Pub Rants

Oh The Foibles of Email

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STATUS: Gorgeous day. Unfortunately Chutney is sick and I need to run her to the vet this morning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SENTIMENTAL LADY by Bob Welsh

The problem with email is that sometimes the tone is not clear—or it can be very open to interpretation.

First off, just let me say that most agents have a standard rejection letter. It’s not good or bad or in any way a personal reflection on you as a writer. It’s simply a standard letter so that writers get a response versus none at all.

Isn’t it in the Godfather movies where he says, “This isn’t personal; it’s business” or some derivation of that?

That’s how you have to view standard rejection letters.

Now of course I have one as well. In the past, I’ve received numerous compliments on how nice my standard letter is. Great. I’m glad it works for some people.

But every once in a while I get an email reply from a frustrated writer that would like to critique the letter. Yesterday, the writer had a problem with the line “After all, it just takes one “yes” and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match.”

The writer found the phrase condescending, insulting and ridiculous because in her view, it’s not easy to land an agent, that a writer doesn’t have many options, and the market is hard to break into. So my guess is that she has concluded that I’m being unnecessarily cavalier by indicating that it just takes finding the right match in my standard rejection letter.

But I include the line because in many instances, it’s true. I pass on lots of manuscripts that don’t work for me but are sell-able projects that other agents have liked, taken on, and then sold.

So the line is in fact true. For some writers I’ve rejected, it really was about finding the right match. Not for all the writers rejected, mind you, but for some, yes it was.

Tomorrow I think I’ll share my standard rejection letter. Break it down and analyze why I include the things I do in it. Maybe there’s a better way. You guys can chime in and if what you say is valuable, maybe it’s time for a revision. I’m always open.

43 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, you seem like a wonderful agent. When I am done with my novel i will query you first. I love your approach to the business and your blog is GREAT!

  2. Kimber An said:

    Kristin is a wonderful agent to query first, Anon 10:25. She was my first waaay back in August. I’ve learned so much from her. I kind of feel bad that she was my guinea pig though.

    I see no need to break down the rejection letter. The writer was probably already unhappy when she received it. Perception is colored by mood.

  3. S. said:

    I didn’t mind any of the phrasing in your rejection. I was just plain excited that someone wanted to read thirty pages at all, and in truth, after a lot of thought and consideration I realized that I did not match well with your agency. That’s life.

    Rejection is rejection is rejection. Paint the nicest face you can on it, but it is still rejection. I don’t think you should feel too stressed about how each individual yahoo reacts to your letter, because that’s not your gig… it’s theirs.

    Have you ever seen one boxer apologize to another for caving in his nasal cavity? No. That’s because they are two professionals performing their job, and boxers get their faces pounded on. It is not just an occupational hazard, it’s an occupational certainty.

    The same thing applies to this lovely industry. If you can’t take the emotional drubbing of rejection, don’t do it. I’d have been satisfied if your note had held something as simple as, “Nope. Sorry. Better luck next time.” The end result is all the same.

    Let them get pissed, and launch the verbal equivalent of a zip gun attack here in cyber space (anonymously, of course). The assaults seem to unify your readers, and sometimes they make for fun reading.

  4. Anonymous said:

    I love e-mail, and a rejection is a rejection to me, whether on paper or the screen. I appreciate the nice ones, and move on.

    Sounds like somebody was having a bad day, and improperly took it out on you. That’s neither professional nor a great idea–burning bridges that haven’t been crossed, and all that.

    Your form rejection letter is fine (yes, I’ve got my very own ;)). Don’t sweat it.

    Thanks for your blog.

  5. Christine said:

    I’m sure that when I get mine, should you choose to send me one (or…yanno…not. Not would be good) it’ll be fine.

    People who reply to rejection notes haven’t been in the business long, or they’d know how tacky it is.

    You seem like a very nice person, and it’s hard to let someone down nicely.

    Getting an agent IS really hard, by the way :D.

