Agent Monday: About Those Form Rejections

Office Worker with Mountain of PaperworkHappy Agent Monday, everyone! It’s been a VERY busy time for me, filled with deadlines and travel and pitching and meetings. Yet I have been able to weigh in on plenty of queries that have pinged into my inbox. And I couldn’t have done that without the help of my form rejection letter. Writers don’t exactly love these, of course, but I thought I’d share a bit of perspective on why these aren’t SUCH a bad thing.

First of all, here’s my form rejection letter:

Thanks so much for sending me your query. I’m going to pass on this one because I found it didn’t spark my interest.

I wish you the best in finding a home for your work.

Sincerely,
Marie

Here’s the good thing about an agent using a form rejection letter: it enables her to respond more quickly to queries. By using this, I can zoom through a number of queries at a time and let writers know as quickly as I can that I am not the right agent for them. That way the writer can move on.

I’m a writer myself, and have received more than my fair share of rejection letters. I know rejection can sting, but I also know that it is part of this business. There is nothing I as an agent can say in a rejection letter that will truly take away that sting. All I can do is let you know that I’ve seen your piece, that it’s not for me, and to wish you well. I do make the effort to address the writer personally in my reply, and take care that I spell the name correctly, but beyond that I generally don’t personalize the letter.

Why the “didn’t spark my interest” line? Because that’s what it’s all about. And if my interest isn’t sparked by your query and pasted-in pages, that means I don’t feel intrigued enough to see more of this work.

That’s the function of such a note. Okay, now I’m saying this next part as not only an agent but as a writer: A rejection letter’s purpose doesn’t also involve making a writer feel better and inspired. That’s not to say it is meant to tear a writer down, BUT this is a business, and agents that you query are not there to hold hands and whisper encouraging words and inspire you to continue to scale great heights and pursue your dreams.

You need to get that inspiration elsewhere. From your writing, from you own community of supporters. Most of all, from yourself. That’s the stuff that will keep you going.

I’m saying this because sometimes (more than you might think) writers respond to my form rejection asking me for more. Much more. Can I give them an example of what would spark my interest? Can I point out what, specifically, made me pass? If they changed such and such, would that work? Do they have what it takes? Should they keep going? Are they wasting their time?

Responding to these questions? Not my job. If I did that sort of hand holding and career counseling and soul searching for every one of the hundreds of queries I receive, I would never have sold a single book for any one of my clients. Instead I would be too busy trying to help every writer who has ever pressed SEND toward my inbox. Something to think about…

So I’m hoping this post is a bit of a reality check for folks who are querying. A form rejection letter isn’t the end of your career. It isn’t a statement about every effort you’ve ever made to become a better writer. It is simply a response to your query, sent in as timely a way as possible. And it lets you know that you need to seek a different agent, because I’m not the one for you.

Yes, I’ve rejected queries for books I’ve later seen as sold projects on Publishers Marketplace. And I’m happy for those authors. They didn’t give up. The query I’d received presented a book that wasn’t my cup of tea, and perhaps never would have been right for my taste. Or perhaps they polished their query and opening pages after too many form rejections, and therefore did spark the right agent’s interest.

Remember, this IS a subjective business. A project that isn’t right for me, could be just the right thing for another agent.

Like I said, it’s been a VERY busy season for me here, with tons of hours spent every day working with my clients and with editors at publishing houses. Yet I’m currently up to March 1st in my query responses (trust me, that’s pretty good). And I’ve also been able to respond to other more recent queries too, if I see immediately that they aren’t right for me. (Please look at my guidelines here, so you’ll know what I am looking for and what I definitely don’t want…)

Thanks to the form rejection letter, those writers aren’t left hanging longer than needed. See? Glass half full!

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

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14 thoughts on “Agent Monday: About Those Form Rejections

  1. Your form is nice and to the point, and I thank you for using form rejections rather than total silence. 🙂 Most writers would rather receive a form that says “NO!!!” or “This is crap” than just never hearing anything at all.

  2. Excellent post.

    This gal would rather get a form rejection that is clearly a hard and fast reject than to be left thinking she’s got a chance with future projects because of receiving a too-nicely worded form reject.

    For example, imagine the GRRRs I uttered when I realized the note like the one below was just a form reject disguised as a personal one:

    “Hey there Dionna,
    Thanks so much for giving me a shot at your novel. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its poise and polish, so I ought to step aside, but I truly appreciate the look, and I wish you the best of luck!”

    Just say it like it is: Dear Author. Not for me. Goodbye.

    Don’t play with our heads….please.

  3. As a receiver of your form rejection, I’d like you to know that I MUCH prefer that to silence. Sure, if we’re going to get a rejection letter we’d much prefer a personalized one letting us know how we can make our query or our MS better, but any writer expecting that is a self-centered fool.

    On the flip side I feel agents who don’t respond at all are rude. I know you’re all busy, Marie, but how hard is it to copy, paste, send?

    So, thank you, I’ll take a form rejection any day. (Well, you know what I mean!) 🙂

    • Hi! I hear ya.

      Honestly, some agents are so incredibly busy and overwhelmed that they receive 300 queries A DAY. If you ask me, just responding to those would be a full-time job. I don’t receive that kind of volume, but if I did and couldn’t hire someone just to handle these…well, THAT’S something to think about for sure. Perhaps an auto-respond message that simply acknowledges that it’s received is all an agent in that situation can really swing?

      • You could have an email signature that’s nothing but your form rejection. Hit reply, pick that signature, and you’re done. An autoresponder is a good thing too from the writer’s perspective. Again, thank you for thinking of the writers’ anxiety in the process.

  4. You are nice to accept submissions without requiring a conference connection/referral. Getting any response is a bonus in today’s writing world.

  5. Thank you for the reality check, Marie! It’s really fortunate that you can see through the lens of author and agent. I appreciate your willingness to share that perspective with us!

    I think the form rejection letter prompts the writer, especially the unpublished writer, to wander down a dark road of self-doubt which, compounded over time, eventually accumulates and becomes an exaggerated fear voiced in the haunting question, “Am I getting a form letter because my work is so horrendous that agents feel it isn’t even worth attempting to fix?!” Unfortunately, learning to embrace rejection is essential in this line of work and, as you pointed out, it’s neither practical nor required for the agent to explain his or her reasoning for passing the project. We must learn to embrace this style of interaction with agents believing firmly that the experience will cause us to grow and develop into better writers and book marketers.

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