Decoding Query Rejections

Rachelle Gardner

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.

RejectionOr 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:

How would you like to respond to the agent who rejected you? Remember, euphemism works great! Or… tell us the best euphemism you’ve heard in a rejection letter.

95 Responses

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  1. jt says:

    I recieved a handful of the standard rejections during my search for a publisher. I did finally get one to request my ms, and subsequently sent me a contract. However, during my search, I made a point to write each query letter individually without sending a form letter. After a late evening of writing letters, I came across an absurd submissions requirement from a publisher on my list. This is a copy of the query letter that I sent them (and no, this is not the one I signed a contract with): In your submissions info, it states that I can send a preliminary manuscript via email, although it doesn’t say which email, so here you go. If you are gracious enough to provide me with one, I will hire a staff to fulfill your submissions requirements before the turn of the century. The book that I’m proposing is somewhat time sensitive as it deals with the perils of a collapsed economy. It will become obsolete once balance has been restored to the universe.

  2. I don’t have to deal with rejection from agents because they (except for foreign-rights agents in other countries, many of which I deal with).

    Even so, I have to deal with rejection from editors at U.S. publishers because I submit to them (I have found a way to get them to seriously look at my proposals even when they say they only take submissions from agented authors or when they say they don’t look at unsolicited manuscripts.)

    Here is an example of the rejection I had to deal with: Shortly after I completed my book “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” in 2003, I sent the manuscript to twenty-five American publishers and ten British publishers. I thought that I would have no problem getting a publisher, but the opposite happened. I got rejected by all thirty-five pubishers.

    Here are excerpts from four of the rejection letters that I received from American publishers:

    1. From St. Martin’s Press: — “After reading your proposal, I am impressed with your obvious zest for life. Unfortunately, the retirement shelf is tough at the moment and I just don’t think there is room for another title.”

    2. From Warner Books: — “Even though I’m well aware of your successful track record as an author, there was a strong sense from my editorial colleagues here that most people really wouldn’t have much of a problem in trying to plot out their retirement years.”

    3. From Harmony Books: — “Especially in light of the current economy, my sense is that there’s not a large audience at present for retirement books.”

    4. From Broadway Books: — “Thank you for the opportunity to consider How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. This is a quirky, informative, and often motivational look at retirement. We discussed this at our editorial meeting this week, but I’m afraid our consensus was that a book-length work on the subject just wouldn’t have enough widespread potential for us to publish it.”

    The way I dealth with the rejection was a call to action. I figured just because these acquistion editors had been in the business for many years didn’t mean that they know their business. In fact, this can sometimes be a good sign that they don’t know their business.

    My satisfaction from dealing with the rejection came from self-publishing “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.”

    The book has now sold over 175,000 copies and has been published in 9 languages (I sold the foreign rights myself and made a lot more money this way). The book has now made me around $700,000 in pretax profits and my goal is to have the book become my first $1 million book.

    Type either “retirement” or “retire” into Amazon’s search box and “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” comes in the Number 1 spot. This is because it outsells all the retirement books published by major publishers.

    I have had Random House and Wiley want to take over this book in a normal publisher/author Agreement. I told them to take a hike – that’s another satisfying way I deal with rejection since these publishers rejected the book when I sent it to them in 2003.

    Moreover, to deal with rejection, I draw inspiration from the words of people tuned into higher frequencies than the majority of people, such as these quoted below:

    “A man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”
    — Mark Twain

    “Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why. Then do it.”
    — Robert Heinlein

    “I will take beers with dreamers over cocktails with the realists any day.”
    — Unknown wise person

    “It takes a strong fish to swim against the current. Even a dead one can float with it.”
    — John Crowe

    “Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.”
    — Norman Vincent Peale

    “You are never given a wish without the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.”
    — Richard Bach

    “The law of floatation was not discovered by contemplating the sinking of things.”
    — Thomas Troward

    “No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”
    — Helen Keller

    In short, rejection can be really good for a writer, provided he or she is operating out of high intention. Operating out of high intention
    means that you are playing the game of life with a lot more intensity and spiritual energy
    than the people who have rejected you.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Larry says:

      What a nice story. It is always interesting to get different perspectives on these topics. As writers and readers, it is always fun to see what stories or perspectives others can tell us about.

    • This is also a comment on the fact that publishers take risks, most of which don’t pay off. There might be a market for your book, but publishers may feel like they can’t take the risk to find out if the market is big enough for them to finance the book.

      You had fulfilled the first rule of ebooks: you had written a great book, and many traditional professionals agreed that it was great. That is most of the battle right there.

    • Wow…what an inspirational comment…thanks! Very encouraging. It had to feel good to tell Random House and Wiley to ‘take a hike.’

    • Ann Bracken says:

      Your comment has made my day. I really needed to read it this morning. Thank you.