  6. Michael May said:

    Who are these people who argue and complain about rejection letters instead of just moving on to the next submission or query?

    I don’t care how long you’ve been in the business. That’s just silly.

  7. Cindy Procter-King said:

    Sorry Chutney is sick.

    What a great idea to post your rejection letter and allow your blog readers to reject–er, critique it.

    The tone-in-email-thing is very tricky, open to so many variables, including the recipient’s mood. And leading to the proliferation of smiley faces and also exclamation marks–just so the recipient will realize the “typer” isn’t in a snit. I’m not an exclamation-point type person, yet I find my emails are littered with them. The smiley faces, too. Oh, the pressure.


  8. Christine said:


    Okay, so I got one. It really wasn’t that bad. I’ve had worse. (I hope the previous posting didn’t color your decision any -eek!)


  9. Anonymous said:

    One thing to consider when deciding to take exception to an agent’s response is the fact that you will likely never be able to submit to them again.
    What happens when your second novel is better than the first?
    Use that frustration and anger and channel it into worthy causes, like submitting to more agents, rewriting your novel or take a leap of faith and self publish.

  10. 'drew said:

    Back in grad school, when I submitted a lot of short stories to literary magazines, I got one form rejection that I found appalling. It was a full page photocopied, and had a syrupy apologetic tone: “We know how much it stings to feel rejection. We certainly wish we didn’t have to reject so many talented writers. It is not our intention to discourage you from writing, because you must put so much hard work into it.” It seemed really condescending to me. And yet I certainly didn’t write them back to complain about it. Perhaps my definition of condescending is quite different from hers; I think it’s condescending to assume that an aspiring writer is going to be amateurish.

    Less is more sometimes. A simple “It’s a no” may seem harsh, but that’s the essence of what a rejection says. Not much more is necessary.

  11. Colorado Writer said:

    A personal rejection from Sara was quite helpful, as it helped me realize my MS was not YA, but MG. Saved me a lot of heartache. (The full MS is now under consideration with 5 appropriate publishers because of your helpful and encouraging letter. Thank you.

  12. The Grump said:

    Wasn’t “LOL” invented because it’s sometimes hard to interpret emails?

    I’ll add my vote for a look at your standardized rejection letter.

  13. Miss Guzzums said:

    I actually did that one time, but it’s probably because I’m immature (considering the fact that I’d do it again). It wasn’t for a query (I’ve never written a book–I just love reading author stuff because I like the career), but it was for an academy. They liked my grades and they liked my violin playing skills, but they rejected me because of my personality. They asked me for an interview (which they only do for people they’re considering) and they didn’t like me, so I got rejected. And I’m positive that that’s why I got rejected, because I pretty much got it from the horse’s mouth. They didn’t word it like that when they were telling me, but it was pretty much a way of saying “we really can’t stand you.”

    Major self-esteem killer right there. So I wrote them an email about how rude and condescending they were.

    And I really don’t regret it either, because I like how I am, and I don’t think that the fact that they don’t like my personality should stop them from letting me in.

    Besides, it was the Bergen Academies, that school that the author of “Opal Mehta” went to.

  14. kathrynoh said:

    To me, a rejection is a rejection no matter how it’s worded. The only thing that bugs me is when the rejection is so wordy and wafty, it takes a while to figure out that it is a rejection.

    I’ve had a few letters from magazines like that. If it’s a NO, I want to know straight up.

    Hope Chutney is well soon.

  15. Anonymous said:

    I hope I never get an “LOL” in a rejection e-mail, considering I write horror and paranormal.

  16. Maprilynne said:

    I didn’t have a good story for Kristen, another agent snapped me right up. I think Kristen is fabulous. Really. I think she’s wonderful. But working with my agent it’s clear that my story is better suited for her.

    But I still love Kristen’s advice so much I read her blog every day even though I have no intention of ever leaving ym agent.

    And I think her rejection letter(s) (yeas, I’ve gotten multiple:)) are very polite and encouraging. A rejection form her does not mean a rejection from everyone and i think it is very thoughtful of her to point that out.

