Why no response was the deal-breaker for me

Yesterday, Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware brought to my attention to a post with which I wholeheartedly agree, and then some. Go read it Do editors not say no because they can no longer say yes?. In short, it is a sad commentary on the latest status quo adhered-to by many publishers and agents: that they only respond if they’re interested, and that responses routinely take twelve months or more.

Regular readers of this blog, and my other blogs, will know that I have long riled against this trend.

The compliant amongst them have–repeatedly and to my great annoyance–reminded me that “this is how the industry works” and “just be patient, Luke”.

Well, yes, there is being patient and being patient. Some examples.

In 2009, I had completed book 1 of the Icefire Trilogy. I sent out five queries to agents. I got three requests for material, two of which led to a request for a full manuscript.

It was a scary moment. I might actually sell this thing. You know, wow.

One of those agents–someone I respect very much–replied after an acceptable time with reasons why she wouldn’t take the manuscript on.

Fair enough, I thought. I’ll send out a couple more queries. I did, in two batches.


Not. A. [insert expletive]. Word.

You see, meanwhile, the effects of the GFC had hit the publishing industry, and everyone was sitting on their hands. At the end of the year everyone reported on how few new writers they’d signed. I never heard back from anyone, including the agent who still has my full (if you’re reading this, shame on you).

I also, in 2008, wrote a 10,000-word story that led to the trilogy. I submitted it to a magazine in June 2009. As of this moment, I am still waiting for a reply. Oh, yes, I did ascertain that they actually had my submission. It was “passed up to the editor”. They’ve had some one thousand and eighty days to think about it.

I mean–seriously?

Where in the world would this sort of behaviour not just be condoned, not just be accepted, but EXPLAINED AWAY by those taking part in the process?

If instead of “large publisher” or “XYZ literary agency”, you inserted “Microsoft” or “Apple” the internets would be exploding with outragedness, and said companies would meet the wall very quickly. OK, authors are not customers. They are content-providers, probably on par with the hamsters who occupy the offices at the large companies. So–if Microsoft and Apple treated their employees with such contempt, the internets would STILL explode with outragedness.

What is it that makes aspiring authors not only accept this behaviour, but pat any fellow writer who gets upset about it on the head with a “there, there, dear”?

Luke will not be patient and grin and bear it, and if that makes me Darth Vader, then so be it.

Is it really a wonder that so many writers are voting with their feet? Out of sheer frustration? Especially those writers who have something that might actually sell, because they’re just not willing to wait twelve months for someone to decide about it, and then a year and a half or more for them to actually publish it? For an average advance of $5000?

Fortunately, there are some companies–publishers mainly–who are doing the right thing.

Angry Robot responds to all of their open door submissions in timely fashion. Kudos.
A number of magazines (you can find them on Duotrope) repond very quickly indeed. Kudos.

And the latest: the other day, I made a submission to a publisher where I will not have to worry about how long it takes them to respond, or whether they will respond at all, because the submission guidelines expressly stated that it was OK to submit self-published material.

It is the future. The rest of the industry had better pull up its socks.