From the November/December issue of the bulletin: SCBWI's Open Letter to the Industry
Should editors and agents change their policy on responding to unsolicited submissions?
An Open Letter to the Industry
There has been much controversy of late about whether or not writers
are entitled to expect a response from agents and editors to their unsolicited
submissions. Many publishing houses have adopted the policy that no response
constitutes a rejection of the project. More recently, some agents have begun to
adopt this policy. If there is no response in a given period of time, which ranges
from three to six months, it is assumed that the project was rejected and writers
are free to submit their work elsewhere.
We at the SCBWI understand and are sympathetic to the rigors involved in
responding to each submission. The last thing we want to espouse is additional
unnecessary paperwork for editors and agents, whose time is best spent
developing worthy book projects. Their time is valuable and scarce. however, a
writer’s time is also valuable, and the no-response system steals months or even
years from our marketing efforts. The fact that a writer will never hear back about
the fate of his or her manuscript leaves us hanging in limbo, never being sure
that the manuscript arrived, was looked at, or was ever under consideration.
From the writers’ point of view, never hearing back encourages us to undertake
multiple submissions so as not to waste time waiting for an answer that may
never come. This is clearly bad for the industry; more multiple submissions
will further clog an already overcrowded pipeline. The sCbWI discourages mass
submissions. We teach our members, and provide them the tools, to target
their submissions specifically to agents or publishers who have demonstrated
an interest in a particular type of work. however, if our members never hear
back, even in a form rejection or an auto-response email, how can they be
expected NOT to mass submit?
There must be some way to accommodate the two sides of this
issue by providing writers with the feedback we need without unnecessarily
consuming an agent’s or editor’s valuable time. as an organization, we encourage
both publishers and agents to find a cost-effective and efficient way to let writers
know that they are free to submit elsewhere. surely in this age of auto-response
and other electronically sophisticated means, a quick and easy response click
is readily available and would mean a great deal to writers who are trying to conduct
their careers in a businesslike way.
Stephen Mooser, President
Lin Oliver, Executive Director