Giving Reasons for Rejections

Let’s talk about rejection letters! Lately I’ve been thinking about how writers wish they had a “reason” when agents reject their work. I’ve explained before (ad nauseum) all the reasons we can’t always give reasons. (And by the way, even though my policy states no response = no interest, I still respond to as many queries as possible.)

Anyway, last week as I was responding to queries, I decided to try and give a quick reason for each of the projects I was saying “no” to. Not a critique or anything in-depth, just a brief clue as to why the project wasn’t a “yes.”

Well, I think a lot of the writers may have ended up feeling worse than if I’d not even tried to give a reason. I found that a “quick” reason can easily sound harsh or even cruel, when it’s really just the truth but without the time to explain it in detail. So I’m going to let YOU weigh in on this.

Below are some of the lines I used to explain my rejections. Each letter opened with a “thank you for allowing me to consider your project” followed by some variation on “Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to offer representation.” Each letter also had a nice, encouraging closing. What you see below is the part where I tried to explain why.

Now, you tell me: Are these too harsh? Too vague to be of any help? Do you think the writers would have been better off with a simple “no thanks” and no attempt at explanation? Help me out here.


While your writing is strong, I didn’t find the story to be compelling.

I wasn’t particularly drawn in by the synopsis, and I found that the writing itself is not as well-crafted as I need books to be before I represent them to publishers.

Keep writing. Keep studying the craft. Write another book, and another. You clearly have a natural gift, and a beautiful way with words. Like all gifts, yours will benefit from being nurtured and refined. I encourage you to avoid being in a rush to publish, and instead, spend a bit more time focused on being a writer. You will get there, in the right timing.

The story simply isn’t to my taste; in YA I’m looking for contemporary stories that are a little bit closer to the real life of teen girls.

The story just isn’t my cup of tea.

Your synopsis didn’t capture my attention and you didn’t include a sample from your manuscript as my guidelines specify, so there was no way for me to make a decision based on more than your brief pitch.

The story didn’t capture my attention as particularly fresh, and in addition, I can’t tell what kind of audience you’re shooting for. I’d suggest you be clear about your audience and make sure you’re hitting your target both with the storyline and the writing itself. This seems like it’s intended for a young audience (young teens, perhaps?) but it’s not clearly defined.

It’s nearly impossible to sell a devotional like this, so I am going to have to decline representation. I hope you find a way to share your writing, whether through traditional publishing or perhaps through a blog or a self published book.

Your writing is strong and the story looks fun. It just didn’t quite capture me enough for me to take it on.

It doesn’t seem unique and fresh enough to capture an audience, especially with books like The Secret already hitting this niche.

You’ll probably need to find a strong hook to draw readers into your book and make them want to read it. Figure out what’s really fresh and unique about your story. Right now it doesn’t strike me as compelling enough to draw readers’ interest.

Books specifically for pastors are extremely difficult to sell right now. In addition, this feels like it has a dry and highly academic tone, making it even more challenging. I just don’t think I’m the right person to try and bring it to the marketplace.

The premise is pretty unique and the writing is strong, but the story doesn’t grab my personal interest and I don’t think I’d be the right agent to represent it. Here’s a good list of Christian agents:

You certainly have a strong topic, along with the passion and writing ability to pull it off. However, this would just be too difficult to sell and I don’t think I’m the right agent to find it a publishing home.

Your title is great; your writing is clear and passionate. However, keep in mind publishers have to actually sell books. Readers have to pay money for your book. They don’t want to pay for a book that’s going to blast them with criticism of every detail of their life. You have a strong message; now you have to figure out how to get people to want to read and accept your message. I don’t believe you’ve found the way yet.


I hope you can see that I was seriously trying to be helpful, but I’m not sure if it was worth the extra time it took (at midnight on a Friday night). Also, from these brief explanations, you can probably tell that the reasons for the “no” are often very similar, the most common being: It’s just not interesting/unique/fresh enough, and doesn’t make me want to read more.

So, what do you think? Worth the effort? Does it seem like I could or should be doing more? Or is it probably better for writers to get no input rather than these little tidbits? You tell me.

Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

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. Jabbertype on December 11, 2011 at 1:58 AM


    Fantastic blog post, saw on…

  2. Liz C on April 29, 2009 at 1:32 PM

    >(oops – try this again…)

    I don’t have anything anywhere near ready for querying, but I would be eternally grateful to receive any one of those responses with a rejection. As many others have said, I don’t think any of them are harsh at all.

    Then again, when it’s my ‘baby’ we’re talking about, my skin might not be quite as thick and I may not be able to think quite as rationally.

  3. Anonymous on April 26, 2009 at 7:37 AM

    >I think hearing a reason for the rejection, even a brief one, is always more helpful than a flat no. It gives writers a better idea which things need more revision, or if we need to study a different angle on the market.

  4. Rebecca LuElla Miller on April 24, 2009 at 3:05 PM

    >Rachelle, if an author thinks your comments were harsh, he needs to move from Coddle-ville to Reality Land.

    You made some really helpful statements. Those are the kinds of things I hunger to hear from an agent or an editor.

    Without them we can continue to bang our heads against the brick wall of rejections, vacillating between the certainty that we’ve never written a worthwhile word and the suspicion that there is a conspiracy to keep us from being published. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    For the writer who wants to hear, you’re giving invaluable feedback.


  5. Timothy Fish on April 24, 2009 at 7:05 AM

    >I’m sure I’m repeating others, though I haven’t had time to read any of the 110 comments, but these reasons give a world of information if someone is willing to consider what they say.

  6. LeAnne Hardy on April 23, 2009 at 1:42 PM

    >We writers are the only people I know who get excited about personal rejection–it’s so much better than impersonal rejection. I admit, a checklist is just as impersonal as a plain ‘no.’ Mine usually said nothing more helpful than “Does not meet our current editorial needs.”)

    What if you wrote up a page of “My most common reasons for not accepting a manuscript.” You could briefly summarize each in your own gracious way (and maybe even add a first practical step in correcting the problem). You can then refer writers to the list for self-evaluation, with or without pointing them to a specific reason. The resource would be there for those who want it, but not in the face of those who don’t.

  7. KathyF on April 23, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    >I think these reasons were just fine. I understand that agents don’t have the time, but I would certainly appreciate quick notes like these over just a no.

    It would help me tremendously.


  8. MisterChris on April 22, 2009 at 1:41 PM

    >I hope 2 posts on this doesn’t label me as a ‘spammer’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I agree with Richard Mabry on this – your style doesn’t seem to be a checklisted form rejection.

    And I’d add support for the idea that these helps should go to those who might be considered ‘close’ to a win.

    However, if you’re sending ‘form’ rejections out, a checklist on why would be better than just a ‘no’ – every bit of info helps.

  9. Hope Clark on April 22, 2009 at 11:27 AM

    >Frankly, I don’t see how agents can respond personally to every submission. I submitted 72 queries to agents on my novel. I heard back from 60. I received personal responses or requests for more material from about 20. I think the only ones that insulted me were the agents who responded with a xerox slip of paper that looked like something from a second grade classroom. Everything else I appreciated. Just the time to send a form letter is expensive when you consider the labor it takes to do so. If I received a form, I assumed it wasn’t a good fit. If I got personal feedback, I relished it and filed it with others, seeking trends. But who am I to expect agents not interested in me, to take time from their busy day to pen a personal response? It’s just not realistic.

  10. Rhonda on April 22, 2009 at 8:48 AM

    >This is late but…I’ve noticed that the better I get at accepting rejection the better I am.


  11. Laura D on April 21, 2009 at 10:33 PM

    >Honestly, hope dashers. All of them. Just quickly rip off that bandaid, it’s more humane. I actually prefer the no response means no rule.

  12. kat harris on April 21, 2009 at 9:57 PM

    >I say continue with the form rejections. Your clients are priority No. 1.

