Rejection Letter Translations: What am I REALLY saying?

canstock12444309When I say, “I’m not the best agent for your work,” what I really mean is:

1. Although this looks interesting, or although I think you can write, I really, really, really don’t represent thrillers, romance, western, fill in the blank…

2. I’m not the best agent because this needs so much work  I wouldn’t even know where to start with it.

3. I’m not the best agent because I do very little self-help, memoir, cookbooks, etc… and you need someone with strong knowledge and connections in your genre.

4. I’m not the best agent because I don’t think your non-fiction idea has legs but I don’t want to hurt your feelings or discourage you because I could be totally wrong.

5. I’m not the best agent because I don’t get it and I’m not connecting to your story or your writing or something about your query.

When I say, “This isn’t a good fit for my list right now,” what I really mean is:

1. I’m already representing something similar to this. Sorry, but your idea isn’t totally unique. (I know! Can you believe it?!)

2. I really, really, really don’t represent thrillers, romance, western, fill in the blank…

3. It’s not a good fit because your query letter is so horribly written I couldn’t even finish reading it, so why would I bother to read any of your manuscript?

4. Seriously, vampires are so over, zombies never interested me, and if I have to read another portal fantasy I’m going to scream.

5. I’m just not feeling the love. Finding a new client is like dating and sometimes the chemistry is just off because it’s off.

When I say, “This isn’t a good match for me,” what I really mean is:

1. Dear God, please send me better queries because this one is pretty terrible.

2. Your manuscript may be well written but it’s on a topic that holds no interest for me. Zero. Zip. Nada. Not a bad idea, just not for me.

3. I’m not kidding when I say I really, really, really don’t represent thrillers, romance, western, fill in the blank…

4. It may fit all of my “criteria,” but I’m just not feeling the connection.

5. I need to be totally, unabashedly, head over heels in love with a manuscript, and for me yours is just ok. I’m the wrong person for it.

When I say, “I wish you the best of luck with it,” what I really mean is:

1. I wish you the best of luck finding an agent who will champion your work.

2. I wish you the best of luck in improving your craft.

3. I wish you the best of luck revising your story.

4. I wish you the best of luck on this crazy path to publication.

5. I just wish you the best of luck, for crying out loud! I like to see people succeed in fulfilling their dreams, even if I’m not the right one to help them.

How do you translate rejection letters?


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11 responses to “Rejection Letter Translations: What am I REALLY saying?

  1. I agree with it being a catch 22. We want validation for our work. I think it’s hard from a writer’s stand point because it feels like we’re doing more than just have a fifteen minute job interview, but (as mentioned by others) I would never follow up at Wendy’s or Target or Best Buy and say (half incoherent due to heavy sobs) “WHY DIDN’T YOU HIRE ME!?! Beh-heh-heh!”
    But really, we put in so much time and effort (hopefully), that sometimes even getting a form rejection is better than getting nothing at all. Sure it can be tough to swallow, but so is dry chicken.

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  3. Wow, such great comments. I may have misspoken in a way that inferred I deem it the agent’s responsibility to give feedback. It’s true that it’s not the agent’s job to give feedback, I was simply stating that I understand why they can’t, but it is very helpful when they can. Obviously, you have to keep working to make your writing better and get feedback from sources other than agents.

  4. I agree with Dianne. Just a quick reply is all I ask for, and if there’s something more I appreciate that. Any response makes me look at my work with new eyes, after a tiny bit of griping, I’ll admit. But all comments are welcomes and yours, Linda, were extremely helpful. Thanks again. Too many agents do not respond and that leaves me wondering whether my query, synopsis, requested pages, whatever got lost in cyberspace or if the agent is too busy to respond, or just doesn’t like the work. Plus, I’m not sure if I should follow up on a “no-response” if the agent’s website doesn’t state anything about it. I hate to be a pest, but I’d like to know if they ever got my work, especially when it has been requested. It’s a tough road for us writers, and an all encompassing job for the agents. And we need to be friends – we both benefit from a good fit.

