Monday, February 07, 2011

Rejecting the Rejections

I mentioned via The Twitter today that I wished my standard form rejection could read "Sorry, but your agent is in another castle." Obviously, I was joking (even though that would be sweet), but a number of followers responded that it would certainly soften the blow. This got me wondering about form rejections in general.

They are designed to be as impartial, encouraging, and non-threatening as possible, despite the fact that they are completely impersonal. As writers who are publishing-savvy, you are no doubt aware that no agent likes giving such a reply, but the sheer volume of queries we receive sometimes make it impossible to personally respond to those we need to pass on.

So, a bit of a project for all of you who have either experienced the dreaded form rejection or are still living in fear of it. How can we agents "soften the blow" without resorting to lines from late '80s video games?

Welcome to the fake-agenting world, writers! Leave your one-to-two sentence professional form rejection in the comments. Maybe we'll learn a thing or two.


  1. "It's not you, it's me." ;)

  2. "I appreciate the hard work you've put into your manuscript. Although we aren't a match, that doesn't mean there isn't one out there for you. Keep writing and practicing your craft."

    I think what I miss most from form rejections is an acknowledgment of the hard work that the agent rejected in 45 seconds, flat. Which is okay, they're busy, and they know what they want. But I just want a bit of respect for my professionalism.

  3. You’re so close. I mean, like really close. Breathing heavily. Nanoparticles away. On the verge, in the sweet spot, in the wheelhouse, leaning the exact right direction. I can almost, very nearly, smell your success. All you need is a little polishing, and some Mentos, because success is not all I can smell.

    Feel free to query me with your next project.

  4. Nothing will soften the blow of a form rejection.
    However, I understand just how busy most agents are, and have no problem getting rejected by form.
    Rejections hurt, period. Though I choose to take them as a challenge.

  5. I like how Max Cool ended his... saying that you're open to query your next project softens the blow, even if it is added to the end of a form.

  6. While I personally would love to see something more along the lines of a magic 8-ball inspired rejection (i.e. Ask Another Question, Try Again, etc.) I think any attempt to be clever and humorous would probably be taken the wrong way by the less secure writers among us . . . but I do so love something that rejects me with wit.

  7. How about, "I'm afraid this project isn't for me. However, I see promise in your writing and I hope that another agent snaps you right up."

    Friendly, encouraging, but suitably firm. I remember getting something similar and the bit about "seeing promise" did make me feel better about the rejection, although I assumed it was part of a form rejection.

  8. I would love to have boxes checked as to why it was rejected. Boxes like- query needs work, rewrite sample pages, not marketable, have seen this a million times before. That way, you would have a better idea of what isn't working. I know there is obviously no time for this, but I think information softens the blow.

  9. I'm kind of with Scott on this one. The form rejections I've rec'd have been worded nicely and encourage me to query widely, the project isn't right for me at this time, etc, etc. The forms are polite/friendly even, but they're still a form.

    However, I will say that I MUCH prefer a form rejection to no reply at all. I understand how insanely busy agents are and I know you receive an overwhelming number of queries on a daily/weekly/monthly basis so any form rejection is always better than nothing.

  10. Heard more than once,

    "Best of luck to you..."

    You'd think with all this luck I would have an agent by now, LOL.

    Great post!

  11. Don't reinvent the wheel--this nut was cracked by the medical profession long ago:


  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. When I started looking into the query process, I found an article about writer's needing to form a Rhino skin. Aka rejection will come, will suck, learn from it and move on. Do not take personal offence.

    As for the form rejections themselves, most are very polite and encouraging. I would love to see one with humor in it.

  14. First off - I LOVE that people will send a form reject. It's so much kinder than "no response means no." Also, I prefer *not* to see something that praises the writing or says "you're so close" in a form, because that just can't be true for every letter that gets sent out. If I see that in a letter I always really hope the agent means it!

    I'm one of the ones who loved your '80's video game reference, but other than that a simple, "Thanks, but this isn't for me" is just fine.

