No thanks means....?

Dear Miss Snark:

How much weight should authors put into the content in form rejections? Any
other information buried in there other than "no, thanks"?

You mean other than the NORAD defcon codes and tomorrow's lotto winners?


You'll go nuts trying to figure out if "not quite right for me" means "I left my heart in San Francisico so now I'm not taking anything west of the Pecos".


kis said...

I always love those fractions of a sheet that start, "Dear author, please excuse the format of this reply..."

Nothin' you can possibly read into that, other than to wonder if they even looked at your letter.

Elektra said...

Every time I see one of those tiny sheets of paper, I think of that post on Making Light.

tim said...

I don't mind a form rejection--after all, I don't take the time to explain to all the people selling things why I am not buying. I'm just not.

BUT I got a form rejection letter once that began by announcing that is was a form (fine, I thought) and THEN said, "while your work was intriguing..."

Oh dear--a form letter is one thing, a form *compliment* is something else entirely.

I teach college and for the really dreadful papers (for which I DO have to provide specific comments--since I can't just say "no thanks." And also, the kids need to learn, I guess) I have a list of adjectives I use in an initial complimentary sentence meant to cushion the blow of: "what the fuck are you trying to say here?" At any rate, "intriguing" is one I keep only for the most irredeemably sucky papers.

So it wasn't just a form compliment. It was a left-handed form compliment.


Quick said...

I like how you can re-read a rejection or reply letter an hour later, and it takes on a whole new meaning because your mood has changed.

tlc said...

Oh, dog -- the form rejection. Sometimes I wonder why agents can't find the time to make fresh copies --nothing like those faded, sixth generation Xerox's.

The absolute worst form paragraph (I'm on the road and don't have my files, where I actually copied and kept the dang thing, so I can't quote it exactly) said something like, "while we read all submissions, not all are right for us. Some come close, and we hope yours was one of them."

Well, I sure hope so, too! But I'll never know, will I? The kicker is that they haven't updated this puppy in years, and ALL the agents at the agency use the same one. I queried a new agent there with a new work, at least 2 years after I got that first paragraph in the letter, and she sent out the same boilerplate. (Yeah, I'd forgotten that I wasn't going to submit to them after the first rejection.)

Anonymous said...

It's like when you were in high school and the girl said no. No means no. On the other hand if she said we shouldn't do this . . .

Anonymous said...

What part of "no" don't you understand?

I've received variations on all those themes. A no is no. Not a maybe.

This question arises so often that perhaps agents should stop trying to be nice, or pc. They should just say "no thanks," and be done with it.

tlc said...

After remembering that I once posted my all time least favorite form rejection letter paragraph to one of my Yahoo groups, I searched their archives and found the precise wording. (So, if you want to delete my previous message, your noble snarkness, go right ahead -- In which case this paragraph will make no sense to readers.)

This is their standard rejection letter, used by all their agents, and has been used for at least 3 years.

"We did review your proposal, and for some reason we don't feel we
can represent it. Some of them come close, and yours may well be one of those, but we do have our reasons for declining."

My other pet peeve is the faded sixth generation copy. Take a minute to run a fresh one, please. We work hard to make our work look professional; why can't you?

Anonymous said...

Every month at a writers' group meeting, at least one person brings in a rejection letter. Most are the photocopied variety.

Worse, is when an agent blunders into Rosetta Stone territory, and hand-writes a comment. "What does overwritten mean?"

Duh. And these are not all newbies.

I agree. Forget the polite, non-offensive pass. JUST SAY NO.

Anonymous said...

Writers are so needy that we must put the best face on rejection.

Like actors at an audition.

We need validation. So even the vaguest hint of the possibility that an agent would consider our work is good news.

And published authors sometimes get rejected, too, something that unpublished authors never consider. And from what I hear, their rejections are a lot meaner.

Sometimes giving a reason is not a good thing.

The Rejected Writer said...

Rejections should just say, "No thanks" or similar short, to-the-point words. Don't tell me that you "support writers" or that you "wish me well". I don't care any more than Miss S cares about the fawning thanks given her for reading the submissions. The difference is that for me as a writer, it's just rubbing salt in the wound. Don't pretend to be polite. The system of writers acquiring an agent is topsy-turvy and need to be righted. Until that happens, don't patronize us.

