Pub Rants

Rejection—The Humane Way?

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STATUS: I’m feeling great because Chutney is finally on the mend. A puppy dog with diarrhea is not a pleasant thing. She’s curled up and sleeping on her snuggle ball right now. And of course she comes to the office. What’s funny is that she’s not the only dog at the offices in our building. It’s a very Colorado thing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FNT by Semisonic

I have to say I’m a little curious as to how this little experiment will unfold. As promised, I said I would post my standard rejection letter.

Here it is. I’ve included my comments about the letter in blue. I’ve had this letter, or a close version of it, for the last four years. It may be time for change.

March 14, 2007

Dear Author:
Some salutation seems necessary. We used to include the writer’s name but that was too time-consuming. Not to mention, this is a standard letter and wouldn’t “Dear Author” signal it as so?

Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Literary Agency your query.
And we mean this. Thank you.

We’d like to apologize in advance for this standard rejection letter. Standard letters are so impersonal so we do want to apologize for it. The volume of queries as of late has been too overwhelming to personalize our response anymore. Very true and that’s why we have a standard letter. Rest assured, we do read every query letter carefully and although your work sounds intriguing, we’re sorry to say that we don’t believe we are the right agency for you. I imagine that a lot of writers don’t believe that we read query letters carefully but we really do. Also, many writers have mentioned getting annoyed with the “although your work sounds intriguing” line. After all, if it’s so intriguing, why aren’t we asking for sample pages? Good question. I can’t think of a better way to handle this. Sometimes we do really get intriguing letters but it’s not a book I would pick up and read so ultimately it’s not right for me—but the idea is sound.

You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents. We want to be encouraging after all and it could just be us that doesn’t like the query. After all, it just takes one “yes” and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match. I explained this line yesterday. Sometimes it really does come down to finding the right agent match who loves the idea and the work.

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors. We want to end on a positive note.

Kristin Nelson
Sara Megibow
Signed by both of us. Here’s an interesting tidbit. I used to read all my queries but then it got too overwhelming and I couldn’t expend the time on it. In the beginning of my agency, a good day was when we received 10-15 email queries. Now we receive anywhere from 50 to 80 a day. I got desperate so I hired Sara and trained her to screen the queries for me (among other things).

So, Sara reads them all. I only read a percentage of them since Sara will set aside the queries she wants me to read. I will then say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on whether to look at sample pages from that batch.

So technically, it is a process with both of us involved and I wanted folks who query us to know that.

So that’s the letter. Things we can’t do.

1. Mention or recommend other agents.

We get requests for this all the time but I like my colleagues and want them to continue liking me so including recommendations is not an option.

2. Personalization of the letter.

It literally is too time-consuming. I know this because we used to do it. I know there are software programs that can drop in the writer’s name as well as the title of the project but I wonder if that’s misleading. This is a standard rejection letter after all. The point is for writers to not take it personally and adding those touches may make the letter a little less impersonal but it’s still a standard one.

What’s better or worse?

65 Responses

  1. cynjay said:

    I think this is a fine standard rejection letter – it is what it is and not much else you can say will make it otherwise. You are a couple of midwestern gals who hates to disappoint – but you have to.

    Any writer who has been around the block will understand about all of the comments in blue – you could come to my house and reject me in person and it would still be a bummer. We know what you’re saying between the lines. If a writer has issues with your letter they might want to rethink their chosen profession – it’s all part of the biz.

    I made my first PB sale with the same MS and letter right after getting a form rejection that was poorly xeroxed on a half piece of paper – no sense wasting an entire sheet of paper saying no.

    Leave it alone – we get it. Or at least, we should.

  2. Anonymous said:

    All rejections are disappointing – but part of this crazy business… What I DO appreciate is the fact that you take the time to respond to every query and not utilize the becoming-more-popular(and even easier than a form letter) caveat that “if we don’t like your query, we won’t be responding…”
    To me, that’s more than disappointing – it’s just not particularly good manners…

  3. nitpicker said:

    I’m only a lurker here, but I feel that you must *must* take out the statement “although your work sounds intriguing.” This is tantamount to a lie, because there is no way that you think *every single* query you get sounds intriguing. And if you do somehow believe everything sounds intriguing, “intriguing” must be such a vague and banal term in your understanding that it is essentially meaningless.

    I know you want to make people feel good about themselves, but a flat-out lie doesn’t help anyone. You want to know the real damage? A while ago I received a personal rejection letter from an agent that said I had a “fresh, witty voice.” At first, I was pleased by the compliment, but now I wonder if she wasn’t just trying to be nice. After all, I think, Agent Kristen lies to spare the feelings of her queriers.

    Is that the reputation you want?

  4. The Ames said:

    I agree with nitpicker’s comment, as it was the only thing I had issue with as I read the letter. I’m sure you get some truly awful queries, and why lump those in with those that are great, just not right for you, specifically?

