Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Anatomy of A Query Rejection

Status:

In the office 2 days before I leave for San Diego Comic Con where I’ll be connecting with Con special guest author Hugh Howey and the indomitable Marie Lu!

Listening To:

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Kenny Rankin

This June, I taught a query workshop at Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Lit Fest. Afterward, one participant approached and asked me to read a response letter she had received (not from me). She wanted to know if it was a “standard” rejection letter. I read it aloud and was a little chagrined to discover just how similar it was to the letter I had been using for years. I told her that yes, this was not a personal letter but a standard rejection. Two days later, I was chastised by an aspiring writer who said it was time for us to change our standard rejection letter. Obviously that poor person had received our letter multiple times.

But I took the chastisement to heart. It was time for a change. So I’m going to share with you, my newsletter readers, our standard rejection letter and explain why I chose the verbiage I did.

Dear INSERT WRITER’S NAME:

KN: I actually do input the writer’s name. This business is so impersonal (some agents don’t even respond at all if they aren’t interested in a query), but I always want writers to be acknowledged as human beings. Even though it takes longer to respond to queries.

Thank you so much for thinking of me for your query. I wish I could offer a more personalized response but on average, I receive 500+ email query letters a week.

KN: This is true. In fact, I receive way more than 500 queries a week. Recently I’ve been averaging about 100 to 150 email query letters a day. Don’t let these stats daunt you. If you are serious about your career, you’ll persevere. Know the odds, but give them only the weight of a side note. I have signed many a client after finding them in our query inbox.

Do know that every query letter and sample page is read, and even though your project is not right for me, it might be right for another agent so don’t give up!

KN: This is true. I actually read a lot of my own queries on a daily basis. However, when I travel or have a crazy day, Angie, Jamie, and Karrie jump in to help out. They have to. After just two days, the inbox grows unwieldy. I also really do mean the last line. I’ve passed on any number of queries for projects that weren’t right for me but that other agents loved and went on to represent and even sell. I can only champion what I feel passionate about. Not everything will be a good fit for me. 

I’m also sorry I have no agent recommendations to offer.

KN: I had to include this. We were receiving so many reply emails asking for a recommendation that it was taking too long to respond to every query twice. We had to preemptively make it clear that we could offer no more information. 

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.

KN: Absolutely. My rejection letter to your query is only one little bump on your journey to becoming a published author. 

Sincerely,

Kristin Nelson

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9 Responses

  1. C.H. Armstrong said:

    Am I wrong that you have more than one “standard” rejection letter that you send out? I know I’ve queried you twice and twice been rejected, but each time with a different rejection letter. I thought I might’ve read on a message board somewhere that others had the same experience with you, and it looked to all of us as though you might’ve chosen one of maybe two or three responses that best fit how you felt about the query.

    In any case, as one who has sent out scores of rejection letters, I really appreciate those of you who do respond, even if it’s a form rejection letter. It allows us to “scratch that one off the list” so to speak, rather than worrying about whether we were a yes or no. Thank you for that!

    1. Kevin A. Lewis said:

      It’s been my experience that more often than not the agent farms the query sorting out to an assistant and often never sees the query. Also assistants change, so I’ve had the experience of being query-jected by an agent and getting a read-request later when her assistant changes… The only dark side here is when the assistant gets the first rejection say on a read-request; then you’d better hope she doesn’t have a book project of her own to plug, in which case anything that looks like competition will be quietly drowned…

  2. Deborah Holt Williams said:

    Dear Kristin, Please know that most authors greatly appreciate hearing anything at all! Remember Dan Ackroyd telling Jane Curtin on Saturday Night Live, “Jane, you ignorant slut…”? Even a response that began like that would be more welcome than hearing nothing. Please keep doing what you’re doing! And thank you!

  3. p s syron-Jones said:

    Queries are an authors worst nightmare. This because they never get told what is actually wrong. This is understandable but irritating. When I wrote Rise of a Phoenix I sent out over 200 queries. The response was positive but a big fat “Sorry but”. I put it on Amazon where it did quite well. I will still try for an agent but until then I will keep writing.

  4. Stephen L France said:

    Perfectly understandable and pleasant response for further encouragement.

    I think the most challenging part of the query scenario is subjectivity; the only method to combat it is thorough research of the agent you are querying.

  5. Judith A. Grout said:

    It is comforting to know the majority of queries submitted are at least reviewed, at best read in entirety. The best way to get agents’ eyes beyond the first paragraph is to create a zinger of a hook so they keep reading. Of course, that catcher of a hook depends on a triple AAA rating story backing it up.

  6. Christina Morgan said:

    While it is frustrating not to get feedback on why the query was rejected, at least Kristin’s rejection letters…exist. Not only that, they are polite and at least make me feel like my query was in fact read. Today I got “the call”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Kristin (who’s been at the top of my wish list for years), but maybe one day, now that I’m getting closer….:)

  7. Tyrone said:

    This is a wonderfully helpful post for someone like me who tends to read the tea leaves, and usually comes to less than optimistic conclusions. Immediately after reading this, I went back through my emails, and found quite a few rejections much like the one you outline (in addition to the odd form rejection), and realizing that a lot of agent’s came across as genuinely encouraging, but simply unenthused, felt a little bit better about this whole aspiring to be a writer thing.

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