically in the last few years? Has the commercial market for debut authors contracted?

I don't know, but I suspect it's all of the above.

So what, if anything, should you do?

It's hard to resist the temptation to treat querying as a numbers game where you fire-and-forget at all the agents who seem to be in the ball park. Without feedback, you won't be able to refine your query after each small batch.

But there's a deeper question: can you stand out in an oversupplied market? Or should you, perhaps, look elsewhere, either to other agents who haven't instituted the policy or to other publishing avenues?


Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net