  5. Anonymous said:

    I, too, wonder about the “sounds intriguing” part. It’s the sort of thing that sounds personalized, while the rest of the letter doesn’t. Thus, it might give false hope or cause the writer to try to read more into the rest of the letter.

    That’s my only quibble. The rest of it is lovely, very encouraging, and a good (and sometimes much-needed) reminder that one rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the manuscript should be hidden under the bed forever.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I agree with the ‘work sounds intriguing’ part. I’m one of the writers that got rejected with this letter. I felt like that was something personal when I received it, but it made me confused because I you said at the beginning it was a standard rejection letter. When I read the blog entry, I knew for sure that everyone gets that letter, so it said nothing about my writing. I think it’s a very nice letter and let me down easy, but that one sentence shouldn’t be there, IMHO.

    Rejection is a part of the business and a thick skin is essential. Thanks for being so nice about it!

  7. Anonymous said:

    Wow! I now realize my rejection letter was actually a personal one! I don’t know whether to feel old or honored.

    Unless you never, ever want to hear from the writer ever again, I suggest you change the ‘not the right agency for you’ sentence. Some agents have been baffled recently by writers not submitting new stories after having one query rejected. This sentence is why.

  8. Katherine E. Hazen said:

    The only things I think you might want to change are your work sounds intriguing and not the right agency for you (if you want people to re-query for new projects). Both points have already been brought up and I have to say I agree. Otherwise it’s a very nice rejection. A little encouragement rather than a simple ‘not right for us’.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I’m in agreement with the “work sounds intriguing” part. I’ve seen that in more than a few rejection letters and it always made me wonder why it was in there— its a form letter, so the agent can’t give you a compliment specific to your project. So what you’re saying is that every single piece of slush is intriguing, and that’s not true.

    Other than that it was polite and concie!!

  10. Steph said:

    Try this one:

    “Thank you for contacting the Nelson Literary Agency. Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we don’t think we are the right agency to represent your work. Best of luck with your writing endeavors.”

    I am at the point where I most always see a little SOMETHING personal, but would completely understand if it is not warranted.

    Please respond either way. Not knowing whether my e-query was even received/read is worse than a poorly-worded rejection.

    Thank you for sharing your trepidation with us. It’s a hard-knocked life either way.

  11. Anonymous said:

    1. “your work sounds intriguing”

    This is one that I take some issue with. You shouldn’t mention the quality of the work at all. Resist the temptation to make any type of commentary. Just skip it altogether.

    2. “not the right agency for you.”

    Assuming you want queriers to still feel welcome to query other projects, this is inaccurate. It should say “not the right agency for this project,” or something similar. Leave the door open for other things.

    Maybe the sentence should read more like: “We do read every query letter carefully and we’re sorry to say that we don’t believe we are the right agency for your project.”

    It’s just an idea.

    Other than that, I think this is a lovely letter, Kristin. It’s refreshing that someone could be this nice while delivering bad news.

  12. Anonymous said:

    I agree — “intriguing” must go. The people who know better are the ones who won’t believe it, and the people who believe it are probably the ones whose queries aren’t all that intriguing.

    I actually like your little note in blue: “Sometimes it really does come down to finding the right agent match who loves the idea and the work.” — perhaps clean that up and tack it on after that sentence that gets you in trouble?

  13. Anonymous said:


    I received this letter from you, I made through about two sentences when my brain clued-in standard rejection letter. I’ve gotten them from the NY agents, and they are just as polite in theirs, so it’s not because you are a nice mid-western gal. It’s because you have enough manners not to do something like stamp NO! in red on our query letters (work with me here, I am very aware all your letters are email, but I’m trying to make a point)

    “although your work sounds intriguing”

    There’s nothing wrong with the above line. If you didn’t have it in there, then people would complain because your standard rejection letter didn’t offer anything nice. Whatever way you go, it’s a lose-lose situation. You are not going to please everybody. For those offended by your rejection letter, it should be a massively huge flying red flag that you are probably not the agent for them.

    I agree with cynja, “Leave it alone- we get it. Or at least we should.” If people honestly get this bent out of shape over a rejection letter, I could only imagine their reaction when their work is critiqued.

    But that’s just MHO

  14. Anonymous said:

    While “Dear [my name]” is always nice, if I see “Dear Author,” I know I don’t even have to read any further, so I’ve come to sort of like it.

    I agree with the others about removing the “intriguing” and “not the right agency” lines. I like steph’s version.

  15. Christine said:

    How about “while we enjoyed reading about your project (or were intrigued or whatever), we are not as enthusiastic about it as we need to be to consider requesting it.”

    Or something like that. Because even if you did find it intriguing, you may not be jumping up and down about it. You want an agent who’s gonna be jumping up and down about your project.

    And this is a little different than the rejected partial letter, but still very nice.