  17. 2readornot said:

    I think your letter is one of the nicer ones…to me, it’s encouraging and a good reminder that there are different opinions.

  18. Tori Scott said:

    “After a careful reading, we are sorry to say that we don’t believe that we are the right agency for you.”

    When you include this line, does it mean for all projects, as in please don’t send us anything else, or just for the one book?

  19. Anonymous said:

    Nadia Cornier just did this same thing with her rejection letter. I’ll tell you what I told her. Once I see the words that it’s not right for you, usually right at the top, I’ve already moved on to my list of who else to query. I might give it a cursory glance in case you’ve written something personal to me, but generally form rejections are easy to spot and I can’t see any reason to keep reading. Sometimes I think agents take sending rejections harder than the writers take them. Even those of us who sell get rejections and have gotten tons in the past. You just move on.

  20. r louis scott said:

    Well, now I’m all curious. If you don’t post your standard rejection letter tomorrow, I will be forced to query you with my as yet unfinished 250K word historical fiction masterpiece.

    Yes, I know you don’t represent that.

    Yes, I know 250K words is too long.

    But if that’s what it is going to take to see “The Letter”, then that’s what I will have to do…

  21. Eileen said:

    Aw Chutney… what he’d do get into the garbage? Mine love to dumpster dive or eat half decayed crab bits on the beach and then are somehow shocked they feel bad.

    Rejection stinks. Some people take it for what it is worth and move on, some make tiny agent voodoo dolls, some send nasty emails. I’m pretty sure no matter what you letter said someone wouldn’t like it.

  22. The Writing Writer said:


    Having personally experienced your rejection letter in the past, I can say that it is certainly well written and pleasant. Also, your response is timely. That’s important, too, in my opinion.

    The part that’s got to go, though, is the “Dear Author.” To me, that is more a slap in the face than the content of any form letter.

    Most of the rejections I’ve received from agents at least include the common courtesy of addressing me by my name — even though the rest is standard form.

    Simple email tools make it possible to do that without much effort.

    It makes a huge difference.

    After all, savvy writers know that no agent wants to be addressed as “Dear Agent.” Writers, perhaps, deserve the same tiny bit of respect.

    Just my humble opinion, of course.

  23. 'drew said:

    the grump: LOLs and smileys are used to add lightheartedness to something that might seem too serious without. Like if you need something from someone, but don’t want to be seen as demanding, you can add a smiley.

    However, it’s entirely wrong for a rejection letter, which you hope doesn’t seem lighthearted. I’d be quite perturbed if I got a rejection that said, “Your manuscript is not right for me. LOL!”

  24. Anonymous said:

    It might be nice to see you break down the standard rejection letter, but what would be the point? The only thing that matters is the fact that it says, “No.” That is all I care about and all I need.

  25. ian said:

    I don’t mind a form rejection. Heck, it’s better in every way than the agent – who shall remain nameless – who scrawled “NOT FOR ME” on the outside of my SASE and mailed it back to me empty.

    Come on, how is THAT supposed to encourage us to keep writing?

    Anyway, I’ve queried Kristin before and certainly will again. I must agree with Kimber An – she’s wonderful in how supportive she is to those of us slaving away behind our keyboards. 🙂


  26. Anonymous said:

    I didn’t mind the tone of your rejection letter when I received it a few weeks ago. However, it was my first and while I understood that it was a no, the wording left me a tad perplexed and searching for the meaning between the lines such as whether or not you liked the general plot of the novel or if it was the voice that put you off.

    But I think that’s a common first rejection misunderstanding like when a parent tells you that you cannot do something and you want to know why. I am glad that you were my first rejection. It was a lot better than just plain no.

  27. LadyBronco said:

    As someone who has her very own rejection letter from Agent Kristen, I have to chime in, too.

    It was a nicely worded letter, and I personally saw no problems with it.

    (She was my guinea-pig, too…wow, I have learned a lot since then!)

