Sunday, May 29, 2011

Response, No Response, Autoresponse

A peek behind the curtain at the Agency:

Some weeks ago (a month or more, actually) ABLit underwent a server change. Now, that may not mean much to you (it didn't to me, until it happened) - but the repercussions were, well, irritating for us, and for many of you as well. To wit: I didn't get email at all for a couple of days, at least. And once that was fixed, there was still the little matter of Querys.

The Great Autoresponder Crisis of '11.

We realized we had a problem when writers started panicking. They'd write, or just resend queries over and over, or call the agency up, or post mean things about us on message boards, because DID THEIR QUERIES GO THROUGH????  Then came email... after email... after email... to our valiant webmistress and various People Who Know Things About Things. Then more a month or more of MORE emails, where everyone at the agency processed the fact that, apparently, for whatever reason, our new server made our Query Autoresponder null, and impossible to restore.  Sigh. We all went around in circles about WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE AUTORESPONDER.

At a certain point I just wanted the whole thing to go to the devil and start taking paper queries again. Who even needs a computer? But now, thank goodness, sanity has been restored.

When you query me, if you follow submission guidelines and put "query" in the subject line of the email, you should get an email that looks something like this:
This is a confirmation that your email was received.

Because of the high volume of submissions we receive, we are not always able to respond personally to every query. If we are interested in your work, we will follow up with you by email or phone. However, If you haven't heard from us within 6-8 weeks, please assume your work is not a fit for our agency. 

We do understand and appreciate the effort that goes into getting your work out, and we wish we had time to respond personally to all submissions. Unfortunately, this is no longer a business reality.
Thank you for thinking of Andrea Brown Literary Agency in regard to your work. 
I am sharing the contents of this automatic message with you here on the blog so I can make a few points about it. And, because I get questions about it all the time, and I like to be transparent, I'll share with you my method of query-reading, and a bit more on our response policy.

1) This is merely an automatic message. It is in no way a judgment about the quality of the work you have presented. It is not a rejection. It is not anything. There is no need for a response to this.

1b) In fact, if you respond to this, because I have threaded email, your query will move farther away from the front of the line, because I read queries in the order received. (It doesn't matter too much, but just a point of fact.)

2) Because we are, theoretically, a "No Response Means No" agency, a lot of writers get quite distressed, thinking we might not even GET their query, and how would they know? This automatic message seeks to remedy this problem. At least you know that the query got to us.

3) The reality is, we get a crushing amount of email every week. Most of my colleagues adhere strictly to "No Response Means No." And they will probably want to strangle me for saying this (sorry guys). But... I really do try to respond to things, at least with a one-line form rejection, despite the fact that our official policy is "No Response Means No." It is just a personal quirk of mine, I truly hate leaving loose ends.

I read everything myself. EVERYTHING. I do not have a reader for slush. I tend to read things a few days a week, sort them into folders, and then respond all on one day a month. My response time is generally 4-6 weeks or less. However, there have been times where that is just impossible despite my best intentions, and I don't want you to be endlessly on the string... so, yeah. If you haven't heard in 8 weeks, consider it a no. And I do not respond to material that falls outside the scope of what I represent, nor to authors who have failed to follow our (very simple) query guidelines.

Remember: Client reading MUST come first, Slush reading MUST come last. I like you, but you are not a priority... which is, of course, something that my clients appreciate. And you will too, if you become a client.

4) You really don't have to respond to form rejections, either. In fact, it is just more stuff in the query box to wade through, and I'd rather you didn't. I don't need thanks, and I just don't have time for follow-up questions of the "who WOULD like this, then" variety - that is research you should be doing yourself. Though a "thanks" for extensive notes on a full is appreciated, if only so that I know that you got them.

5) If something is good, but not right for the agent you have selected, we will share it with our colleagues. For this reason, a "No" from one of us is a "No" from all of us - even if it is of the "no response" variety. The only exception to this is if you have made a connection to one of us at a conference or similar and we have requested your work -- but if so, please be up-front about your query history at the agency.

I apologize personally for any confusion that this dark period in our email lives has caused. If you have questions, or anything about this is unclear, feel free to ask in comments.