Why Agents Don’t Give Reasons with Rejections

“Two Minute Tutorials”

Ohmygosh! Another video! And guess what. I decided to name my video series “Two Minute Tutorials” and wouldn’t you know, today’s video is 3 minutes. C’est la vie, as they say.

So this installment of “Two Three Minute Tutorials” answers the question, “Why Don’t Agents Give Reasons with their Rejections?

(I’m trying to get better at this vlogging thing… give me some time. I promise I’ll get better with practice!)

Here’s a recap:

1. We get a LOT of queries and it takes quite a bit of time to go through them.

2. Brief explanations of the reason for a query rejection don’t tend to be helpful, and often bring up more questions than answers.

3. You may think it should be “easy” to dash off a sentence or two to help you understand why your query was rejected. In reality, it can take 5 to 10 minutes or more to compose an explanation that might help  you. (5 minutes extra per query… times 100 queries a week… is 8 extra hours per week that I just don’t have.

4. It’s subjective and I’m not the ultimate judge or arbiter of your project. I could be wrong. Someone else may see something in your query that I don’t. Really, all you need to know is that it’s not for me.

One thing I didn’t say in the video is that, when we try to include reasons for our rejections, a certain percentage of writers use that as an opportunity to write back and argue the point. We really don’t need that!

I am really sorry that I can’t give you the answer you want on this. I wish I could help every writer who crosses my path. But I just can’t, so instead, I blog!

Have a good weekend…


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!


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  11. Jenny Rossi on August 5, 2011 at 1:51 AM

    Someone likened the limbo of not receiving a response from a query to that of not receiving a response to a resume submission. As an unemployed, would-be author, trying to find gainful employment AND get published, I’ve actually found agents & publishers to be MUCH more courteous than employers. That I even get an unevenly chopped, quarter page, over-copied & smudged form rejection means someone actually took the time to acknowledge my effort. Most employers don’t even bother sending back a form email saying they’re not interested.

    Sorry to vent a bit. I mostly just wanted to say thank you to you & others in the agent/publisher category for the courtesy you extend by your acknowledgment even if you can’t extend anything further. It is MUCH appreciated.

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  13. Layla Fiske on July 11, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    Thanks so much! I love your blogs and now I also love your vlogs. They’re always filled with pertinent content.

    You really are providing a great service to authors. It is appreciated!

    Great vlog by the way, very natural and
    it’s nice to see/hear you in person. 🙂

  14. Catherine Johnson on July 9, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    That was so awesome, really appreciate seeing you!

    Writers need to move on quick and get more feedback from critique members or just send it on to another agent. And not pin all their hopes on it every time. (And that’s so easy for me to say because the story I have out on submission has just won a free critique by Margot Finke – I’m so lucky!)

    Have a great weekend Rachelle!

  15. Peter DeHaan on July 9, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    Rachelle, just as recording a vlog is new to you, watching them is new to me!

    As a magazine editor, I receive all manner of submissions. When I need to eamil someone that I’ve rejected his or her submission, it is brief, vague, and says “no” as nicely as I can muster.

    You are entirely correct in this opens the door for follow up emails, a request for specifics, and an occasional debate over the merits of my opinion.

    One writer, for whom English was not his native language, vexed me sorely with with his pleas for feedback. In frustration, I responded in a manner that I am not proud of, saying: “Though your words are in English, I have no idea what you are saying.”

    I now wish I had just ignored him. No one gained anything in that exchange.

  16. Susan on July 9, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    The vlog is great! It’s a great addition to your blog and it makes what you say personal.

    I can understand how you feel about seeing yourself. I wouldn’t want to watch myself on video. I’ve been on TV and I cringe when I think reflect!

    Overall, I love your blog. My adult daughter and I are starting a project together.

    I have talked with her about how awesome your blog is in general. Even though I have read many of the things you state because I have put in the time to gain the knowledge, it’s still great to hear it again.

    I am going to remind her to read your blog because I know she, like many, will have the opportunity to gain an incredible amount of important information.

    Thanks for everything you do for all of us who follow your blog.

    It is fantastic and appreciated.

  17. Heather Marsten on July 9, 2011 at 11:06 AM

    Nice putting a voice to a blog writer – I think you did well with your video. I understand your reasons for not always providing a personal word. They really do make sense, but I suspect from an author’s POV this is their special child they are sending out, and they want to hear something about it. But, being so subjective, I know that words can also crush hopes. Aaargh, wish things were easier.

    Thanks for caring.

  18. My Life. One Story at a Time. on July 8, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    I really enjoyed the video and post. Donna

  19. Sarah on July 8, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    I love agent feedback on rejections, but don’t expect it. Form rejections are nice, because they give a sense of closure, but I tend to assume I won’t hear anything. Yes, it feels like my query is disappearing into a great big void, but I’m not going to get too worked up about it.

