QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Good Rejection Letters

"Good rejection." Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But there are different kinds of rejection letters, and some of them may hold more information than you realize. A rejection letter could be a source of advice that can guide you through your revisions.

First, there are “form rejections.” This a standard rejection letter that an agency sends out when they have decided not to pursue representation of your work. While not helpful, at least they supply a definite “no” and you can move on with your life. The letters are usually along the lines of “not right for our list” or “not what I’m looking for.” A super sneaky way to check if yours is a form rejection is to look at an agent’s profile on QueryTracker. Many people post their verbatim rejections in the “comments” section beneath the profile. (Click on the picture below to see an up-close view.)

A good rejection typically comes from an agent who has read some or all of your manuscript. Many agents will tell you what is working – and what isn’t. “I fell in love with the character, but not with the plot,” for example. If you get this kind of rejection, hang onto it! You may need to take some time to get past the sting of being rejected, but later you will want to go back and really absorb what the agent is telling you. Then, revise your manuscript while keeping the agent’s advice at hand and in mind.

A friend of mine received a rejection from an agent detailing very specifically what was wrong with the plot of her middle grade mystery. My friend replied with a big THANK YOU and asked if she could resubmit – the agent said no, but he knew of another agent within his agency who might like the book once it was revised, and promised to pass it along.

Last week our own Heather Dyer mentioned her agent-inspired “eureka moment” that led to revisions and, down the road, signing with an agent.

An agent told another friend of mine that her premise (and therefore the whole book) was not competitive enough for the market – but the agent had some very nice things to say about the writing style and invited the author to submit future projects for consideration. (And luckily this friend has been querying long enough to know that this is a fantastic opportunity!)

We all know agents are some of the busiest people on the planet, and for them to take time to offer feedback is a really big deal. Their honesty about your work is a boon – so be sure to thank them for it.

Do you have a “good rejection” story you’d like to share? (And please, let’s keep it positive and anonymous.)

Suzette Saxton's idea of a perfect day includes a picnic lunch, laughing children, and her laptop. When she's not writing books for kids, Suzette can be found gardening, doing finish carpentry in her home, or walking in the canyon in which she lives.


Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post Suzette!

A few weeks ago, an agent sent me a personalized rejection stating that there were some "awkward turns of phrase" in my first chapter, but that she loved the concept of the novel and some of the writing really stood out. She invited me to resubmit after a revision, and you can bet that I took her up on the offer!

I made the revisions and re-submitted along with a cover letter that thanked her for her honest feedback and included the original query.

Angie said...

My good rejections have all come from short story markets. I received some really good advice and encouragement from magazine editors when I was first starting out. My favorite rejection to date came from the editor-in-chief of a major sci-fi mag who sent me a personal note to tell me the story was well done, but not right for the magazine. I wanted to frame it! And (speaking as an editor) they do mean it when they say they'd like to see something else from you!

Lisa Katzenberger said...

I had one agent provide feedback that he felt I was rushing the story instead of pulling him into the characters. Of course, critique partners said early drafts were too slow, and nothing was happening.

So with this personal feedback from the agent, I realized I'd overcorrected too much.

While hard to swallow, this feedback (after I'd been querying for quite some time) helped me realize it was time to move onto a new project.

I'm really thankful to that agent and investing what I learned from my first book into my second one.

Unknown said...

I've gotten a handful of personalized rejections that say that the writing didn't "draw them in" or "grab them" as much as they'd like. Agents like my story ideas/premise, though.
Still, what can I do to improve the "grab-factor" of my writing?
Practice, I guess.

Rick Daley said...

Even the form rejection can be a positive learning experience. You must have an open mind toward improvement, and be willing to put in the effort to make something that is good even better.

Lessons to be learned from a form rejection:

- How to better target the agents you query
- Is my query letter well-written?
- Is my story unique? If not the story itself, the way I am presenting it?

I had an agent request a partial, but didn't go through with the full. I did get usable feedback, though: the premise was clever (that's always a plus), the feedback was that I am a talented writer (nice shot of confidence), but the narrative had too many tangents (mainly too much insignificant backstory).

I spent time trying to revise the MS, whittling away at the backstory. I would remove something and then the material before and after it seemed hollow, so I had to carve away further. Then I need to add new stuff in. Eventually I realized that I need to re-write the novel. From scratch.

Tough decision, but it was the right one. It's not ready for submission yet but it's much better.

Jill said...

I think all of my rejection letters were boring, generic form letters "does not fit with our publishing goals at this time..."

I can't recall any letters that offered advice-feedback-criticiques and that is a shame. I realize agents-editors-publishers don't have time to write detailed commentary on every query and submission, but a nudge here and there would be most helpful.

Cheers, Jill
'Blood and Groom' coming in November 2009

Fran Caldwell said...

Such a good post, Suzette. I had a couple like these myself that I hadn't truly appreciated.

I mentioned you today at my blog. I know a lot more people out there will appreciate it.

Suzette Saxton said...

Thank you so much, Fran. I really appreciate that. And thanks to you all for sharing your stories. You are absolutely inspirational!


Elizabeth Lynd said...

A couple of years ago I got a form rejection from the assistant at a very good boutique agency on a partial. But the assistant then hand wrote half a page of encouraging words on the form, along the lines of "I hope you keep revising and submitting." She also praised my writing and the premise of the book. I realize now the book really wasn't where it needed to be, but that shot of confidence helped propel me to keep revising and now I have a manuscript worth submitting. Better still, in the meantime I completed another, and the assistant had become a full agent--and based on that in my query to her, she requested the full on the new project. Helpful? You bet!

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Unknown said...

I've received two positive rejections. Strangely, one even went as far as to make corrections in my manuscript and offer all sorts of advice. I couldn't tell if it was a rejection or not because there was positive feedback mixed in. Although it was strange that an agent would spend so much time giving me advice and even making editing suggestion with no suggestion to revise and re-submit, my manuscript is twice as strong now. I am so grateful!