letters from the query wars – about those non-responders

# of queries read this week: 156
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

Note: Still closed to queries and catching up from the sprains (which are better but still not fully healed). The queries referenced above pre-date the query hiatus. Any queries received during this time should be getting a reply indicating authors can resubmit after January 15th.

When I posted my 2009 query stats on Monday, I mentioned that out of the 47 partial- and full-manuscripts I had requested throughout the year, 3 of those had not garnered a submission, or, indeed, even a reply. In each case I sent a follow-up request a few days later just in case my initial request had been tagged as spam. In case anyone is curious, 4 of the 2008 requests remain MIA as well.

A number of people in comments seemed to be somewhat baffled about these non-responders. A few even seemed a little put out (not a reaction I anticipated). Other than the possible spam-trap, four things occurred to me:

(1) Upon receipt of this request, panic ensued and manic revisions commenced. I hereby reiterate (and other agents have said the same) — don’t query before you’re actually ready. But, evenso, should this occur, one supposes the author could still get in touch when they are finally confident in the submission again. While it’s possible the agent’s circumstances may have changed and they will have to pass at that time, in most situations that probably won’t be the case.

(2) Said author received a prior request for the material from elsewhere, and granted an exclusive. In this scenario, I recommend still letting those who have subsequently made requests know the situation. Agent Janet says “exclusives STINK” but I can think of reasons an author might grant one. Based on some horror stories I have heard, though, the author should be sure to set a reasonable time limit should they choose this route.

(3) Author netted an agent extremely quickly. Agent response times aren’t all the same, and apparently some absorb manuscripts by osmosis off their desks. Wrist injuries aside, I do try to respond to queries within the 4 week window listed in our submission guidelines but I know my schedule for reading isn’t always cooperative with other demands (you know, made by those client people). I think I would still respond to a request for submission in this case and let the agent know. I’m not sure why a person wouldn’t do that.

(4) Just as writers may not be aware of certain things going on in an agent’s life (unless they blog or twitter them and the writer happens to be following same), an agent may not know if something else has happened to cause a delay in responding. Unexpected events cause unanticipated effects. Life happens.

Anyone have any other scenarios to suggest?

30 responses to “letters from the query wars – about those non-responders

  1. Author queried on an unfinished manuscript and now is scrambling to be done?

  2. I know I never sent in a partial requested by another agent back in ’08, because by the time she responded, I realized that the ms just wasn’t good enough and may not ever be good enough for publication without major rewrites and a complete overhaul. Quite frankly, I’m assuming she’s forgotten all about the request. It was just a partial. I’d rather not have that ms. be her first impression of me, although I did get some rather useful feedback from another agent who requested a full that leads me to believe that not sending it was the right choice.

    • I’m just curious — why didn’t you respond to the agent’s request and let them know you’d reconsidered and decided the manuscript wasn’t ready?

      • Generalized Anxiety Disorder? *lolz*
        In truth, it was a number of factors, the first one being that I was given the impression that the first agent wanted to rep the ms before Agent 2 asked for the partial. Agent 1 declined to rep in the end and took a great deal of time to do so.
        The other being that the second agent requested a hard-copy partial, and I assumed (right or wrong) that if it didn’t show up, she’d never miss it, as it was a pretty well-known agency. If I emailed her about changing my mind, I would only draw attention to the fact that I’m a clueless idiot. In fact, it never occurred to me that it would accomplish anything more than aggravating the agent.

  3. As a new writer who knows lots of new writers, my theory is related to #1, but it’s even worse (in a way). I think some queries are very well done, but that the work itself isn’t finished. Perhaps the writer is impatient or curious as to whether or not their book will snag an agent’s attention, and during a particularly difficult slog through the last half of the novel, decides to query. Likely, they think the wait-time will be enough that, by the time the agent replies (if at all), the book will be finished. But of course, that’s not always the case. The hardest part about writing a book is, um, finishing it. And queries themselves don’t require a full book… just part of one, and a general idea of the rest. So, I suspect there are a handful of writers with great ideas and unfinished manuscripts out there basically testing the market and looking for validation. They just may have no idea how to cope with it when it happens!

  4. Considering that a recent request I received ended up in my spam box despite my filters for that address being very low, I think the chance of emails going astray and/or into spam has to be relatively high. I know you said you send a followup, but often the problem is with the email for some reason (a spam bot has been spoofing it maybe?) and so the second would just follow the first.