    • Fiona Ingram says:

      I loved this letter! I have heard of your book, and one thing that maybe publishers miss is that the senior generation is the fastest growing segment of the population. Well done to you! I imagine that many of your hundreds of thousands of readers have benefitted greatly from (ha ha quote publisher)’your obvious zest for life.’ My mom used to say, “I may be old but I’m not dead,” and she had a huge zest for life.

  3. jeffo says:

    For everyone who thinks it should be ‘easy’ to dash off that one sentence of personalization, think about how tough it was to change one or two lines on your query to personalize it for an agent that you hadn’t met at a conference, or had some other connection to.

    While I won’t say I’m happy to get a form rejection, at least it’s something. I’d much prefer to get that than to get nothing at all.

    • Hear hear. I think a nice “no” is better than silence. It gives closure.

      • Jim Gilliam says:

        Hi PJ,

        Unfortunately in this world silence is often the answer. So after the reply time stated on the agent’s website passes I just move on. The form responses I just file away. Got one of those the other day and the word Author in the Dear Author salutation was crossed out and my first name Jim was inserted by hand. That was so appreciated inasmuch as her form letter was well crafted and actually helpful. I also appreciate a hand written note on my returned query letter. A while back I received a rejection by an agent on his own letterhead stationary using his own envelope and although I had enclosed a SASE with my query he paid the postage for the rejection. I thought that was so professional and classy that I immediately emailed him to thank him and let him know that I really appreciated the personal touch.


      • Sidney Ross says:

        Whom on earth, trying to get a bookpublished is looking for closure for gods sake? The only closure I know that anyone would/should possibly want other than success on this earth is the closure of the mathematical formula: [(one equals three of the trinity) the parallel to Einsteins E(1)= MC2(3)]. Other than that, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Yeah, I get that we are all human beasts sleeping on the same planet but c’mon man? Dream Daniel dreams not those of the closed hitch kind. Closure is an over used social pee(not mean’t to be vulgar just literal). Sidney Ross/SydrycalWorks

    • Very good point and I agree – even if I get a refection form letter, I know the query wasn’t spammed. The sooner I have that letter, the sooner I can move on – What if your doctor said no news is good news? Can we really be sure that test result was reviewed? Would you be okay with that response? Probably not. We like closure one way or another.

  4. Sue Harrison says:

    A very interesting post, Rachelle! A few sentences from an agent addressing the problems of my first novel allowed me to rewrite it and eventually find an agent. The novel became an international bestseller, and, although that advice-giving agent never did take me as a client, I owe her an immense debt of gratitude!

  5. Dan Erickson says:

    I’ve never sought an agent. I decided to go the self-publishing route for my first few books before seeking traditional agents and publishers. I have received plenty of rejections though.

    Once from a bookstore that told me my story was “delightful” but “they could not use it at this time.” The thing is that my story is about a young man who had been a child victim of a cult. Anyone who even reads the first few pages would not call it “delightful.” They usually call it “captivating,” “emotional,” or “thought-provoking.”

    I am also a singer/songwriter. As a younger man I wrote, recorded, and sent out hundreds of demo recordings. I even spent two stints in Nashiville. I received many rejections. I took advice when it was given and the rest with a grain of salt. If we let rejection get to us, we might give up. A rejection is just one step closer to an acceptance.

  6. I have really enjoyed reading the comments today. I am in the query stage again which means rejections will be coming. After many years of getting them, I really am not that bothered by the form letters. I know agents get many queries. If mine doesn’t stand out for them, that’s fine. It might for someone else or it means I need to do a better job with my letter. It’s part of this process but each day I read about many of my writer friends getting contracts so I know it happens:)

    • Jeanne T says:

      I like your outlook, Terri.

    • Sarah Hegger says:

      You said it perfectly Terri! And here’s wishing one of those contracts your way.

    • I think it is a good job that when agents really put what they want in their outline for a book proposal. I find that really helpful. I am presently working on a book proposal and what the agent wants has helped write a better overview and description of the book and I shall be sending it off within a week. I has taken me an entire week to write the description of the book because of the detailed information the agent placed on their website.

  7. Good reminder. It’s frustrating to get a rejection, sure, but authors should continue to remind themselves that a query letter is a cold call. If you were a paper salesman trying get a meeting with a big client you’ve never met before, in most cases you wouldn’t get the courtesy of a response. Just silence or frustrating conversations with a gatekeeper.

    I do appreciate when an agent takes a moment to give some specific feedback. I’ve found that following them on Twitter and engaging them in conversation sometimes can elicit responses beyond the form letter. Like that paper salesman, networking is imperative – and whether you do it through social media or at conferences, you’re going to make more effective connections than by simply querying.