  15. Led Zeppelin didn't write songs everyone liked-- they left that to the Bee Gees. Unfortunately I am more of a D'yer Mak'er girl and your MS is more Saturday Night Fever. But party on, author. Party on.

  16. Seriously, I much prefer a form rejection to NO response.

    I'm fine if the form rejection says, "No thank you." That's it. A "no" is a no, regardless of how many sentences you put behind it.

    Thanks for caring. :)

  17. Kate, that is hilarious! That rejection would get framed and hung on my wall.

  18. I'm in the interesting position of working in acquisitions for a video game publisher, so I know what it's like to reject projects that don't work for my company. We never use form rejections, but I wish I could. It's REALLY hard (and time consuming) to be specific about why you are rejecting someone's work and still be encouraging. If I could use a form rejection, I would use the simplest rejection that I've ever received. It went like this:

    Dear Author:
    No thank you, but thank you for writing to me about your novel, TITLE HERE.
    Yours sincerely,

    If I could use this form letter on a regular basis and get away with it, I absolutely would. So I wouldn't mind at all if I received it on a regular basis. It gets the job done, and it's better than nothing. Because, let's agree. Nothing is so much worse than "no thank you."

  19. Some good suggestions :)

    @Kate - Love it! (obviously) I'll add "A flawless profile, a perfect body, the right clothes, and a great car can get you far in America - almost to the top - but it can't get you this agent."

  20. I started self-rejecting myself by enclosing rejection letters written in the style of yoda/a pirate/an alien in my SASEs. It softened the blow of paying for (stamping) my own rejection. It was fun, but had it come from a real agent I would have thought they'd lost their minds. (It's a double standard that I don't pretend to understand.)

    Really, as far as form rejections go, I prefer a rejection to no response every time, but even a few generic lines will get the message across. "Pass" or "Pass and God bless" aren't acceptable, but "I hope this finds a home and you find someone who will champion your manuscript as it deserves" works for me. I also liked the few I received which recommended a few sites like the "Guide to Literary Agents" or so on. I don't think you should ever say "resubmit" unless it's not a form... in my opinion.

  21. We're dreaming, right? In that case, "I can't handle the brilliance of your manuscript."

    On a serious note, even the common "this is subjective, and another agent might be a better fit" helps take the sting out.

  22. I'm probably in the minority here on rejections, but I would be deliriously happy if agents developed two rejections: one that was simply the standard form rejection, and another that just flat out says something like, "This makes the scribbles of my three year old monkey look appealing." As long as I don't get the rejection that describes my writing as "crap-scented litter on the highway of life," I'd feel encouraged. ;-p

  23. I'd rather have a form than no rejection. We write the query, do the research to try and target the right agent, read blogs and interviews so we can include something relevant in the query or attend conferences to meet the agent in person, and make the submission as close to perfect as we can and then to get no response is frustrating.

    I like the ones that say, "Not right for me, but this is subjective and another agent may feel differently. Best of luck."

  24. I'm definitely in the "prefer-a-form-rejection-to-no-response" camp, but I can understand the reasoning behind no response means no. I will say, most of the form rejections I've seen have been very nice, despite, you know, being rejections. Querying can be terrifying, so (as others have noted) a dash of humor would liven it up a bit and would soften the blow for the more squeamish writers among us.

    On the flip side (since you brought up video games), I would love to hear about an offer letter saying simply:

    "All your base are belong to us."

    That would be hilarious! :)

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  26. I have to agree with a couple comments here - I think a form rejection is vastly preferable to a non response. A lot of us verge on neuroticism as far as trying to decide whether we've been rejected or lost in the shuffle, yet we have to fight that "non professional" stigma of querying multiple times... when it's impossible to know if our first one got there or not.

    I'd also like to say that I agree there needs to be one rejection that is slightly more encouraging than the other. As a writer, I'd like to believe that a query that I crafted and re drafted and bled over would get a better "form" rejection than the one with grammar errors and lacking research.