  5. Anyone have any other scenarios to suggest?

    Top Ten reasons…
    1. Car crash resulting in coma/death.
    2. Hard drive meltdown.
    3. Self-sabotage due to fear of failure/fear of success paralysis.
    4. House fire.
    5. A spam rule/kill file with too criteria too broadly set.
    6. Someone else deleted it. Person with access to their e-mail who does not want them to succeed at writing for their own reasons.*
    7. Brain tumor.
    8. Loss of hands.
    9. Belief your email was a friend’s joke.
    10. Fear someone will be hurt/angry/jealous if they publish first (or other emotional issues for which you don’t want to be their therapist. See also No. 2.)
    Oh, I could do this for hours. Much more fun than revisions. *sigh* Back to it.
    *What? Me, paranoid?

  6. Non-Responders
    So stunned by positive reponse that:
    a)immediately passed out, conked head, developed amnesia and/or convinced they are now a whelk;
    b)forgot to hit “send” of affirmative, carefully worded response, promptly got drunk and decided during the ensuent hangover it was all a delusion;
    c)jumped up in shock/excitement, knocked over a large bookcase of drafts/rejections, got trapped, and is awaiting rescue by subsisting on stale twinkies.
    Personally, my response would be “yes, please, thankyouverymuch” before shrieking, followed by drinking and passing out with sugar plums dancing in my head.

  7. The last time an agent requested a full manuscript from me, I didn’t know about it until she telephoned the house looking for me, and she took the time to leave me a message on the cheap digital answering machine.
    Her email to me was delayed for ten days by a routing problem in her ISP that allowed some mail to be delivered instantly and others to be bounced back to her as undeliverable. Of course, she naturally didn’t see the bounce messages, which is typical, because sadly, bounces are a spam vector. Except when they’re actually reporting that your ISP is a clownshow, but that NEVER happens, right?
    Lesson: if a writer isn’t responding to emails, but you have a telephone number for him as well, then pick up the phone and call him.

    • Ah, yes — certainly that might work. But a surprising number of email queries do not include a phone number. Many also don’t include a postal address either. I’ve even had some where they don’t include their name.

  8. They don’t have the manuscript complete and sent a query as a test-run to see if it is worth finishing. I’ve thought of doing this myself and I’ve stopped myself because I know it is such a terrible idea. Why waste that first impression?

  9. Why indeed
    1. They were afraid to open the e-mail from you, thinking it was just going to be another in a long line of form rejections.
    2. They opened it, read it, and had an immediate coronary.

    • Re: Why indeed
      Possible variant on 1: The opening line of your response reads like a rejection, so they never get further than that.
      I once nearly missed out on an acceptance this way. I got as far as “Thank your for sending your story to us” and closed the email. Then for no obvious reason I thought: “Wasn’t there a ‘but’? I don’t remember seeing a ‘but’.” So I opened the email again. It continued “and we are very pleased to accept it for publication.”
      Might be worth taking a look at how you word your requests. Or putting “Manuscript requested” in the Subject field.

  10. another scenario
    Many years ago a friend of mine had “a great idea for a book.” He crafted a pretty good query letter, sent it off, and waited to see what would happen. He was so apprehensive he made me open the letters (many years = before electronic querying was even invented.)
    Several agents responded with “please send.” He never did. He’d lost interest in writing the thing and didn’t figure anyone would notice if he didn’t sent anything back. And in those days they might not have. Tracking queries and partial/full requests like this is a LOT easier with email!

  11. Likely they were eaten by a grue.

  12. The sad thing is that if properly constructed, an acknowledgment accompanied by a thoughtful explanation of the “problem” couldn’t possible be worse than the outright rejection you were expecting.
    “I need to apologize because I never really thought you would find my work good enough to request more, and, in my opinion, the last few chapters just aren’t up to snuff yet.”
    “I’m very sorry, but I submitted my query to a number of agents, and someone has already accepted the story for representation. Thank you, however, for the time and effort you put into reading and responding. I really do appreciate it.”
    “I’ve been injured rather severely, and although the details aren’t terribly important…not that many people have been hit by a piano falling from the third floor when the ceiling collapsed due to excessive snowfall…I haven’t been able to do much, and won’t until they take the cast off of my brain. If you wish, I can try to submit or re-query when that’s happened and I can again walk without the aid of three German Shepards.”
    “I appreciate the fact that you found the first five pages interesting, and I’d love to send you the rest of the manuscript to read. However, at this point in time, the story ends in the middle of page 11, and I have no idea where it’s going. I guess I shouldn’t have sent the query letter quite so soon. Thanks again for your interest.”
    Okay, even something like that would be better than silence. You close the door on today, but at least you might find it a little easier to open again later on.

