Or, Tales of a Form Rejection Connoisseur
When you’re querying agents, unless you’re both very skilled and very lucky, you’re likely to get a collection of… letters, before you get an offer.
And most of that collection will be form rejection letters.
Why Form Rejections?
You’ve spent months to years hard at work, polishing your manuscript. Carefully selecting the right agent to query. So, you’d think you would earn a personalized rejection.
Sadly, that’s not how publishing works.
After decades of rejected authors lashing out at agents who rejected them for reasons the writer didn’t agree with, the ease of bulk email or online form querying, and, these days, the glut of new novels following a forced quarantine, the majority of agents, the majority of the time, send out form rejections. It saves them time and protects them legally.
But, not all agents have the same technique. What sorts of letters – form or not – can a writer expect?
The 13 Types of Responses To Queries
Many agents state that if they don’t reply in, typically 6 to 8 weeks, you should assume that “no response means no thank you”. These agents usually send a confirmation email when you query them, so you at least know your query went to the right place.
(Note: I have found that a non-zero percentage of these agents do eventually send a short “no thank you” email. Typically closer to double the given wait period)
2. Short and Not-So-Sweet
These agents don’t want to waste your time or their own. For these form rejections, there’s a short “Thank you for thinking of [agent], but [your story] is not right for our list. Best of luck.”
3. Polite and inoffensive
Many agents have decided the key phrase they should use in a rejection is “did not connect with the main character/story“. Mostly, because agents of yore found that it kept writers from trying to ‘fix’ the problem in three days and re-querying. It was hard to argue with “didn’t connect”.
There is a bit of push back these days, because “did not connect” can mean “you’re from a different background from [the agent] and this story isn’t what [the agent is used to],” but, the push for #ownVoices story is hopefully slimming out the instances where “did not connect” is used because of cultural divides.
These rejections are the most common form of form rejection I’ve found.
Typically, these are two paragraph rejection letters along this vein: “Thank you for querying [agent or agency]. While I did find the query interesting, I just didn’t connect with the story to the degree I would need to, in order to make you an offer.
Publishing is very subjective so it’s very possible someone else will love your story like I wish I could have. Good luck.“
They’re not always that supportive, but many are.
4. Polite and late
These are the same as the polite and inoffensive “Didn’t connect. Publishing is subjective.” Just with a dash of “I’m so sorry for taking so long.“
It is not uncommon for agents to take up to double the given wait time that is listed on their own agency website. After that, you might think about nudging.
I don’t usually see ‘Sorry for being so late” until the agent has passed that double-the-given-wait limit, but some apologize the day after their self-imposed deadline.
5. Generic Advice
These start off like “Polite and inoffensive”, and add in some generic writer advice. Sometimes, how to get beta readers. Sometimes, with links to writing or querying sites.
6. Feedback Lite
The next type of form rejection are the ones that leave you wondering if it’s a form rejection or actual feedback. The easiest way to find out is, if the agent is on QueryTracker, and you have a paid account (or friend with one), plenty of writers share their full rejection letters there.
Many agents have a selection of form rejection templates and use different ones depending on how much your story was outside their wheelhouse.
The most common form rejection with vague feedback unsurprisingly addresses the start of your story. You know, the pages you actually sent. As many writers, especially debut writers, start the story in the wrong place, most of this feedback addresses that.
The three main critiques are:
- The story started too slow
- The story threw us in before we were given reasons to care about the character
- I’m not sure what the stakes are
The agent may even customize the form rejection with your title and main character names. It is actual feedback, but pretty commonly given and high-level.
7. Actual Feedback
The holy grail of rejection letters. Actual feedback.
“Thank you for querying [agent]. While [some aspects] of [title] appealed to me, I felt that [something else] could use some work.
Thank you and good luck.“
Awesome! And USEFUL. Something actually actionable.
8. The Partial
Since many agents ask for something less than 20 pages (if any) with their query package, it can be hard for them to glean much about your writing style and pacing from a query letter. While not an offer of representation, this is where an agent says “I like what I’ve seen, send me some more.”
9. Revise and Resubmit
This is when you really start getting your hopes up.
This starts off looking like not-form-feedback and ends with an actual invitation to resubmit to them if you make the proposed changes. If it’s not explicitly said, it’s probably not an “R and R”.
10. The Full
Just like the partial, only they’re asking for your entire manuscript.
11. Salt in the Wound
A form rejection after a partial, full, or R&R REALLY hurts. Especially, if it’s the one that give advice. On how to query or beta read. After they asked you for more pages. And you know it’s what they send the queriers the reject in 3 seconds flat, too.
A form rejection months after the “if you haven’t heard after 8 weeks, move on with your life.” You already got the point…
A shorter, less friendly form rejection… after they already rejected you. Probably one was from their intern. Or they were just clearing out their query folder and didn’t realize these were already done.
12. Set Up A Call
This type of letter, the agent says lovely things about your manuscript, and asks to set up a time to call you. Most agents only do this for offers of representation, some agents will do this for an R&R. Temper your hopes accordingly, but be prepared to ask questions, just in case it’s “THE Call”.
13. Offer of Representation
Congrats! You’ve graduated out of the query trenches. You can typically take a week or two to reach out to any agents with whom you have outstanding queries, partials, or fulls. Most will bow out, but it’s a great way to get a quick reply, and some may express interest.
Most agents will try to set up a call at this point. Otherwise known as “THE Call.”
Assuming you have a good rapport with the agent and decide to accept their offer, you now have an agent.
Some agents will have you revise your work immediately. Others will want to know if you have other stuff they can shop around as well.
But, now the agent will be submitting your manuscript to all those publishing houses. Hopefully with insider knowledge of which publishing Editors prefer which approach. It’s the agent version of the query trenches, but you’ve made it past one gatekeeper, and that much closer to traditional publication.
Are there any types of query responses I missed? I’ve heard of rude, insulting rejections but they seem apocryphal these days.
Tell me about your time in the query trenches.