(I’m pretty sure I’ve written on this topic before, but it’s worth a rehash.)
This week, we’ve been going through our unsolicited queries, asking for some manuscripts and passing on many more. I can always tell when my ever-patient assistant Danielle has been sending these emails, because I receive many emails reacting to my pass.
First, let me say this: Our generic passes are, by their nature and on purpose, vague. We do make sure to address the author by name , and mention the book queried (different from the old days of printed letters to Dear Author). But the response is short, and it is unambiguous: We are declining to represent the project queried.
Most authors, when they receive our passes, either say nothing or, often, send a quick “Thanks for your time” email. That’s very nice, though certainly unnecessary.
Sometimes, though, we get one of two kinds of email that we really aren’t looking for: The Request for More Information or the Rude Email.
The request for more information is often polite and respectful, and is the result of a perfectly reasonable instinct: The agent didn’t want my book, but what about it was unacceptable? Is it the writing? The plot? The market? Did I do something wrong in my pitch? Help me so I can do better next time, and my work will be more enticing.
Again, please understand: These are absolutely reasonable questions. But if you ask them of me, you almost certainly won’t hear back, and it’s not because I’m a hard-hearted jerk who doesn’t want to help you. It’s because I get a LOT of queries and a LOT of requests like that. I also have something like 52 clients. If I tried (or split time with Danielle trying) to give advice to authors I’ve declined to work with, I would have even less time for each of the clients I have accepted. So our basically blanket policy is therefore to answer none of these requests. If we are close to accepting a project, or if there is something glaring that is the difference between acceptance and rejection, we might say so, but we’d do so without being asked. But fundamentally, a pass is not, unfortunately, an invitation to further discussion. And please believe me when I say that we really do feel bad when we don’t respond.
The other email we get is the Rude email, which comes in a couple of forms. There is the “Fuck you, you wouldn’t recognize quality writing if it whacked you in the head.” There is the “that’s OK, I didn’t really want to work with you, anyway.” And there is the “Fuck you, you wouldn’t recognize quality writing AND I didn’t want to work with you anyway.”
Well that makes two of us. Ultimately, there’s little purpose in being nasty about a pass-response, other than possibly making the writer feel good for a minute. But we’re pretty thick skinned, most of the time. And we get rejected CONSTANTLY by editors. And we typically throw up our hands, curse to ourselves (or out loud in some particularly painful circumstances), and then write a nice, polite, “ah well, thanks for the read” email to the editor. It’s what you do.