5 Reasons Agents Don’t Explain their Rejections

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Authors often express frustration that their rejection letters don’t contain any hint of the real reason the project wasn’t accepted (save for something generic like “the project doesn’t fit my needs at the present time.”) A writer told me she’s not asking for much — just “one word, maybe two” of explanation at the end of a form rejection. That’s not asking too much, is it?

We love helping authors reach their goals and realize their dreams, so we’re sad to say that it is asking too much. Here’s why:

1. We just don’t have the time.

The necessity to add “a word or two” of explanation could potentially triple or quadruple the time it takes for us to respond to each query. With a hundred or more queries a week, it adds up.

2. I know when a query doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s not easy to quickly explain why.

When you walk through the department store looking for clothes, do you stop at every single item of clothing and dissect why it’s not right for you? Of course not. But if you did, you’d spend an awful lot of time trying to identify exactly why it doesn’t appeal. Something about the style? The color? Does it seem to old or too young? Too casual or too formal? Is it just plain ugly? Or is it…  just not what you’re looking for right now?

It doesn’t make sense spending all that time figuring out why you don’t like most of the clothes. You’re there to find something you can BUY, so that’s where the bulk of your time needs to be spent. It’s the same with queries. We must spend our time looking for what we can work with, and quickly dispense with the rest.

3. Our reasons might do more harm than good.

Would you really like to hear that we think your book idea is (in our opinion) unoriginal, boring, derivative, or poorly written? We don’t want to unnecessarily confuse, enrage, or depress you.  Any brief response we offer would only leave you with more questions than if we said nothing.

4. Our reasons, should we offer them, could be wrong.

No matter why we don’t want to pursue your project, we realize we are not the last word. The next agent might love it.

5. A literary agent is not obligated to help a non-client with their book.

Our obligation each and every day is to take care of our current clients. And yet, we try to  help the writing community anyway. We blog. We tweet. We teach at writers conferences. Hopefully, this is a good start start.

So where do you find the help you need? Critique partners, beta readers, editors, book doctors, and book mentors. And even reading blogs like this one!

Have you felt the frustration of not receiving reasons with your rejections? What would you suggest as a better way for agents to handle this?

Tweetables:

“5 Reasons Agents Don’t Explain their Rejections” (Click to Tweet)

“I know when a query doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s not easy to explain why.” (Click to Tweet)

“A literary agent is not obligated to help a non-client with their book.” (Click to Tweet)

“If we offered reasons with our rejections, they might do more harm than good.” (Click to Tweet)

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70 Comments

  • Everyone in the publishing industry is busy. That is a simple fact, not a criticism. The longer I write, the better I understand that. I know that an entire day devoted to writing melts away quickly.

    While I love comments that go beyond “the project doesn’t fit my needs at the present time”, I find that response somewhat encouraging. After all, the editor (or agent) didn’t say never send me anything again! I have a magnet in my office that reads “never, never, never give up”. I also remember an illustrator-friend encouraging me early on. She assured me that if I kept going I would be published. Although rejection can be frustrating, I try to focus on time writing and staying positive. BTW – my friend was right : )

  • Jeanne T says:

    In some ways, it seems like it could be a lose-lose for agents. Either you don’t offer reasons and people get upset. Or, you do offer reasons and people get defensive.

    I’m not sure there is a better way. :) I’m sure each agent has his/her reasons as to why queries aren’t right for them. As a writer, I think I need to respect that. I hope, when I submit queries, that my work is my very best, and that if I receive a pass on it from an agent that I can remember your thoughts here today. Especially the one about how something that may not be right for you may be perfect for someone else.

    • The lose/lose hits the nail on the head. Whose got time for that?

    • Roxanne Sherwood Gray says:

      Jeanne, I agree with your lose/lose assessment.

      So far, I’ve raised six teenagers. Thankfully, four of them are now in their twenties. Over the years, talking to them has been exhausting. My husband and I taught them to think, so they think I want their opinions. ;-) The stronger, out-spoken ones wanted to debate everything. I had to learn not to engage them.

      I think the writers hoping for a more informed rejection letter are a lot like my teenagers. Sometimes, a rejection just needs to be a simple “no” because no amount of explaining would ever be enough. The writer would just want to explain why the agent was wrong. Why s/he didn’t understand. So the writer would want to continue the dialogue because surely the agent would want this fabulous writer as a client. Yada yada.