  28. Anonymous said:

    I don’t see any real need for you to go through it, Kristen. You have in the previous blogs I thought. Anyway, it’s fine. The only time I want to see something beyond, “No, not for me,” is if you saw something in it you particularly liked. It’s always encouraging to see some sort of note about what was good about the query, partial, or ms, even if it’s just a “this is good writing, but not suited for me.” I’ve had 20 odd rejections on my current ms, including from you, and all were form except from the one who actually read some of the ms and said I was obviously a talented writer but he just didn’t connect with the story. It was one extra line, told me they had actually read some of it, and was encouraging enough to keep me plugging away on it with other agents. Once I hit 50 or so rejections, then I’ll start to think it just isn’t ready or right yet. Keep up the wonderful, informative blog.


  29. Judy said:

    Delurking here to say that said author must not read your blog because she would have known you are the least condescending person in the world!

    Lurking again…

  30. Deb said:

    nkThe only “bad” rejection, IMO, is the one that came from a publisher to whom I hadn’t sent anything. Yes, this really happened. Ask my crit partner if you don’t believe me.

    The editor & I met at a conference; I pitched a couple completed books to him & we agreed, very cordially, that my stuff would not be a good fit for that house, and I wouldn’t be submitting to them.

    Three months later I get a rejection letter for “your books” with a thank you for considering that publisher. It was so funny, and yet a reflection on that house and how frazzled the employees must get–you think the assistant who wrote this letter wondered where the SASE and the actual submissions were?


  31. Anonymous said:

    The worst rejections EVER are these nutty agents trying to sell their own stupid books. How DARE they use my SASE to mail me an advertisement for their book. That is as unprofessional as one can get, IMO.

  32. Demon Hunter said:

    Some writers are going to be cranky no matter what the rejection states. To me, it does not matter what it says on the rejection (unless it’s some sound advice), it’s still a rejection. As Miss Snark would say, “Query widely!”

  33. S. said:

    This is what I got:

    “Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Agency sample pages of INSERT NOVEL NAME HERE.

    After a careful reading, we are sorry to say that we don’t believe that we are the right agency for you.

    You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one “yes” and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match.

    Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.”

    That’s fairly neat, polite and clean. It’s not a “You suck, burn your keyboard” letter, and it’s not the standard form letter stating the market isn’t right at this moment for your work (printed on a third of a piece of paper, to save on paper expenses, with the print leaking from the cheap mimeograph machine that was used).

    As rejections go, I like it. Does that sound weird? At least it was addressed to me.

  34. Janny said:

    Yes, I’ve received the reject from Kristin as well, and people are right…rejection is rejection. It’s sad however you slice it, but at least Kristin’s nice about it.

    But I, too, had a question about the sentence, “After a careful reading, we are sorry to say that we don’t believe that we are the right agency for you.”

    Some agents can tell from reading one of your magnum opera that they’re not going to like anything else you do. They just don’t care for your voice, your style, something about your writing, and in those cases, it’d be a waste of everybody’s time for you to query with other stuff. They’d just have to find a nice way to tell you, “I just don’t like what you do, so don’t send anything else here,” and that’s a no-win for everybody! 🙂

    So when you say that you’re not the right agency for us, does that apply only to that one work? Is there a second “form letter” that goes out to people that says, “But feel free to query me with something else”? Or if we get the first one, should we get the hint not to come back?

    Yeah, I know I’m clueless. But inquiring minds DO want to know.

    I also vote a strong “Please fix this!” to the “Dear Author” opening. “Dear Author” is NEVER good news, so you know before you even get to the rest of the letter that it’s a NO. But it really does soften the NO a lot if you use my name. That at least proves you know whom you’re writing to (and it’s been known to happen that agents or editors literally don’t!)…so just give me that little bit of self-esteem and attention, wouldya?