  16. Dave Kuzminski said:

    Dear Author,

    The voices in my head demand that I respond to you by either stalking someone in a large hotel with an ax in hand or send out a rejection letter. I flipped a coin. Guess which solution got picked in your case? 😉

    The Agent

  17. Cassandra said:

    The line about “although your work sounds intriguing” would probably get under my skin if I was a rejected author. I’d believe you read every query you receive but I know for darn sure that not everything you receive can be “intriguing.”

    Maybe something about “we have to say no to a lot of intriguing work but believe you can find a better match for yours elsewhere,” or something.

    Of course I suppose there’s no way around the fact that angry rejected people will always find a way to say, “If it’s so ‘intriguing’ why is she passing on it, huh? Why is she even accepting queries if she has to pass on ‘intriguing’ projects?” But that’s just basic human jackassery, and I wouldn’t worry about it.

    Really though, this is an extremely kind letter. If the graduate programs that rejected me had been this nice I would’ve spent a lot less time cursing their names. Nice of you to send some positive vibes into the universe.

    – CLD

  18. Anonymous said:

    I think the letter is perfectly nice. The only thing I’d change is, as others have already pointed out, rephrasing the “intriguing” sentence because that certainly doesn’t apply to every query you read. I think substituting a simple sentence like the following would suffice:

    “We do read every query carefully, but unfortunately we’re not the right agency to represent this project.”

  19. CM said:

    Another vote for ditch “your work is intriguing.” Maybe something else, like, “We receive queries for many excellent ideas that we must reject because they are not a good fit for our agency.”

    That way it’s true, and doesn’t crush the persons hopes.

  20. Anonymous said:

    I think it’s a good rejection. Personally, I prefer seeing my name in the salutation as opposed to “Author,” and it in no way misleads me to thinking it’s not a form letter. It just seems… I’m not sure, nice. Or somehow less icy and formal. I understand, though, that you just don’t have the time. (And I like the, “It only takes one ‘Yes'” line because, sad as it is, that actually encouraged me when I queried you.)

  21. 2readornot said:

    You have a good point about the personalization…I’d say you might look into it for partials and fulls you reject. But for queries, a form is expected (from me, at least).

  22. Celeste said:

    When I first began querying, I was a little bothered by the whole form-rejection phenomenon, particularly when my name wasn’t even inserted after “Dear”. But that was before I realized there were agencies out there who might not even respond at all to my queries. Suddenly even the harsh red “no” stamp mentioned here sounded courteous!

    You’re letter is to the professional and to the point. But if you want to freshen and tweak it, I think the other commenters have hit on the parts that would have irked me as a newbie.

    Thanks for posting on this topic! I was curious enough to check back for it!!

  23. Anonymous said:

    Okay. First, thanks for giving us writers input. Some might say this is a courageous act, but we aren’t really that scary.

    To put things in perspective, when I get a response (and writer friends agree), I want to know if you want sample chapters or why you don’t. I realize I’ll get few personalized “why you don’t” letters, and I understand that. But skip all the meant-to-be-nice boilerplate verbage. It becomes meaningless after seeing it a couple times (meaning it’s meaningless to anyone who has sent out a few queries).

    I’ve never queried you (you don’t like my genre), but I have to say I’ve heard complaints about your form rejection from writer friends who have. There’s no doubt you’re a nice person, but the complaints come from that line that initiated this blog entry, the one about how we writers can easily find an agent. That is not so. That is so not so. And saying it to us is like rubbing salt in a wound. Seriously.

    Don’t take this as an affront to you personally, but give serious thought to removing that line. Also, consider doing away with the one others have mentioned about how intriguing our query letters are. On a form rejection, what does that mean? Nothing. Why say it?

    My preference is short and sweet (send!) or a real explanation of why you don’t want us to send. But since it’s impossible for an agent to give real reasons with each rejection, short and not so sweet (not for us) is my preference for a rejection.

    Ah, so glad to get to vent that. Thanks for the opportunity. Please take it in the spirit given (constructive criticism).

  24. Iago said:

    I understood the purpose of the “intrigued” phrase. In my opinion it hits the nail perfectly upon the head. Think about it:

    We were intrigued by your storyline.

    We were intrigued by your characterisations.

    We were intrigued by your unique approach to spelling and punctuation.

    We were intrigued by your choice of font colour.

    We were intrigued by your choice of this agency for your book of erotic latin haiku (that’s mine if anyone’s interested).

    I think intrigued can pretty much be applied to everything, good or bad…

  25. Heather Janes said:

    I agree with what was said about the “intriguing” line, as well as the “not right for this agency” part.

    Jessica over at BookEnds more or less blogged on the latter just today. Unless you really want everyone who receives your form letter to never query you again, that should change. Of course, if every single time you see an author from whom you wouldn’t mind receiving a query on a future project, you modify that section anyway.

