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.

36 thoughts on “Rejecting the Rejections

  1. 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.


  2. 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. 😉


  3. ++ 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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.


  7. 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.


  8. 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.


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  10. 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! 🙂


  11. 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.”


  12. 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


  13. 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.


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