Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 2, 2014


I receive so many questions about what to do when you do not get a reply to what you submitted. I think we all will be interested in this article written by Elizabeth Law about how to handle the situation.


Waiting for a reply can seem like watching the tumbleweeds roll...

Waiting for a reply can seem like watching the tumbleweeds roll…

#1.  Maybe an editor said something encouraging to you at a conference, and, as requested, you sent them your manuscript.  Since then it has been radio silence.  Here’s what you can do.  After 10-12 weeks, follow up with an email, reminding him or her, “we met at XXX, you said you’d like to take a look at my story about XXX, and because 10-12 weeks have passed, I wanted to follow up.  Here is my manuscript again, thank you very much for your time and consideration.”  That’s right, attach the manuscript, don’t have the editor go hunting for your email from 10 weeks ago. This way they can click and start reading.  If you haven’t heard back in another month, move on.

Mandy and Bernadette knew it in Sunday in the Park with George: you've got to Move On.

Mandy and Bernadette knew it in Sunday in the Park with George: you’ve got to Move On.

(In this case, move on means submit to the next person on your list, and don’t expect ever to hear back from the original publishing house. You don’t need to officially withdraw the manuscript.  If by some miracle the first editor later says he or she is interested in your book, and you haven’t yet sold it, then great.  But meanwhile you’ve taken your career into your own hands.)<img Mandy and Bernadette knew it in Sunday in the Park with George: you’ve got to Move On.”

Mandy and Bernadette knew it in Sunday in the Park with George: you’ve got to Move On.

#2.  Regrettably, in this era, silence is the new no.  Many literary agents have realized they don’t have the time to reply to every query they receive, so they’ve enacted a policy of “if you don’t hear from us in ___ weeks, assume we’ve passed.”

Here’s what to do when you’ve queried and agent and the allotted time to hear back has passed: MOVE ON.

Waiting for just the right literary agent or editor to say yes to you is like being in 7th grade and waiting for just the right boy, the one you know is perfect and you will spend the rest of your life with, to ask you out.  You are much, much better off moving on to the guy standing right next to him in the lunch line.

This is also a good rule for a publishing house accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and for editors or publishers who are accepting submissions for a certain period after a conference. If you don’t hear back from them after 12-16 weeks, assume it’s a no and move on.

#3.  You have signed with a literary agent, but they aren’t getting back to you.  Maybe they don’t return your calls, maybe they don’t answer your emails.  Everyone slips up now and again, of course, and that’s not what I’m talking about.  Have you left a few messages in a row for your agent, either by email or phone, and not gotten a reply? Has that happened several times? End the relationship.  The LAST thing you want is an agent who doesn’t return your calls or emailsThe publishing process is frustratingly slow and thorny and fraught with all sorts of issues.  Your agent is your champion; he or she goes into battle for you.  You do not want to be in that battle not knowing when your weaponry is going to show up.  Send an email and say you’re terminating the relationship. Do it now.

(And don’t be scared. Most agents are excellent.  But I get asked about this every few months, so I’m including it.)

#4.   An editor tells you he is taking your manuscript to an acquisitions meeting, then you don’t hear anything further. Follow up, by phone or email, remembering the rule, “always be polite and to the point.”  Say “You said you were bringing my book to the committee, has there been a response?” I know, I know, who wants to send that email and hasten the chance of hearing “I’m afraid the committee passed?”  But it’s better to hear “no” and move on. It’s also possible your editor needs to be prodded to get that book onto the meeting agenda.  You just don’t know.  You need to follow up.

Nota bene: ALWAYS be nice. Never lose your cool and yell at an editor, even by email, even when he deserves it.  First, you never know the full story—I got screamed at, really screamed at, once when it was my boss causing the delay, but what could I do but take the heat? And second, venting is what you have friends for.  The editor is disorganized, doesn’t value your time, has kept you hanging, repeatedly breaks her word about when she’s going to reply… all true.  Still, be professional, courteous, and polite. For one thing, when a writer is nice and understanding, we, the editors, only feel more guilty and determined to treat you well and to finally get you an answer.  Secondly, one day you may need that person you just reamed out.  He may be sitting in the audience at sales conference, and be able to tell a rep “Oh, I know that author, so talented.” Or you may end up sitting next to that editor on a panel at a conference, who knows? Don’t burn bridges.  Act professionally and then go out for drinks with your BFF and get it all off your chest.

manuscript#5:  Perhaps your book is under contract, but your editor isn’t getting back to you with editorial notes, or with anything else.  You want to revise, you have another book you need to work on, and you need to know what’s going on.  But although you’ve emailed the editor three times to ask about the book’s schedule, you hear nothing.  If you have an agent, easy, just tell the agent and he or she will deal with it.  (Unless the agent doesn’t return your calls, in which case, see #2).  But if you don’t have an agent, and you aren’t hearing back from your editor? Email their boss.  Yup.  Email the publisher, remembering to be professional and concise, saying “I haven’t had an answer to my questions about the book’s schedule and I’m getting worried that my revision might conflict with another project; of course I understand how busy my editor is, but I wonder if you have information for me?”  The publisher then forwards it to the editor who deals with it immediately.

Ok, everyone hates that answer, but it really works.

Click to read Elizabeth’s Bonus Tip and the rest of the article.

Elizabeth Law is available for consultation on your manuscript and career and for social networking tutorials, among other services. See her website,, for more information.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I’ve been worrying about this lately, as a couple of agents have my manuscript but I haven’t had a word back for a while. Some other writer friends (and mentors) have advised that I email them back to politely check in. Hopefully something comes of it…

    Thanks for the advice, Elizabeth.


  2. Angela, re. following up with an agent. If their policy says “no answer means no,” then, alas, that’s the answer. But look closely at their posted policy. If they have a stated response time and have passed it, you can politely follow up, including your original submission again, because, as I said, make it easy for them. Good luck!


  3. Great tips! Thank you for sharing. Following-up is sometimes never easy because you never like to sound too pushy.


  4. VERY useful info, Kathy and Elizabeth! Thank you 😀


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