What to Do When an Agent Ghosts You

March 8, 2023 § 14 Comments

When they vanish on a requested full

By Sara Orozco

When I started looking for literary agents to represent my memoir, I anticipated rejections and braced myself for them. But I wasn’t prepared for agents to vanish after they’d requested my full manuscript. So, wearing my clinician hat, I pondered the psychological impact of being “ghosted” and why the practice left me obsessing for an answer.

In a 2020 study exploring online daters’ experiences with ghosting, most respondents reported feeling sad and hurt, while others felt disappointed, disillusioned, or ashamed. For some, being ghosted had long-term effects on their mental health, leading to depression, low self-esteem, and panic attacks. If ghosting is the new agent rejection letter, what can authors do to prepare themselves?

To be clear, I’m not talking about ghosting on queries. In most cases, agents’ submission guidelines make it clear that if they don’t respond within four to six weeks, consider it a hard No. I get it. Some agents receive hundreds of queries a week, and it’s impossible for them to respond to all submissions. But what about those hope-infusing occasions when an agent expresses interest, requests your manuscript, and then responds with total silence? Memoirs, by design, are personal and can leave their authors feeling raw, vulnerable, and anxious for validation. What happens to us if ghosting after submitting a requested manuscript becomes the norm?

In fifth grade, Ms. García, my teacher, said, “Sorry to hear about your father,” I had no idea what she meant. “Always remember, Sarita, your father is a hero. Un patriota!” After school, I furiously pedaled home and threw my bike down on the front lawn. I found my mother chopping onions in the kitchen.

“What happened to Papi?” I panted.

Mami turned to look at me, surprised, then calmly put down her knife and pulled the apron over her head. The pungent smell of freshly cut onions stung my eyes.

“Do you want some water?” she asked, filling her cup.

“No! Just tell me!” Any other day my tone would land me a grounding.

My mother sank into a kitchen chair. “He’s in jail.”

“For what?”

Her raised eyebrow warned me to get back in line. “He was out on his boat. He didn’t do anything wrong. I’ll let you know more when I find out. He’ll be okay.” She got up from the table and began vigorously chopping green peppers, her back to me. End of discussion.

I grew up thinking my father was a hero for his role in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and he was, at least, to Miami’s Cuban exile community. I never knew the reason for his arrest until I was an adult and learned he had been sneaking guns and ammunition into Cuba, hoping to overthrow Castro’s communist government. But by then, my father’s continuous unexplained disappearances throughout my childhood had left me confused, angry, rejected, ashamed, and wanting answers.

As a writer, I have as little control over how or whether an agent communicates with me about my manuscript than I did in how Mami communicated to me about Papi’s disappearance when I was in the fifth grade. But we can learn to manage our expectations and protect our battered psyches.

If agents’ silence happens often, a writer may develop feelings of mistrust in the querying process—did anyone read what I sent? BIPOC writers who have grown up with systemic racism and tokenism may question whether these forces are at play when their work is seemingly ignored. Some writers move through ghosting without much fuss, but if that’s not you, that’s fine too. Don’t avoid your feelings—you’ll be teaching your brain that it’s not okay to feel angry or sad, and then when you do feel those emotions, you’ll add shame to your list.  

Humans need closure. If Mami had told me the truth about Papi’s whereabouts early in my childhood, I might not have devoted half a lifetime looking for an answer. In my psychotherapy practice, I see clients who have recently experienced a breakup, and those who know why their partners left them feel less depression and anxiety than those who were ghosted.

As writers we need to create our own closure. Here’s one way that works for me: upon a manuscript request, I add the agent’s name to my to-do list with a note to follow up in six months (or the agent’s specified timeframe). At six months, I email the agent. After one more month of silence, I check them off my list and add the agent to my Do Not Query list. This lets my brain think I’ve completed my task. Incomplete items on my to-do list take up much more space in my mind than those I’ve met.

Mostly, ghosting comes from overwhelm and over-optimism about how much an agent can accomplish in the time they’ve allotted themselves and likely it’s not about you though it may feel personal. Allow yourself to feel the disappointment after all we too bought into the agent’s optimism about our book. Feel the loss but don’t tie those negative feelings to your self-worth. Keep going. Your story is important, and you are enough—not too old, too dark, too unknown.


