Last week, a number of agents weighed in on whether "no response means no" is a good policy. I have some ideas for making the whole rejection process easier on everyone, but ultimately I think it doesn't matter. Querying is hard. Rejection sucks. And agents can do whatever they like; I'm still going to query them all.*
* Well, maybe not the snail-mail-only agents. That's really difficult from out here.
I agree with all three agents linked above. Rachelle says not responding allows her to get through more queries (agreed). Janet says setting up an auto-responder and a simple form reject is not that hard and is better business practice (agreed). Nathan says agents don't owe authors a response (big agreed).
That last one is today's topic. Because while the agents involved have been very nice and logical and wise, a number of writers have commented with something along the lines of, "How dare you not respond to every query. That's just common decency! It's rude to treat your customers this way."
I once talked about the sense of entitlement readers have towards authors. This is kind of the same thing.
Here's the thing: Unless you have a contract with somebody, that somebody owes you nothing.
A contract, in this case, can mean many things. And we, the unrepresented, do have a contract with the agents we query, but it's not what you think. Even the AAR canon of ethics -- the closest thing there is to a moral standard for agents -- barely mentions "potential clients," saying only that agents shouldn't charge them for anything.
We are not their customers. We are not even their clients. We are, to all purposes, applying for a job.
It's just like sending out a resume, or giving a girl (or guy) your phone number. If they're not interested, they may or may not call. It's up to us to move on.
Most agents state clearly on their websites what to expect. For example, "We accept unsolicited queries, but unfortunately we can only respond it we're interested."
There's your contract. By sending an unsolicited query to an agent (the first half), we implicitly agree to no response unless they're interested (the second half). It's not legally binding, no, but if they say they don't respond, what right do we have to get mad about it?
If you don't like it, don't query them.
But what about common decency? Well, I would argue that common decency demands we look at it from their point of view and not make a big stink about it. Just accept the no response and move on. It's not like our chances of getting published are dependent on whether or not we get that form rejection from everyone.
Janet Reid points out that writers are also readers, and that it's better for business to be as polite as possible at all times. I agree, and you know what? Agents are readers too. When writers publicly complain about how agents are snobbish and arrogant and have poor taste, that's equally bad business. Probably worse.
What do you think about "no response means no"? Do agents owe us anything?