Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Bittersweet Email

I received an email the other day that can best be described as bittersweet. The author took the time out of a busy day to simply thank me; thank me for a rejection letter/email I had sent one year earlier. Apparently, according to this writer, not all agents are as kind in their rejections, and the author was feeling disheartened and discouraged.

I so appreciated the thank-you. Who doesn’t? Any time you’ve been able to give people a smile or a note of kindness it’s so nice to hear back. I think like all people I don’t always know if I’m helping or if I’m coming across as kindly as I would like to. I was honored and impressed that this author was willing to take the time to drop a note a year later. However, I was also saddened. Saddened that rejection letters can come off so harshly and mostly saddened that they can start to eat away at a writer’s self-esteem. I know a lot of agents, and most of those I know are sincerely nice people. They try to be as kind as possible in a form rejection and will sometimes even give personal advice, again as kindly as possible. I’m aware that sometimes perception is different from reality. I can try to be kind, but the letter doesn’t always come off that way, or doesn’t read that way at the time. However, the flip side is that there are agents, like there are people in every profession, who don’t see a need to be kind to an author’s feelings. That’s fine. That’s their way of doing things and it doesn’t mean they aren’t fabulous to their clients as well as warm and caring. They just don’t have time or feel the inclination to be a warm and fuzzy agent to all writers. It’s just sad if anyone is beyond cold and downright mean. That’s not right.

I’m not sure that I can give any real advice here. What I can say, and what this author is attempting to do, is ignore it the best you can. But this is also where a writer’s support group can come in beautifully. Don’t forget to celebrate every success—a finished chapter, a finished book, a nice rejection letter. I think it’s so much easier to focus on the negative than the positive and it’s hard, really hard. But focus on the positive and keep at it. I strongly believe that 90% of success is persistence in all things.



Anonymous said...

I've gotten rejections that range from a terse, "not for me" to really nice and encouraging. Next go around, it's the latter that I'd query first.

I've often pondered sending a quick "thank you" email, but I haven't done it because I thought agents emails are already overflowing and they wouldn't really care if I said thank you. Plus, I've read that some agents just delete the replies because most of the time they are filled with hatred.

Terra Chandler said...

I think when I start receiving my rejection letters, I will look at it as one rejection closer to acceptance. I may just frame the first one. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't like rejection form letters that say something like, "It was a nice read, but..." Or, "It was an interesting story idea, but..."

They just sound so insincere.

I even received one that was an irregular cut from (probably) an 8x11 page, so I guess the agent was saving money on paper with three or four rejections per page and then just snipped them off.


Julie Rowe said...

“Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common that unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, you are really one of the best. You have continually helped me with little stepping stones along this rocky path. You don't rep my genre, but your kindness is always appreciated. Thanks from an original Jersey Boy myself!

Sabina E. said...

please don't feel sad, Jessica. Maybe that writer will feel MORE determined than ever to make it as a writer. Whenever I get a rejection letter, I get more passionate and more determined to improve myself as a writer and to keep writing.

anyway, i agree, a thank you letter is always nice.

Anonymous said...

The fact you care is a score in your corner. That's not sucking up, but how I feel about agents in general. You wouldn't believe how many writers don't think courtesy is a plus in someone who is not your agent. Writer's have very long memories and friends. The agent-writer relationship is a two way street.

Courtesy is what most writers are asking for. And, of course representation. But we'll take the former if it's given.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, you are a class act. I'm lucky in that I can say that about my own agent as well. The fact that you feel this way in regards to this particular email shows you have compassion. but, dont' feel bad. It's true every writer will get their fair share of rejections, and it's also true that in the end, persistance and talent is what will get you pubbed.

Keep up the great work!

Heidi Willis said...

Getting rejections is part of the process. Sure it stings, but I know not everyone is going to love my book enough to take it on. In this day and age of not even replying to queries, I am thankful for every response I get, even if it's a rejection. At least I know where I stand with those agents.

And for the very kind agents who have written personal replies, along with some fantastic words of encouragement and referrals to other agents who might be a better fit, I do send thank you notes (and label it as such in the subject line). I recognize they have hundreds of queries in their in-boxes and a lot of other expectations on their schedules.

If I'm persistent enough, I hope to land an agent, and then I'll face the possibility of more rejections from publishers and editors. And the from the public. There will always be someone for whom my book is "not their cup of tea." If I can't take the heat now, how will I be able to take it later?

Kate Douglas said...

Actually, Jessica, I think it's closer to 99%...but I have to say, that with twenty years' of rejections under my belt from both editors and agents, I will admit that the bulk of them were very positive and encouraging--yet the one I remember is the form rejection letter I got from an editor after almost a year of phone calls and revisions for a story I eventually sold to another publisher--and this was after a phone call accepting the manuscript "with revisions." That form rejection was so cold and unfeeling after my hopes had been raised that I almost quit writing. What got me back into the swing of things was pure stubborness--no way was I going to let that bitch tell me I wasn't good enough! We can't control what others say or do, but we can certainly control our response to it.

Anonymous said...

