How do you know when no is “no”?

I’ve been submitting my latest YA manuscript to agents. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the submissions game, and things have changed since then. It used to be that, even if the agent hated your work, she would send you a form rejection letter (which later became a form rejection email). We writers hated those things. They were so impersonal, and they gave you no feedback that you could use to improve your writing.

These days, it would be heaven to see a form rejection – or a rejection of any kind – in my inbox. (Actually, what I’d REALLY love to see is an acceptance letter, but that’s beside the point.) At least with a form rejection you had closure. But now that so many agents simply don’t respond if they’re not interested, you’re left wondering whether your submission got lost in the shuffle or the agent simply hasn’t had time to read it or if it’s really, truly a “no.”

I’m not going to rant, here, and my object is not to blame. I know agents are busy. I understand that their inboxes are overflowing and that they read on nights and weekends, struggling to stay on top of the workload. They’re simply doing what they have to do to survive, and I respect that. The question is, how do writers adjust to this new reality?

I always seem to use dating and relationships as metaphors for the writing and publishing process, and I’m going to do it again. You know when you go out on a first date with a guy that you seem to have a lot in common with, and you sense some sparks? You don’t want to be that girl who checks your phone every few minutes the next day to see if he’s texted or called, but you do. A day goes by, and then another, and you tell yourself that he’s busy, or maybe he’s just giving you a little space. A week goes by, and he still hasn’t contacted you, and the slowly truth dawns: this relationship you thought had so much potential isn’t going to happen. But somewhere in the back of your mind, you can’t help holding out hope.

I was always one of those girls who politely waited, who hung on until the last flicker of hope died out. But the new world of publishing demands a different mindset.¬†Agents have adopted the no-response protocol as a way to preserve their time, energy, and sanity; I’ve decided that I have to put my own needs front and center, too. In order to achieve my goal of finding representation, I have to keep dating, keep putting my work out there. If a particular agent hasn’t responded within a reasonable amount of time, I need to cross her off my list and move on.

That’s not to say that I won’t keep a secret candle burning for that special connection I thought I’d sensed, for that dream of a call out of the blue eight months or even a year down the road.

But I won’t count on it.

How do you deal with the “no response means no” policy? How has it impacted you?

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