    Yup, I’m not only clueless, but I’m whining, too. 🙂 Write it off to just having received a #^$%@*!!e-mail rejection from another agent (not Kristin)today. (sigh)


  35. V said:

    Having collected a few rejections myself I say The Rejected One needs to develop a thicker hide. Sometimes the rejections are polite, sometime they’re rude and others are just business-like, but as long as the reasons are clearly stated, I don’t see a problem. Offering encouragement is just a nice extra.

    However, if you want the exercise…

  36. Sam Lytle said:

    I liked the rejection letter from Kristin, actually. The apology in saying it is a standard for letter was very helpful. For every “we find this work interesting, but…” letter one gets, you have to take a moment and wonder if the Agent actually read it or just tossed off their form letter. The fact that your rejection letter says “This is a form letter” and “your work is intriguing” means that I don’t have to pause and wonder if I was just only slightly off the mark.

    This was also the most professional letter I’ve received, which is another reason I keep coming back to the site. The funniest thing is is that the most unprofessional rejections I’ve gotten have been from the Canadian Agents I’ve contacted as I am Canadian. One of the letters even said “Sorry, we’re not accepting this genre” when it was listed directly on the site that they were.

    All-in-all, I really appreciate the honesty in the rejection letter and on this blog.

  37. Anonymous said:

    I’ve seen some downright rude rejections from plenty of US agents; primarily of the New York breed. Some of the standard form letters I don’t mind- if I can tell they came off a printer just for me (even if it’s “dear author”), on letterhead, and the signature is real and in contrasting ink to the rest of the letter. I don’t even care if an intern did it– just so long as it’s not from a pile of frigging pre-printed slips on 15 pound white bond, cut into an uneven rectangle and undoubtedly shoved into my return envelope two hours after my query is received, by the agent’s slow-witted nephew Alvin.

    Worse are the ones I never see a return on… my SASE wasted because some rude a-hole in Massapequa (sorry DM) can’t find the time to send even a rejection in the space of an entire year (nor can said agent respond to the e-mail follow-up, as prescribed by her own bio, requesting notice if the query was ever even received).

    Whew. And here I was thinking I wasn’t bitter.

  38. Colorado Writer said:

    I wish there was a standard rejection phrase for each situation like we see on Publishers Marketplace regarding deals…

    “not right for our list”=no
    “not taking on new clients at this time”=maybe someone else, but not you.
    “can not use it at this time”=no and not ever
    “not a match for____books”=no and have you even read anything we’ve published?
    “not what I am looking for at this time”=no and not ever in a million years
    “must pass” I am trapped under the mass amounts of paper in my office
    “cute story, but the premise didn’t grab me”=no, what were you thinking?

  39. BuffySquirrel said:

    Just the other day I was reading a writer’s comments on the feedback they’d got from an agent (not Kristin) about their “hook”. Apparently the agent didn’t like the hook because “they don’t like SF” (so why do they represent it?) and because they were “tired” from reading so many hooks (er, it’s their day job). Many people are looking for reasons why it’s you, not them. No letter ever devised can redress that.

  40. zildjian said:

    wish my first book didn’t suck- racked up lots of rejection, just because it was unpolished and quite possibly amateurish. all those rejections helped, though, because they made me look at it with different eyes. all the issues with it have become fairly clear to me, and I have moved on to something better- leaving out all the problems I had with the first one. this one isn’t too big. this one has fewer perspective jumps, and while it’s fantasy, it has a solid foundation in believable reality. best of all, it has a hook I hope agents will piss themselves over, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like it on the shelves. I’ve got to thank the agents who rejected me- that other book needed to be put to bed.

  41. s. said:

    I’m with you, BuffySquirrel. As in every profession, there are going to be some folks that are just plain burned out and looking for an exit strategy. With the volume of material shoved down the average agent’s throat in a single year, it’s a wonder it doesn’t happen more often.

    I just have this vision of George Costanza as an agent, typing, “It’s not you, it’s me…”

  42. Kim said:

    Anon 1:26 – The same thing happened to me! I’m pretty sure it was the same agent, too. Aggravating, but it sure made crossing them off my list a lot easier! 🙂