  13. Richard Mabry on April 21, 2009 at 9:23 PM

    >I’m going over my self-imposed “one comment per post” limit to share my personal opinion about something that keeps coming up in these comments.

    It’s one thing to have a selection of phrases from which to choose as the situation demands, it’s quite another to use a check-list form. Please, if you’re going to take the time to send a rejection (as opposed to the “no reply means we pass” thing), take the extra thirty seconds and paste in the appropriate comment or write just a line.

    A check-list reply is so impersonal and cold. And, frankly, I don’t think that’s your style. Just my opinion.

  14. Genny on April 21, 2009 at 8:09 PM

    >I really appreciate the comments I’ve gotten on rejections. (One of the hardest rejections I ever got ended up being one of the most valuable…an editor who had been considering my middle grade novel for about a year ended up sending me a very thoughtful and detailed rejection letter on why the story wasn’t right for her. That letter helped me to look at my manuscript from a different angle and make changes that, in the end, made the story so much better. Thanks for sharing this post; I think the feedback you provided for the rejections was valuable.

  15. Jessica on April 21, 2009 at 7:26 PM

    >Any personal response is helpful to me. I didn’t think any of those were really harsh or mean. It’s really nice of you to do that and I hope you’re able to, but I’m not sure it’s good for your work schedule. I don’t know. LOL I’m not an agent. Thanks for posting that list though.
    The only rejections that uber bug me are faded “dear author” ones. Grrr..

  16. Amethyst Greye Alexander on April 21, 2009 at 6:41 PM

    >While I believe personal, perhaps even ecouraging, rejections do in fact hurt more, I also believe they do more good. Every scrap of hope is appreciated.


  17. Aimless Writer on April 21, 2009 at 6:16 PM

    >I’d love to get anyone of those comments.
    Any time an agent takes the time to write anything personal like that I think of it as a gift.
    In my opinion agents don’t owe us any reply if the query is unsolicited. I think its wonderful that you answer at all.

  18. Sarah E Olson on April 21, 2009 at 5:48 PM

    >I personally appreciate any feedback that I can get on my writing, and I would be thankful for the extra time spent on a short comment about my writing. However, I do understand that it’s time-consuming for you, so I definitely wouldn’t expect the extra effort.

    I don’t think your comments were harsh either. If an author can’t handle that little criticism, I can’t imagine they can make it long as an author.

  19. Loren Christie on April 21, 2009 at 5:44 PM

    >Hi Rachelle,
    Personally, I appreciate every bit of feedback I get, and I take it seriously so I can improve. I think it’s really nice that you take the time to respond when many do not. -Loren

  20. Deborah K. White on April 21, 2009 at 5:30 PM

    >As long as I knew it wasn’t a form letter, I would have found any of those comments helpful.

    In fact, one of the most useful rejections I ever got on a partial simply said, “It’s an interesting premise, but I don’t feel your writing is at market level yet.” Suddenly I saw several ways I could improve my storytelling. I hadn’t really looked at it that way before because I figured the rejections (based on the agents responses) were because my novel wasn’t “their cup of tea” after all.

    However, I can see how the more general comments might frustrate many writers.

  21. PurpleClover on April 21, 2009 at 5:22 PM

    >This is awesome. I would love to receive feedback like this.

  22. Janet on April 21, 2009 at 4:08 PM

    >Most of those comments I would have been very happy to receive as a writer, because they told me what i could do to improve. But something like “not my cup of tea” isn’t really any more helpful than a form rejection. I think most serious writers would really appreciate the specific comments. Unfortunately, there are the nutbars who will blast you for it and ruin it for the rest of us.

  23. Pam Halter on April 21, 2009 at 4:00 PM

    >I think it depends on the person whether or not these replies are harsh. It doesn’t do me any favors if a rejection is sugar-coated. I would truly appreciate this kind of rejection instead of a form letter that tells me nothing about what I should be changing or working on.

  24. Rowenna on April 21, 2009 at 3:58 PM

    >Some of these would be really helpful, particulary those that pointed out a concrete problem (ie, I can’t define your audience). The ones I had a problem with were the “I wasn’t compelled” reactions. What’s compelling can be subjective, and have multiple meanings. This would probably make me tear my hair out a little–do you mean that the storyline isn’t your preference, that the style isn’t fresh enough to keep you going, or that the entire idea is a bit too dull? I would say that if you have something specific to say, go for it, but “not compelling” is about as vague as a form rejection would be. Thanks for this!

  25. Gina Black on April 21, 2009 at 3:55 PM

    >My thoughts are mainly on the “Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to offer representation” part:

    I have received that line in response to a query and it always throws me off. When I query I am asking for consideration. I wouldn’t even think of an agent suggesting representation until they had read at least the first several chapters of my manuscript, more likely the whole thing.

    It’s kinda like I’ve asked if you’d like to have coffee so we could get to know each other better and you’ve said you can’t marry me.

    As for the feedback to the queries. I always appreciate anything extra any industry professional has to say.

  26. Weronika on April 21, 2009 at 3:47 PM

    >Rachelle, your comments are exactly what I would be looking for from an agent. I don’t consider them harsh in any degree. The thing that I would potentially ask from you, as a writer, is to take some of the one-liners and extend them with a bit more detail.

    “While your writing is strong, I didn’t find the story to be compelling.” What part of the story? Plot? Characters? Is the whole thing a mess? Instead of giving a broad generalization, specifics would help us writers a lot!

    Thanks for taking the time to try this and I absolutely hope that you continue to do so.


  27. JohnO on April 21, 2009 at 3:41 PM

    >I know I’m late to the game, but here are my two cents’.

    Being an agent for a day at Nathan’s blog taught me that there are projects that might benefit from feedback, and others that are so far from being publishable they need to start with critique groups.

    So unless a project feels close, all you’re doing is being charitable. There’s some pay-it-forward good in that, but there’s also the risk you’ll just upset writers who learned that rejection and criticism are part of the calling.

    And unfortunately for you, there’s almost no way of knowing how someone’s going to take that.

    Word verification: “prolog.” Does that mean my comment goes to the front of the queue?

  28. Anonymous on April 21, 2009 at 3:21 PM

    >Your comments are helpful, as it can only help someone to improve their work, but I wonder if you’re also specifying whether or not they should re-submit the same work after the corrections are made. It might save you and the writer some effort if they knew up front that their changes won’t change your mind.

  29. Anonymous on April 21, 2009 at 3:13 PM

    >I just started trying to write to get published about a month ago. I read through queryday on Twitter, and decided to scrap the 50k words I had to start over. I would appreciate any ounce of insight, be it vague or specific just because I can’t fix it if I don’t know it’s broken. A simple no would probably make me feel that you’re rejecting me rather than the specific flaws of my work. You wouldn’t represent what I’m working on, but it’s really helpful to read the specifics of your reasoning.

  30. Diana on April 21, 2009 at 3:07 PM

    >I think most of your responses were great, though I think the first two would have stung the most. I suspect that it’s because they so bluntly say, “this writing isn’t working” – and that’s it. Your other replies offer suggestions as to why something isn’t working and overall, feel more encouraging.

    After participating in Nathan Bransford’s Agent for a Day game, I can appreciate how much time it would take for you to make these responses. As a writer in the querying stages, I’ve decided I’m okay with a form letter, though if you feel there is something very specific that can be fixed, sure I’d love to know! I could see, though, how a writer could get trapped in a cycle of constantly trying to repair a manuscript based on a small paragraph from an agent – kind of tricky because the next agent might look at the same writing and think it’s super.

  31. Lara on April 21, 2009 at 3:00 PM

    >How about a pre-pinted rejection checklist:
    – writing needs work
    -Idea interesting, query is weak.
    – not my thing
    – too busy right now to even look
    – not something that will sell right now

    Agent just checks a box and sends it with the rejection slip so it’s not time consuming.