      Rejections are painful. So writers need critique partners to help them determine their strengths and weaknesses until they’re ready to be published. It’s not an agent’s job to spend time on writers they don’t choose to represent.

  • A. LOVE the Tweetables. I’m on it.
    B. Reason #6: by giving a reason for rejection, you also give a topic for debate. Suddenly it’s endlessly back and forth as to why your reason is invalid.

  • Tiana Smith says:

    These are all solid reasons, especially when you’re rejecting a query. My question is this though: If you’ve requested a partial or a full, do you give more reasoning on those? As a writer, I would think that it would be frustrating to get a form rejection on a requested full, because then it’s harder to pinpoint what needs to be changed for the next submission since obviously the query and first chapters are good…

  • Rob says:

    If I received reasons for each rejection I got, I may not dig deep enough into myself or my story to discover where the flaws exist. I respect reason number one and totally understand number two. Thanks for the perspectives.

  • Christine M. says:

    #’s 2, 3, and 5 work for me and resonate the most. Mostly because I shop with a purpose, and not to browse, but also those tiny words of encouragement can create a domino effect ultimately destroying a story because I overanalyzed and dissected it to death. Now, I’ve learned to let it go, and move on. Either another agent will love it, or the next story I’m working on will be better. Just Keep Writing.

    I also like Bill’s 6th reason. Sometimes debating is helpful unless the person is just looking for a fight. :)

  • All of these reasons make perfect sense. And number 2 is interesting indeed. Reminds me of the Supreme Court justice who said, “I can’t give you a definition for pornography. But I know it when I see it.” And that’s the way it must be with agents and manuscripts/queries.

    I do have to admit, though, that the rare times when an editor or agent has scrawled a short sentence telling me what she DID like, it has been wildly helpful. : )

  • Larry says:

    Every writer should know that their book won’t appeal to every reader, nor to every agent or editor or publisher.

    Sometimes just saying “your book doesn’t meet our current needs” works, because it’s the same response you’d get from a reader who reads the back of the book and returns it to the shelf.

    However, when an author doesn’t even get that feedback, it can seem a bit unprofessional. Everyone knows agents are busy, but so are writers. If a writer doesn’t even get that “Your work doesn’t meet our current needs,” how are they to know that whether or not to send queries to other agents?

    Especially since so many agents have “We do not accept simultaneous submissions” as part of the general information to writers pondering whether or not to query them? Many are the blogs about authors who don’t follow the query process properly (indeed, yesterdays’ blog, while very, very, very fun, was about bad queries, after all), but when the process itself is not being upheld by the other side, can a writer be criticized for wanting to see a bit of playful critique of the other side for once?

    • I like your answer especially in the beginning. I have entered writing contests one in particular the Pacific Northwest writing contest and got detail critique which was very helpful and I am writing a better book. It took me eight months to rewrite but I could see the difference. One literary agent wrote me back through email that she read my query with “great interest” and that I should continue even and although she could not represent me.

  • Angela Mills says:

    I haven’t finished my book yet, so I haven’t gotten started on queries and rejections, but it makes sense to me that agents don’t have the time to critique each one. I think if I get a ton of rejections, maybe I’ll find a site or a conference where I can go and get it critiqued in a setting that is set up for that. Looking forward to even being ready for this phase!

  • Elissa says:

    I think a polite form response is fine and far better than “No response means no”. As you said, there are other, more appropriate places for writers to find feedback.

    P.S. I love the clothes shopping analogy!

  • Elaine Faber says:

    Though I understand your reasons why you can’t comment on every rejection, I also praise the agnets or publisher agents who take a moment to add a personal sentence or two. It sure is the sugar that makes the medicine go down. As writers, we lie awake nights dreaming of that returned email, hearts in our throats when it finally comes and even a short sentence of praise, or ‘keep trying’ makes rejection easier. Just sayin’

  • But a rejection letter, even a generic one, is better than no letter at all!

  • As a mom, there were times when I answered my child’s repeated question–”Why?” or “Why not”, with a simple. “Because I said so.”

    But also, as a mom, I tried very hard to never totally ignore the question. We’ve all been witness to a child who repeatedly pulls on his mama’s skirts while she seems oblivious to his presence.

    As a writer, not yet published, i would much rather hear “sorry, this does not fit our needs at this time”….than nothing at all. To be totally ignored for effort, is painful no matter the age or reason.

    Thank you for these insightful answers to the questions I’m sure those of us on this side of the industry have asked over and over again. It does help to understand an agent’s POV.

  • Jessi Gage says:

    I agree with some of the commenters here, that it’s the rare positive comment from an agent that encourages rather than the lack of comments that discourage. When you start getting rejections with little kernels of personal touch, that’s when you know you’re making progress. Keep working hard at improving your craft and keep querying and you’ll get there!

  • Josh C. says:

    I’ll say this. If agents worked like some short story markets, i.e. no simultaneous submissions, then yes, I’d expect some sort of response. But since most agents don’t operate that way, then I don’t need a response at all if anything other than a request or offer. In fact, I’d prefer that. Not that I wouldn’t appreciate the communication, but I see it differently. If agents are so busy they can’t send a word or two on the reason for a rejection, why respond at all? I’ve heard of agents who don’t respond, and to me that just makes more sense. Maybe I’m naive, though. I’m not an agent, but it would seem to me there is an obligation to send some form of reason, whatever it may be, if one is going to bother with sending a rejection. Courtesy, perhaps? I’ve been rejected for short stories several times, and each time received a letter from the editor giving a brief overview of why my story was rejected. A few were very detailed. I haven’t queried agents yet, so I’m like a blind man talking about colors. But I can’t see magazine editors being more free with their time than agents. But I could be comparing bowling balls to bullets here.

  • Iola says:

    I write book reviews. It takes me about 20 minutes to write a review for a book I enjoyed, but can take an hour or more to rationally review something that I didn’t enjoy, whether because of the plot, the characters or the writing.

    With 100+ queries a week, I can fully understand why you can’t give a detailed reply to each query. Even if it only took 20 minutes per query, that’s still 30+ hours per week, which doesn’t leave you any time for your ‘real’ work.

  • I get considerable help and support from my critique group and this blog and writing community. Thank you to you, Rachelle, and everyone at Books and Such, and thanks to this writing community.

    Blessings!

  • Bonnie Doran says:

    I appreciate the few rejections I’ve received that gave reasons for the rejections but the editor’s reaction isn’t what others might think.

    I also appreciate a standard response so I can mark off that publisher, at least for that project.

  • Melissa Petrini says:

    So if you don’t respond back at all, even with a rejection letter in the time you specified…is that a rejection, or just that your back-logged and haven’t had a chance to get to it yet?

  • Perhaps the problem in early querying is it’s equation with school. I hand in my grammatically correct paper and expect an A. If not, then my teacher should tell me what I did wrong so I can fix it. Agents, while they may teach, are not teachers. They’re representatives of the finest materials. To keep their jobs they must only represent the finest quality available and must know the materials they are selling. The big purchasers won’t listen to them for long if they bring sub-standard wares or stuff they can’t use.

    So the agents look through the market where a thousand people are shoving trinkets in their faces screaming “Buy this! I got mouths to feed!” It’s a hectic business on both ends, so there’s no time for explaining why something didn’t grab their eye. The writers must presume that they need to make what they have stand out more. Therein lies the frustrating truth of business.

  • Jenny Leo says:

    I have mixed feelings about agent sites that specify a time frame for response, beyond which silence equals a rejection. On the one hand, a query dangling in the ether indefinitely lacks closure and maintains false hope. In this day of e-mail it seems simple enough to hit “reply” with a boilerplate rejection–not even an SASE to carry to the mailbox. OTOH, I like knowing a time frame so I can feel free to submit the query elsewhere without breaching any simultaneous-submission guidelines.

  • Rachelle, I like your (#2) clothing shopping analogy. When I go into a store or department I often tell a salesperson, “I’ll know it when I see it.” You have given me a new aim: to have my diary manuscript be an “I knew it when I saw it.”

  • Lauren says:

    I don’t mind getting form rejections. It’s the ones that leave you hanging with no response at all. I just got a full MS request from an agent I queried in June 2012, though, so it’s not all bad! I had completely given up on that one

    I have also received a few personal rejetions which I did find very helpful as they were comprised of good constructive feedback. I really appreciated the agents who took the time to do that. It gave me hope that my writing had promise.

  • I don’t mind the no comment rejections. It would be crazy to ask an agent or editor to spend that kind of time in a non-client. If they don’t want it, they don’t want it. The result is the same. My job is to write great and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Wanda says:

    Pardon me for not agreeing with everyone else on this one. EVERYONE is just too busy, not just agents. That response always burns my hide because it implies that no one else is busy. Give me a break.

    Working with and being surrounded by many agents, I can tell you that you are no busier than anyone else. Sorry.

    Its not that hard to respond via email to clients or those I purport to ‘help’. Even with a ‘sorry I can’t go into this more right now, but blah blah blah.’, its simply a sign of respect for other people’s time.

    A long, drawn out answer isn’t needed – a simple, short, respectful response will do just fine.

    • Larry says:

      “Pardon me for not agreeing with everyone else on this one. EVERYONE is just too busy, not just agents. That response always burns my hide because it implies that no one else is busy.”

      Well, I wouldn’t say you’re disagreeing with everyone on this topic:

      “However, when an author doesn’t even get that feedback, it can seem a bit unprofessional. Everyone knows agents are busy, but so are writers. If a writer doesn’t even get that “Your work doesn’t meet our current needs,” how are they to know that whether or not to send queries to other agents?”

      And that’s just me: I’d say there are a few others who stated it as well, such as Elissa and others who have said that sending even a standard reply of not representing the author is a display of professionalism and basic courtesy which should be what the agent upholds on their end of the query process.

  • I fully understand the six reasons given.

    One reason I received and which made me go self-publishing was that “we never look at works below 80,000 words.” My book was 73,500.

    I also found a few who wanted me to join their writing classes first and then I would, it appeared, be ted to their suggested agents etc.

  • Zakgirl says:

    I agree with Rachelle.

    There are many great critique groups for working out the nitty-gritty of why your work is not publishable yet.

  • Lynn Johnston says:

    Frustrated, I asked my husband, “Why would that lady ask me to send her a manuscript and never get back to me?” He replied, “You are right, write her back and tell her you deserve a standard rejection letter.” I think he made his point. We don’t want to hear that our book was a bust, but at least a “no” is better than, “you are not worth our time.”
    I realize that agents don’t owe us anything and may not have time to personalize letters.

    Is there a way that one could create a batch of say 10 different form letters that gave reasons for the rejection and try to closely match you to a category? The agent could have an office assistant to organize each response so the author receives a specific reason instead of just, “not a match or fit” letter.

    The problem for the author is not knowing what to fix. I had an agent tell me that my topic sounded very interested but she thought that “cloning” would be a tough sell in the Christian market. I thanked her for taking the time to do that. Otherwise, we have no idea if our idea was a bust or if we just wrote a ineffective query letter.

    • Larry says:

      It is good to see so many writers share the sentiment that, as you put it:

      “We don’t want to hear that our book was a bust, but at least a “no” is better than, “you are not worth our time.”

      Hopefully this feedback can help agents do better on their part of the query process.

      I would also like to point out when you stated:

      “Is there a way that one could create a batch of say 10 different form letters that gave reasons for the rejection and try to closely match you to a category? The agent could have an office assistant to organize each response so the author receives a specific reason instead of just, “not a match or fit” letter. ”

      That I’d say is a good idea, and should help with what Rachelle asked for, which was ways to improve the process.

      • Paula says:

        Ten is a lot of forms! Surely the agent/agency can’t be in control of more than five?
        I think it’s too much to ask of an agent to figure out why the publishers or the public aren’t going to like the book, or to give a specific critique. Either it’s ready to submit or you need to send it through some beta readers. Either it fits with what the agency represents or it doesn’t. Either they think they can sell it or they don’t – and that’s the end. Beyond that lies the realm of opinion, which could be wrong and unnecessarily discouraging. Just because this agency isn’t over the moon about it doesn’t mean another won’t eagerly snap it up.

  • kaye draper says:

    I completely understand this policy for queries. It would certainly cost more time than it’s worth at that stage. However this is irksome with partials and fulls. Especially since at that point you’ve likely already BEEN through every critique group and beta reader available to you. At that point what an author really yearns for is for someone “in the know” to give us some tiny kernel of a clue as to what’s wrong. Even if its just to say ” hey, I just didn’t like it. can’t really say why.” This is where my fist is raised to the sky and headdesking begins!

  • Very good analogy with the department store!

  • Ed Wyrick says:

    I’ve never cared why an agent rejects. Before I started submitting in the mid-nineties I did a lot of homework and found many stories like the more recent THE HELP, that had over 150 rejections before it found representation. To chase the agent rejection is a sure way to screw up a manuscript. Get a vision, get some good readers, and believe in yourself. With my first book, something like 50 agents rejected and many gave me reasons. This was pre-email when they had more time because writers had to go to a lot of trouble to query, hence the volume of submissions was significantly smaller than today. Ultimately, that book was bought by one of the most renowned mystery agents in the business. She LIKED many of the things that agents had complained about. I do think that to fail to respond at all is a terrible and arrogant practice, but I don’t need to know why.

  • Agents are very busy people. I understand that they can’t wear all hats.

  • Lyn says:

    While I agree that agents and publishers are busy, so, I would think, are writers. Some of us wear the hats of having full time jobs and families along with our writing hat. Instead of simply having a generic rejection letter that says nothing, why can’t they have several “generic” rejection letters that say something like: “you need to work on your dialogue”, “you need to work more on showing rather than telling”, “your story is too similar to others in the market place”, “your POV needs work” etc., Or is that just wishful thinking?
    I do understand that some people’s work is so bad that it’s almost impossible to say anything without upsetting them, but surely, to know what’s wrong with your MS would be helpful – isn’t that how we learn?

    • Paula says:

      Hi Lyn! That’s my daughter’s middle name :)

      I really feel that kind of feedback would fall under whether the story is ready for submission or not, so the best place to look for it would be with a good writing group or a trusted beta reader or two. Finding those people in the proper genre, though, that’s a challenge. My science fiction has totally different genre expectations than all these local memoirists are going to understand.

  • Paula says:

    I’ve been getting rejections that ask me to “please submit again” and “we really liked your work” on my short stories – I take it to mean that my stories are nearly professional caliber, that they’d be easy to publish (not needing a lot of editing), and that the editor probably read to the end, but that there is a vision for their magazine that the story did not align perfectly with.

    I am maddeningly close! *headdesk*

    I like the idea of category form rejections :) Anything to improve the accuracy of rejectomancy ;)

    Here are a few categories I thought of:
    1. We don’t feel your story is quite ready.
    2. We did not feel enough enthusiasm for your project to be certain we would represent it well.
    3. Our overall vision for our agency and what we are known for providing to publishers does not match your book well enough.
    4. While we love your story, we can’t think of any publishers who would feel the same.

    Really, if the story is ready, it fits the vision of the agency, the agent is fired up about it, and there’s a publisher willing to take a chance on it, then it ought to be a “yes,” right?

    Well, assuming the agency is still taking clients. :)

  • I don’t expect a comment on my work, just an answer saying he/she is passing. (Automated is fine.) What if it was the other way around? What if agents were querying me to ask to represent my work? (A girl can dream.) Would I want to waste my valuable time telling each of them why they weren’t suitable to me? Not likely.

  • Mary says:

    What you say, makes perfect sense. As a new writer, though, it helps tremendously to have something to think about. If you had a basic question on your reply, like: What might help me polish this story? You could have choices like POV,hook, dialogue. For newer writers, this says you are not awful, just not ready. But then you might have to explain if you do not re-read submissions. Thanks for listening.

  • I never understood why agents and editors didn’t invest more time in explaining why they rejected my queries until I started accepting guest posts on my blog. Although I have writer’s guidelines prominently posted on my Home page, I get multiple e-mail pitches per day that have absolutely nothing to do with my subject matter and prove that the sender did not read the guidelines — or even visit my site. Those pitches go directly into the Trash and do not get a response. Do people not read or follow writer’s guidelines anymore?

    Rachelle – this was a thought-provoking post. I was especially taken with your “Tweetables” at the end and I wrote a tutorial about how to use ClickToTweet and published it on my blog today. http://www.bloggingbistro.com/tutorial-how-to-add-click-to-tweet-to-a-blog-post/ Thanks for the inspiration — I learned how to use a new social tool because of you.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    As a writer and a magazine publisher, I see both sides of this issue and understand the frustration of both parties. Unfortunately, I don’t see a solution that will make both sides happy. I think we need to accept it as a realty of publishing.

  • Sidney Ross says:

    #2
    When I walk through a department store I’m looking for a story and for the most part I find one, everywhere I look. And I write.

  • Alana Terry says:

    Rachelle, I always just assumed agents didn’t have time to respond individually to each query, which makes sense to me. I was completely (and pleasantly) surprised by two agents who gave me personalized rejections. One said the manuscript wasn’t marketable because it was set in a foreign country. The other said I needed to make the opening chapter more plot-base and less back-storied. I was touched they took the time to give me this feedback but I understand they can’t give every manuscript that individual attention. I don’t get my feelings hurt when agents don’t respond, but I was really encouraged when these two did.