    As for the line that sparked this whole thing, if you want to change anything I might suggest:
    ‘After all, it just takes one “yes” and there are many different opinions out there’
    or something to that effect. But, honestly, I can understand what you’re saying with it and I don’t know why people seem to be taking it to mean more than what it is.

  26. the writing writer said:

    Well, I stand by my original suggestion that the “Dear Author” part go. The vast majority of rejections I’ve received have addressed me by my name, and I appreciate that.

    And, while it might seem “time consuming,” it’s also true that many of the agents who rejected me by name did so without an assistant’s intervention. I really do believe it’s that important.

    I’ll also admit that the “sounds intriguing” part borders on annoying, yes. It’s clear that for the majority of cases, you and Sara have found absolutely NOTHING intriguing about a given query. So while it is certainly lovely prose, it’s probably a bunch of doo-doo. LOL

    Something like….”While we have carefully considered your letter, we’re sorry to say that we don’t believe we’re the right agency for you.” would be more than sufficient.

    But as someone else in the other comment box mentioned, once one sees “Dear Author,” it’s a given that the answer is “no,” and it hardly matters at all how the rest is worded.

    But “Dear Author” just comes off rude and detached, and as a regular reader of your blog, I know that you are neither. It just isn’t a good reflection of who you are.

  27. Anonymous said:

    I always tell writers to be encouraged when they start getting personal rejections. I’ve seen people misinterpret the “intriguing” comment as such, even though it says “Dear Author.” I’ve also seen people say their rejection (which is an obvious form) is personal simply because their name was in the salutation as opposed to “Author.”

    Writers need reality to improve. I’d ditch the intriguing line as well. Thanks, as always, for yout blog!

  28. kaolin fire said:

    Looks good by me, though I could see ditching the “intriguing” line.

    This is GUD’s:

    [subject][gud] Re: {section}: {submissiontitle}


    Dear {name},

    Thank you for sending us “{submissiontitle}”. Unfortunately, it’s not what we’re looking for at this time.


    Best of luck with this piece in other markets,


    Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine

  29. LindaBudz said:

    A very kind letter, and your post is a testament to the amount of time and thought you are putting into this.

    A couple of comments:

    “Rest assured, we do read every query letter carefully, and although your work sounds intriguing, we’re sorry to say that we don’t believe we are the right agency for you.”

    I don’t like the “intriguing” part, for the same reasons others have expressed.

    I also have a question about the end of that sentence. Do you mean to reject the author outright (i.e., not the right agency for YOU) or just the project (in which case you might wish to change that to “for this project”). Maybe you have a separate letter for those whom you would like to encourage to send additional projects and this letter is intended to discourage sending future work?

    “After all, it just takes one ‘yes’ and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match.”

    The “easily” bothered me, as it has others. Perhaps you could change to say something along the lines of, “After all, it just takes one ‘yes,’ and so we wish you the best in finding an agent who will connect with your project and provide the best possible representation for it.”

    Thanks for asking for our input, and good luck!

  30. Jenny said:

    I think the letter is fine, it is nice to see that you respond to all queries, many do not.

    The only issue I have with the letter is the “sounds intriguing” line because a line is truly what it is. Not every query is intriguing I am sure, I would rather the letter said something like, “although we do not feel your work is a match for us at this time, we encourage you to continue your search for representation.” Intriguing just sounds…for lack of a better word like BS. 🙂

    I love this site and if I had one choice for an agent it would be Kristen Nelson in a heartbeat. When I feel as though my work meets the high standards of Nelson Literary Agency I will query and I hope that when I do nobody is “intrigued” by my work. I would prefer it evoke a strong emotion be it love it or hate it.

    Just my .02 cents.


  31. Anonymous said:

    What’s better or worse?

    To my mind, better is whatever results in the quickest possible response. If the answer is no, then the best thing for the writer is being able to move on and get the project to the next agent or editor. Personalized rejections are nice, but not as nice as shaving some time off the process of finding the person who is right for a project.

    (I’m trying to remember now if this blog has already linked to Making Light’s Slushkiller post, which had good things to say about the dangers of rejectomancy.)

  32. Cindy Procter-King said:

    If it’s not a time constraint issue to have a software program insert the author’s name and title of project (or, very least, the author’s name), then that’s something I like to see in my rejection letters. I still know it’s a form rejection letter, and I know the reasons why form rejection letters are necessary, but it does give a more personal touch.

    Do you use the same rejection letter for queries that you would use for requested partials and/or fulls? If it’s an author you’d like to hear from again, do you send a different form rejection letter? The problem I see with sending form rejection letters is often, no matter how nicely they are worded, is they come across as giving the impression that the writer should never query the agency again, when it’s more usually don’t query with the same project. I’ve received form snail mail rejections with handwritten notes on the side, which is great because it clearly lets you know you were a bit higher up in the rejection pile. Unfortunately, that can’t be done with email form rejections. This is why I wonder if having more than one form rejection is the way to go, maybe not at the query stage, but later.