    I would love to get something like this so I knew the reason. if it’s my writing, I can work on that, If it’s the wrong type for that agent, I can send it to another one, if it’s not a topic that would sell then, I’ll write another book.
    Not knowing the reason is the worst part for me.
    I’m willing to work hard on something if I just know what to work on.

  32. Susan on April 21, 2009 at 2:28 PM

    >I so appreciate your concern on how your rejection letters are received.
    Personally, I don’t think any of your comments listed were harsh at all. They were truth as you see it.
    I would much prefer to know why than to wonder why. It provides direction for improvement.
    Thanks so much for your help each day!

  33. Anonymous on April 21, 2009 at 2:26 PM

    >Rachelle: Bless you for the excellent effort. Guess what…you can be even more blunt than this… It is OK, believe it or not, to hurt someone’s feelings– cut those responses down to one sentence, even; Honesty is not equivalent to rudeness, and it is a tough world out there–writers have to get used to it. If they try to email back excessive dialogue or a counter-argument, delete! Do NOT let people guilt you into feeling as though you owe more explanation. It is their problem, not your’s, and as long as you are polite and concise, that is all that is needed. All this being said, and I would love a personal response (even a rejection!) from you–sigh.

  34. Auburn on April 21, 2009 at 2:22 PM

    >Difficulties abound in spending time personalizing every letter that says no. Agents, like other book professionals, need to spend their time and energy on the yes. That being said, as a querying author I would be grateful to have even one sentence that illuminates a rejection, but I don’t expect one. From an agent’s perspective, even a nice and thoughtful agent such as Rachelle, it will get very tiring, very quickly, to give this personalized attention to all but the queries that could, with some work, turn from a no to a yes. In these situations, by all means, give reasons.

  35. Genevieve on April 21, 2009 at 1:45 PM

    >Yes! Please include those kinds of comments. There is nothing so bleak as a blank “no”. A “no” with a “why”, even just a little one, makes so much difference. Thanks for sharing those with us.

  36. Lell on April 21, 2009 at 1:38 PM

    >Hi Rachelle!

    I think it is all about meeting someone’s expectations. Let me explain what I mean. As I was reading your blog – before I reached the examples – I formed a mental idea of what I would find as I scrolled down to your list. When I read the list, the remarks did not fit my mental image. The comments were not short phrases and most of them were not limited to reasons why you declined to represent the work submitted. Obviously, my expectations were off the mark. I was pleasantly surprised by what I read.

    No matter what comments you use to reject a query, proposal, or manuscript, you will not be able to know how the writer will respond simply because you will not know the expectations with which the writer started.

    Having said that, I do have one suggestion. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you as you consider each project and only make comments as He directs you. By doing that, you will be sure that your time is well spent and that, regardless of how the writer responds, God will use those comments for good.

    Be blessed!


  37. MisterChris on April 21, 2009 at 1:38 PM

    >hey Rachelle.

    I’m going to give you a snippet of info from an article by Robert Silverberg on the SFWA.ORG site.

    He was giving a long diatribe (the archaic definition – I found it long, but useful) concerning rejection letters and keeping at it.

    He mentioned that he papered his room with rejection letters, and still kept at it, until he was finally published.

    The message was to ‘keep at it’.

    But hidden in the discourse was a few nuggets of praise for the few rejection letters that he received that were ENCOURAGING.

    Adding even that one sentence to keep at it, or any info as to why the work was rejected, will make an author’s day.

    Especially those authors who are in it for the ‘long haul’ – the ones that will send their work out while working on another book, and keep sending it out, or refining it, until somebody picks it up and runs with it.

    Rejection hurts. Duh. But after the initial hurt is over, anyone worth your time will be grateful for what little you had time to write, and will use the info to improve themselves and their work.

    It puts your efforts a cut above the rest of the agents out there – which will be remembered by writers like Robert Silverberg. And me.

    Thanks for all you do.

  38. Amber Lynn Argyle on April 21, 2009 at 1:15 PM

    >Have you ever considered having more than one form rejection? It would be faster than personalizing it, and much appreciated by all of us.

    You could even go so far as to have bullets that you could fill in (like the multipule choice format on tests). That would be even faster, while still giving us some impression of the direction we need to take.

    I know for me, I hit dead ends. I don’t know what to do to make my writing/story better. If an agent, such as yourself, pointed me in the right direction, I’d stop querying and start working (assuming that I agree, of course). That would reduce the agents’ inboxes as well.

  39. Marilyn Peake on April 21, 2009 at 1:14 PM

    >I would find comments like that very, very helpful. It stings to get negative comments when you’re a new writer, but helpful criticism as in the examples you provided can absolutely steer a writer in a more productive direction. Without feedback, writers truly have no clue why their work is rejected and waste years trying to fix the wrong thing.

  40. Anonymous on April 21, 2009 at 12:51 PM

    >While I don’t think the comments were harsh, many are too vague to be of any real help and some might be more subjective than the author would like to think. But I guess most writers just like to know that something personal went into the review of their ms. I still think it’s unnecessary for agents to give personal feedback unless they’d be interested in seeing the project again with revisions OR they feel strongly that the book is worthwhile but not something they personally feel they should take on. And sometimes the personal feedback makes an author think the door is open for more discussion when it probably isn’t. There are plenty of resources for feedback, great feedback. Shouldn’t authors learn that querying agents is not a way to get feedback? Join a critique group, take a class. Agents need to give most of their attention to the clients they do have. They are, afterall, paying their agent for their time (assuming they get a book deal.)

  41. Sheryl Tuttle on April 21, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    >Most certainly I would prefer the rejection with the reason as brief as it is over no reason at all. At least this gives the writer a basis on which to work. I don’t think the comments are harsh at all, and I would feel tickled that you took the time to include the reason.

  42. Anonymous on April 21, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    >Rachel!!! Of course these writers are better off with personalized comments. This is a rough business and writers who are in the querying stage know that. Writers who spent years writing their manuscripts and spent hours researching agents get rejected in minutes.

    The way a query presents the manuscript can be tweaked. The first few pages can be tweaked. I know, you know that a lot of writers are determined, hard workers that arenโ€™t willing to give up. If a writer sees a common thread in rejection letters, maybe they can fix the problem.

    Weโ€™re only asking for a slim chance in Hell. : )

    Kelly D

  43. Jeanette Levellie on April 21, 2009 at 12:09 PM

    I do not think your comments are overly harsh, but helpful. You have gone the second mile, and that is commendable.
    Do you think you are trying to be all things to all people, Rachelle? You have such a people- oriented personality, wanting to do right by everyone, making sure you are fair and just. Which is godly.
    However, your desire to be kind and fair causes you to worry a lot about how people perceive you, and that hinders you from operating in the gift God has given you. You cannot fulfill your call if your eyes are on what people think.
    Ask me how I know this…

  44. RefreshMom on April 21, 2009 at 12:05 PM

    >Will’s reply kind of made me laugh; I wonder if there’s a difference in male vs female writers wanting an explanation. In the break-up analogy, I think women want an explanation more often than we’re willing to just take a “no” and be done with it.

    I agree with others that getting specific feedback is desirable, but I’m not sure how much of it is a good use of your time.

    I recently came across the feedback from a manuscript submitted to an agent at a writer’s conference a couple of years ago. This conference gives the faculty a checklist of ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ to help facilitate the feedback. I was surprised to take that sheet out of the envelope to see that all of the ‘strengths’ (well-written, strong voice, clear viewpoint, helpful takeaway, etc) were checked and none of the ‘weaknesses’ (topic overdone, too preachy, needs stronger focus, etc) were. The agent took the time to hand-write her concern that there would be a platform problem. She gave me 1/2 page of questions to answer, some of which I could have addressed to her satisfaction.

    But all I remembered of it was the “not for me” part. With some time and distance behind me (and a lack of emotional investment in pursuing that relationship now), I was able to see there was much more good in her reply than there was to be discouraged by. I’m not a newbie to publishing or having an agent (hi Greg!), but being turned down is hard to take no matter how nicely done.