Kim said...

Actually, I'd rather a form than a personalized rejection because if nothing else, I can at least read it. One personal rejection I received was a Post-It note stuck to my query. To this day I don't know why it was rejected, since I couldn't read the teeny-tiny chicken-scratch handwriting. Another one said I needed to pay closer attention to details to remove anachronisms. OK - but the only example cited was on the very first page. And then, to prove the point about paying attention to details, she spelled my name wrong. That one's framed and hangs in my office!

Anonymous said...

It's a torment to receive an "almost" - I'd rather receive and plain, form rejection "no thanks." Why waste time thinking about 'if only'? I know of several magazines that send out different rejections for different degrees of "no thanks." If you receive the white one - your submission sucked. If it's yellow, it wasn't bad and you should keep trying. If you get the blue one - it's an invitation to revise/rewrite and resub. I don't know what the acceptance looks like (yet).

magz said...

'Keep yer Day job'
'Bet you got an A in typing class, and a D in creative writing'
'A perfect match! Your book-my slushpile!'
'Dammit Jim; I'm an Agent, not a Doctor!'
'Worthy! (Of starting my BBQ, or packing my china)

No still means no; no matter how ya phrase it. Suck it up and Write On! Each and every No you recieve puts you that much closer to a Yes.
You asked for that opinion and didnt like it?

Ask for another: someone's bound to agree with you somewhere.. sometime. It's a big ole world out there!

lizzie26 said...

Oh for Pete's sake. (Or anyone's sake.) A writer better get over it. A rejection is a rejection. Period. No reading in-between the lines. No turning the paper upside down to see if there's a hidden message. No hitting the "reply" button after you've written back asking if maybe, just maybe, they liked it.

cousin said...

Rather than be the sixty first comment in the previous question on this subject, I figured I'd start fresh over here.
I think the issue of rejection language only matters in that tiny percentage of submissions that really do come close, where it's obviously not a form rejection at all.
On my current manuscript making the rounds I've had several two paragraph responses from agents and editors where the entire first paragraph is nothing but praise I would be proud to receive in a review. The second paragraph delivers the usually vague reason for the rejection.
Isn't it human nature to want to know how close you actually came, or if there was anything more the agent or editor could tell you to push the book over the top?
Forget about critique circles. For every self-published book, I bet there are hundreds of beta readers who loved it. The only opinions that count at this stage are those of agents and/or editors. Later on, reviewers and booksellers will clock in, with their own withering thoughts.

FatCharlatan said...

Check out this brave writer's website that I stumbled upon recently. Her name is Deborah Schwartz (and, no, that's not me in disguise trying to drive site traffic). She posts ALL her short story rejection letters (you can click on them and read 'em...all are form letters; some have personal comments scrawled in the margins). Here's the Rejection Letter Link. And then read a little article that explains why she's doing this.

Anonymous said...

I got the same rejection that called my submission "intriguing." I've yet to put my finger on why it bothered me. Not bothered me personally because rejection is just a part of the process. It bothered me because anything and everything submitted, that received a rejection, is referred to as intriguing.

Maybe I was supposed to forget that the first sentence apologized for the form rejection. Maybe I was supposed to feel uplifted and encouraged that I truly had an intriguing concept.

Nah, because I realized that I could have sent a query for the lamest idea imaginable, and I would have received the same "intriguing" response.

It still makes me shake my head.

Anonymous said...

I guess if the agent takes the time to scratch a note on the query then she or he either ran out of tenth-generation copies of the standard rejection form, or the query intrigued her or him more and thought a form wasn't sufficient.

Stacy said...

For all you writers out there who feel a simple, honest no, thanks would suffice:

Dear Writer,

We will not be taking you on as a client. We will not be able to sell your work.

Thank you for showing interest in our agency.


The Agency.

See how that stings?

Anonymous said...

Let's be honest:

1. We writers are a whiney, thin-skinned lot. Rejected Writer doesn't even want common courtesy if she can't have unconditional acceptance. That's a pretty harsh position, Regina.

2. An overcopied fuzzy Xerox rejection letter? That's about as passive-agressive a dig as you can get. There are a subset of agents out there who get off on the sadism. I got some doozy rejections for my first manuscript that are so mean that they are funny.

