Understanding rejections

Today's post, which was supposed to be last Wednesday's, then yesterday's (the holidays have taken over and the days are just zooming by) is about something many writers who have their heart set on publication know all too well -- rejections.

A little over a week ago, there was a chat on twitter regarding queries and rejections. Following the chat, my friend Andi and I had a discussion about it, and I mentioned how I'd found myself feeling a bit confused as to what some of the writers had tweeted. At least a few had mentioned "helpful" rejections, and I wondered how many of those were actually different variations of the standard form letter, and how many of them truly were beyond the norm. Then Andi suggested that this would actually be a good topic to post on the blog, so here it is.

Can you tell me what these three rejections have in common?

Dear Ms. Brooks,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read THIS AWESOME BOOK. Though I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, I don't believe that my agency will have the opportunity to represent it at this time. Please know that this has nothing to do with your work, and that you may find an agent who feels completely different about your idea.


Agent So and So


Dear Jessica Brooks,

After much consideration of THIS AWESOME BOOK, I've decided I will have to pass. Thank you so much for allowing me to see your work, and I wish you luck in future endeavors.


Agent So and So


Dear Jessica,

Thank you for thinking of me when seeking representation for THIS AWESOME BOOK. While we really like the concept of this book, we are unable to place it with our agency at this time. We believe your book may have market potential, and would like to thank you for considering us. We wish you the best of luck in finding an agent as zealous about your work as you are.

Best Wishes,

Agent So and So

If you answered standard form rejection letter, you were absolutely correct. The above three (fake) rejections were personalized and polite, but they were all standard form rejections.

I'm wondering how many first time writers who've just begun their plunge into the query process can actually tell the difference between a form rejection, and one that is not. Over the past few months I've noticed comments across the internet by writers stating they didn't understand how such a nice query could, in fact, be a rejection. The agency liked their work, thought it had potential, or appreciated the concept. So why was it then, that it was rejected, without the agent asking for at least a partial submission?

The answer is simple: Because that's their rejection letter.

I have to say, I do feel for agents. They receive a gazillion queries a year, and are, for the most part, doing their best to reply to most of them in a timely manner. If their response is short and to the point, a handful of writers will consider them rude. If they state that they enjoyed the premise but can't represent that specific piece of work at the present time, some writers see that as them being impatient and not giving the writer enough of a chance. So in a way, there's no right way for agents to reject. Someone somewhere is going to read into the words, or in between the words. They're going to want to know what it means, if maybe they should just fix it a little bit until it seems to fit the agency's particular style and then resubmit, or if it means something else.

Now, before I go any further in this post, I'd like to clarify that I haven't received a single rejection that I would deem helpful. Polite, yes. Slightly personal, sure. But helpful? As in, "this work could be better if this or that" or what other people have stated as rejections they've received that truly help them improve their work? No.

So you're probably wondering, what is a helpful rejection already, Jessica? You've gone on and on about these mysterious helpful rejections, and now I want to know what you're talking about! Well, the problem is, I actually don't know. But I do know that the above made-up rejections shared in this post do take the sting of the actual rejection away a bit, which is nice.

I guess the point of this post is

1) To point out that an agent can be polite and sound excited or appreciative in their rejection and still truly not be interested in your work.

2) I, along with other people, would love to hear an example of a helpful rejection.

How about you? Have you received a rejection that made you wonder just what it meant, exactly? Or have you received a helpful rejection that you could enlighten us with by paraphrasing here in the comments?


Lydia Sharp said...

A helpful non-form-rejection? Maybe I'll dig one up for you.

Tiana Smith said...

So I haven't started querying yet (SOON!) but at least I correctly guessed that those were all form rejections. I guess that's why its so important to research the industry first.

Lydia Sharp said...

Okay, here ya go:

And on my day off! Yes, you are special. Haha.

Nicole MacDonald said...

I actually got a couple of requests for partials (on my *cough* first draft *blush*) and they were really very helpful, one even did a quick edit on the first two pages so I had an idea of what was needed (and that was only the beginning... 8 re-writes later ;p) but the basic replies do squat. Nice to get a basic reply opposed to none though!

The Arrival, Book one of the BirthRight Trilogy, on Amazon 1.1.2011

L. Diane Wolfe said...

You're right - those are all form rejections. Unless there's a handwritten extra note, it's usually a form.

MC Howe said...

I once got a rejection that called my book a fast, fun read. I thought so too, which made me think they really did read it, which they ought to have, since it was a full exclusive. Alas, beyond already being fast and fun, I have no idea how it could have improved.

jdcoughlin said...

Yeah there busy. And yeah they have to read through thousands and thousands of queries, especially with everyone emailing them now, but the bullet "not for me," that was the one that took me a few weeks to recover from. Literally.

coffeelvnmom said...

Lydia - Thanks... can't wait to check it out! And I *do* feel so special.;)

Tiana - Researching the industry doesn't have anything to do with form rejections, in my opinion. You can query agents looking for specific things that you feel are in the MS you're querying, and still receive those kind of rejection letters. They either feel it, or they don't.

Nicole - FIRST DRAFT? Wow. You had some courage to query at such a beginning stage! And another wow that an agent actually edited. Can't say I've heard of that very often!

MC - That's what I find most frustrating about form rejections, especially when something seems personal (as in, "you write well" for instance) and then you realize it's the same thing everyone else has gotten. I've kept myself from replying and saying "So what exactly was it that you didn't feel enough?" but the last thing I want to do is have a reputation for driving agents crazy. :p

jd - It's funny (okay, so not *really* funny, but you know what I mean) how some can come through and they're easier to get over than others. A lot of times it just depends on the day for me. Sometimes a few words that made me shrug and move on a month ago can put me in a funk for days when I receive one later. (I hate that I'm that way. It drives me crazy.)

Sierra Godfrey said...

I too have seen MANY people on blogs or Twitter or forums talking about "helpful" rejection letters--and I too believe they are all mistaken. They are not helpful, they are FORM REJECTIONS.

Helpful is defined as containing specific advice on how to improve the manuscript, or any other suggestion from the agent. Helpful is not the same as polite and nice.

Good post, and a subject I think many people need correcting on.

coffeelvnmom said...

You make a good point, Sierra. I like your definition of "helpful" -- a lot of aspiring authors could benefit from reading it!