  33. Anonymous said:

    Personally, I like the letter as-is. I particularly like the “After all, it just takes one “yes” and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match.” Really, it’s a nice, polite, and true. You’re not saying it’s easy to find the right match. You’re saying you could easily find the right match — ie, just because I rejected you, your work isn’t necessarily junk.

    Maybe a softer adjective would work better than intriguing — like “interesting”.

  34. Liz said:

    Just jumping in here.

    Rejection isn’t fun. And depending on the person who is being rejected, it can go two ways:

    (a) They’ll shrug it off and move on, or
    (b) They’ll find a reason to hate you for it.

    If the person is an (A), they probably stopped reading after the phrase “standard rejection letter.” At least for the time being – they might give the full thing a once-over the next day.

    If the person is a (B), it doesn’t matter what you say. Some people deal with rejection by mutual rejection. “Oh, yeah? Well, you suck, too.” Nothing you say in your standard rejection letter will appease them, except maybe “Ha ha! I was kidding. Of course I want to take you on!” tacked on as a postscript.

    Overall, I got the feeling that despite the nature of the letter, it sounded heartfelt. Sincere.

    And then we get to “although your work sounds intriguing…”

    I understand why you included this. I appreciate the reasoning behind it. But I don’t buy it – not in a standard form letter.

    I’m sure there are queries you receive that are interesting, but not the right fit, and in those cases, it would be appropriate. But including that by default makes it feel generic, and it calls into question the other positive attributes of the letter.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is…it’s a bit of a downer.

    I’m also with the pile of commenters who think “not the right agency for you” might be better off phrased “not the right agency for the project.”

    Just my opinion. 🙂

  35. katiesandwich said:

    Finally! For the past week, my slow internet connection has refused to upload the comments section on Blogger! No one is safe anymore; you must listen to me talk once again. 🙂

    I think the letter’s fine, but I understand what people are saying with the “intriguing” bit. I wouldn’t read anything into it, I don’t think (but since I have yet to query, maybe I’m wrong about that!), but yeah, it could be disappointing for some people.

    I do have a question that I’ve been wondering about for some time, though. And I know you don’t usually answer questions, but I thought I’d throw this out there. Since Sara reads all the queries before they get to you, I kind of feel like I should use her name in the salutation. I know the letter is intended to eventually reach you, but for some reason, it seems so weird for me to say, “Dear Ms. Nelson” when I already know full well that you may never see the letter.

  36. Anonymous said:

    As a recipient… I didn’t hate the letter, but the ‘although it sounds intriguing’ did jump out at me – because this was a standard letter and surely not everything you receive is really that intriguing! The rest of that line was fine, though.

    Some of the last para also made me go hmmm: ‘You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents.’ Again it sounded like you were introducing a personal element and also almost like you would be prepared to represent, but not enthusiastically! I actually think that your next line explains it better (your blue line) – ‘We want to be encouraging after all and it could just be us that doesn’t like the query.’ – How about something like: ‘Another agency may feel differently, so please do continue to query widely. With so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match.’

  37. krw3b said:

    What’s really important is that you’re actually putting forth the effort to make it nice for writers. Thank you.

    First of all, IMO, get rid of the first two lines. You do not need to apologize for something that is standard procedure in this industry. (Anyone who’s been around the rejection block knows this.) And you certainly don’t need to provide a reason for a form letter either. Don’t mention the volume of query letters being overwhelming; it makes you seem…well, overwhelmed and out of control. Ax those first two lines.(BTW, Dear Author is fine. It’s a FORM, for crying out loud.)

    Second, I LOVE the part where you mention that you read every query letter. Very reassuring for us insecure writers.

    Third, “You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents” makes it sound like you are a lazy bum! That you can’t offer enthusiasm (not just to this writer, but at all, see?).

    Fourth, I don’t care for the “only takes one yes” because, in truth, we authors labor under the delusion that our work is so fabulous that EVERYONE will say yes. To imply that there might only be one is…disappointing, even if it’s TOTALLY true. Deep down, we’re desperate for just that one, but we’re hoping for more.

    Unless you want people querying Sara specifically (as if she were an agent–please, no offense intended. Im sure she’s indespensable) I’d suggest signing, The Nelson Literary Agency. Otherwise people might think they can query her next.

    Of the hundreds of rejections I’ve received, some of the easiest to swallow contained phrases like:

    “as you know, opinions/these decisions are(or representation is) highly subjective/vary widely, so another agent may have an entirely different opinion.”


    “I feel I am not the right agent to champion/represent this work.”


    “I wish you much success in finding representation/the right agent for your work.”


    “Thank you for sharing this with me” or “Thank you for the opportunity to review your work.”

    Your letter implies some of these phrases, but just misses the mark in delivery.