  13. There could also be the “OMG, I’m not worthy” point where they justify that you made a horrible mistake and they crawl under the blankets wondering why they ever tried.
    In some ways, it is scary to succeed as it is to fail.

  14. My suspicions:
    1) Spam filter ate it. And ate the follow-up since it came from the same source. Might not even be their spam filter doing it, depending on how aggressive their ISP is about such things! (If the latter, they really have no way of spotting the issue even by chance.)
    2) They no longer have/check that email address but it’s not bouncing (yet). Some people get so sick of spam that they abandon an email account, or it’s been compromised somehow, or they just forget to check it.
    2a) They no longer have that email account, but the bounce is getting eaten by your spam filters, or your ISP’s.
    Although don’t discount your #4! On a mailing list I follow, one of the regulars posted that he’d been in a COMA after several days after being mugged! Eep!

  15. You deserve an explanation in any case. Only sudden illness or total loss of the computer might have some excuse.
    It seems to be a reason to require the complete ms. to be sent with the query, even if you request a hard copy, later. You at least know the state of the project.
    Even if you don’t read it all onscreen, you can browse around a bit, maybe do the “page 41 test.”

  16. computer meldown — eats files, and emails
    internet gremlins — they do occassionally dine on emails (writer is thinking why haven’t I heard from agent while agent is thinking why haven’t I heard from writer, gremlins are laughing)
    email snafu — internal glitch in which email is accidentially deleted due to either over-agressive spam filtering or not yet caffinated writer who hits the delete button at the wrong time (thinking those 100 enlargement emails are getting trashed, not realizing agent email, mom email and two other job postings are also getting wacked)
    The post office used to do all of the above, but nowdays computers have made losing things so much eaiser — nothing like tech to improve performance (just not in the direction you expect).

  17. The writers’ email addresses don’t happen to end in gmail.com? I once lost an acceptance from an editor this way because I never received it — it wasn’t in the spam, it just never arrived! Gmail does glitch sometimes. Luckily for me, the editor, having waited for a month for my answer, wrote to another email address that I provided in my cover letter.

  18. I had a situation somewhat like Adaveen’s — by the time I got the request from the agent, I had decided my MS needed a complete overhaul.
    In my case, I’m writing non-fiction — specifically, a biography of Michael Jackson. When he died, I thought, “OMG! I better get a bunch of queries out stat!” I sent out a few, then realized that a huge amount of new information about him was coming out, and decided to do a re-write of the whole book.
    Of the first few queries I sent out, one agent requested my proposal. I was too embarrassed to write back and say that I had decided to re-write my book. (Like Adaveen, I plead Generalized Anxiety Disorder.) The agent never contacted me again, so I figured she wasn’t all *that* interested. If she had contacted me a second time, I would have ‘fessed up.

  19. Professionalism
    I have yet to send any queries since my manuscript isn’t finished, but in my research into the process I keep hearing about professionalism. I’d like to think I’d respond in some manner at least as that would be the professional thing to do, but I could very well end up having a coronary at the mere request for partial.
    Then there’s my bride’s theory of my fear of success …

  20. If you’re applying to a lot of people it’s often easier, especially psychologically, to submit to a small number each day. After all you want to make sure that each query applies to the format specified by that particular agent and possibly tailor your pitch to suit your target.
    Thus it’s possible, if you get lucky, to be already signed for weeks by the time a response comes through. Although I concede that it would be good manners to send a thank you note.

  21. My husband and I are in a situation like this. The beginning of last June, we went to a writer’s conference and an editor was interested in our manuscript. He requested revisions and told us to re-submit. Unfortunately, on June 15th I was in a horrible car accident. (Little hint…sportscar vs. SUV..SUV wins!!!!) My car was totaled and next month I’m having rods implanted in my spine. Needless to say, the revisions have not been done and we’ve not submitted. We feel horrible about it and have no idea how to even approach the editor to see if we still have a chance.

    • Unfortunately, on June 15th I was in a horrible car accident. (Little hint…sportscar vs. SUV..SUV wins!!!!)
      Sorry about your husband! The SUV wins always not because of its more solid body but because its inertial mass which is way bigger than sportscar’s mass. If you consider a crash between a modern SUV with a strong body and an old car with weaker body but more weight the old car would win; always.
      Volkswagen Parts

  22. Be careful with your email format
    Something I didn’t see mentioned is the content of email. Everyone should avoid including images like a fancy signature, graphics or html. Some people have their systems set to dump email with those inclusions because they are sometimes suspect for viruses. Try to always use plain text for emails. The bells and whistles formatting isn’t necessary.
    At least that could avoid one potential problem.

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