By: Jeff Herman - Literary Agent

I will not be ignored!” screams Alex Forrest, the book editor played by Glenn Close, to her philandering lover played by Michael Douglas in the classic film, Fatal Attraction. 

What perfect karma, a book editor being ignored, even though her job was not relevant to the conflict. Too bad about the rabbit, though.

It’s an inalienable truth that any writer who aggressively pitches his or her work will encounter abundant rejections along the way. You know that. But what you may not have been prepared for was the big-loud-deafening nothing at all. You followed the given protocols; have been gracious, humble and appreciative; and have done nothing egregious. And you would never boil a rabbit. So what’s your reward? Absolutely nothing; you have been ignored. 

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A document stating that your work has been rejected, even if clearly generic, may be a much more welcome outcome than the silence of an empty universe. At least that formal rejection letter reflects that you are part of a genuine process. True, you have been turned away at the gate, but it still seems that you belong to a fraternity of sorts. It’s like you’re an understudy, or simply wait-listed. Your existence is acknowledged even if un-welcomed, whereas to be ignored is proof of nothing. Nature abhors a vacuum, and any writer with nerve endings will understand why soon enough, if not already.

I write this essay because of the frequent feedback I receive from readers complaining about the non-responsiveness of editors and agents. I have carefully considered this phenomenon and how it must negatively affect the morale and stamina of those who are endeavoring in good faith to be published. I have decided that to be ignored deserves its own category in the travails of writing, and that it inflicts even more pain and frustration than the proverbial rejection. I shall designate it with a logical term: Ignored.

Why are so many writers ignored by editors and agents? I will respond to that with questions of my own. Why are so many children ignored? Why are so many of the poor and needy ignored? Why are so many social problems ignored? I could ask this question in countless ways, and the primary universal answer would essentially remain the same: It’s far easier to do nothing.

Let’s get back to our specific context. Agents and editors have demanding, often tedious, workloads that overwhelm the typical 40-hour work week (they tend to put in way more hours than that, even though they can rarely bill by the hour or receive extra pay). They are rewarded for generating tangible results, which is most often measured in the form of monetary revenues. Taking the time to respond to writers, even in a purely perfunctory manner, might be the courteous thing to do, but neither their businesses nor their bosses will reward their kindness. You may feel such inaction is a misguided and shortsighted “policy,” and you might be right, but it doesn’t change the facts as they are.

Does being ignored mean that you have actually been read and rejected? This question can’t be answered, because you’re being ignored. It’s possible that someone did read your work and rejected it, and then threw it out even if an SASE was attached. Why would someone do that? Because it’s much easier to and they can’t justify the time it would take to answer as many as 100 submissions per week. It’s also possible that your submission has not been read and may never be read, because nobody is available to screen the “incoming” in any organized fashion. It’s not out of the question that submissions will accumulate in numerous piles and boxes for several years before they are simply discarded, never to be opened. Does this strike you as harsh or ridiculous? Whatever; it is the way it is.

What is certain is that if your work is read and accepted, you will hear about it.

In closing, my message to you is that you not allow being ignored to diminish your dreams and goals. It’s simply a part of the process and part of the emotional overhead you might encounter on your road to success. It’s also a crucial reason why you should not put all of your manuscripts in one basket. To do so may be tantamount to placing your entire career into a bottomless pit. Making multiple submissions is reasonable and wise if you consider the possible consequences of granting an exclusive without any deadline or two-way communications. Please refer to the other essays and words of advice in this book to keep yourself from becoming a victim of Ignored Writer Syndrome (IWS).

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