It's the pandemic
I just fainted after looking at your workload. My sympathies.
This is a great discussion, and I think I just figured out the KEY difference between "the pile of emails agents get" and "the pile of emails everyone else gets and answers promptly."
Imagine that of your 300-1000 emails per week, 85% of them are from people you don't have a relationship with. They don't work with you or for the same company. They don't work for a client company. Are you still obligated to answer them as promptly as the emails from the 15% with whom you have an existing business relationship, and whose emails are regarding a part of your job that you are already doing?
"Queries" aren't in the same category as "emails from people I am contractually obligated to be responsive to. Queries are in the category of "someone would like to sell me toner." You probably need toner--eventually. But you have some good toner suppliers already. And you'd love to find another supplier, because you do have one open printer with no toner, but it's also really important to spend most of your time printing things, not evaluating new toner brands.
Queries are SALES EMAILS. While yes, agents are paid by writers, agents select those relationships they want to build from a pile of sales emails. An agent's primary job is "make money for and with the relationships I already have." "Make new relationships to potentially make money in the future" is important but secondary.
As an IT person, your 1000 non-spam emails are all part of your primary job. The sales emails from people who would like to sell you toner might one day get dealt with when you need toner.
Well said, and thank you for that insight. It's good to know what's what.
Kate, you asked if we answer our emails within a week, no matter what - and that highlights a thing that many of us don't really understand about agents.
As an IT Director, I average 300-1,000 received emails per week (depending on time of year/my organization's work cycle) and am expected to respond to them (other than the junk mail :) ) within 48-72 hours. If I don't, I can expect follow-ups. And if I don't respond to *those, I can expect to be disciplined or even fired for my "rudeness", "lack of professionalism", or "poor communication skills". It's a pretty common refrain in my writing circles: The communication cycle that agents consider normal seems dysfunctional, unprofessional, and thoroughly incomprehensible to most of us. We'd expect to lose our jobs if we communicated the way agents do.
And yet, you asked your question as though, "of course, you don't actually answer all your mail within a week" - which tells me that in your world, it's really unimaginable that this is problematic.
As in so many things, each side assuming that the rules of their world are "obvious" to the other seems to lead to a lot of conflicting expectations. And that missed connection seems to be at the center of most of the complaints in which agents/writers complain about writers/agents.
So - how about a column in which you tell us a little bit about what communications look like in your world? :) As writers, we mostly think of queries - but there are also communications with clients, with publishers, with colleagues, and....other stuff I am sure we don't know. You work in a world where "of course" people don't *really respond to all their emails within a week - and most of us are assessing your responses based on "holy cow, if I did that I'd get fired!"
I'd guess that's behind a lot of the confusion we see regarding "what to expect/how to interpret agent communication/silence" - from the questions you quote, to our writers' groups, to the Twitterverse. If those of us who live and work in "I'd get fired"-land had a better understanding of what communication norms look like in Agent-land, we could probably save a lot of angst on all sides. :)
So...tell us all about it!