    The dilemma for you is what is the best use of your own time. My suspicion is that you do a good job of knowing when someone will take the constructive commentary and do something with it. For those writers, your feedback may sting initially (we all hate rejection, period), but it might provide them just the insight they need to re-work a project to take it to the next step.

    I don’t think it would be an effective use of your time to give that kind of feedback to everyone, especially those who have faaar to go before they’re ready for representation or publication. (There are good critique services available that can offer that kind of feedback; you shouldn’t be expected to do it for free!)

  45. Suzanne on April 21, 2009 at 11:31 AM

    >I can see why you think some of these responses might make it harder to digest the rejection. To be honest though, I would prefer to get ANY reasoning rather than nothing.

    Even the harshest of the responses you gave as examples gives the author direction. If it was simply a matter of it not triggering your interest, then I wouldn’t feel like I need to do anything. But if you commented that the hook didn’t draw you in or the writing wasn’t up to par, then I’d know I needed to spend more time revising/learning the craft, especially if I received a response from another agent that said something similar.

    As a matter of fact, it was comments I received in response to 2 of my queries, combined with professional critiques I received free from attending a conference that made me realize that I needed to go through another major revision rather than to continue to query agents/editors.

    So even if it seems harsher to you, I honestly believe that you are helping the authors more by giving them a tiny tidbit about why you’re rejecting the manuscript than if you say nothing.

  46. Will Entrekin on April 21, 2009 at 11:27 AM

    >I think the best thing about the recent controversy in regard to queries and failing is that it has inspired discussion. It’s making querying a less esoteric process than it always was.

    My thoughts here: no, I don’t want a reason, any more than I would want a reason from a girl who was breaking up with me (especially if I liked her). I might think a reason would salve my busted heart, but ultimately, it’s just a reason like all the other reasons in the world. There’s nothing unique about it, and the fact that there’s a reason at all is reason enough.

    However, obviously, the agent/author dynamic is different from a romantic one, and that leaves room for feedback. That’s what I’d want, more so than a reason for the rejection; tell me not what I’m doing wrong but rather suggest to me something that will help me do it right.

    Considering all the reasons you posted; I admire what you did, and I applaud you even for the effort. However, most of them were simply reasons. “Not compelling.” Etc.

    A few stand out, though. They are:

    “Keep writing. Keep studying the craft. Write another book, and another. You clearly have a natural gift, and a beautiful way with words. Like all gifts, yours will benefit from being nurtured and refined. I encourage you to avoid being in a rush to publish, and instead, spend a bit more time focused on being a writer. You will get there, in the right timing.”


    “The story didn’t capture my attention as particularly fresh, and in addition, I can’t tell what kind of audience you’re shooting for. I’d suggest you be clear about your audience and make sure you’re hitting your target both with the storyline and the writing itself. This seems like it’s intended for a young audience (young teens, perhaps?) but it’s not clearly defined.”


    “You’ll probably need to find a strong hook to draw readers into your book and make them want to read it. Figure out what’s really fresh and unique about your story. Right now it doesn’t strike me as compelling enough to draw readers’ interest.”

    Note what they all have in common: they suggest things. They’re very real, and tangible. That last author now knows to look for a hook and, if one isn’t to be found, maybe even create one, which means you, without even agenting/repping them, helped that author find a way to a better book (hopefully). The first one: study craft is so important and so bloody tangible. Getting clear about audience? I say bravo about all those. For real. Terrific. The self-publishing/blogging devotional one, too. That wasn’t just feedback; that was a totally right-on-the-money business suggestion, and that’s awesome. I hope whomever received that one heeds your advice.

    The others? It’s not that they’re not helpful, of course, but I think there’s a reason “Agenting is a subjective business, and I’m sure another will feel differently about this project, but it’s not for me,” is included on pretty much every form rejection is that it’s so true (too many cliches generally are. That tends to be what makes them cliches. Like “I love you but I’m not in love with you.”).

    So thank you for trying. And thank you for posting about trying and making such an effort.

  47. Jason Crawford on April 21, 2009 at 11:14 AM

    >Critiques are always hard to take, but I would rather learn from the truth than to go through life blissfully ignorant.

    I think it’s awesome that you take the time to make comments. The one agent I queried for my MG novel gave some awesome comments, which were very hard to take at first, but I knew she was right so I stopped submitting and am now reworking the piece. I think it’s 100% better already and I feel much more confident about submitting again.

    Bottom line: any critique no matter how small is ALWAYS appreciated by a writer who sees writing as a profession rather than just something to dol.

  48. Heather on April 21, 2009 at 10:44 AM

    >I actually thought those comments were extremely helpful. You’ll have to decide if it’s something that you could keep up, of course.

    But if I were one of those authors, I would be grateful.

  49. Dayle James Arceneaux on April 21, 2009 at 10:36 AM

    >I would love this kind of feedback.

    I assume most writers see a rejection as a blanket rejection of every aspect of thier writing which leads to the inevitable “but why?”.

    But, if I’m told “…you clearly have a natural gift…”, it would definitely keep me motivated to cultivate said gift.

    Or, “this is ____, but I’m not the right agent.” then I know it’s not a rejection of my writing in total. It’s a matter of finding the right fit.

    Of course, you certainly don’t owe anyone this and it shouldn’t be expected, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. Maybe not prudent, but right.

  50. Julie Johnson on April 21, 2009 at 10:24 AM

    >Hi Rachelle,
    It’s probably all been said, but if you’re keeping a tally, I’d side with those who say your comments are very helpful! I also recognize that it takes a lot of time on your part. Since, as you point out,

    “you can probably tell that the reasons for the “no” are often very similar, the most common being: It’s just not interesting/unique/fresh enough, and doesn’t make me want to read more”

    could you adapt a “form letter” and just check the boxes that apply. I’d still find this helpful and it wouldn’t have to eat up so much of your time.

  51. Gary Corby on April 21, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    >Having gone through the whole query process, I can tell you for sure your comments are significantly nicer and more polite than the quite numerous written comments I received on rejects. Not necessarily more helpful though; you’ve just tried very hard to be nice.

    I’m hugely impressed you went to that much care, and you’ve been very kind indeed. Only problem is, won’t you go insane if you tried to do that on every reject?

  52. Chatty Kelly on April 21, 2009 at 10:09 AM

    >I, too, would have blessed to receive any of that feedback (except one). I think your feedback gives writing a clear direction as to why their writing was rejected and something to work on.

    The only exception (to me) was the “not my cup of tea” response, simply because a writer can’t “fix” that. And obviously you didn’t like it enough to suggest another agent, as you did in another of your passes.

    If you have time to give those little critiques, I think they are awesome and helpful! YAY!

  53. Susan J. Reinhardt on April 21, 2009 at 10:08 AM

    >I received a rejection from an editor with a short note. The information helped me zero in on the problem and fix it.

    If you have the time, I know most writers would appreciate the feedback.

  54. Lea Ann McCombs on April 21, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    >My take on this is that a serious writer would appreciate any comment made, but I think most of the complaining aobut agents not responding comes from those who are already convinced their book is 99% wonderful and want a simple quick-fix from you! What they want to hear is “Just deepen the character of George and I’ll snap this jewel up next time!”

    So all your efforts to ease the blow still won’t be enough for those writers. As soft and helpful as your responses were, they can’t substitute for in-depth instruction that most rejected manuscripts need to be accepted.

    I say if this excercise is taking too much time, effort, or mental stress, then go back to simple form letters. Or the check-box system some agents/editors use. That might work, since most of your responses ended up being about similar problems.

    You are to be commended for caring enough about this to try something different, but in the end, the real writers are going to figure it out anyway and a short rejection letter can’t help the others.

  55. vicariousrising on April 21, 2009 at 10:01 AM

    >I would prefer any of those responses to a generic no. It makes it seem like the agent actually read the query. I don’t want to be wasting my time on a book that has identifiable problems.