  5. I actually appreciate a form rejection because the agent has taken the time to respond. I know my query hasn’t been swallowed by a black hole and actually got to,and was considered by, the agent.
    I’ve also had several agents who have been engaged by my work(but rejected it) give me specific feedback which I really appreciated. I’ve used their comments to look critically at my work and revise. I also appreciate any agent who blogs or Tweets about the industry because they are using their time to help authors succeed.

  6. Linda, I think it’s very helpful that you opened this up to the crowd of followers so that hundreds of people can see what an agent thinks and means. As one who you just weren’t feeling strongly enough about, I can say that it actually meant a lot that you said that the query letter was fine, but you didn’t think you’d be sold on the idea well enough to sell the manuscript. I can’t tell you how much self-flagellation that saved!

  7. It is not an agents job to tell us whay were doing wrong. After an interview does a company call you to say “I’m not hiring you because you spit when you talk” or “your answer to that question offended me.” Or whatever reason they have (biased or not)? No. Might they send a nice email or leave a nice massge letting you know they went with someone else because *insert generic reason here* (like they wanted someone with more expierence or they went with someone else)? Yes. But 1. Thats not expected, its them being nice. 2. They dont give specific feedback because they have more important things to do. This is expected

    So why do people expect agents to go out of their way to give feedback? (When most of the time the writer would be upset by what they heard anyway) And that’s not including the fact that sometimes agents are WRONG. If they say “Sparly vampires is a ridiculous idea and will never sell” then it goes on to be a best seller, guess who looks bad? So if they might be wrong (because not every book is for everyone, tastes and all) why say it?

    There are other ways to get feedback and figure out what’s wrong. Use them. Or move on.

  8. karennouri

    Why the need to translate? Aren’t literary agents supposed to be articulate with their words ? IF agents were more direct and truthful, maybe they would attract more of what they want to read.

    • IF I had more time to answer the 600 queries I get every month, I’d be able to be “more direct and truthful.” But I do have other work to do. I type each and every response out individually to the people who query me, and I’m not one of those “consider no answer to mean that I pass” agents. And no, literary agents are not necessarily supposed to be articulate with their words. It’s not part of the job description. It’s just a bonus sometimes.

      • I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, we need more specific feedback to know what to fix. On the other hand, agents don’t have time for that. It’s kind of a catch 22, agents don’t have the time to give us feedback and we don’t have the feedback we need to send in exactly what they’re looking for (which inevitably would save them time). It’s almost like agents need a full time assistant to whom they can say, “I don’t like this one for these 3 specific reasons” and then the assistant could type up a more specific piece of feedback on behalf of the agent. But who am I to say… maybe that’s what the agents do already…? In my experience, I’m LUCKY to get a form rejection letter and of the form rejections I’ve received, there wasn’t anything specific enough to help me in them. Just the generic “not interested/not for me” response. It’s tough on both sides of the coin, but it’s difficult to distinguish how you can improve when it seems like no one is able to take the time to specifically tell you what’s wrong.

        Either way, thank you to all of the agents who do actually read the submissions sent to them (instead of having an intern read them or whatever). Even if we’re not getting specific feedback, at least we know that we had a chance to catch your attention and we were just unsuccessful, for whatever reason.

        And to my fellow authors, just keep on keepin’ on. It’s a numbers game. The more people who see it, the better chances you have of someone liking it. We just need to make sure that we are constantly evaluating the quality of what we’re sending out so that we know when we receive a form rejection, we gave that agent our best shot.

      • It’s not a numbers game. There are ample (more than ample) resources for writers to gain information about how to craft a good query letter and also to get feedback regarding their queries and manuscripts. About half of the people who query me either a. do something wrong (e.g. don’t follow submission guidelines, write a letter full of spelling & grammar errors, etc…) or b. query me for something I don’t represent. What a waste of my time. Believe it or not, it’s not the job of an agent to teach authors how to be successful. Our job is to find and work with clients; to help them get their manuscripts in a state where they can be sold; then pitch and sell their manuscripts; negotiate the best deal we can for our clients; manage other contractual issues for clients; sell foreign and other sub rights; otherwise manage our clients’ careers. And then we do things like go to conferences (where more often than not we don’t get paid), write blogs, donate prizes like query & manuscript critiques.