Types of Rejection Letters and Query Rejection

Query rejection is still rejection, sure,  but if you stick to writing for any length of time, you’ll soon begin to see that there are some nuances to getting turned down by an agent or editor. I’m talking about types of rejection letters. There are entire gradients of rejection and, the better your work, the higher you climb up the ladder toward that “yes” that you’ve been chasing.

types of rejection, types of rejection letters
Sure, it’s one discouraging word, but it can mean so many things!

Types of Rejection Letters

Here are the basic kinds of query rejection I used to give as a literary agent:

Form Rejection: I reject the project but don’t give any feedback or thoughts. I will always personalize with your name and the name of your project but I don’t say anything specific about it. This is usually what I send when the writing isn’t solid enough, the voice doesn’t grab me, the idea doesn’t resonate, etc. You get one of these if your work is obviously not a fit for me, which I can tell almost immediately.

Personal Rejection: I still pass on the submission but provide general feedback. I will use this one either for a query rejection when I thought a project had promise or an easily articulated flaw or sometimes for a full manuscript that falls short of what I was hoping for. Maybe the project shows potential but isn’t right for my list — which isn’t something the writer can help. Or maybe I have thoughts on how it could be improved before I’d consider representing it — which the writer can take into account if they wish. I don’t give detailed editorial notes, however, because I think the project shows promise but might be a little too much work to get into.

Revision Rejection: The most rare and desirable of all the types of rejection letters. This is only for cases where I’ve read the full manuscript. In this situation, I’ve spent some time with the project and give the writer specific notes for revision. If they were to revise, I say, I’d love to see it again.

As you can see, there are several types of query rejection. The rule of thumb is, the more personal the rejection, the more time the agent or editor spent with your work. And the more potential and talent they see. A Personal Rejection and a Revision Rejection are like doors that are half-open to you. (Here’s something else to consider when faced with a revise and resubmit letter.)

See Query Rejection as an Opportunity

You can turn the two more personal types of rejection into opportunities (more advice on dealing with rejection). An agent who sends you a Personal Rejection would probably be up for seeing your next project. An agent who sends you a Revision Rejection would probably be enthusiastic to see another version of your current one. Especially if they took the time to give notes. In the grand scheme of things, this is relatively rare, so definitely don’t file it away as a simple “pass” and move on.

So keep querying and keep racking up those rejections. If you find yourself getting mostly Personal or Revision Rejections, that hard-won “yes” might not be too far behind.

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.

29 Replies to “Types of Rejection Letters and Query Rejection”

  1. I thought agents usually did the the same type of rejection for everyone. This is really helpful – and a bit of a relief. Thank you.

  2. Mary, What about a rejection that the agent liked the writing, thought it was polished, but didn’t think the manuscript was saleable in an already glutted marketplace.
    Any suggestions for how to continue? Do you revise and send somewhere else? Can you resubmit? (the agent did say they would be open to seeing more of my work).

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. This came in at just the right time! I was psycho-analyzing rejections today. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for this. It’s always good to keep things in perspective. I second Jennifer’s question, though. What do you do when an agent likes your submission, but doesn’t think it’s viable for the market?

  5. Jennifer and Shawna — GREAT question. I will have to do a post on this. Stay tuned.

  6. Is it worth providing an agent with a synopsis of several manuscripts so they can assess you as an author, rather than assess you in terms of one manuscript? Would that make rejection less likely? Or will an agent be able to see what you’re capable of from just one MS and therefore wouldn’t want to know of others?

  7. Siski — Good question. I’ll turn this into a post because I’ve been meaning to touch on this. Stay tuned.

  8. Very apropos timing for me on this post…I just hope that last sentence holds true!

  9. Jessica Capelle says:

    Great information. I appreciate all your insight into the process. We just have to remember that’s it’s not reflection on us 🙂

  10. siksi– I’ve read an agent post saying that if you have multiple completed manuscripts, she’s going to wonder why you haven’t been querying the one you finished first. It was something like “if you have a whole nother book, why haven’t you been trying to sell it?” I am interested to see if Mary agrees with her! I’ve wondered if most feel this way, myself.

  11. Haylee and Siski — I was planning on answering this in a post, and I will still, but lots and lots of writers have multiple projects in their desks. Query only with your absolute strongest one. I read thousands and thousands and thousands of queries and manuscripts. I can tell where an author is from looking at their work. Not every project — especially not the ones you wrote when you were still beginning and figuring things out — will sell in your career. Show me only your strongest work. If I’m considering taking you on, I’ll be asking about your FUTURE projects and what else you have in mind, since those will more likely be even better. Agents really dislike it, actually, when people send a stable of their work. Pick the strongest. If I want to see more, I’ll ask. (This is especially pertinent to picturebook authors. If I like the project they query with, I always want to make sure they have at least one more I love before I take them on…)

  12. Charisse Drain says:

    This is wonderful information! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Cassandra says:

    Lately I’ve been considering sending my manuscript to an agent. This advice gave me an idea of what to expect from a rejection letter, and I’m sure I will get plenty of ’em. But now I’m getting nervous.

    Thanks for the great information! And the last paragraph gave me a little bit of reassurance. Thanks again! 🙂 LOVE the site, by the way.

  14. This is helpful, thanks! I used to assume that anything with a touch of personal (my name, my ms name) was actually written to me. Therefore if it said, “I think your project ___ sounds really original and interesting, but unfortunately it’s not for me.” I would feel special simply because the agent said it seemed original and interesting. Then I discovered 99% of the time those were form rejections, and I was deluding myself. That’s ok though – rejection just makes the Winston Churchill in me keep going.

  15. LOVED this:
    So keep querying and keep racking up those rejections. If you find yourself getting mostly Personal or Revision Rejections, that hard-won “yes” might not be too far behind.

  16. What does it mean when an agent asks you to resubmit a query letter with a 1-2 page synopsis? Is that a good sign?

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