  27. When I was getting rejections for my first novel I always disliked the ones that tried to be nice and make me feel better with empty comments about there being other agents, this doesn't mean I'm no good, etc. A rejection is a rejection, and trying to soften the blow that way always made me feel condescended to. I'd prefer a short "Thanks for sending your novel, NOVEL NAME, but it is not for us." The one important thing is to include the novel name, so there is no question of there being a mistake.

  28. Oh, if only agents, editors, and any others who work slush piles had the time, I'd love to get a story back worked over like my high school English teacher got hold of it.

    My primary efforts to date are short stories. I've pulled out some that I submitted just a couple of years ago with an eye to reworking them, and I cringe when I see some of my obvious storytelling errors. With very few exceptions, I slip them right back into their folders and buckle down on writing something new.

    Practice, practice, practice is really all I can do. I'm afraid that advice, while apt, would look terrible on a rejection slip.

    All that said, my personal preference is for the checklist of common flaws format. While it stings a little more, every little bit of feedback is priceless.

  29. Having just received your form rejection, I think it's fine. You're polite without being over nice (and giving people an opening to respond even though they shouldn't).

  30. Keeping in mind that I'm still writing and haven't submitted anything yet...

    1. I would definitely prefer a form to nothing.

    2. I would not like a form rejection that says "Oh, you're so close!" Give me Simon over Paula any day. No matter how brutally honest you are with me, I'm always tougher on myself. I'd rather know what you really think so I can stop wasting my time if I'm no good.

  31. Short and sweet work for me: "No thanks, not for me" or something similar is fine. Anything more, and I find myself trying to read something into it.

  32. "Your voice is one of the strongest I've heard in the past 25 years. Unfortunately due to the economic crisis, we cannot afford to pay you at this time."

  33. I agree with Max Cool, was that really his name? Some acknowledgment that you were interested in them, but want to see more is a nice touch. But if you aren't interested in receiving any more from that person, you have to be precise.

    "So, yeah... trying to soften the blow here, but how can you soften the blow of a train wreck? Please don't write ever again."

    "This was the most amazing piece I ever read, you are absurdly talented. You are so talented in fact, that I can't be your agent. You need someone better than me. I mean seriously, have you considered your mother?"

    "I could have wrote that in my sleep."

    "Leave me alone Mark Zuckerberg."

    Okay, I think I'm done.

  34. ++ smileyface gold star for Mr. Weaver.,

    There is little written you can't find something, anything, positive to say about, it, to, for, whatever... ending with a preposition there...

    Give the supplicant room to hope, space to expand into, a welcome sign down the road - and then copy and paste that same note hundreds of times a day. They're going to feel like crap no matter what, but everyone deserves one complimentary ray of sunshine through all the fallout. It was hard work writing that book. It was terrifying to query. Be a channel of love, not spurningness.

  35. I got a great rejection from Janet Reid once...

    This isn't a good fit for me. I realize that this isn't what you'd like to hear. There is a 24 hour flaming dog poop delivery service here in New York: 1-800-RJCTHIS. They know where I live...

    After that, I was laughing too hard to be very upset about it. ;)

  36. I was pretty darn surprised the day I realized that individual rejections don't bother me anymore. I've never thought of myself as thick-skinned, and yet somehow I've stopped taking them personally. Write enough, submit enough, and you will get rejected. A lot.

    I appreciate the occasions when agents (or magazine editors) take the time to give me an individual reply, but if it's a form rejection, I don't need it to have bogus words of praise. In the end I'm just as rejected. Don't tell me "the idea has merit." Not every idea does. Just stick to "it's not for me."

    I'm definitely more bothered by the people who don't reply at all, and surprised by how common that's become. Go ahead and use a two-inch slip of paper and my SASE. Or have a macro in your e-mail client. I promise not to get offended, now matter how "impersonal" the rejection.