Appropriate Rejection Response

I hope this post will lift the veil a bit regarding rejection response and let writing hopefuls see some of my thought process as an agent. There’s some truth here about publishing rejection that might not be fun to hear. Sensitive souls might want to turn back now.

rejection response, publishing rejection
A simple “Thank you” (or nothing at all) is the perfect response to publishing rejection.

An issue that some writers wonder about is rejection response, aka., what to do once you get a rejection in your inbox? Tread carefully, writers! A rejection is, by its very nature, unpleasant. There are many different types of query rejection and some rejections are better than others, but at the end of the day, it’s still a “no” when you want to hear a “yes.” Here are two frequent rejection responses agents get:

Rejection Response: The Salesman

“Oh, you don’t like this particular manuscript? Well, I’ve got something else here in my Bag o’ Tricks that might just fit the bill instead.”

Here’s the ugly truth, writers: when we reject something, it is because we don’t believe we can sell it to a publishing house. About 90% of the time, this is because the manuscript is just not ready to be shown for possible publication. The writing is weak. There’s no voice. The idea doesn’t have any spark. (The other 10%, of course, is reserved for people who are rejected because they’re just plain crazy…) I try to give some constructive feedback if I see the opportunity. But most of the time, it’s simply because the writing is not ready. (The good thing about that, of course, is that every day is a new opportunity to improve your craft and get it ready!)

This problem is not going to be fixed by trotting out another manuscript. Or two. Or three. I used to let people show me a few things if they so insisted but the results were always the same and now I dread this situation.

Whatever you have in your stable, chances are, it still has the same general writing issues as the thing I just rejected. It’s already a less-than-pleasant part of my job to reject you. Don’t force me to do it again.

Please don’t start going through your roster of manuscripts and offering up everything else you’ve ever written unless you can categorically say that the quality is a huge improvement (and if it is, why not just send that in the first place?). Instead, hone your craft, get opinions from readers you trust and query around after some time has passed and you’re confident that your work is stronger.

Rejection Response: The Rage

You are the stupidest/most incompetent/ugliest/smelliest person in the world and you are missing out on MILLIONS, LITERALLY MILLIONS of dollars by rejecting my genius opus. I thought you were one of the smart ones and could recognize brilliance when you saw it. Well I guess I was wrong.”

Nothing needs to be said about this other than: email makes it easy to fire off a rejection response, no matter what emotional state you happen to be in. That doesn’t mean you should.

Long story short? Don’t take a publishing rejection to mean that the door’s wide open for everything you’ve ever written and don’t be a psycho.

What are the two preferred rejection responses?

  • “Thanks for reading!”
  • Nothing

Simple as that.

Feeling unsure about your query letter, synopsis, or manuscript? Hire me as your freelance editor and we can work on your submission materials or dig deeper into your picture book, novel, or non-fiction proposal together.

24 Replies to “Appropriate Rejection Response”

  1. I’ve sat next to the rage responder at a few writers conferences–not fun. I don’t envy you agents…

    On a side-note: I’m glad to have discovered this blog. I found some great new links–thanks!

  2. Great comments on rejection, Mary! They are never easy.

    My question about #1 is, are you saying that if we get a “no” from you, you don’t want to see another query from us? Or, can we query you, say, a year down the road, if we have a new mss. that we feel has made a leap?


    anita nolan

  3. Fleur — Glad you found it, too!

    Anita — Great follow-up question. No, I don’t mean “I never want to see anything again.” I’m talking about people who pitch another manuscript IMMEDIATELY after receiving a rejection. I’m totally open to hearing writers whose stuff I’ve read before… just not five minutes after I reject. 🙂

  4. I always wondered if a “Thank you for your consideration!” was appropriate. I tend to go with the ‘no response’ techinique.

    Wait…what about this, though:

    “I will do ANYTHING to have you rep me?”

    What does the Total Desperation tact get?

  5. Bryan — LOL. Total Desperation usually gets a shake of the head from me. Maybe a “tsk” sound. But seriously, you think you’re kidding? I’ve seen Serious and Total Desperation in response to a rejection and it ain’t pretty.

  6. Really? You see it on the various writing boards, but I am very surprised that it comes back at you after a rejection…

  7. I had to come back to this because it made my scratch my head. 90% of the time the writing isn’t there, and 10% of the time is reserved for crazies, but where does personal preference come in? It’s been my experience that this plays a big role in what an agent picks up. Or is rejection that cites something as “not for me” just agent-speak for the writing isn’t great?

  8. Meradeth — Personal preference operates on a level far above and beyond what I deal with in the slush. 99% of the queries I get, I’ll reject because the writing isn’t strong enough or the idea isn’t saleable. I’m not saying that “not for me” is the euphemism for weak writing across the board, but it is the most frequent reason for rejection for me. After I weed out all the people who submit weak writing and bad premises, I’m left with the people who have good ideas and can write well. THAT’S when personal preference comes in. If I love an idea and it’s totally up my alley and in line with my interests and I’d PREFER to have that book on my list, but the writing isn’t there, I won’t take it on because I doubt a lot of editors would be interested in this competitive market.

  9. I…cannot fathom doing either of these. It always astounds me when people are so unprofessional! The only time I’ve ever responded to a rejection was when I was writing a thank you for personal feedback.

  10. This is nice to know, because I’ve only ever responded to a rejection when it seemed so specific and personal and kind. It was an ejection, and it prompted me to write a snail mail thank you-I really appreciated her time!

  11. Ok, I have a question. When an agent has rejected a requested full or partial is it ok to send a thank you email or letter? Especially if they give personal feedback? I’m reading that some agents say not to do this. What do you suggest?

  12. Kim — Good question. I write a post about this, so watch out for that in the next couple weeks, my blogging schedule is a little cramped right now.

  13. I always respond when an agent or editor gives me a personal rejection. I have these little notecards that I use to send a handwritten thank you via snail mail. I keep them very short and to the point. I started doing this after reading Carolyn See’s book “Making a Literary Life.”

  14. What about if you get a form rejection after sending JUST a query letter (no part of the manuscript)) and you get a rejection moments after you send it. How can an agent tell what your writing is like from the query? Did the agent even read the query? I wonder about that.

  15. jtuttle — Some agents only take queries, so that’s the only submission they usually receive. Of course they (or an assistant) read them. And some agents are faster than others, they really love that clean inbox. A book isn’t all about the writing, which is probably something I should post about. If the rejection seemed super quick, that’s probably because something else about the genre or story didn’t resonate with the agent. I take on very little high fantasy, for example. If the idea or the story doesn’t grab me, I’ll reject more quickly because I know it’s not something I’m interested in. I wouldn’t be the right advocate.

  16. Cassandra says:

    Wow. Who knew people would ruin their reputation and relationships with potential agents by throwing temper tantrums! Thanks for this great post.

  17. I must tell you –you gave me the nicest rejection –yet. And it was my first. Thank you…I’m honing away 🙂

  18. Honey Apostos says:

    If you just get form rejections how do you find out what needs work?

  19. Then after how many rejections should I give up? I have sent it to 25+.

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