Sara Orozco is a first-generation Cuban American queer writer and a licensed psychologist who has written for NYT Tiny Love Stories, River Styx, Cognoscenti, and The Delmarva Review, among others. She’s a three-time Boston Moth StorySLAM winner. Sara recently completed her book, The Language of Bullets: A Father-Daughter Memoir, about the intergenerational trauma that happens in families when secrets are kept and its impact on mental illness. 

Tagged: , ,

§ 14 Responses to What to Do When an Agent Ghosts You

  • Trish says:

    Thank you for your perspective Sara! I’m sorry you’ve had that experience, but it’s quite common. Three agents ghosted me after requesting a full. I think it’s completely unprofessional to get a writer’s hopes up and then never communicate with them. It shows a lack of respect. My personal theory is that certain agents request material and only plan to read it if they get an email from you with an “offer of representation”. They want to know the manuscript is good before they invest their time. Querying is even worse because most agents don’t even acknowledge receipt of the query, let alone bother to send a rejection letter. I understand agents are busy and flooded with material, but this “system” is very destructive to a writer’s confidence. You’re being rejected, when most of the time you’re never being considered.

    • True! And think about how easy it would be for an agent to have 3 or 4 versions of a standard rejection letter to fire off to authors they dont want to represent. If they ask for a full ms they should definitely do that. One trick is to apply to agents who are new to the agency. It’s posdible to figure that out. Sara, be sure to send your Brevity piece to that effing agent!

  • Beautiful post, Sara, and your book sounds awesome.

  • Sara, It’s possible that the agent quit agenting because she couldnt make a living doing that anymore. We take these kinds of rude silences personally. I do,too. But think: There are close to a thousand agents and about 4- 5 publishers that pay reasonable advances for different imprints . How many people are writing memoirs? In how many writers groups, and online as well as in- person classes? How many memoirs did you buy last year? My last agent was great and didn’t ghost me, but she did quit because she couldn’t “contribute to the family income” by agenting anymore and had sold only “one fluffy novel” the preceding year. Meanwhile , The Cuban government is unsuccessful in part because of American embargos ..

  • Janet Banks says:

    Such a great essay, Sara. I love how you integrated your work as a therapist, an actual segment from your memoir, and what I guess is a common experience – ghosting. Congrats! Janet Banks


  • As a pre-published author-illustrator, although I write in a different genre, I have also been ghosted after “full”s and requests for more work – which is typical for picture books. I feel your pain and am learning how to manage not knowing why an agent passes. Rejections are challenging but a necessary evil in this industry. I enjoyed reading your post and how you threaded it with your perspective as a clinician. I look forward to reading your memoir. And yes Sara we must keep going so our stories can be told!

  • napoleonomama says:

    Great piece… looking forward to reading your memoir! Cheers!

  • Jenny Keller says:

    Beautifully written POWERFUL words. Thank you for sharing Sara!

  • Helen Carroll says:

    Sara, my friend, I say it is the agents loss. Your memoir sounds like it would be a fascinating read from an intelligent gifted person. Thank you for what you put out in the world!

  • lojay22 says:

    Having had the honor of reading sections of your memoir, I know it’s just a matter of time before the right agent picks it up. I love the way this piece exposes the vulnerability of this profession – a reality that is hidden from most readers. Well done, Sara!

  • Toby Lewis says:

    Speaking from the perspective of a reader of memoir, I would love to have the chance to read about your experiences. Please keep trying. Don’t let the agent culture of (non-) communication sabotage your efforts.

  • Leon Rivera says:

    This was very well written loved it! Thank you for sharing!!

  • BJ says:

    “Don’t avoid your feelings—you’ll be teaching your brain that it’s not okay to feel angry or sad, and then when you do feel those emotions, you’ll add shame to your list.” Well said. Thank you!

  • Lani says:

    I received a full manuscript request in June 2022. Then I bit the bullet, and asked in August how things were going, was there anything she needed, friendly and light. We had a pleasant exchange where she apologized and said she hadn’t got to it, etc, but would soon. Then four months went by and she said she was switching over to agenting children’s books. So, from yes to no, it was six months of not even bothering to read it. I suppose I was “lucky” that she responded and was “honest”, but thankfully, I didn’t get my hopes up, especially when I learned she hadn’t even looked at it back in Aug. So when I got the final email in December, I had already mentally moved on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading What to Do When an Agent Ghosts You at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.


%d bloggers like this: