Friday, August 22, 2008

Form Letter or Regular Response - What do you want?


Dear A______,

Thank you for submitting your story for consideration. It is just not right for us.

Best of luck with your writing.

J. Editor



Dear A______,

Thank you for submitting your story to us for consideration. I am afraid this story is just not going to work for us. The writing is shallow, the plot line is weak and there is just not much in terms of the narrative to want me to keep reading this story.


J. Editor

So, which one do you want to receive in the mail?

I hear time and time again how writers hate getting the "form letter" response for their submissions. They have slaved over that manuscript for months (and sometimes years) and they wanted to receive more than a form rejection.

But do they?

I have to say that writing rejections is not a fun task and one that I will frequently try to avoid as long as I can. I understand that writers have a thin skin and hearing that the story is awful is not fun for anyone. With that in mind, I have to say there are times when we get submissions that are really awful. There is no nice way of saying it other than "what was this person thinking?" What's worse are the days when I get more than one of those in my pile of submissions to read and respond to.

I don't want to have a suicide on my hands after a person gets one of my rejection letters so sometimes, we have to resort to the "form" response. We want to save you and our conscience from a fate that we really wouldn't want to see.

Now, I do know that there are agencies and editors that use the form response for all that they get. Why? It's really rather simple. They get so many submissions from people, some good and some awful, that a personal response for everything is humanly impossible.

Of course, in my head, I see an easy solution to this but that is for another day. The point that I do want to bring up though, is to appreciate the response you get from the editors and agents that take the time to give you a response. Send them a quick note and thank them. I did this just yesterday when a project was passed up. I called and told the editor how much I appreciated the time taken on the response. It was a small gesture but you know something, every now and then we want to hear those things.

So, next time you get a form letter, consider the source. Don't blow it off and if you have a thin skin, think that the form letter came because they were swamped and the competition was fierce in that batch of submissions.


  1. Luckily I have THICK skin. That being said, I would prefer the latter...even if I was told it was a plot-less waste of ink. I could then go back and either fix the plot problem, or scrap it, moving on to the next project, learning a valuable lesson at the same time.

    I think blogs like yours, and so many other agents that put info out there are a Godsend! I learn something new every day, and that is priceless.

    Another tool that I am seeing more frequently of late, are the contests. There are so many out there (yes, I saw yours too), but the BEST ones are the ones that actually post your work (anonymously of course) and other writers have the opportunity to crit the work also. It's been another great tool.

    Now I'll go back to my corner to lurk again!

    :) Terri

  2. Hello,
    I would strongly prefer the critical comment. I sent you a query way back, and you said you really liked the plot of the smokin' historical, but that you found the beginning confusing.
    I looked it over and realized you were absolutely right. Like so many writers, I had lived with the characters for so long thst I had begun to assume\that some information about them would be understood, or inherently known, by a new reader.
    Wrong. That reaction helped me to rewrite the beginning of a project that means a great deal to me. I appreciate you taking the time to see that, and state it in plain English. Keep shovelling-lots of room for improvement out here. Especially if most agents are looking for the next PhilippaGgregory. That one is in a class by herself. Long may she reign.

  3. Good post. I would prefer the latter because my skin is fairly thick. The problem with the latter, though, (in my opinion) is that some parts of writing is subjective. So the form letter is good too. Just think if you got five rejection letters all saying that there were different things wrong with it.
    On one of my first queries I got a request for a partial, followed by a very nice rejection and WHY. Which was great.
    I like the personalized rejection better, though, even if I might start questioning my writer's sanity.
    BTW, personalized rejections get a thank you card, but not form.
    Is that professional?

  4. I appreciate the comments, even if they are hard to take. When you rejected mine last year, I felt like you gave me good insight and direction with your comments.

    My writing was still immature but I needed a direction rather than just scrambling around lost with a half a handful of form rejects, and your comments gave me that.

  5. Well,

    I have 3 rejection letters. I know that is not a lot. The good news is that I was rejected by some pretty fabulous editors. They took the time to tell me what was right and what was wrong with my work. From the full to the partial submissions, I learned a lot from their responses.

    I am writing my 5th manuscript after taking about 20 online classes. I still have no idea what I am doing in this industry ;). I know I love to write and that I cannot stop.

    I just don't have any idea what to do next. The rejection letters were the only direction I had, and I am so happy that someone took a few paragraphs to tell me what they liked and did not like.

  6. Now with many agents not responding to a query they aren't interested in, authors would rather recieve the form rejection rather than nothing at all.