  56. lynnrush on April 21, 2009 at 9:57 AM

    >I think, if you have time, that sure, put a reason on there. Short and sweet is good. These weren’t mean at all.


  57. Dani on April 21, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    >I think it’s wonderful that you took the time to offer an explanation. I personally would really appreciate knowing why you passed…if it was just a matter of not being the right fit for you, or something I need to look at in my writing. I didn’t think any of the comments you posted were harsh at all. On the contrary, I thought they were quite thoughtful. Thanks so much for sharing:)

  58. Jeannie Campbell on April 21, 2009 at 9:48 AM

    >i don’t think some were as harsh as others. you were encouraging in many of the responses (like saying the writing was strong) and that would stand out like a beacon in a rejection letter to me. i’d probably grab onto it and try to shake off the rest (easier said than done). but if all i got was “it’s not my cup of tea,” i would have a harder time with that. why? the genre? (of course, i would never send in a sci-fi to you.) ๐Ÿ™‚ but without some reason WHY, i almost wouldn’t respond with that b/c it’s TOO quick a reason. the ones i liked the best were, invariably, the longer responses, which doesn’t help your time out at all, does it? *sigh*

  59. kathleenpeacock on April 21, 2009 at 9:46 AM

    >I always appreciate a response (even a form response) because it confirms that the agent has received my query.

    I don’t expect personal responses but, when I have received them, I have appreciated them. Even when the response was something that I disagreed with, even when it stung, I saw it as an indication that I had SOMETHING. Did I have a ms that the agent wanted to rep or read? No. Still, there was something about my letter or myself that made the agent pause and give a thoughtful response.

  60. CD on April 21, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    >I didn’t find them to be too harsh at all – though I think that I have thicker than normal skin because of law school. It seems like some of them are very helpful, especially the really specific ones like that it’s hard to sell devotionals and the tone was too harsh for its audience. It seems to me that people would want to know when their story isn’t unique as well.

    As to whether it’s worth it – that seems like a decision for you. It will probably add a little benefit to the writers, but they also might just be inclined to gloss over/ignore the advice since it comes along with a rejection. If it takes you a lot of extra time, it might not be worth it – particularly since it might open up more communication with an author who wants to argue with you about your advice.

  61. Kerry on April 21, 2009 at 9:43 AM

    >eh, rejection always feels “harsh” no matter how nice it is. I wouldn’t worry so much! You’re nicer than, like, TONS of people that have rejected me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  62. H. Scott Hunt on April 21, 2009 at 9:42 AM

    >Personally, I appreciate specific criticism; it gives me the direction I need, and can quite possibly save me a ton of time riding a dead horse.

  63. Paula Wiseman on April 21, 2009 at 9:24 AM

    >I appreciate the comments. My best rejection ever was “Well done, but we can’t use it.” They show that the submission was looked at with consideration by a real person. It makes me feel that after at the months of working on the piece it was worth a brief note anyway.
    It’s so helpful for us to get a peek at what kills a manuscript, too.
    Thank you for going above and beyond.

  64. Teri D. Smith on April 21, 2009 at 9:21 AM

    >I don’t think any of the comments were harsh. If an author can’t pick themselves up and brush the dust off after comments like that, they will find it hard to persevere long enough to get published.

    I would find any comment such as you gave helpful. For the author, even tidbits would be better than nothing.

    For the agent, it takes more of your time but it also shows you’re one who will go the extra mile.

    Great post!

  65. Achim Zahren on April 21, 2009 at 9:16 AM

    >Wow. Look at all these comments! I think this whole thing is like dating. Please just say yes or no. You do not owe anyone more than that and if the answer happens to be no then the odds are the recipient generally won’t appreciate the reason behind it anyway.

  66. Kristina on April 21, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    >Would it be hard for me to read some of these things about my writing? Sure. But it would also give me a much better idea what I needed to work on in order to make my writing marketable. I’d love to have a rejection letter like one of these!

    That said, I’m sure it takes considerably more time for you to write a rejection letter along these lines. Is it fair to put that weight on your shoulders? Perhaps not for every rejection letter…but if you have time and the inclination, I think it’s terrific! And it occurs to me that if more writers got rejection letters like these, slush piles might not be so full of rubbish?

  67. Susan on April 21, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    >I’ve gotten both kinds of rejection. When there’s a reason that’s about the agent/editor (no more budget, changing genres in the publication), I’m happy.

    If it’s about my writing (hook not strong enough, etc) I’m stung, but grateful for the help.

    If it’s a form, I’m relieved there was no reason LOL. For me, a flat, reasonless ‘no’ is just a cue to review and resubmit, but a reason makes it personal and some days, ugh…not what I need.

    Recently an editor rejected a short story and told me what he didn’t like; I thought, “wow–you pushed me down already, you didn’t need to kick.” That’s how it felt. (The story sold to someone else just as it was.) Now, your responses are far more encouraging and helpful, but human feelings can be weird.

    In my experience, any rejection all comes down to the same thing: it’s all a ‘no’. So, I’d say you should write the rejection letters that are best for you; if giving reasons to everyone is stressful or time-consuming, don’t do it and don’t worry about it.

    You help writers immensely by blogging already–a lot of us are grateful for that already, and don’t need more.

  68. Julie Gillies on April 21, 2009 at 9:06 AM

    >I expected to find single-sentence responses here but you went above and beyond, Rachelle. Your comments were helpful, not harsh.

    I personally would appreciate whatever feedback you (or any agent) want to give. Short and sweet far surpasses form-letter.

  69. Krista Phillips on April 21, 2009 at 9:04 AM

    >First, I think it is awesome that you went the extra mile for people you didn’t really have to. Not that it would be bad for you NOT to give the remarks, but you spent your personal time to do it, and kudos to you for going above and beyond.

    Someone else noted this, but I’ll echo: the comments that pointed to something that needs improvement were the most helpful, the one comment that said “You’re on the right track, keep writing” was probably the least. If I got this, I’d scratch my head just a little, because I don’t know if this means my story stinks, my craft stinks, or what. I’d be encouraged, yes, but a little confused as to what you didn’t like.

    Here is my take on this matter, but wow, as I’ve said before, this is YOUR business and I’m a big believer in you opporating your business as YOU need to, not as the masses WANT you to.

    *If* I were an agent, this is what I’d do: I’d only respond to queries that followed directions. If you didn’t send a sample writing (I think that was one of your rejections) I wouldn’t even respond… at all! You can’t follow directions? Then you don’t get a response. Especially for something as big as not sending a sample. (I think I forgot to put a phone # on mine… if it will help I’ll even leave it here! LOL)

    But, for those that DID follow directions, I’d stick with REALLy short and sweet. “The story just didn’t grab me.” “You need to work more on craft.” “It was good, but not something of my personal taste that I’d represent.” “Story/craft was good, but not marketable at this time.”

    Heck, I’d even set up different templates of rejection e-mails and just send the one applicable, especially if there are a handful of common reasons.

    Okay, this was probably a long idea… sorry! And now I’m so expecting this very short rejection on my e-mail box as payback.. HA! *grin*

  70. Samantha Elliott on April 21, 2009 at 9:02 AM

    >I’m glad I read Amy’s comment before drafting mine, because I was going to say the same basic thing. The generalities come across as form anyway, so if it takes you extra time, I would prefer a form…at least that way you’d have time to get to some of my fellow writers’ queries.

    I do think that a specific line, like the examples Amy gave, would make a rejection a lot easier to take, and a agent (even one who’d rejected my novel) a lot easier to recommend to others.

  71. Jinx on April 21, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    >I think that while a little bit of feedback would be nice, as others have said it pretty much draws the same response from me as a form rejection of “thanks, but not for me.” At least with those five words, I clearly understand the agent may not represent what I have (which of course I would always do my homework in this arena before submitting my query) or is just plain not interested in the work for whatever multitude of reasons. I don’t need for the agent to take their valuable time and spell it out for me. They have more important things to do than coddle me. If I want to know why, I’ll run it through my critique partners. The only drawback to them is that they aren’t agents, so it’s a bit different form of feedback.