The rest of us just try to live our lives between the navigatioal beacons of the extremists.

I maintain that a form letter is better than no response at all.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Yeah, gotta love the ones copied so many times they lay SLANTED on the paper. They obviously needed a new receptionist who knew how to lay the copy of the copy of the original straight on the machine before producing another 1,000 copies.

My all time favorite (cough) was a copy which started with "Dear Writer,"

But they CROSSED OUT the "writer" part and wrote my name over it. Huh? So now I'm not even a writer? Nice.

Or the fill in the blank ones. Dear _____________ blah blah blah your book, _________________. Too bad it wasn't the title of MY book they put in that second slot.

Shah of Blah said...

Having not made a query as yet....reading all this stuff... i think i am prepared...indeed for the worst

S. W. Vaughn said...

tlc, please -- oh, please -- reveal which agency uses that dog-awful query so that I may never submit to them and receive it. "Some of them come close, and yours may well be one of those, but..." OUCH. The left-handed compliment forms are bad enough.

Cynthia Bronco said...

I get out the paste and scissors for my rejections. Then I rearrange the words until they say something encouraging, scan them and print out nice new copies.
(Not really, but it's a thought).

litagent said...

Overwritten means that you are trying too hard -- the writing itself has become the focus and not the story. I look for books that pull me in and hold my interest effortlessly. I love going back to read a particular passage or phrase and ONLY THEN marveling at its construction.

As for form rejections, alas, I have had to resort to them just because of sheer numbers. Often, however, I will add a handwritten note if there's something beyond "this isn't right for me" that I feel the author should know.

Susanna Donato said...

One of my favorite formats is that used by a couple of agents who've written "no thanks" or "not for me" and their initials at the top of my query letter and sent it back.

Some of my colleagues have said it's harsh, but this method doesn't mince words, it doesn't waste paper on a long-winded, badly copied form letter, and it does tell me that yes, she really saw MY brilliant query -- and is rejecting it for the only reason that matters: she doesn't want it.

LJCohen said...

I wrote a 'found' poem from copy taken out of my stack of rejection letters.

:) It was therapeutic.

Anonymous said...

Say what? Everyone wants the agent and publisher to take MORE time away from reading subs just to make a more pleasant rejection?

Just have a big rubber stamp ready which reads "NO!" That way Miss Snark won't waste her time being polite to me if I suck. Think of it! She could read another dozen partials every day!

kis said...

Oh, Dwight,

I guess I should consider myself lucky that the one personalized rejection I got on my full praised my style and world-building and invited me to revise and resub, or submit anything else I might write.

The agent mentioned details she could only have learned by actually reading my book--not just skimming the first few pages.

Oh, how it would SUCK to get the other kind of critique! And then still have the balls to go on? Dwight, you are now the determined teen in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

How about a new idea:
the SASRL (self addressed stamped rejection letter) that you write yourself and enclose with your query?

Anonymous said...

Writers seem to have a harder time with the word 'No' these days.

Anyone else noticed this trend?

tlc said...

S. W. Vaughn said...

tlc, please -- oh, please -- reveal which agency uses that dog-awful query so that I may never submit to them and receive it. "Some of them come close, and yours may well be one of those, but..." OUCH. The left-handed compliment forms are bad enough.

I've blocked it from my mind, and since I'm out of town I don't have my files handy. It was a fairly prominent agency, no bad marks on P&E, RWA approved, but even if I remembered, I'm not sure this is a place to go public with the name. It is a 'person' name, as I recall.

Anonymous said...

tlc's query doesn't sound all that horrible to me.

The only real meaning in personalized rejections is that they do tell you you're getting closer--if around rejection 15 or 20 they're all still form rejects, it may be time to take a good hard look at the story. Or at the next one, which presumably you're working on by then.

Though form rejects have the virtue of being faster. If someone knows they can't use my work, better a quick form rejects than a couple years for a personalized one.

Anonymous said...

Form rejection letters are kinder than personalized ones. Most agents or editors won't tell you the whole truth anyway and their opinion is subjective and limited.

Why don't writers just assume their query letter was read and the submitted material considered? After all, why else would an agent even bother with a reply? What more is needed than a polite response? No harm, no foul. Move on with your confidence intact.