  8. Jeanne T says:

    I hope to query my first ms this year. I have received rejections for magazine articles. And I was grateful to hear back. The more I learn about how much agents do for their clients and see their desire to respect those who query them, the more I can appreciate the dilemma of “to respond or not to respond with personal notes to this query…..” Thanks for your explanations, Rachelle. They give me a better understanding of this process.

  9. I would rather receive a rejection letter without specifics than none at all. At least they are giving you the courtesy of a reply to let you know that they aren’t interested.

  10. Lisa Murphy says:

    My question is, do agents read the first ten pages of your ms if it’s part of their submission guidelines, or are they rejecting based on the hook? I would like to know what they are passing on–my writing or my hook.

    Best rejection: “Thank you for querying me with Lighthouse Point. Though your novel does sound intriguing, unfortunately it doesn’t seem like a project for me. Because I won’t be able to give your book the support and enthusiasm it deserves, I don’t feel that I am the best agent to represent you at this time.”

    Worst rejection: (I have been told it is imperative to address the agent by name, so was surprised to get this) “Dear Author, we’d like to apologize for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter…”

    • Misha says:

      I have one rejection that still has me a little…subdued.

      Never mind the contents, the agent declined SIX minutes after I sent him a query.

      … Weird coincidence that my query came in as he emptied his inbox?

      I’m assuming at that stage that it’s not strictly because my book idea is that bad.

      • Rick Bylina says:

        Hahaha. Got you beat. Fastest rejection: four minutes. Agent must have been having a contest with the interns. “Who can reject the quickest?”

        But I agree with the article. Too much time is wasted on the standard, “No,” responses, and too many writers don’t get the fact that they may just have to ramp up their writing rather than scream in misdirected frustration at the darkness at the other end of the Internet or mailbox. They fail to remember that most often: “The fault lies not with the stars; the fault lies within us.”

      • Larry says:

        Indeed, when I first started sending out queries, I also got a reply on the same day. I was absolutely giddy as I was about to read the email, and then noticed that the agent declined my novel.

        The agent really liked the concept / “hook”, etc. but did not like the actual prose itself. Was basically told to “dumb down” the prose, dialogue, etc. Make the characters more flat. Make it more “accessible.” I am surprised they didn’t suggest to get Michael Bay as co-writer.

        As an author, the idea that I would have to insult readers like that bothered me much, much, MUCH more than simply being told that they would not represent my book, and I am glad that, knowing they hold such a view towards readers, that they didn’t accept my novel in the first place!

    • Jim Gilliam says:

      Hi Lisa,

      The answer is probably not. I subscribe to various tutorials and webinars through Writers Digest. One of my favorites actually had the First Ten Pages in the title. It was put on by an agent who actually critiqued your fist ten pages. During the webinar she did mention that she rarely got past the first or second page and sometimes not past the first or second paragraph.

      Les Edgerton in his great little book HOOKED provides insight from his interviews of actual agents.

      Julie Castiglia, Literary Agent, “A story must begin with an immediate hook …”

      Toni Weisskopf, Publisher, Books, “Like an introduction to a song. It can be done a million different ways, but has to give the listener an idea of what to expect from the rest of the music.”

      Mike Farris, Farris Literary Agency, Inc., “Strong beginnings are of critical importance because without a strong beginning, the reader has no incentive to read further.”

      Janet Reid, Literary Agent, “When I look at a book in the bookstore, I open it to the first page and read for maybe five seconds. If it doesn’t get me involved in that very short amount of time, I set it back down and look for something else.”

      There’s a lot more of these comments from agents and editors but I think you get the idea.


  11. Rick Barry says:

    A fun rejection I received came, not from an agent, but from a publishing house in NYC. It was a handwritten card thanking me for the submission, but explaining they unfortunately had to decline. The kicker was the final line, which expressed hope that “your wonderful writing will find a home with another publisher.”

    I sat there wondering which parts were wonderful and which parts resulted in the pass. No way to know! However, I did appreciate the handwritten card. She didn’t have to take the time.

  12. One agent did write a couple of personalized sentences in the rejection letter. It never occurred to me to make contact again because I didn’t want to be a bother. But I would like to say thank you. “I understand the time you took to look at my proposal personally, and those remarks have kept me going when discouragement set in. I’ll do my best to improve, and you’re at the top of my list when I query another book.”

  13. As a young dancer, I auditioned for major ballet companies and schools. The standard procedure for many was to line up all the auditionees (wearing the minimum clothing of tights and leotard)and walk around them with a clipboard, making notes. Then they’d call the numbers of those dancers they dismissed just on the basis of first glance, without ever having seen them dance.

    It was a painful process, but it has served me well as a writer. Nothing can be as demoralizing as being rejected strictly on appearance and not talent. I’ll take a politely worded “Not a good fit for us” anytime!