  20. Pat Jeanne Davis on July 8, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Thanks so much for your explanation, Rachelle. I understand better the reasons for a form letter response. I’m receiving rejections now that contain a ray of hope in them with useful suggestions. I’m so thankful for those as they give me some direction. Your blog is extremely helpful.

  21. Melinda on July 8, 2011 at 6:43 PM

    Thanks for this insight Rachelle. It’s nice to hear what is going through the minds of agents and people on the other side of the desk.

    I have to say, I don’t mind a form rejection. A standard cut/paste job works for me. What drives me really crazy is when I don’t hear anything at all. When all I can go by is the “if you haven’t heard from us…” statement on the website. I don’t even know if the email arrived. For all I know it was eaten by the spam filters or got lost in the ether. So 6 months goes by and I hear nothing at all. Did you get it? Did you read it? I’ll never know. To me, the courtesy of a form “yes I got it” auto response or a “thanks but no thanks” auto rejection is all I need. Yes, curiosity makes me wonder why but really, the closure of knowing you saw it is what I really want.

  22. Cheryl Dale on July 8, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    I queried you and saw a twitter comment you made that I felt may have stemmed from my submission. Even it it wasn’t, the comment was extremely helpful! Much more valuable than a rejection. Thanks!

  23. Krista Phillips on July 8, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    This post made me smile! I think it was the first one I’ve read where I’ve been “phew… I don’t have to worry about querying agents anymore!” I already have the best one there is!!!

    Plus, obviously “seeing” you is great too! 🙂

  24. Christine Rains on July 8, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    That was great. Thank you.

  25. Beth on July 8, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    Loved this. I agree–a blog about how to vlog would be great.

    Rachelle, I know I speak for nearly everyone when I say how very helpful this blog is. We so appreciate your tips as we trip down publishing lane. And it’s obvious that you care deeply about writers.

    Still wondering if you got my query, though. (lol. Couldn’t resist)

  26. Mary Jo on July 8, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    Recently I have rec’d brief comments from agents and they’ve been so helpful. One agent said a part of my novel seemed gimmicky and I realized that she was right and rewrote that whole thread out of the story. I appreciate any tidbits I get.

  27. Annie on July 8, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    I tend to appreciate any kind of contact, even just a form “no thanks” email. That lets you know that at least someone saw your query. Any additional comments after that is thoughtful and great to receive, but not necessary.

    Also, I think the point about not being able to quite put a reason for rejection into words is a very good one. I’d wager that most queries are perfectly fine but might not strike you the right way, which is a hard position to be in if you want to offer constructive feedback.

  28. Crafty Mama on July 8, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    Makes sense. 🙂 Great video!

  29. Rachel on July 8, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    I must say that my rejections are getting much better. Before it was just a standard letter/postcard. Now, I seem to actually get some kind remark or comment which I use to improve the work. Thank you for this video, it certainly sheds light on the agent’s limitations and actually makes me feel better about a rejection that comes back with a constructive critcism…now if I can only get them to publish the book!

  30. Wendy on July 8, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    Thanks for answering. I wondered. I think I’d crack myself up and have to do dozens of retakes. But like you, I can’t do scripts.
    I’m seriously thinking about giving it a try.
    Have a great weekend.

  31. Marty on July 8, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Thank you, that was both informative and fun!

  32. April on July 8, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Thanks so much for this explaination. It does make me feel a bit better about all the form rejections. My favorite form rejections are when the agent actually takes the time to fill in my name rather than call me Author. 🙂

    Thanks for giving a recap of the video, since I can’t watch the video at work.

  33. Katie Ganshert on July 8, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    Okay – seriously, I love this! Your last one was great, but this one was AWESOME!

    Makes me want to try. But oh how I hate hearing and seeing myself talk. Oi! I wouldn’t even know how to do it though.

    Maybe…maybe! You could write a blog post about how to do a vlog. 🙂

  34. Kelly Combs on July 8, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    I want to thank you for including the recaps with your videos. I prefer reading to watching, and you are one of the only people I know who includes a recap with their video!

    Looking forward to meeting you in 2 weeks at She Speaks! I don’t have a thing to query, just want to say “hi” in person.

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM

      Kelly, please be SURE to catch up with me at the conference! Sit at my table for a meal or something. Looking forward to it!

      • Sarah Thomas on July 8, 2011 at 1:10 PM

        I’m looking forward to seeing you at She Speaks as well. And now I’ll know to call you Ra-shell rather than Ray-chell! The vlogs are a fantastic addition, keep ’em coming.

  35. Wendy on July 8, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    Like seeing you in these vlogs.
    Curious if you’re enjoying making them or if it’s painful?
    I might give it a go soon.
    ~ Wendy

    • Rachelle Gardner on July 8, 2011 at 9:59 AM

      The truth? It started out totally painful. With my second video, slightly less painful (I spoke extemporaneously rather than from a script, which makes for more mess-ups but is more comfortable for me.) I had a little more fun doing the second one. I hope to relax more and more as time goes on, have more fun with them, learn more fancy stuff (editing, etc.) and then maybe it won’t be so painful anymore. But it will take time! I cannot watch my own videos. 🙂

  36. Judith Mercado on July 8, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    It is a testimony to how committed you are to helping writers succeed that you would present a video like this. Thanks.

