There seems to be a ton of controversy in the writing world as to whether agents have some sort of obligation to send an actual rejection vs. stating something along the lines of “if you haven’t heard from us in 6-8 weeks, that’s a no from us.” I have a number of thoughts on this situation, largely influenced by my years of working in publishing.
Neither of the publishing houses I worked for were particularly big, and I’d imagine that even if we were, there’s no way we received as many queries as an agent must, especially a “big name” agent. Still, yes, I believe they owe a rejection form letter, at least.
I was the person who wrote the rejection letters, so this isn’t a matter of me not understanding, say, the time that goes into doing so. Also, don’t get me started on the annoyance that comes from receiving queries for novels when you are a non-fiction publisher.
Moreover, I have discovered something wonderful that may not have existed when I was in publishing: Query Manager (and similar programs).
I don’t know why every agent doesn’t use this. I’ve found it to be a delight – at any moment I can verify that my submission was received, I’ve received both rejections and requests for material through Query Manager, and uploading my materials has been simple.
Send a form letter and don’t apologize for doing so. I personally find the “I’m sorry for the form letter” to be unnecessary – I realize that people are busy. I don’t think people are too busy for common courtesy, and a reply is courtesy (like how you should ALWAYS reply to an invitation, even if the reply is no).
I realize this is controversial, and marks me as one of THOSE people. I’m also someone who queried an agent, never heard back, later re-queried them, and got a request for full. My query letter didn’t change in the interim. Is it possible they never received the original query? Sure. Is it also possible that they had a place for my piece that they didn’t before? Sure! This is why I lean so hard toward sending a response.