  14. I have never been put off by a “form rejection”. I can completely appreciate how busy some agents are and understand that any response at all is something to be grateful for in the long run. That being said, there is one specific agent who was very detailed in her response and we exchanged a few emails in which she gave me both advice and direction. The problem she saw with my manuscript was the ages of some characters. She felt the story would have been a great fit for YA but the protagonist was 22 years old. She told me that she liked the concept and idea but that it would need to be changed to reach full marketing potential. I wouldn’t have had a problem changing the age of the character, but because of the circumstances and situations throughout the novel the age had to remain intact. I went ahead and self published that manuscript as well as the books that follow in that specific series. Now, thanks to that agent, her great advice and conversation, when my next book is complete, which won’t be too far from now, I will be more prepared to be sure it “fits” better into the genre in which it can be the most successful and she will be the first agent I query. I will query others as well, but I feel that our past conversation might aid in peeking her interest in the next book.

    • *peaking Sorry, it is quite early here!

    • Lynn Johnston says:

      I had an agent respond with similar advice. I really appreciated her taking the time to personalize my rejection letter. She explained to me book’s topic would be a hard sell in the Christian market, but she suggested I change my genre. It was nice to know the reason behind the rejection and made me feel more upbeat and positive. She ended with, “it only takes on yes for success.”

  15. I’ve had quite a few rejection letters/e-mails, and most have been simply a rejection. It’s a business, and a form letter is an easy way to be informative and polite.

    I’ve had a few more that had more information, and they were helpful.

    But it’s really *my* business to make a book that an agent can sell; if I’m so off the mark that a book query results in a form letter–or nothing at all–then it’s mostly up to me.

    I wish my book were picked up, but it hasn’t been, and that’s on me to figure out how to fix.

    • Elissa says:

      I love your attitude. It really is the writer’s job to create a book an agent can sell.

      Even if it’s a wonderful book, an agent that doesn’t love it is not the agent you want trying to sell it.

  16. Christina says:

    Thank you for writing this post. The rejection letters that I have received have always been polite. I did receive two non-acceptance letters that needed translated, but the fact the agent did a fifty page line edit was encouraging.

  17. My one rejection from a publisher came as I was about to tell them to take my novel out of their consideration because after a reread I realized that is wasn’t nearly ready and I would not considered publishing it. I don’t recall what they said, but I followed it up with an email stating my own feeling that it was rightly rejected.

    My next rejection said nothing, but upon another reread I realized it still wasn’t ready.

    I’ll take the next 6 months to polish it to a fine gleam then ship it off again, perhaps to better results.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I love your willingness to see your work as not ready. That takes humility. 🙂 Good for you on not giving up, and instead working to hone your writing and your story.

  18. Great post, Rachelle. The longer I’m in this writing biz, the more I realize that the standard query rejections are a MERCY to newbie writers! The fact that agents rarely get specific with critiques (what I used to LONG FOR as a newb) is actually a good thing. Otherwise, we might be crushed, if we knew how far we missed the mark. The BEST PLACE for specific critiques is from honest crit PARTNERS, not from an agent (unless it’s YOUR AGENT!).

    It took me years to wise up to this concept. But, as agents, you’ve seen the BEST OF THE BEST, so for newb writers, the best encouragement comes from fellow writers who might be one step ahead and have learned those little writing tricks agents are looking for. That’s why I recommend everyone find a crit partner (or several) and get other eyes on their query and MS before shooting it out. I know, it’s SO HARD to find those people. But with the proliferation of writer’s blogs and agency blogs, it’s so much easier to connect with a kindred writing spirit than it was, say, five years ago.

    Bless all of you agents’ hearts! You have such a mammoth task, and I know you have writers’ best interests at heart.

  19. Jan Thompson says:

    My first MSS rejections came 15 years ago. They were for 2 short stories I had written for a magazine. Generic rejections (“not a good fit at this time” or something like that) but at least they sent me the MSS back in a box (this was before people emailed MSS LOL).

    Ironically, I was relieved my MSS were rejected because I learned a bit about myself since then:

    – I had written those two short stories (and other unpublishable ones) for the audience of the magazine. So my voice was “commercial” rather than “heartfelt.” Since then, I decided to write what I want to read, not what everybody else is writing. Everyone has stories to tell, and to each her own.

    – I realized that I’m better suited to writing longer pieces where I could express myself more fully. I have no problem writing 200K words, but I had a hard time capping it at 5,000 words.

    So the 2 seemingly innocuous rejections of my MSS (they didn’t reject me, just my MSS) put me back to square one — What do I do with what God has given me? What is my niche? Where do I go from here? What is my voice?

