Decoding Query Rejections

RejectionIf 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.

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Jackie B. on March 8, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    With the exception of maybe one or two of my rejections, where I’d been told that the agency is overflooded with clients or “I wasn’t hooked enough,” all of my rejections have been vague (not a fit or not quite right). So I find it a little frustrating sometimes to query, especially when I get almost no hints at all about how I can improve myself.

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  4. Catherine Morgan on January 17, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    So you spend the first 20 years decoding rejections from boys (or girls, as the case may be) and the next 20 decoding rejections from agents and publishers. Sigh. The hard part is not so much the decoding as the pressing on. And the business end of things — the querying and crafting pitches, blogging, etc — eventually starts to get in the way of the writing… I tend to cycle between queries and actual writing. Now to find balance.

  5. joylene on January 17, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Back in the 80s I received a hand-written note from the then publisher of McCelland & Stewart. Yes–I kept it. To paraphrase, he thought I had potential and suggested I keep plugging along. His kindness did keep me plugging along during many a cold day.

    I think another thing to consider is some agents are simply insane and nobody’s had the gumption to tell them. Yes–I’m speaking from experience. LOL.

  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on January 17, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    I’ve gotten a lot of those, too!

    And one personalized reply – from Rachelle, several years ago.

    I always thought that the query rejection process was, to some degree, similar to the process of buying a book in a bookstore.

    First, I’d look at where the book is on the shelf (genre).

    Then, I’d look at the title and spine presentation – does it look like it has potential? (quick read of the hook)

    Pull it off the shelk, and look at the cover art and cover blurb. (read the hook again, for quality of writing and ability to express a plot economically)

    Finally (and many books didn’t get this far), open the book to see if I like the writing style. This also includes editorial accuracy…if the book has many typos, or technical inaccuracies that I pick up, it usually goes back in the shelf. (read the attached manuscript pages, if any – if not, this step is folded into the previous one)

    And then the decision – buy it (invest in asking for a full or partial MS), or rejection (thanks for letting me look at your MS).

    A lot of the bookbuying process is based on past experience (as is the agenting process), but there’s the touch of serendipity, which is best expressed in a ditty I once read:

    “I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.
    The reason why, I cannot tell,
    but this alone I know full well:
    I do not love thee, Dr. Fell”

    And sometimes it’s just a no. Full stop.

    But I do believe there’s also

  7. Zan Marie on January 17, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    I have a few of these in a folder somewhere around here. ; )