  37. Kristy Ks on July 8, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    First… I am happy to know how to pronounce your first name!

    Thank you for the info! I can see how that would be a time consuming task!

  38. Martine on July 8, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    I have experience giving feedback both from my University and teaching background and I remember how hard it is to give meaningful feedback fast. I understand why agents prefer to say “it’s not for me.”

    Must say that so far in my querying process (which started two weeks ago, I’m a babe in the woods here) all my rejections have been very kind. Sure, they might smell of form letters, but they’re personalized. I suspect agents might get a bad rep. All my experiences in the literary world have been much kinder and considerate than in academia. By a long shot.

    Keep up the good work! I’ll be reading. 🙂

  39. Pat Layton on July 8, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    You are awesome and adorable!!

  40. otin on July 8, 2011 at 7:03 AM

    I’m not one who would like anything more than a note that says: Your project isn’t right for me. I agree that while one agent might have no interest in it, there may be another one who thinks that it is good. I simply like knowing that the agent has looked at it.

  41. Carol J. Garvin on July 8, 2011 at 5:04 AM

    Those three minutes went by like two! I loved seeing and hearing you via the video, and your explanation made perfect sense, so thank you.

  42. Jackie Ley on July 8, 2011 at 3:14 AM

    Thanks for this. You manage to convey you care about writers, including the multitude you have to reject.

  43. Tana Adams on July 8, 2011 at 2:39 AM

    I love, love, LOVE seeing you! That was great!

    I received tons of rejections and still have some of the ones with specific reasons why my novel was right for that agent, or why the idea wasn’t working. All in all the agents comments were always spot on, but even the form rejections helped me grow as a writer.

  44. Loree Huebner on July 8, 2011 at 2:03 AM

    I just love the vlog.

    Thanks for taking the time on that sensitive subject.

  45. Kim Kasch on July 8, 2011 at 1:53 AM

    Love these vlogs! It’s so great to hear words of wisdom right from the person. Thanks for taking the time and effort to put these together.

  46. Becca C. on July 8, 2011 at 1:28 AM

    You have such a lovely vlog persona! I think you’re a born vlogger. Awesome video, makes total sense.

  47. Nancy S. Thompson on July 8, 2011 at 1:01 AM

    I understand all those reasons & agree; it’s much more beneficial to address query issues with a group rather than an individual. What I would like to see are more query workshops like QueryShark or BookEnds’ Workshop Wednesdays.

    It would be very helpful to know what a variety of agents thought made up both a good, as well as a poor query. We would all benefit from seeing concrete examples of each presented on a regular basis. I love Janet Reid’s QueryShark, but she only posts about twice a month, at best.

    If we, as queriers, had a regular & varied number of examples of what is done well & not so well, explaining what caught your eye or what turned you off, I’d bet agents would see a greater number of quality queries.

  48. Trisha on July 8, 2011 at 1:00 AM

    Understandable, for sure. I feel lucky that with my rejection I got a nice paragraph about why I was rejected 🙂 I did respond, but only to thank the agent in question for her time and her kind words!

  49. June on July 8, 2011 at 12:51 AM

    Totally understood, at least by me! Thanks for blogging though. There are only so many hours in a day afterall…

  50. Jen Corkill on July 8, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    I think it is the downfall of most writers to be extremely selfish. Our world revolves around us as we anxiously anticipate a response. After double digits of rejections, the nasty voice of self doubt sets in. It is then we forget that the agent on the other side is only human with their own time schedules. Thank you Rachelle 🙂

  51. Stephanie McGee on July 8, 2011 at 12:44 AM

    I personally don’t expect an individual response to every query. It’s a business resume of sorts. Looking for a job you send out hundreds of resumes. All you ever get are form responses saying that you weren’t selected.

    Much of querying is the same way. Head hunters/resume readers/agents don’t have all the time in the world to devote to personally responding to every resume/query sent their way. Is it nice when they do? Yeah, totally. But don’t expect it. It’s the way things work.

    Which is one of a billion reasons why I love/appreciate/stalk industry blogs. Thanks, Rachelle!

  52. Michael Seese on July 8, 2011 at 12:30 AM

    Speaking for myself, I’m perfectly happy with a “thanks, but no thanks,” even one which starts, “Dear Writer” rather than “Dear Michael.”

    Feedback? When I get it, I consider it to be pure generosity.

    My $0.03.

  53. Janet Jensen on July 8, 2011 at 12:29 AM

    Helpful video. I do appreciate just knowing yes/no so if it’s by form letter, I understand the agent’s situation. Responses like “If we’re interested we’ll get back to you” or “we only respond to queries that interest us” keeps the writer in limbo. A time range, if possible, would be helpful.