    All that has helped shaped my writing career since then. I’m not under pressure to get published. It would be wonderful if I get published. If not, I’ll self-publish. Or not. But since I was 8 years old typing on that old Olivetti, I knew I was going to write. So it’s a lifelong dream, and one way or another, I’m going to reach that goal even if all I end up doing is put my finished MSS in storage. I actually did that once before anyway 🙂

    So what would I say to the magazine that rejected my short stories? “Thanks! You did me a favor!”

    I have never dealt with an agent before, but I hope to have the same attitude, that it is for my own good if my MSS are thus rejected. (Hopefully it’s not to spare the world of my writings LOL.)

  20. This one’s easy for me to answer.

    When donnie tells me, “Get off the couch Doodle” then I know I better – get off the couch.

  21. Here’s one I got today for my new detective novel:

    Thank you so much for your interest in (some agency). After conferring with senior members of the agency, I regret to inform you we are going to have to pass on this project, as it isn’t quite right for us at this time. Of course, this is entirely subjective and other agencies may feel differently. I encourage you to query widely, as you never know who will feel that “spark” for your book. We appreciate the opportunity to consider your work and wish you the best of luck finding representation.

    (Some Agent)

    The part of this rejection I actually found heartening was “after conferring with senior members.” If that is standard, it slipped past me. It told me that my query at least made the agent take it to step two. It’s cool. Few agents will want to represent a book by a pastor about a psycho killing fundamentalist pastors. Oh well, I’m still a happy camper. I broke protocol and sent her back a quick, one-line “thank you.”

    • Jeanne T says:

      Good for you, getting it out there, and looking for the positive in the letter. Keep at it. 🙂

    • How is a thank you breaking protocol?
      And well done, PJ!!

      • Jennifer, agents often say in their blogs, “Don’t write back,” so I don’t. Unless it’s Janet Reid, who I think is literary agent equivalent to Moses. She says she appreciates a nice “thank you.” Anyway, I’m still praying for your humor column!

    • That “senior members” is not standard, PJ! Good job!

    • Ann Bracken says:

      “Few agents will want to represent a book by a pastor about a psycho killing fundamentalist pastors.”

      Do they not watch TV? Whenever I glance up from my kindle to see what my hubby is watching, it’s usually some police/FBI drama about some psycho doing something vile. I think your book will be a hit!

    • Jordan says:

      I’d bet good money on what agency this is, because I got almost the exact same rejection word-for-word on a partial.

      It also included a backhanded compliment and two critiques of my MS that were so subjective and unhelpful that I wished they’d opted for the form instead, much as I hated form rejections after requests.

      I’m not normally all that bitter about rejections, but this particular feedback hurt worse than my form rejections on full manuscripts.

  22. Rachelle, thanks for a great post. It was informative and most encouraging. Makes me want to dig in and try even harder to achieve a serious writing career.

  23. I almost would rather get a form letter, because I can mentally move on from it better. If I’ve done my homework and studied my craft, I should, with help from critique groups, etc., be able to tell if my writing is at a good level. That’s the comfort for me. Whether it’s the right fit for the publisher and a viable financial risk, that’s up to someone else.

    I tend to agonize over personal comments, like the letter I got with a handwritten note from a Highlights for Children contest judge. She said how much she liked my writing and that she’d like to see more stories by me. While kindly meant, this kind of note happens enough that it begins to be frustrating, being so close, but never quite hitting it.

    And so you have to just keep on writing. : )

  24. When Etta Wilson worked with Books & Such she liked a proposal I showed her at Mount Hermon, but when I sent her the MS she replied that it was too short for the age group (middle grade.) I sent it to an e-book publisher that does POD hard copies because e-books tend to be shorter and they accepted it. Although I’d written for newspapers and had lots of things in periodicals The Peril of the Sinister Scientist was my first published book.

  25. Larry says:

    There was an agent who didn’t send either the standard email declining the offer, or one a bit more personalized…..but instead apparently ranted about my manuscript and how it didn’t quite match what they envisioned it would be from the query letter (now this is the opposite experience of the other agent I wrote about in this topic: this one apparently thought it WAS the sort of manuscript that other agent wanted!) in one of their blog posts. It was, to say the least, quite unprofessional and a disgusting display of how one can lack basic courtesy, considering that I was a regular reader (and commentator!) on the blog….so it didn’t feel just like the agent was ranting about my manuscript, but directing it, in some way, directly towards me, in a very public forum.

    I wouldn’t have minded hearing their feedback in a private email, even if they were to tell me how utterly disappointed they were that it seemed like the manuscript was generic, etc, but really, that particular episode really made me aware of the arrogance that the “gate keepers” can have in regards to their roles.

    I wouldn’t have minded if the query itself was shoddy and a prime example of “how not to do a query letter,” if the agent was truly intending to help me, and other writers, understand the proper process of how to write a query letter.

