Getting Published or E-published/Agent turnaround time


QUESTION: Hello there Richard!

My question is about agent turnaround times. I've been submitting manuscripts for about two years now. I use my Excel agent list and run my scripts out as they're completed.

Here's the thing. At first, I'd get about 90% rejections and 10% no response. About two years later now, I'm only getting about 10% rejections and 90% no response--from the same 20-30 agents I've been querying all this time.

Is it possible that these agents are "targeting" my submissions for automatic rejection, not even bothering to respond because they're recognizing my name (and apparently the bad quality of my work)? Do agents do things this way? Do they keep lists, or electronic filters, or something which automatically weeds out submissions they know they aren't going to accept based on previous submissions?

Should I change my pen name? Stop submitting? Should I send them notes inquiring about the status of my submissions? It's just really weird that these agents stopped sending replies (even rejections), and I'm confused.


ANSWER: Hi, Reba:

Thanks for writing.  You mention that you've been querying "...the same 20-30 agents" for about two years now.  Sadly, it is quite possible the agents you're submitting to have decided that your work is not up to par or that it's just not the kind of thing they represent to publishers.

Bear in mind, it could be either one of those things or neither. There's only one way to find out.  You shouldn't assume it's one or the other, not without receiving actual confirmations from the agents themselves.  

Here's what I would do:  take a step back from submitting manuscripts. Sit down and compose a letter asking the agents you've been querying why they no longer respond to your queries.  Be polite and accommodating.  Never be contentious or attempt to make them "feel bad" by asking them loaded questions such as, "Is it because my work is bad?" or "Do you not like me?"  That kind of thing. Keep it neutral and professional.

Then wait for the answers.

You should receive a reasonable response rate out of 30 or so agents.  Don't expect an answer from all, or even most, of them.  Take a collective look at their replies, and I suspect you'll have the answers you're looking for.  

If they tell you that your work isn't up to par, I recommend that you consider joining a writing group.  If there isn't one near you, you can always found your own.  I did, through, and we became one of the largest in L.A.

I hope this helps, and I wish you the best of luck with your writing endeavors.

Richard Dean Starr
Author - Editor - Entrepreneur
Co-Founder, - Part of eRead Technologies, LLC

"Soon to be the world's largest independent online bookstore with more than 22 MILLION new and used print books, ebooks, audio books, and reading-related merchandise items!"

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi again Mr. Starr,

Thanks for replying so quickly. This seems like a good idea.

My followup question is: if agents aren't replying to queries, why will they respond to a personal letter like you suggested? not replying to queries after a certain period of time standard business practice? Is it perhaps more likely that they'd send a reply stating, "Dear <blank>, your work is not what we're looking for. Please revise/reconsider/stop querying, at least for a time", or something like that?

Simply refusing to send a query response seems really rude and unprofessional, and I have some difficulty believing top agents would do such a thing...but that's my problem.

I find this confusing, because a few agents have given me very positive feedback. Some time ago, an agent wrote: "This concept is very interesting, and while it isn't right for my list, I wouldn't be surprised if another agent accepted it!" So, going on that, doesn't it seem likely that I'm on to something good here, and not part of the Utterly Awful Brigade?

I mean, agents don't usually send praise with their shouldn't this be a glimmer of hope for an aspiring author? Praise usually means that our work ISN'T bad enough for agents to just start ignoring it...right? Or am I deluding myself?

One last little question before we part: about how long should authors query various manuscripts before getting the message "Maybe you just aren't cut out for this business"? I've been submitting for about two years--short stories and novels--without getting one acceptance or request for more pages. Is this a sign that I'm pretty much doomed, or do I just have to keep trying until I find that magic combination of words? I read somewhere that Harry Turtledove wrote ten novels before selling his first one.....

Thanks again for your help. This advice is very useful, and it's helping me a lot.



Honestly, all agents don't come from the same school of thinking.  As I said in my previous letter, some may respond, others may not.  My guess is many will not, for a variety of reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with you.

As for agents being "rude" and "unprofessional", I can't speak to that because I don't know who you're querying.  And even if I did, that wouldn't tell me anything since I don't know many agents on a personal level.  Likewise, I cannot tell you why they're not responding in a certain way, or even why they stopped. Upon reflection, I'm sure it's obvious to you why I would not be able to tell you that or even proffer a useful opinion on that aspect of the situation.

Regarding another question you have, as to whether you're part of the "Utterly Awful Brigade"; I've never read your work--and cannot, for reasons I'm sure you're familiar with--so I can't tell you how good or bad you are.  In my experience, however, rejection by an agent is not the bottom-line on defining the quality of your work.  Really, there's only one way to tell:  submit it to an editor.  If they buy it, you’re good.  If they don’t keep trying…or see my previous letter for advice on writing workshops.

And to your last question:  that's a completely personal one.  I know people who have worked for many, many years to become successful.  Harry Turtledove happens to be one of them.  I’m fortunate enough to be acquainted with Harry--and in fact, was on a panel with him at a convention not too long ago--and he is not only one of the smartest and most talented people I've ever met, I suspect he's also one of the most persistent.

Quitters do not writers make, as it were.

Whatever you decide, I continue to wish you all the best,

Richard Dean Starr

Author - Editor - Entrepreneur
Co-Founder, - Part of eRead Technologies, LLC

"Soon to be the world's largest independent online bookstore with more than 22 MILLION new and used print books, ebooks, audio books, and reading-related merchandise items!"

Getting Published or E-published

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Richard Dean Starr


Experience in the area
Fiction in anthologies from Moonstone Books, Dark Horse Books, as well as stories in CEMETERY DANCE magazine and others. Non-fiction in STARLOG magazine, SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE, the TRIBUNE-GEORGIAN newspaper and more. I have published in excess of 200 articles, columns, and stories.

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Former member, the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and the Georgia Press Association.

I have written and published over 200 stories and articles including: "Unfinished Business" in HELLBOY: ODDER JOBS, edited by Christopher Golden (Darkhorse Books, 2004); "The Shadow That Shapes the Light" in KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER CHRONICLES (Moonstone Books, 2005); "Fear Itself", in the special Stephen King Halloween edition of CEMETERY DANCE magazine, (2005); also forthoming stories in: KOLCHAK: THE NIGHSTALKER CASE FILES (Moonstone Books, 2006); "Lessons Learned" in THE PHANTOM: ANTHOLOGY I (Moonstone Books, 2007), etc. Additional work published in a variety of magazines and newspapers, including STARLOG, SCIENCE FICTION CHRONICLE, the TRIBUNE-GEORGIAN, and many more


I can answer most questions about writing and publishing professional fiction and non-fiction in novel, book, and magazine formats.

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