    I have pretty thick skin, so I’m not easily dissuaded by a simple form rejection. I say bring them on. The more I get, the closer I am. =) I’ll be starting that process here very soon, and no, you won’t be getting one from me because I know what you represent. =)

    Thank you for posting this. It gives some insight into what you do and is much appreciated.

  72. Anonymous on April 21, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    >Why not shorten your replies?
    I’d appreciate comments like this: MC too cruel/boring or Sloppy wroting or weak premise or confusing plot or too many subplots. Use phrases, not full sentences, perhaps w/ a pre-printed form. Thanks!

  73. Angie on April 21, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    >Love it, Rachelle! I’d be thrilled to get back any of those replies. You were thoughtful, concise, and kind.

    If writers aren’t ready to hear the truth about their writing yet, then they are not ready to be published. That is not meant as a criticism, but as reality. Once a contract is signed, the real editing and critical eye begins. If a writer’s skin isn’t toughened up, they should keep writing and working with a good, honest crit group until it is.

    Writers need not take criticism about their writing as criticism about them personally. Writing is a craft that takes time to develop. If a new accountant got a few figures or formulas wrong on a worksheet, it would be pointed out to him/her and have to be done over again. It’s the same with writing. If something a writer is doing isn’t working, esp. if they hear that over and over again, they need to keep working on it.

    For you to actually take the time to tell a writer why his/her writing isn’t working for you is a real gift!!

  74. Rachelle on April 21, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    >Everyone — this is extremely valuable and helpful input! Thanks for taking the time. Keep it coming!

  75. Amy Sue Nathan on April 21, 2009 at 8:57 AM

    >I think that some specifics are helpful – but the generalities are not.

    I’d think your time is better used replying when you really have something specific to say — like — this book isn’t for me BECAUSE I like vampire stories and you didn’t write one. Or this book isn’t for me BECAUSE I have enough vampire stories on my list, but it’s good, keep querying other agents and if you write a werewolf story I’d love to see it. Or I will be unable to represent you BECAUSE I only take on polished, completed novels. Good luck as your revise yours and pursue other agents.

    If a writer can’t do something with what you’ve written, I think you’re wasting your time, and of course writers waste a lot of time trying so hard to figure out what agents “mean” that we wish they’d just tell us.

    On the other hand, I’d prefer a “No thank you” to a generic “this isn’t right for me” because then I’d want to know why but never would.

  76. selestial-owg on April 21, 2009 at 8:56 AM

    >First and foremost, none of what you said was overly harsh. For myself, I would find any feedback helpful.

    However, I know there are writers out there who take criticism very personally and would attack you for trying to be helpful.

    So, while I would love feedback, I understand why agents don’t do it (especially considering the time it takes). But, specific advice about things like hook, target audience, etc. could all give a writer a direction of how to improve, without seeming vague and “too big” to fix. Also, some of your comments were extremely encouraging (“You certainly have a strong topic, along with the passion and writing ability to pull it off.” or “The premise is pretty unique and the writing is strong, but …”) – these let the writer know they are doing things right without it sounding so much like a form letter that they ignore it.

    Is it worth your time? Maybe. Is it helpful to writers? To those hungry for advice, yes. To those thinking they have a perfect ms, probably not.

  77. WendyCinNYC on April 21, 2009 at 8:55 AM

    >I don’t think any of those rejections were harsh at all.

    When I was querying, the most helpful rejections I received were specific. After I got a few of these:

    “Your writing is strong and the story compelling, but I just didn’t connect with the MC”

    I went back and did a revamp of MC. It took months, but when I started querying again, the MC connected right away.

    I guess my only point is that if you have the inclination to respond and you can be specific, that advice is gold.

  78. Kristy Colley on April 21, 2009 at 8:53 AM

    >What I found myself wanting to do during Nathan’s “Agent for a Day” was add extra comments at the bottom of the rejections ONLY if I found they were almost there. Sometimes writers just fall short in a few areas and if I thought they had great potential, I’d let them know what to work on.
    Otherwise, I just kept it brief. Thank you, but I’ll decline this time.

    As for your other question, I didn’t find them harsh at all. Very professional and helpful in my opinion.

  79. Jodi Meadows on April 21, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    >Those are darn nice comments.

    Personally, I’d rather have a form rejection unless the agent really thought they could say something quick and beneficial. (Writing too sloppy, no story in the query, whatever.) Otherwise, it could be that it’s just not right for that one agent, and the next will feel differently. If I tried to revise for every agent who left personal comments, the query and story would start to suffer critburn. (Like freezerburn, but without the freezer.)

    Even a dozen form rejections can tell writers something: this query isn’t working. Revise it and try the next batch of agents.

    As a slush reader, I ultimately found that writing personalized rejections for everyone wasn’t worth it. (We did do a “contest” type thing when the new agency started where people could opt in with the codeword in their query, but the first time, I tried to get *everyone* for two weeks. Yikes.) Some people who weren’t expecting the comments wrote back angry messages, and I found threads on various forums with a few miffed writers saying I was a poo poo head and didn’t know what I was talking about. (There were also a handful of supportive comments that kept me from going off the deep end.)

  80. Nixy Valentine on April 21, 2009 at 8:45 AM

    >I think it was kind of you to take the time, and they are not harsh AT ALL.

    Submitting writers are hungry for any clue as to what they can improve in their work to make it more appealing, so I’m certain your time and words were appreciated.

  81. Authoress on April 21, 2009 at 8:45 AM



    I am absolutely certain that adding those personalized responses added a large chunk of time to your query response schedule. Your words weren’t harsh at all. Now, that’s coming from someone who didn’t write the pieces to which you were referring. An unseasoned or overly sensitive writer might, perhaps, feel differently.

    Words like this, however, falling on the eyes of the right person at the right time, are invaluable.

    Yes, while reading the above examples, I found myself wishing that rejection letters from my carefully chosen gaggle of agents had contained personalized feedback like what you’ve posted here.

    Mind you, I feel passionately that an agent should CERTAINLY offer a personalized reason for rejection on a requested manuscript! One of my worst experiences as an aspiring author was having received a badly photocopied, form rejection letter on a requested full. That one stung.

    I imagine that keeping up a personalized rejection pace might become incredibly tiring. But I applaud you for having taken the time to sow seeds on what is hopefully fertile ground.

    Well done. =)

  82. Flavio Q Crunk on April 21, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    >You know what would be SO cool? Most of your comments seem to follow in a few categories.
    What if you just posted a “checklist” on your submissions page and then, when you responded, you could just put in the numbers for the checklist?
    1) No hook
    2) dont rep
    3) doesnt grab me personally
    4) Not fresh enough
    5) blah blah
    then, when you respond, you could just say “check website” and post 1,3, 5
    i am a genius.

  83. Liz Jones on April 21, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    >I like your comments on the mss above.
    It really does help to get a sense of what went wrong for you– we spend so much time submitting, and then waiting… any hint of why things don’t work is appreciated, because it helps us shape our work for the next round!

  84. Rachel on April 21, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >I think those remarks were extravagantly kind and helpful. I would beeming from a rejection like that (hahahaha)

  85. Alexis Grant on April 21, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    >As a writer, I’d love to get feedback like this instead of a simply rejection. My entire goal is to get better, and your feedback helps me get there.

    Just a few of these responses may have caused more frustration than help — The few where you didn’t really explain why well enough.

    Your writing is strong and the story looks fun. It just didn’t quite capture me enough for me to take it on.

    Why didn’t it capture you? If I got this response as a writer, I’d feel frustrated.

    Of course, you can’t spend all day responding to one query!

    Thanks for your effort. We appreciate it.

  86. H. L. Dyer on April 21, 2009 at 8:38 AM

    >I don’t see a smidge of harshness in these responses. Honesty, but no harshness. I would be grateful to receive this sort of feedback, especially on a query.