    But all that seemed to be intended was to blow off some steam and use me as the punching bag to do so.

    ……So maybe I could have handled it better and not left such a snarky reply and deciding to never return to that particular blog again, but maybe that agent was thus used as a prime example to their fellow gate-keepers to be a bit more humble. 🙂

    I also have received some very kind, personalized, helpful feedback from agents when they declined my manuscript. One in particular made it clear she really liked the story, characters, and writing, but seemed to say that the reason the offer was declined was because of not having a blog, website, etc.

    I was really tempted to reply back and see if that was why it was declined, and when I (finally) get around to building those platforms if I should re-submit, or just to ask what in particular she liked about the characters, story, dialogue, etc, (because I wanted to know if it all achieved the sort of atmosphere and invoked the sort of feelings in the reader that it was intended to invoke; and who better to ask than someone who has read many, MANY books and stories, and would be more able to not only articulate what exactly stood out, but why) but I didn’t want to be impolite and breach any protocol.

    Especially considering it was an agent from my favorite blog / writing community!….

    • There was a farmer who had a horse, a pig and a donkey. He couldn’t decide which one he would enter at the state fair. When he arrived, he set the animal in the stall and got a number. The judges came by later and looked inside at the beast. “Oh,” said the onlooker, “I see you’re showing your ass today.”

      • Jan Thompson says:

        And Charlotte A. Cavatica said, “Some pig.”

      • Larry says:

        That made me laugh, PJ. I will admit, that might have been a much more deliciously snarky reply. But out of habit, I try avoiding such strong language when possible [even when dealing with rude agents and folks in general], as I find it much more of a fun, creative challenge to do so otherwise.

        What is one of the great strengths of this blog, and writing community here, is that there is such a level of openess; for example, that particular experience with that agent is something I haven’t even shared with some of my fellow writers I know outside of this blog and writing community.

        Therefore, I thought that it offered a great distinction between the outstanding blog and writing community here at Books and Such to show the dynamic between authors and agents and that of that other agent. Here I have no problem discussing some of the more laughable [and sometimes scoffable] aspects of my writing journey.

        Everyone brings a willingness to learn from each other, and support each other, and sometimes to laugh with each other over our own foolishness as imperfect beings, and this oftentimes foolish industry.

        Even when the community members disagree here, and offer up strong, well-thought out opinions, it is to inform each other, to grapple with the challenges of the industry, and to better understand all the facets of our hobby, passion, calling, industry, love of writing and reading.

        Indeed, there are few other blogs where agents and authors are so freely able to communicate. And while there is a free exchange of ideas at those other blogs, I don’t get the sense of there being a community at those places. For example, many writers here have discussed their process of either becoming a client of Books and Such, or why they weren’t, and both journeys help inform writers of how to succeed, and become better writers.

        Heck, even the writers who discuss their trepidation OF sending out that query to the Books and Such crew helps other writers know that there are other writers in that same position between pursuing their dream and finding the faith and courage to do so. And even better, oftentimes they get encouragement from the agents themselves to send out those queries.

        And speaking my own experience, I do realize the irony in not having a blog when my replies often BECOME one! 🙂

      • Sidney Ross says:

        I get it. So you made it to the state fair and showed yourself. And pray tell, what happened
        with the horse and the pig. Continue on, my all

      • Sidney Ross says:

        If Janet Reid is Moses, I may certainly be a
        solid temporary for Einstein.[E(1)=MC2(3)]

  26. Regardless of the response, rejection or request for more, I always try to respond with a thank you. I figured out early on that a come-back was tantamount to a slammed door…but a gracious thank you often kept it open for continued correspondence. I’ve made some GREAT connections with people in the industry by NOT being offended. Does that make sense?

    Great post – thanks, Rachelle!


  27. Sidney Ross says:

    I have yet to send out a query. I have sent a couple of questionaires out. My first was to a gentleman in the literary department at the University of Alabama. I had sent him a copy of my work ‘Oh My God, He’s Black(Gravity)’ with this question “What must I do with this work of art?” I was trying to be amusing, but he responded to me in this very gentile way,”Sidney Ross, I have read your work and found it to me a most remarkable and fascinating read. I suggest you publish it. It turns out he was a procurer of “southern academia” projects that the University would write about and produce going forward for the school. My writhe was one of fiction but had historical merit to it as it centered around the week of April 4, 1968 the week of the infamous in United States history. The murder of Martin Luther King. I did publish it and used his quotes on the back of the book jacket of my self-published book. Incidently, ha had the same last name as I. I have just weeks ago sent out another questionaire about the very same work. I wonder if or how Rachelle will respond? Another quote, for the jacket of the conventional published work of identical name perhaps? We will see. We will see.

