Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Other Side of Rejection Letters

This is one of those topics where you are damned if you do or damned if you don't. We're talking about those darn rejection letters. This time, I want to focus on the letter from the agent's, and I am assuming the editor's, POV. These are really not that easy to write which might be (I can only guess on this one) why so many people have gone to the form letter approach to the response.

Here is the thing. I get a submission that comes across my desk. Maybe I don't like it. Maybe it isn't the type of genre I am looking for. Maybe it is just a piece of garbage. Now, how do you respond to it? This is really a delicate issue here. On one level, I can be very honest and say something like, "I'm really sorry but this story is far from ready due to your lack of knowledge of basic rules of grammar and punctuation." How about, "You do realize that I am not acquiring this genre, right?"

How about if I just don't like it. I have said (and others have too) that this business is so subjective so maybe I just don't like it. Nothing more to this. So that's all I say.

But here comes the downfall...

If I tell you the truth, the writers get online and start bad-mouthing the editor or agent for their rude comments, "She said my writing was awful! Waaaaah!"

If I say it just didn't work for me, then the writers freak out due to a lack of "specifics."

Sure, we all want letters that tell us how to get better, but are writers really ready to hear the truth, "You want the truth, you can't handle the truth!!!" Remember?

Look, we try our best (or at least I do) to give a writer some idea as to why I passed on a project. Yes, I do have standard phrases I use when I reject but hey, there is only so many ways you can say no. But understand, for the most part, we all try to give you some feedback on your project. We really can't provide you a 3-5 page, line edited revision letter everytime.



  1. This post is well written. I think it's just safe to say that there are extremes everywhere, from the industry professionals who are not compassionate at all to the writers who wear their literary hearts on their sleeve. People just need to remember that for the most part, its nothing personal and a rejection doesn't mean the end of the world.

  2. Wow!!! I can't believe you were up before 5:24 a.m. in order to write your blog! Most of us were still tucked in. Anyway, after reading your submission rules, including the one that says you must be willing to revise your book from beginning to end, I think that most writers who submit to you are really hoping that you will provide some pithy and direct advice. Your daily blog is great, by the way. I read it everyday!!

  3. Personally? I want to know where the weakness are. Cause let’s face it, you can be stroked all day long on what’s working - but if you don’t understand what’s not - you’ll never grow or improve.

  4. I agree with Eric. A rejection - whether form or more personal doesn't mean the end of the world. If I had a choice between the two I'd rather get a more person one.:)

    Murphy *waves* are you back or just taking a break?

  5. What to say once again ? Some of us think it is important to tell a writer that his use of the language is substandard. Way way sub, and he is not ready to be published for that reason alone, (which means there are likely others as well.)
    I understand that people are trying to be kind, and not discourage new writers, but the business is about 100 % rejection, and a person may as well find out right away if they really want to go down this road or not. If you wind up in a fetal position every time someone takes the time to tell you the truth, as opposed to firing out a useless form rejection, you had best think about a different line of endeavor.
    Confusing this issue is the fact that some genres like chick lit, and the other lits, are written in preteen English, and are intentionally illiterate, along with the increasingly poor use of the language in other genres. Can we name any British writer who is successful, and has such a poor command of her native language? I cannot think of one. Read one line of Gregory or Dunant or Cornwell and the difference is immediately obvious. I can only assume that American readers prefer this kind of book. Does anyone have another explanation for it?

  6. I have to say I really enjoy your
    blog. I am finding the information and perspectives you provide as a literary agent invaluable to me since I am only an aspiring paranormal romance writer.

    It's important for us writers to know what literary agents and even publishers really are looking for. I think all writers are very subjective creatures and don't take the time to realize that its a joint venture in producing a product that is sound and of any value.

    I have to honestly say I am torn as to how I would want a response. Form or personal ?

    On that one hand total honesty would be the most valuable and productive to fine tuning my craft. On the other hand we're all only too human.

    It's a tough call and in many ways a no win situation for everyone involved.

    I guess with articles like the one you've provided it goes a long way for everyone understanding each others point of view.

    Thanks so much for your efforts.