    The main thing is that you leave the writer with his/her dignity and believing that his/her work is salable; it’s just not a good match with you, that’s all.

    Wow, that was fun! Turning the tables, and all.

    Just my humble opinion, yanno. Thanks again for asking.

    -Kristin (also “…in”)

    P.S. Belly-scratches to Chutney.

  38. Shouga Tea said:

    Goodwill–that’s the feeling I get from this. Yes, it’s impersonal. I’d definitely have a more mixed feeling getting it out of my own mailbox.
    But someone who is ranting on it is upset and forgot to count to more than five.

    Intriguing is a safe word. I’d definitely be able to call awful stuff intriguing, no imagination involved. “Sounds intriguing” is even more safe. I guess the vote is overwhelming against it–but I think it’s far from a lie.

    Buffysquirrel had it right.

  39. Anonymous said:

    Seems to me for such a short rejection letter from your end, the response has been quite a healthy outpour of responses.
    Some great, some not so great, but yet it seems we, the authors, are instructed to 1)Get the name of the agent spelled correctly, that’s Kristin with an “i” mind you, 2)Not to take rejection personally but professionally when if every letter is truly “read” and there are 50-80 letters daily, then mine was bounced back within 3 hours, wow..speed readers, and 3)Since my feelings were removed during my last operation, my only thought was, we, as authors go to such great lengths to get the “right” query to attract the agent’s attention, but don’t deserve the same personalization in return. Seems kind of hypercritical or, do as I say, not as I do.
    So, the skin gets thicker and we trudge on making similar mistakes when all it takes is a little effort on your part, the query agent.
    Life is tough, there is no free lunch but thank God for email, so my rejection is not only “generic” but it’s also quicker. Gotta love it.

  40. Virginia Miss said:

    Thank you for inviting our input.

    I think your rejection letter is fine just as it is. We’re learning to be grateful even to get a rejection — sadly, many agencies are dispensing with that step altogether.

    To get to the nitpicky stuff: if you do decide to change, here’s my two cents:

    The “intriguing” line didn’t bother me.

    I’d prefer to see “not the right agent for this project” — so you’re rejecting the project, not the author

    Lastly, for those who feel the “easily find the right match” rubs salt in the wounds, perhaps revise it to wishing the author luck in finding the right match.

    Again, we appreciate your sensitivity to the whole rejection thing.

  41. Anonymous said:

    It’s a form letter. You apologize for it being a form letter. But it has to be because you’re overwhelmed with query letters — yet you’re _thanking_ me for sending you yet another? Dunno. In some twisted logic, I think because I’m one of the hordes of queriers that I’m responsible for forcing you to send me a form letter. Kill the apology, please.

    After 40-plus comments, I think we’re over-analyzing this letter now anyway. You had me at “Dear Author” and it doesn’t matter what you say after that. The doctor starts your visit off with “You have cancer” and it doesn’t much matter how the conversation goes after that.

    Although, no one else has commented on the word “enthusiastic.” Maybe it’s coincidence, but I’ve seen that phrase in the last 3 form rejections I’ve gotten. Now “enthusiastic” is starting to leave a bad taste in the mouth…

  42. Kyle said:

    The problem with quasi-compliments in standard form rejection letters, is it makes us question responses that may actually be personalized. Also, I personally find the concept of complimenting universally to be patronizing. So I agree with the concensus on the “intriguing” remark.

    One thing I’ve always wondered when agents explain why personalized rejections aren’t possible, is why the only two options that seem to exist are:
    a) personal rejection for every single person
    b) standard form rejection for every single person

    I can just imagine how useful it would be if agents actually had multiple form-rejection letters. Even just 2 or 3. After reading many agent blogs for the past few months, I often read about how a good percentage of queries they receive aren’t even in the right genre, or the word count is too long/short, or other various auto-reject issues, while others are 90% of the way to being worth a partial request, but not QUITe there yet. And yet everyone gets the same rejection letter?

    Would it simply be too much extra work to have, say, rejection forms A and B? As you read through each query you can simply stamp them A-“auto-reject,” or B-“close but no cigar.” That way, in form A you can actually add compliments, such as “we thoroughly enjoyed reading your query, but we weren’t quite excited enough to …” and the in the other one you simply don’t. If people are close to getting past the standard form, give them some encouragement. But if they’re hopelessly clueless, if they should go back to working on their manuscript/partial/query instead of spamming more agents with their unpublishable material, give them a flat, factual, “we regret to inform you that we would like to decline your request for representation for this project” letter.

    Such a system of even just 2 standard rejection forms would help tremendously. I don’t know about everyone else, but every time I get a rejection letter, I battle with myself over whether I simply need to throw out a wider net, or if I should go back and rework my manuscript/partial/query yet again.