  28. I’m thankful to be a Christian writer. I’ve never queried an agent, but I find the editors of Christian publications to be very, very kind. I cannot even repeat the words that some writers have received in response to their submissions to secular publishers. Ouch! Hurt! I’ll take a form letter over that any day.

    • Jan Thompson says:

      I learned that writers need to develop a thick skin regardless of the publisher…

      Even though I write inspirational fiction, I also read secular novels. I think that Christian writers need to interact with secular publishers, writers, and agents simply because I’m reading that there seems to be a growing number of secular readers who read inspirational fiction because it’s “clean” and devoid of gratuitous this and that which people are tired of. As a writer, I welcome new readers!

      • I see your point, Jan. I welcome new readers, too, and not only Christians. With my spiritual growth book, I’m hoping to attract seekers, as well.

      • Sidney Ross says:

        Thick skin is my middle name. An air force veteran, a stroke disability veteran, a heart by-pass veteran and a life-long writing veteran. I’ve got the scars and have seen the proof toward promise. Far from a believer though, in a pluralistic millenarianism ideal through religion. One on one with Jesus/Lord. The only way to go. Tuff love, tuff eternity, I say. Leave the flesh behind, embrace the soul.

  29. Authors can read the most common rejection letters from specific agents at When a well known agent added two words to the form rejection he sent me, “Try others,” I knew he meant it. I’m glad I did — thanks, Rachelle.

  30. I just started querying agents again and, with the rise of social media, I’m finding the process easier because you can connect with agents before sending your query. One such agent I connected with on Twitter said she’d love to see my query, and afterwards sent me back the sweetest rejection. Yes, you heard right. I said sweet. She remembered me reaching out to her and would’ve loved to take me on but her full schedule prohibited her from doing so. She ended with, “But I know you’ll find an agent so I’ll definitely be a fan!” (oh, by the way, Rachelle, I have a query in your inbox as well – insert smiley face emoticon).

    • Sidney Ross says:

      Mark, Sounds like a “Said the spider to the fly” epic. The only thing missing is a “Vincent”. Best of luck in your writing future.

      • Sidney Ross says:

        Don’t know that twitter is that swell of a place where one should go to battle in the field of the literary. Flanking the body of ones writing work and protecting the line of ones emotional scrimmage in could very well prove to be difficult. . …Just say ‘in?

      • Sidney Ross says:

        In a lesser mode format like twitter.

  31. Sidney Ross says:

    With all these comments, most from the female genre. I am left with a very somber question. In my mind as well my soul. A concern for the state of writing and that of reading as well. In these times! Where are all the men? In the writing profession and within the profession that makes judgement upon such things? As I look at this trade, the writing industry. It appears, dominated by women. From the inside and from the out. What gives? Is there any wonder; books aren’t selling? Only half the population(women)are actually participating. There is no male voice in the publishing industry, anymore. Tell me I’m deliciously wrong, dearest Rachelle? Say it ain’t so? Am I but a grist, involved and invested in a “lost art”? As far as men are concerned, where is my notch in this wood ? How can I possibly speak from my heart of hearts? From my alpha, my soulstance? From my inner Adam? How, in hell might I find a salvation in my writing, a redemptive notion in my reading when in fact my Eve has taken the apple and the seeds further and further away? She is away yonder! Gone a sailing she has. Off with the devil that a** of a womaniser and off with my best bookmark, my eternal placeholder from woe. She goes scribbling away yonder, toward an isle the bookcase of Hades. Even my Sheol the old gray tomcat, for centuries a wonderer of my bookish reservation. He too has abandoned me. Now doing the provisional backstoke amidst the waters of womendom. In the waves she is away absent what she now calls her “Once” her “Mick”. Me the once Michael of she my bone my essence. . … … .sheeesh, Surely to goodness and mercy! Glad I got that out of my system! . …Gone to play in the snow. now

  32. Sidney Ross says:

    I can see or might imagine an agent and a writer both looking for a relationship that has a certain accord to it. Business wise certainly and otherwise! Where both are seen as comfortable, joined together at the very least morally and somewhat spiritualy! Isn’t that the only way it can prosper and would work? Then, surely why wouldn’t an agent do all in his/her power? Work frugally toward an everything to suppress getting involved with a bad partner in a writer. That is why you have to have an agent that takes discretion quite seriously. Using all of her/his latitude to circumvent potential bumps and bruises even fatalities down the career road. And why wouldn’t a writer understand that he/she should do likewise. Use all of his/her ingenuity to be quite sure that he/she, a potential Kurt Vonnegat or Richard Bach is not saddled with an agent with some sort of baggage deferment. Much like the good people of Colorado are trying to discern which responsible minded man they must choose for there congress rather than risk electing a potential carpetbagger trying to use their vote to reach a house of power on their behalf. A Coffman or a Romanoff eh? Needs serious study, no doubt. There is a 1966 song that was a big hit in that year and has since sold millions of records. The song ‘When A Man Loves A Woman, When A Woman Loves A Man’. An agent and a writer must each sing that song all the way to a happy and a pleasant and fruitful partnership. It could be a long ride if either of them do not. Just saying! As a good ‘ol car salesman friend of mine always used to say “I appreciate what you’re saying.” I really would appreciate what a good agent would or could say to me toward getting it right.

