It’s something every writer who aims to publish a book through traditional means must deal with one day—the dreaded Silent Gatekeepers. But is it really fair for writers to criminalize the cold shoulder treatment?
The Silent Gatekeepers (that sounds like some Dungeons & Dragons level boss, but I think it sums them up pretty well) are those editors or agents or publishers who happily receive your manuscript or query with open arms and are never heard from again. That empty inbox rings out a lonely death knell for your dreams, temporarily at least. And yes, you can and should get off your rear-end and send your book out to someone else, but the silent treatment is rarely a jump-for-joy cause for celebration.
The basic quandary, of course, is that the ratio of gatekeepers to party crashers is, and will forever be, overwhelming. Yes, there are plenty of agents out there, and a diversification and specification of small publishing houses has created multiple access points for writers of various genres, but there will always be fifteen-quadrillion creators for every handful of bleary-eyed editors digging through a slush pile with an orthopedic snow shovel.
A large number of agencies and publishers make valiant efforts to respond to each and every submission, or as many as they possibly can given the deluge. But I am a novelist seeking representation in my free time as well as an editor at WD, and from my experience (and from endless conversations I’ve had with other aspiring novelists), some agencies and editors simply leave the phone off the hook. Don’t call us, we’ll call you, so to speak. (By the way, DO NOT call them. That’s a major no-no.)
There are just too many submissions to reply to them all, so we writers end up with the cold shoulder, and if you thought it felt bad when you were looking for a prom date, let me tell you, it doesn’t feel any better at 32 with a blood-and-sweat stained manuscript in your arms. (By the way, don’t send anyone a blood-and-sweat stained manuscript…for everyone’s sake, don’t.) But gatekeepers don’t snub you because it makes their day. They are as exasperated by the ratio as much as you are. The numbers just aren’t computable. I can understand that, to a degree.
But only to a degree, because on the other hand, thousands upon thousands of would-be “bestselling” writers have taken the time to read through the agency bios, the About Us sections of publishing house websites, the submission guidelines, and the FAQ pages. (You DID do that, didn’t you? Don’t leave me hanging out to dry here, writers.) And in return for the research, reading, fine-tuning, and query writing, the least we deserve would be a one word email in red eighty-point font saying NO, right?
Because I’d rather have a NO than nothing. We writers don’t ask for a lot (shhhh, we’ll ask for the moon once they represent us, but for now, keep quiet and let me do the talking), but for the time it took to write the book, carefully craft our queries, and find the one gatekeeper who might say yes is more than a second job. It’s a second (or third) career. It’s an incredible amount of work. So, how about a little love, oh weary gatekeepers? Just a little?
The compromise is the suggested waiting limit. The “If you don’t hear from us within six weeks…consider moving on” deal. When I was younger and a bit more crass, I sneered at such a waiting period, but as I get older and wiser more diplomatic, I’m willing to take a “cable man no-show” time frame instead of a “keep guessing, rube” cold shoulder. It’s palatable, and to be honest, fair.
But we don’t want fair, do we? We want a little human tete-a-tete. An email feels satisfying, even when it’s a rejection. It’s a validation that we’re all in this together, reading and working and struggling to get the best stories into the hands of the readers. A reply in any form is more than fair. In fact, it’s the golden, fire-breathing, flying unicorn-dragon of awesomeness. Especially compared to the Silent Gatekeepers. So agents, editors, and publishers, I implore you—cast aside your cloak of reticence and reach out, say hi, or say go away and never write us again…say something. Ok?
On the other hand, we should all give credit where credit is due. I’ve had my fair share of agencies reply (about a 40% rate so far), such agencies as the Rees Literary Agency, the Donald Maass Literary Agency, and Harvey Klinger Inc., among others. Plenty do reply, and we writers should support that ideology any way we can. If you get a reply, pass on the news to others. Blog about it. Tell a friend. And reply with a thank you. In a world where “If you don’t hear from me by Thursday, it’s a no” has become the norm, we should tip our hat to those gatekeepers who are doing their best to keep their head above water while keeping you in the loop—directly and professionally.
There are a lot of great agents and editors out there. Show the love, and someday they might show it right back…just make sure you read their submission guidelines, will ya?
Have you had any positive experiences with agencies, even if they said no thank you? Or are you an agent who deserves a ticker-tape parade (no sarcasm; you really do) for replying to each and every query? Feel free to share below!