  43. Bridget Medora said:

    I like the suggestions about rejecting the project, not the author, and the re-wording of the ‘intriguing’ and ‘easily’ lines. Another good point was that someone (a non-blog-reader 😉 ) might not know that Sara doesn’t represent clients — maybe consider putting your respective titles after your names in the signature.

    JMO. Here’s a grain of salt too. 🙂

    Thank you so much for soliciting our opinions on this! It’s not only thoughtful and resourceful, it’s brave of you as well. It takes guts to put something up for critique online to begin with, and it’s probably even more nerve-wracking when you know that everyone reading it has such a strong interest in it. 🙂 So thank you.

    And thank you for the blog in general. I don’t comment often but I read it every day. 🙂

  44. Jillian said:


    Thank you for a blog that has been, and continues to be, truly informative and insightful.

    My “2 cents” on “Dear Author:”

    If a writer has carbon copied 50 agents with a generic query that lacks research, substance, and business savvy, then yes, he deserves a “Dear Author” response.

    If a writer has carefully researched, fine-tuned the query for a particular agent, and has taken the time to check all facts, spelling of the agent’s name, etc., then at the very least that author deserves to be addressed by his name in the rejection letter.

    Just my humble opinion.

  45. 'drew said:

    I’d also remove “intriguing.” I don’t think the word has degraded in meaning as much as “interesting” has, so it really does suggest interest. That is, if I’m at a party, telling someone about my work and they reply “That’s intriguing” I’ll tell them more, but if they reply “That’s interesting” I’ll allow them to politely change the topic. “Your work is intriguing” doesn’t fit with the rejection–if you really think it’s intriguing, you’ll want to read more. If you don’t want to read more, then it’s not quite honest to say that it’s intriguing.

    When I did work for a small lit magazine, we had three form rejection slips. I called them the Greg, the Peter and the Bobby. The Greg note said we would like to read more. The Peter note thanked the writer for submitting and wished them best of luck placing it elsewhere. The Bobby note advised the writer to read some issues of literary magazines before submitting again. That note primarily was sent to people who sent children’s poetry.

  46. Anonymous said:

    I’d have to agree with everyone on the intriguing part. If you really wish to inform someone that you found their idea intriguing, which to me means you liked it but for one or more reasons it isn’t right for you (writing needs work, wrong genre, etc.) then send the intriguing one or some other version with encouraging words. If there is evidence of general cluelessness, then dump the encouraging remarks. I like to know that any encouraging remarks are legitimately meant and not a generic pat on the head. Really though, rejection is a rejection for the most part. As long as you aren’t condescending or snotty about it, it’s pretty much all the same.


  47. Patrick McNamara said:

    Considering the previous blog topic, you might want to include something about the genres you accept. And if you have multiple forms letters, you could have one for those who send the wrong material. For instance, since you handle some sci-fi, you probably get writers who send sci-fi stories that aren’t right for your agency. If you had a form letter addressing that mistake, they would be less likely to send you something that isn’t suited to you in the future.

  48. Anonymous said:

    In recent blog post an agent mentioned that in all the years they’ve been in publishing they’ve never actually had any “big” books from unsolicicited queries. And that any “big” books have either been nuturued or they’ve gone after them. But never from unsolicited queries. Whether or not this is the standard for all agents I don’t know. But it does say something about the entire query process for this particular agent.

    However, no means NO. It could be a form letter, a red stamp or a personal embossed card. No still means NO and if you’re going to be writers get used to it.

  49. Anonymous said:

    Hi Kristin,

    Personally, I would cut the line, “and although your work sounds intriguing.” You’ve already said it’s a form letter, so it just doesn’t ring true.

    Just say: Rest assured, we do read every query letter carefully and we’re sorry to say that we don’t believe we are the right agency for you.

    And as for the other controversial line, I would cut it down to: After all, it only takes one “yes.”

    But truly this is the nicest form rejection I’ve ever read. I commend you for being so polite in your response, not all agents are as kind. If I didn’t have an agent, and a book deal, already I would query you after reading this post.

  50. Anonymous said:

    I submitted my first ever query letter a couple of weeks ago, got my first ever, standard rejection letter. What’s the big deal?
    Save us both some time and just write “Sorry, NO.” in big red letters and I’ll move on to someone else. It would be nice to sell it, but the real satisfaction is in the writing.
    I did appreciate that you got the letter out quickly. Obviously I didn’t make it past Sara.
    Tempest in a teapot. Don’t have a cow, man.

  51. beth said:

    I haven’t read all the comments yet (54!) so this may have been mentioned already. The only part I didn’t like was the bit that said the query sounded intriguing. After the “Dear Author” salutation and the apology for the form rejection, that sounded disingenuous and patronizing. Maybe some of the queries you receive and reject are intriguing, but you know darn well that many of them are cliched, bland, or incomprehensible. “Not right for us” is preferable to a false-sounding attempt to make an obvious form rejection sound personal when you’ve already admitted it isn’t.