  33. Deb Hathaway says:

    Ah…. Turnabout is fair play (so I’ve heard).

    Over the years I have been the owner of a few bookstores in a college town. Every day I was bombarded by self-published authors walking in and face-to-face asking me to read their book and perhaps carry it in my store. I had to accept or reject them without the benefit of hiding behind a letter or email.

    Now the shoe is on the other foot. I am writing my first book and will be in the position of sending query letters. I hope to use my past experience as a lesson learned from the opposite perspective, knowing my query will be rejected by everyone except the PERFECT agent.

    • Sidney Ross says:

      Good writing and good luck. Stock the medicine cabinet with pepto, ibuprofen and assorted other pain remedies. Getting to the finish line could prove a bruiser. For instant satisfaction self-publish at the lowest rates possible, not buying into all the extra marketing fees, etc. Then sit quietly and see how it feels before you bring out the bazooka to take on the agents of doom for a potential conventional publishing gig.
      No expert: But I did sleep over at a agent/publisher/writers house, once or twice. . …wink, wink

      • Sidney Ross says:

        Also, as to the all the self-publishers wolfing you about reading their books and doing business w/them. Consignment would have been a good option! I owned a convenient store and made a good bit of pocket change doing this for my customers in our daily to & fro. Actually ended up selling the land & the business to one of them. SWEET return, if you know what I?

  34. Ann Bracken says:

    I’m one of those who is happy to get a rejection letter of any sort, rather than hearing crickets in my inbox. Most agents are so busy that spending that extra five minutes to even send off a form rejection means they thought it worthy to have that much commentary. Of course, I’m an optimist. 😉

    My favorite rejection? The agent who sent me SIX pages of notes and said that if I was willing to make those changes to rewrite and resubmit. She’s reading the rewrite now (and I’m obsessively checking my inbox every five seconds for her reply).

    • Sidney Ross says:

      That agents is not and will not be a help to you, a friend or a compliment to you. She’s an overbearing winch(any of various machines for pulling or hauling or dragging). Don’t put yourself through that! If she was sincerely interested she would have called you forward to her in a more personal manner. She is playing with you! Don’t buy into it. You’ll only get hurt. Move on or MAN-UP(sorry, woman-up).

  35. Jim Gilliam says:

    As an unknown or first time author the cold truth is that you stand a better chance of winning the New York Mega Bucks Lotto than landing a New York literary agent.

    At one such agency it reportedly took an agent fourteen minutes to go through nineteen queries eighteen of which were rejected. The SASEs were neatly stacked and given to an intern for the stuffing of the standard “Sorry this is just not right for us” form. The U.S. Supreme Court receives over 6,000 petitions in a nine month term and only hears about 250 cases. These petitions are triaged by the Justices’ clerks and that takes approximately nineteen seconds per petition much slower than the agent at the agency I heard about.


    • Sidney Ross says:

      You are preaching to the Head Choir Authority. Amen to you brother! As a ficticiously legendary member of the brotherhood of men, I say “right on, right on, right on.” A lottery indeed! !!! Thanks for the wonderful post. Nothing like a male perspective to get the squirrels scurrying in the literary forest.

    • Sidney Ross says:

      Your “POINT DECEPTION” looks great. Congrats.

  36. mark says:

    I like Ernie Z’s post (sticking it to the man?). I think and hope that publishing is changing in the sense of more avenues of opportunity for the author. Some agent/publishes seem a little full of themselves talking of how a story has to move them or that they have to fall in love with it. Publishing is a business and the role of a publisher is to know their audience not be preoccupied with their own love and hates Perhaps at some point the author will only have direct contact with an audience plus some useful editor services. It does remind me a little of the film industry where the writer seems to be secondary and the actor and director (who in early cinema were not thought central) have attained great importance (though I suspect that actor is important for marketing).

    The subject of the article was how to interpret rejection comments. What does the phrase ‘too generic’ mean concerning a plot? What is wrong with generic? Is a specific plot more valuable? Does a meandering plot make a story weak and what does weak and strong actually mean? Does a plot need muscles? Is flab really that bad? It seems to me that flabby people have probably enjoyed themselves a lot more getting flabby than the masochistic six-packers have in attaining there physical perfection. Do our storys have to spend time in the literary gym? And, in the end, is not the end reader’s opinion the only one that really counts.