    I think the single most important bit of feedback I’m interested in at the query stage is whether or not the proposal is effective (even if it’s not the right project for that particular agent). I understand, though, that’s probably the most difficult information to give, as most form rejections use that as the final “Buck up, Camper” closing. Another agent may feel differently. But that’s the key question: Is this a great proposal to the wrong agent for this project, or is the proposal not right yet (query or pages or both)?

  87. PatriciaW on April 21, 2009 at 8:36 AM

    >After #queryday and Agent for a Day, I’m wasn’t offended by any of the responses. I think the recent opportunities for writers to learn more about where agents are coming from (and agents about what writers think) have been useful.

    Having said that, I found that the responses that began with what the writer did well went down easier than the ones that simply listed what was wrong or gave a nebulous answer like “not my cup of tea”. A brief example was one of the first ones: “While your writing is strong, I didn’t find the story to be compelling.” It gives the writer something to feel good about, making the constructive criticism go down easier.

  88. Courtney Walsh on April 21, 2009 at 8:32 AM

    >I haven’t read through all the comments yet, so I may be repeating something someone else has already said, but I have a baby about to finish his bottle so I have to hurry up. ๐Ÿ™‚

    If any of these were said to me, I would be 100% fine with it. I love constructive criticism because it helps you figure out how to get better. I think of writing like anything else–you can always learn more… and these kinds of comments, though they may feel harsh to deliver, are extremely helpful in that learning process!

    I think these writers were very lucky to get these responses from you!

  89. John UpChurch on April 21, 2009 at 8:06 AM

    >I’m not adding much that hasn’t already been said, but as a writer submitting queries, a few words like this would make a huge difference. Sure, I’d be a bit discouraged for a few moments (or days), but having that as a guide for the future is much better than the bad things I can only imagine when I get no guidance at all (monsters are always worse in the imagination, as are reasons for rejection).

    So, I’m glad that you added these notesโ€”even though I certainly wouldn’t want you to lose sleep/family time because of them.

    Thanks for all you do.

  90. Fawn Neun on April 21, 2009 at 8:03 AM

    >I think this sort of feedback is invaluable. As a writer, I think it’s helpful to know why a query is not successful. Is it the quality of writing? Is the storyline hackneyed but the writing solid? Is it a bad idea? Is it impossible to sell?

    I think your comments were more encouraging than harsh, and if you want to make that sort of comment and pull the punch, you can always remind them that yours is only one opinion.

    As a fiction mag editor, I find myself wanting to make comments on declines when I feel there is a lot of promise, but the work doesn’t suit or needs development. It’s not a request for a resubmission, but I like to encourage writers who I feel have promise. I’m more likely to send a straight form No if I really disliked the piece. Perhaps that’s why I don’t see these as harsh.

  91. Melinda Walker on April 21, 2009 at 7:43 AM

    >I would rather have any snippet of feedback, even on the harsh side, than nothing at all.

    I thought all the comments were even handed. Even a general comment (e.g. writing not strong enough) gives an author some idea of how their work is coming across, which is a blessing.

    The comments about marketability of the project might be summarized by something like: this isn’t a project I could well represent.

    I always feel any comment is an incredibly generous act. No agent or editor owes us an explanation.

  92. Julie Ackerman Link on April 21, 2009 at 7:37 AM


    I didn’t see a single harsh word in any of your responses. Any writer who isn’t grateful for such feedback should self-publish or find another line of work because he or she won’t survive working with an editor. You are offering a priceless service to writers, and I applaud you for doing it with such kindness and generosity.

  93. Taire on April 21, 2009 at 7:32 AM

    >Sadly, I don’t think it is worth your time, Rachelle. You have to be so general that your comments are of little real value. I like the “study your craft” comment, because it is encouraging and covers a lot of ground. It could also go in any form rejection. That being said, form rejections are better than no rejection at all, so if you do not have time to do a form rejection to all who are not accepted, do not try to do even fewer rejections by personalizing a few.

    All the best…

  94. Stina Lindenblatt on April 21, 2009 at 7:24 AM

    >I thought these were wonderful responses, but in truth, they would only waste your day sending them out. As writer, I don’t expect a reason why my query was rejected. It wasn’t for you. That’s good enough for me. But I do like to hear back from an agent, even if it’s a form rejection. Then I know it wasn’t lost in cyberspace. If I send in a requested partial or full, I do appreciate it when an agent has taken the time to point out consistant mistakes I’ve made that weakened the writing. If no one points it out, I can never improve. However, that is not an agent’s job, and I appreicate that, too. A hint of why the partial or full was rejected would be nice too. This is not the right story for me, works well too. Not every story in the bookstore is right for me, either.

  95. Andrea on April 21, 2009 at 7:16 AM

    >Rachelle, I would love to be given info on how to improve my craft. The advice mentioned here might sting but would be invaluable.
    After reading Nathan Bransford’s “Agent for a Day”, I can’t imagine how you would be able to do this for everyone. Possibly only the ones with a terrible query or the stellar ones that just need some more polish?
    If I ever get a rejection from you that is short and sweet, I will know that if you had the time you would have given more.

  96. Marybeth on April 21, 2009 at 7:09 AM

    >I found the extra words to be helpful, some even positive and motivating. I can’t imagine being able to do that for every submission you receive, but I think it would be lovely in a perfect world ๐Ÿ™‚

  97. Richard Mabry on April 21, 2009 at 7:08 AM

    >There’s no question that you’ve gone “above and beyond” in giving these comments, and none of them seem unreasonably harsh. As we all know, rejection is part of writing and a thick skin is a necessity.

    Back in the days when submissions could be made directly to editors, most of the rejection letters I received (and there were a lot) were boilerplate. Eventually I figured this out and stopped trying to read more into “this doesn’t fit our needs” than a way of saying “we pass.” When I started to get some letters with handwritten notes at the bottom, it not only made my day, it made me take a look at correcting the shortcomings being pointed out. If you’re willing to make the effort to personalize some rejections, blessings on you.

  98. Sharon A. Lavy on April 21, 2009 at 6:46 AM

    >Any extra words along with a rejection are a blessing in most cases.

  99. Jill on April 21, 2009 at 6:45 AM

    >I would definitely find these kinds of comments helpful, but as several others pointed out, I’m not sure if it’s worth your time. Perhaps it might be in queries where you truly see promise. I don’t think any of the comments were harsh.
    From the author’s viewpoint, any rejection is going to hurt, but let’s be honest. If we truly want to be published we’re going to listen to rejection and criticism and try to improve what we are offering to the market.

  100. Yvonne on April 21, 2009 at 6:01 AM

    >Personally, I’d like to know why…even if did sting a little.

    The responses that tell the writer that you are not the best agent for that genre are the softest ones here.

    Giving them a line of advice (needs a better hook or a stronger plot or a definite audience) gives the writer something to work with.

    The ones that tell them their work is not unique would hurt more. (Every writer thinks theirs is different.)

    Your replies that say no one would buy it are too harsh.

    I like your sensitive, but honest, attitude, Rachelle. Don’t stop being you.

  101. solv on April 21, 2009 at 5:24 AM

    >I’d say it was very kind of you to offer your professional opinion Rachelle.
    I think the trouble is that, in most cases, you’re reading these submissions from the other side.
    When I took my first manuscript along to a professional consultant, I was convinced she would be blown away. She wasn’t, and she explained how my characters lacked motivation and my world was unbelieveable and so forth. It took years of patient study and hard work before I was finally able to see the myriad of flaws in that ms for myself.
    The consultant apparently recognised my dejection and phoned me the next day to offer me encouragement and praise for the one or two things I had not failed at.
    Without that phone call, I cannot say whether I would have continued to write or not.
    I think a judgement call is in order: I’d suggest that, in those cases where you can see that the writer is close to a professional standard, a keen observation would be beneficial and hopefully acknowledged. Beyond that, I really don’t think you can do more than ‘Thank you, but not for me. Best wishes for the future.’