    The rest of the letter is fine. I like the encouragement at the end about looking for the right agent. And I know you meant well with the “intriguing” line but (for me, anyway) it leaves a bad taste.

  52. B.E. Sanderson said:

    Glad to see your pup-tart is feeling better.

    I don’t see a problem with your rejection letter, but I’ve seen lots of these by now. I think if I looked at it from a newbie standpoint, the line about the work being intriguing might make someone wonder why you rejected it if it was so intriguing.

    They’ll get over it. After the first dozen form rejections, it’s like water off a duck’s back.

  53. Sariah S. Wilson said:

    I thought the rejection letter was very nice, and I think most authors would appreciate that.

    However, I do have to say that the “intriguing” bit completely jumped out at me as strange because this is your standard form rejection and I don’t believe that every query you get is intriguing. I’d be there’s quite a few that make Sara want to stab her eyes out with a pencil so she won’t have to read them any more. 🙂

    I agree with everyone above that the intriguing part should be removed, because I think it might give those desperately looking for a personal message some false hope.

  54. Lesley said:

    I agree with all the comments on “your work sounds intriguing,” obviously it didn’t or you probably wouldn’t be receiving a form rejection letter.

    I also agree that if you would like to see more projects from author’s that you’ve rejected then the “this is not the right agency for you” needs to be revised. On the other hand if you aren’t interested in hearing from an author after you’ve initially rejected them, then by all means leave it in.

    I have to completely and whole-heartedly disagree with all the comments that you should make your rejection letters more personalized. I know that its not that complicated to personalize each letter, but even if you have fields that automatically fill out most information you will probably be wasting time making sure the program didn’t screw it up as programs are apt to do. I appreciate a quick response far more than a personalized “we didn’t want your work so move on.”

  55. d.a. said:

    I don’t like the intriguing bit or the right agency for you thing either.

    The advice about pressing on to find the right agency is a little misleading- my wife stood there saying, “See? She liked it… but why didn’t she want it? Why didn’t she recommend another agency? Why is the sky blue? Why, why whywhywhy… ad infinitum”

    Short. Simple, brutal but polite. “This work is not a good fit for our agency.” Not the author, the work. That way they might query again with something different. Do not be a blower of sunshine up our shorts.

    As for the “dear author” debate… these are e-mails, not typewritten letters. If you have the time to click “respond”, you don’t have the nine seconds to type in a name? Come on.

  56. writtenwyrdd said:

    I used to write form letters for personnel rejections, and that still took an hour or so to make the list that dumped into the form letter.

    You are talking 80 a day…that’s 240 a month, thereabouts. The time to type in addresses and names, double check yourself, double check that it printed properly, and all that jazz would eat a full day.

    Just send the “Dear Author” letter. You have better uses for your time.

  57. the writing writer said:

    That’s the crux of my point, d.a. I’ve received responses from other agents even more quickly than Kristin’s came (and yes, she is prompt), and they did not say “Dear Author.”

    It’s common courtesy. Not a huge deal, and no emotions attached. Like others have said, a rejection is a rejection. I’m so beyond the emotional response. It’s simply a courtesy issue, in my opinion.

  58. Anonymous said:

    One of my first rejections was handwritten in red pen across the bottom of the query: “Sorry, not right for us.”

    No need to print anything, or personalize anything, succinct and to the point.

    Maybe a red rubber stamp with the same thing would do?

  59. Anonymous said:

    I look at this the same way I look at those letters you get from the HR department after not getting a job. The fact that you’re getting a letter at all (as opposed to a phone call or possibly, in today’s age, an email) should pretty much tell you what’s up, so you’re already set to be in a snit. That being the case, it’s almost a guarantee that something in the letter won’t sit right with you. I can see how the whole “intriguing” thing might ring a little hollow but the truth is Kristen, DIYDDIYD. The main thing is you take the time to respond rather than leave people hanging. To quote my grandfather, Nobody ever said the medicine was gonna taste good.

  60. Anonymous said:

    I got your standard rejection after you read a partial and, while I was dissapointed, I thought it was a friendly, kind letter. I still have it in my email box, actually.

  61. C. Anne Morgan said:

    I’ve read your rejection letter a couple of times now, and I can’t find anything with which I would take issue. It’s a ton better than the guy who wrote “REJECTED” in big, red, capital letters on the back of my unopened query letter (he was psychic, obviously). Or the guy who sent me a rejection post card every day for a week for one query letter. He wanted to make sure I got the point, I guess. Or the guy who wrote on the bottom of my query letter, “Historical is a hard sell” on the bottom of my FANTASY query. At least he was nice enough to say, “Your credentials look good.” Or the lady who, after reading only a query letter, advised me to give up writing altogether. No, I could take your pleasantly worded missive; these others? I’d say they needed refinement, but I am not sure that’s possible.