  • Dee Jordan says:

    I’ve been writing since 2002. I’ve gotten over 200 rejections,but,by the same token, I’ve had 50 pieces of my work published.(including a novel, which I have pulled because I want to rewrite the ending.) I agree that my looking and finding the weaknesses made me a stronger writer. Early on, I queried long before I was ready. Now, I have learned to wait and be more sure of my goals before I query. The acceptance rate has doubled! Presently,I’m wearing a editor’s hat for an international horse anthology. This has been much more time consuming than I ever dreamed. But it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. A publisher contacted me. Xenophon Press, which does horse books and sells them internationally, is the publisher. I am giving 100% of my royalties to the Wild Horse Foundation to save our American Mustangs. My advice: never give up, use rejections to make your writing stronger, and go with your heart.

  • Laini Giles says:

    I understand not wanting to do it for a query, but for a full or even a partial, it freaking stings.

    If you don’t tell me what you didn’t like, I don’t know what to re-examine. If I get a majority of readers saying that, then I DEFINITELY know what to fix. I recently had an agent who was completely excited by my premise, and we had a wonderful dialog going on thru e-mail based on my first few pages. But then it was just REJECT. And no response to a short prod asking for more info.

    Thanks for that insight. :/

  • Deborah K. Anderson says:

    I can totally understand this when it comes to a query. It’s when a partial or full has been requested that I think something should be said. Even if it’s just a few syllables. :-)

    What gets me is when writers don’t even receive a form rejection, whether it’s from a query, partial, or full. Total silence. Those same writers work very hard to make their work shine, which is as it should be, but I think they deserve the courtesy of a response.

    Thanks for covering this topic!

  • Gene Kiepura says:

    It is a reality of publishing but for a first time author, sending out a query letter is a lot like praying to God. The expected responses are simular – Yes – No – and the last one is tricky. Some people say the third answer is “wait”. But at certain points in our lives we may think there is no third answer because no one was listening…

  • Kira says:

    This post helped me to understand a lot more why rejection letters are often so short. Your reasons for not giving extra critique are quite valid. Of course, it’s still extremely difficult for writers who are rejected multiple times for various projects, with no real answer as to why. I’m setting up to query for a fourth attempt with a new book now, and I get frightened when I think about all the rejections I’ve received before. It’s terrible to think I might never hit the right note, and that I’ll never hear what I’m doing wrong. I wish there was an easier way to solve this.

  • Jennifer Keene says:

    Helpful. I’d add that providing specific details about a rejection can open the door to the writer attempting to counter objections. Like you said, there’s no time!

  • I know I’m coming to the conversation late, but here’s a reason why in some cases it might be a good idea to give feedback. Imagine you receive a submission which is obviously nowhere near good enough. You send it back with a standard ‘not for us at the present time’. The author isn’t unduly discouraged, and so sends it to the next agent on their list. And the process is repeated, until every agent on the list has received it and wasted time reading it. And when they complete their next book, the process starts all over again, with the author still hoping to find an agent that wants their book. It only takes the first few agents to be honest and say ‘I’m sorry, but this just isn’t anywhere near good enough’ (they don’t even have to say why) to stop this process and, bearing in mind most submissions probably are ‘nowhere near good enough’, cut out much of the sub-standard material from every agent’s submission pile. Alternatively, a few positive words would give a good writer the encouragement they might need to continue.

  • Rachelle Gardner–
    Because you fail to distinguish between what I think of as actual rejections versus form rejections, I can’t buy much of what you say here. Let’s take your points as you give them:
    1. I have no time to offer reasons. Wait. The great majority of rejections are form emails or notes. Fair enough: what you’re rejecting doesn’t warrant language, and the writer will know this, or should. But if a query deserves an actual rejection from an agent, it’s reasonable to expect something by way of explanation.
    2. You can’t explain yourself. In my view, this is pretty lame but, again, a form rejection is always an option. Any real rejection letter/e-mail, however, should say more.
    3&4. My reasons might do more harm than good, and I could be wrong. A writer with any kind of conviction regarding his/her work must be able to distinguish between what’s a useful comment/criticism, and what isn’t. A writer who can’t do this is probably already doomed.
    5. I have no obligation to help out a non-client with a book. True enough, hence the perfectly justifiable use of form rejections. But when you make the decision to write an actual rejection, that fact alone represents–or in my view should represent–a kind of obligation to go beyond boilerplate niceties.

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