Query Tips: When to Respond

Submittable allows us to customize a message thanking writers for sharing their work when they first submit. Do not respond to this message! Asking a question before we have a chance to read any pages definitely shoots up a small warning flag about author expectations. Even thank you notes at this stage make us wonder if the author will be high maintenance. Let us read your work. Be patient.

When we do respond, if it’s a rejection, it’s okay to write back and thank us if you wish, or to take the rejection and move on without responding. Either is appropriate. If we offer personal feedback, and you feel compelled to address it specifically, do it carefully and not defensively, because the editors on the other side of the process put their own free time into giving you something other than a form rejection.

Feedback means we liked your pages. We decided the time it would take to articulate our reactions and then share them with you might help your novel reach the place it needs to be.

It’s not okay to outright argue back that something that bumped us means something else, or becomes something else, and if we only read a little farther…

It’s also not okay to respond with synopses of five more of your manuscripts. If you want another chance with our committee, since there’s nothing in the rules (this year) about multiple submissions, upload another manuscript and wait for us to take a look and get back to you. I’m not going to read anything off the platform when our committee is actively reading on the platform.

Some agents, editors, and publishers may prefer no response from authors who receive rejections, but for me personally, if my readers and I have taken the time to really dig into what didn’t work for us–whether it’s a taste thing or a specific problem that’s holding the work back–it’s never a bad thing to say thank you. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy, it doesn’t have to address what we said specifically, and how you might fix it, but it could, if it comes from a place of gratitude, not one of frustration.

Sometimes we get responses about our rejections being the best rejections ever, or how the specific issues we mentioned have helped the writer jumpstart a revision. And that is why, if we are able to identify a specific issue about why a novel isn’t working for us, we try to find the words and the time to say it.

Too many times writers get the no-rejection rejection–no response = so sorry not for us, or possibly the email never arrived. We’ve been on the outside as writers, knocking and hearing nothing in return, so when we can, we open the door and say, “Here’s why it didn’t work for us, and I hope this helps.”


About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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6 Responses to Query Tips: When to Respond

  1. susielindau says:

    That is my biggest pet peeve as a writer. I may have spent days researching one agent and agency. I would much rather have a computer generated rejection letter than no response at all. On the other hand, some of my best input has been from personal rejection letters.
    A couple agents showed interest, (one even read the whole book) and then declined based on not making a connection with my character. Would it be okay to resubmit a query after a huge overhaul? And if so, how should the email subject title read?
    Thanks, Laura!

    • I’d probably do a very informal reply to the original rejection saying you’ve done an overhaul specifically addressing her/his feedback, and asking if the agent would take a look. I’ve done this before and had the agent say yes, absolutely. But you have to be sure you’ve done all the work, and really addressed the specific issue the agent had, because you won’t get a third shot. In these instances, I often float the draft to other readers first, just to be sure. Crafting a sentence that lists a few specific changes might be a good idea. And it shouldn’t be too soon after the rejection or they’ll assume you didn’t have time to do the really heavy work. I sometimes get resubmissions after a week and think wow, that’s not going to be enough.

  2. “It’s not okay to outright argue back that something that bumped us means something else, or becomes something else, and if we only read a little farther…”

    As a writing professor of mine would have asked, “Are you going to be there every time somebody reads your book, so you can explain to each reader why they should keep on reading?” 🙂

    • Anthony, it’s amazing how many writers have explanations to share, instead of accepting the feedback that something isn’t working. It’s important to remind them that readers will approach the text on their own.

  3. Good responses, Laura! As an editor for 21 years at Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines, I can relate!

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