It seems the vast majority of querying writers are of the opinion that the "no response" policy is rude. There have been comparisons to agents being employees, and that writers have the power even if it may not look like it at times. There have also been comparisons to "customer service," and the fact that it's just bad business not to respond to a customer.
I think writers are kind of missing the point.
Because the agent/writer relationship is NOT an employer/employee relationship. The agent/writer relationship is a partnership.
It has really bugged me that some people are claiming that agents are writers' employees. Anna, my agent, is NOT my employee. She is employed by Curtis Brown. If I viewed her as my employee, that would mean that I am completely in charge of not only the relationship, but my own career.
This is not the case.
I know that might sound terrifying to some writers, but it is the truth. If you are seeking an agent, you are seeking a business partner. That business partner has certain assets that would be beneficial to you, such as connections at publishers and experience with the market. But to get those benefits, you have to give up some freedom, so to speak. You are no longer the sole person invested in your career—you have a partner.
If Anna were my employee, that implies that I have the freedom to boss her around and tell her how to do her job. I can't even imagine! It implies that I could tell her how I want her to submit my work to editors and who I want it subbed to. I could tell her to sign my friends because I like their work even if she might not. If I were truly her employer, I suppose I could decide to pay her less commission, too.
Obviously this is not the case. Nor would I want it to be! I am with an agent because I believed it would benefit my career. I wanted help and direction in my writing. I wanted a partner who could help me get my work out there in a bigger way than I could on my own.
I am lucky to have Anna as my partner in this writing adventure. It is a symbiotic relationship. I provide her with good material, and she finds an editor to buy it. She gets to enjoy my success as well as hers. We discuss things—I don't tell her what to do. I use her wisdom, while she listens to and embraces my ideas. This is what it is to be in partnership with an agent.
Which brings me to the "customer service" comments. While I can see why writers are saying that they are agents' customers, it's simply not the truth. You can say that you will be paying for a service, thus you are always right, as the "good service" canon says. But it's slightly different. You are NOT a customer—readers are customers. You are a potential business partner.
Agents do not take any money upfront, though their upfront work load can be quite heavy. There is usually much editing to be done. They have to prepare a sub list, make calls, use their connections, all while balancing other clients AND potential clients. So you can't really be called a customer because you have paid nothing for their work—and there is no guarantee that you will pay for their work.
So what is the agent really looking for when open to queries? An agent is looking for a good investment.
That's right. Because it's a partnership. Agents want to invest in your work, give you a leg up in hopes of propelling your career forward faster than you can. And if they are able to accomplish that, they take a small commission—their return on the investment.
In your query, you are not saying "Look at me! I will pay you and give you business!" No, you should be showing an agent how you'd be a good investment. You are saying, "These are my assets. This is what makes me a good investment." It's a subtle difference, but one that changes everything.
The truth of the matter? Nathan Bransford made no money on me. For over a year, he put in hours and hours of work. He did everything he possibly could for my book because he believed I was a good investment, that I could be published writer. And honestly, it killed me sometimes that I couldn't pay him, that I couldn't pay Anna until I finally sold. Because these two agents have been the best partners a writer could ask for, and I wanted to hold up my side of the deal and write a book worthy of selling.
I know querying is hard. Heck, it took me two years and almost 200 queries to land an agent. But let's at least be clear on what the agent/writer relationship is, because I think when we understand that we are neither employer or customer we get to the heart of the matter. And that's this—we are in this together.