Decoding Query Rejections
Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
If you’ve ever queried agents, you’ve probably received pass letters with unhelpful lines such as, “this project is not a good fit for me.” Do you ever wonder what that really means? Many writers spend a lot of time trying to read between the lines of rejection letters and glean a hidden meaning.
Well, just so you don’t waste too much time trying to decode query responses, here’s a word to the wise: Query rejections are all about the euphemism.
If the agent isn’t going to take the time to give you specific feedback on your work, then you’re going to get some kind of platitude, such as:
Not a fit at this time.
Doesn’t meet our present needs.
I don’t have the right connections to sell this.
We receive many worthy manuscripts and can only take on a very few.
Not quite right for us.
And what does it mean? What it means is: We don’t have time to tell you why we’re rejecting your project so we’re just trying to be polite and let you know as nicely as possible that it’s a “no.”
If there is anything specific in your rejection letter — something that’s not a generic form letter — pay attention. Many agents will personalize slightly. They may say, “I did not find your fiction to be well-crafted enough for me to present it to a publisher.” Which means the agent thinks your writing needs work.
Or they might say something positive, such as, “I found your writing to be delightful, but…” In that case, allow yourself to be encouraged. They thought enough of your writing to take the time to personalize the letter, and that means something.
For the most part, you’re not going to be able to tell from a “form” pass letter what the reason was for the rejection.
Why don’t agents typically give reasons with their rejections?
Here are some thoughts:
1. We get a LOT of queries and it takes quite a bit of time to go through them. You may think it should be “easy” to dash off a sentence or two to help you understand why your query was rejected. In reality, it can take 5 to 10 minutes or more to compose an explanation that might help you. Five minutes extra per query… 100 queries a week… would mean 8 extra hours per week spent on saying “no.” Our time is much better spent serving the clients to whom we’ve already said “yes.”
2. Brief explanations of the reason for a query rejection don’t tend to be helpful to the writer, and often bring up more questions than answers.
3. It’s subjective, and I’m not the ultimate judge or arbiter of your project. I could be wrong. Someone else may see something in your query that I don’t. So ultimately, the reason for my rejection might be irrelevant to you. All you need to know is that it’s not for me.
Incidentally, including reasons for our rejections seems to invite a certain percentage of writers to write back and argue the point. We really don’t need that! There’s no mileage in responding to a query rejection. Best to file it and move on.
Since you don’t get the satisfaction of responding to your rejection letters, go ahead and do it here in the comments: