In the old days we had to include a stamped and addressed postcard with our submissions sent by snail post, but at least you could be sure they had got there when your postcard came back.
Now, even if you include a polite request for an acknowledgment, many agents don’t bother to send one or answer subsequent emails. On the whole emails get to their destination but most of us have problems with our emails from time to time.
I know literary agents are busy and overwhelmed and all that, but it’s so easy to set up an ‘out of office’ type reply. Elaine Borish charts the initial failure of 33 famous authors from Jane Austen to Zane Grey to get published, but at least they did get replies!!
The Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency is a paragon of virtue in this matter. Their reply to a submission was by return:
Thank you very much for your email.
For all writers, this is to acknowledge receipt of your work. We personally read everything that comes into the MM Agency and will respond directly within the next twelve weeks if we are considering representation. Do let us know straight away if another agent requests your complete manuscript or, indeed, if you receive an offer of representation. If you have not heard from us within twelve weeks, please take this to mean that we are no longer considering representation. Regrettably, we do not have the time to respond individually to each submission due to the sheer volume that the agency receives and the necessity of fulfilling our obligations to our existing clients. If you do not receive a response, please do not be downhearted. We receive a lot of very strong material but have to feel incredibly passionate about it from the moment we start reading in order to champion it effectively. This makes it a very personal decision, and one which might well differ from other agents. Many thanks for sending us your work, and we look forward to reading it.
With my best wishes, Madeleine Milburn
Why can’t the others do the same?? It’s unreasonable to expect critiques or advice from agents – though some agents took the time to add an encouraging explanation to their ‘No’ to Woman in a White Coat – but an automatic acknowledgment takes virtually no effort once it is set up.