  102. Katie on April 21, 2009 at 5:21 AM

    >Personally, I thought the comments were helpful and would really appreciate them if/when I send you a submission. However, I completely understand that there is only so much time in a day. I just read this awesome book called Ten Choices – and one of the chapters is about priorities. We all have to make them. And nobody should fault you for not making comments in rejection letters – because you can’t have a million top priorities. It’s selfish for others to think otherwise. I would ask yourself – is doing this taking away from my top priorities in life? And if it is, I wouldn’t do it.

  103. helenf on April 21, 2009 at 5:00 AM

    >They aren’t too harsh but I do suspect they’re a waste of your time. I’m in the camp of believing that form rejects are absolutely fine on queries (but not on requested fulls) and think a) there isn’t time in the day for you to reply to everyone like this and b) some people will argue with your reason more so than they would argue with a form rejection.

  104. Anne L.B. on April 21, 2009 at 4:35 AM

    >A bit harsh? Yes.

    Unnecessarily harsh? No.

    Rejection is harsh. Publishing is a tough business and it will require a thick skin. This may sound harsh, but I think it’s better for us to hear the truth sooner rather than later so we can do what we need to do about it.

    The problem is, rejection hurts so badly we’ll be reeling from the rejection rather than really hearing what you’re saying.

    I still think it’s helpful and incredibly kind for you to take a moment to respond with a reason.

    I’m shocked that you didn’t list “Your submission does not conform to our requested guidelines.” But perhaps that’s best, to not see it recycled.

  105. writtenwyrdd on April 21, 2009 at 4:32 AM

    >Most of those aren’t short rejection explanations to me; they took quite a bit of thought! I’d be enouraged to get most of these, because they give one a direction to go in to fix the problem. The one where you tell them their writing isn’t there yet was kind also.

    However, I can’t see how you can do that to everything. It would take too much time, responding with a personalized note!

  106. Carmen Gamble on April 21, 2009 at 3:53 AM

    >I’d personally rather know the reason a submission is rejected. I think it would be helpful to the writer. However, I doubt it is worth your time considering all the submissions you have to go through.

  107. Anonymous on April 21, 2009 at 2:56 AM

    >It’s always difficult to read criticism of something that you literally poured your soul into, but sometimes that makes all of the difference. Discerning–but difficult–words spoken in love can have more power than platitudes. Though I one day hope to read “I am interested in your novel” instead of “I am not able to represent you at this time,” until then I appreciate hearing how I can make the story I have better. The longer it takes to find an agent/publisher, the longer I have to make it that much more powerful.

    The main response I’m getting right now is that the publishing industry is basically “closed” to unknowns without an large reader base that is already built in, and that this will continue until the economy picks up. It’s frustrating to still get “no’s”, but it’s nice to hear “it’s not that you stink; the economy stinks so much that we can’t even consider you.” I’m not looking for wealth or fame. I’m ready to do the work. I just need someone who is able to take the chance on me–and now is not the time to be taking chances.

    As someone who has received a pass from you personally (though this letter did not have a specific reason as to why), Rachelle, I was so encouraged by your letter that it made me want to keep writing. It made me want to keep trying–even to keep submitting to others who could possibly be interested. I even told my writing friends about it so they could see that the those in the “big, bad publishing world” do care about the individuals who are submitting.

    Your blog is such a service to us. I learn so much every day. Often, I leave feeling hopeful, even creative. And I have a better understanding of what people are looking for. I’m sure that your responses can be so helpful and if they were read as harsh, much of that can be attributed by the sterility/de-personalization of email.

  108. Alps on April 21, 2009 at 2:55 AM

    >I’d personally love to hear this kind of information from an agent. I think that’s why Miss Snark’s First Victim secret agent contest slots fill up so quickly. Writers are dying to know what agents think of their work.

    With that said, I’ve left comments on secret agent contests, so I know how much time it sucks up. I wouldn’t expect agents to do that for every single query. They’d go nuts! Even cutting and pasting from a list of general feedback points could take forever. So, Rachelle, don’t feel guilty for not doing this on a regular basis. Don’t feel guilty if you never doing it again. We don’t blame you! You have lots of other ways to spend your time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  109. Katiek patrianoceu on April 21, 2009 at 2:34 AM

    >I’d hugely appreciate the kinds of feedback you wrote. They were thoughtful yet honest. I’d probably feel plenty bitter against you because I don’t like receiving criticism, but I’ve had the hardest time getting any useful critique of my writing from anyone who knows, so ultimately I’d be eternally grateful to you.

    That being said, in this whole ongoing discussion of agents brushing off writers, I think you have every right to dismiss me without so much as a return-receipt. We live in a competitive world, and if you don’t reply to my query at all, that’s your right. I’ll ask for more, of course, but I should be very surprised whenever I get it!

  110. Martha Flynn on April 21, 2009 at 1:54 AM

    >I’ll play devil’s advocate assuming Rachelle’s goal is to help writers vs gunning for resubmission.

    I don’t think any of the rejections are harsh, but getting back 10 “no thanks” vs 10 “no thanks, yadda yadda yadda” will still send me back to the drawing board or to my critique group for personalized, actionable feedback.

    I don’t believe the extra effort on Rachelle’s part is worth it when I reach the same eventual outcome, and if I were her client or family or friends, I’d prefer she spend her time elsewhere.

    Although, agreed, everyone likes to know their writing is clear and passionate. ๐Ÿ™‚

  111. Solvang Sherrie on April 21, 2009 at 1:47 AM

    >I personally would find any of these comments more useful than the flat rejections I’ve received. At least then I know what the weak link is and I can work on it.

  112. Aaralyn Montgomery on April 21, 2009 at 1:42 AM

    >There were two comments that I would find helpful because you pointed out specifics in which you found a problem.

    “…I can’t tell what kind of audience you’re shooting for. I’d suggest you be clear about your audience and make sure you’re hitting your target both with the storyline and the writing itself. This seems like it’s intended for a young audience (young teens, perhaps?) but it’s not clearly defined.”

    “You’ll probably need to find a strong hook to draw readers into your book and make them want to read it. Figure out what’s really fresh and unique about your story. Right now it doesn’t strike me as compelling enough to draw readers’ interest.”

    The following comment did not point out anything specific, but as a writer I would appreciate this from an agent, if it was not part of a form rejection. It lets the author know he or she is on the right page and beginning to go in the right direction.

    โ€œKeep writing. Keep studying the craft. Write another book, and another. You clearly have a natural gift, and a beautiful way with words. Like all gifts, yours will benefit from being nurtured and refined. I encourage you to avoid being in a rush to publish, and instead, spend a bit more time focused on being a writer. You will get there, in the right timing.โ€

    Most of the other comments were a problem with the entire work, which I donโ€™t find particularly helpful. I would rather hear a simple โ€œno thanks.โ€

    Like Dee Yoder commented, itโ€™s always useful when agents post why they reject queries (and reasons why they accept others.) So thank you for posting this!

  113. Nova on April 21, 2009 at 1:22 AM

    >To become a successful writer I think its almost essential to take comments and criticism and anchor them into the writing. In all honesty these comments are not as harsh as some of the writers you turned down are making them out to be. They are a bit vague but I understand with the abundant amount of queries you most likely receive writing explanation can get a bit tedious.

  114. Dee Yoder on April 21, 2009 at 1:22 AM

    >I’m being selfish here: I’m glad you posted these reasons because now I can go look at my own stuff and work on the weaknesses you pointed out in the comments. I think I’d appreciate any of these comments because it’s a “no” with an explanation. I might be peeved at a first, but after I quit sulking, I think a comment similar to these would be very helpful.

  115. Martha Flynn on April 21, 2009 at 1:19 AM

    >I went back over my past rejections, and while I received a few with wording similar to what you have shown as personalized, I had considered them all a variety of form rejection, so from that perspective the extra work isn’t worth the effort.