Your key word and the one to take to heart, especially as a writer seeking representation and publication is 'persistence'. It is the individual willing to damn the torpedoes and go full steam ahead that eventually succeeds. Yeah, rejection is tough. I've had mine, for sure...dozens and dozens and...well, you get the picture. But I believe in myself, my writing and its commerciality. Somewhere there's an agent who will embrace my book/books. Just got to get the stars aligned before the eclipse. Simple

Anonymous said...


I also received a kind rejection from you recently. While I wished it had gone the other way I still appreciated your nice words. I also appreciated your response time. I have many querys that I have sent out months ago with no answer. Rejections are hard but I will continue to send those queries. One day someone will say yes! (Hopefully!)

The Rejection Queen said...

Maybe I wouldn't be so discouraged if I actually got a rejection letter that wasn't a form rejection. I think those are the type of rejection letters that really make a writer feel like crap

Spy Scribbler said...

Jessica, I think you're really nice. I think you're pretty perfect as far as I've read, which is not much. :-)

I'm not real picky, and I've never been told anything in writing that bothered me. But I've heard stories of agents saying "I hate your story." They get taken off my prospective list immediately. That RWA Idol thing was pretty harsh to listen to on the CD, and I'm not real sure I'd ever submit to them, although I'm told it was funnier in person.

"Not right for me" and "I don't think I can sell this" are not much harder to say. I know it's a couple more words to type, but...

Anonymous said...


I too received a form rejection from you. I wish it had been otherwise, but at least I got an answer. Less than half of over one hundred agents I queried even bothered to reply and a number of those were less than nice.

The trouble is, without any idea of whether agents consider my concept or work suitable for the market, or they simply think my writing is crap, I'm forced to throw in the towel and move on in my life.

Oh, I may write, but it will be for my own pleasure and not for publication. I'm simply tired of beating my head against the wall.

Your blog has always been informative, so thanks.

- - Midwest Disgusted.

Karen Duvall said...

While I was querying, I considered every rejection a bullet dodged. Writers should be thankful not to be accepted by an agent who obviously isn't right for them or their manuscript. It's all a matter of perspective.

I was never hurt by any of the rejections I received, however there was a strange and unflattering comment from one agent who was obviously ignorant of the genre she claimed to represent. It was shocking, but not hurtful. I actually felt kind of sorry for her and any writer unfortunate enough to have her as an agent.

Anonymous said...

Karen, I too had a similar experience...I sent queries out to 8 agents I think, I heard back from 6 within a week or two, but after the first week I had two offers of representation. The four R's were very nice except for one. She was arrogant, downright rude and totally had the whole god complex going on....I just thought she went way beyond what she should have done...she basically told me I would never sell because in her opinion, I needed to write damn fine prose to interest the NY pubs...and I didn't have it!...was she pmsing? I haven't a clue...what I do know is that her rejection could have severely broken another writer...and yeah, some days I feel like sending her an email with the sale announcement of my book deal from PM...but then, that would be falling down to her level. I do think that the majority of agents are like Jessica and the lovely lady I signed with...they really love their work and have a healthy respect for writers...and their tender egos!

Jessica Nelson said...

It's nice to know you're human.
Very sweet of the person and they probably didn't realize how much it would touch you :-)
Hope you have a wonderful day!

Anonymous said...

Having been through the query process, which did lead to representation but no sale, I know how easy it is to lose faith in oneself. (Not to scare anyone, but I found rejections from editors a million times worse than the agent rejections. Some of those made me cry. And I never cry.)

What helped me was to remember that I was just one of a hundred or more writers querying the agent that week. I realized that getting upset about a "Dear Author" rejection (how dare they not call me by my name!) or a half-sheet form letter (how dare they not use their agency letterhead!) was a waste of my time and energy.

I knew I'd be rejected, and was just grateful for the agents took the time to say "no thanks"--instead of not replying at all. (Because then you're left to wonder if they got the darn query or not.)

Jeannie Ruesch said...

I have found that some rejections sting more than others and that is usually more about how much hope is pinned to that particular person. I also think it's really hard not to take them personally. It's a business decision. And it's important to remember that the agent isn't t the right person for YOU anymore than you are right for them if they don't love your work.

It isn't a reflection of where you as a writer can go with your career. It's not a brick wall saying you can't go any further, it's just a detour sending you in a different direction.

Bookends sent me a rejection on a partial with some comments that really helped me. If I had focused on the rejection and not the comments, I might not have been as willing to make changes that needed to be made. And I did, and I sold the book to a small publisher.

It's all about what the writer chooses to do with the comments (after the required chocolate dosage to ease the sting of it).

Like Kate Douglas said, we choose how to respond to the comments... that's all we can control. And I'm not about to let anyone else tell me that my dream isn't attainable. I just have to work that much harder to get it... and you have to be willing to do that.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

The problem with the industry in general is that some editors and agents don't feel the need to treat writers with respect until AFTER they're working with them. I think it's ego on the part of the agent/editor and am glad to know you do not subscribe to that behavior. Writer who don't "do it right" get chastised and the others get excused.

Generic rejections don't bother me. Hearing nothing at all I have always felt to be disrespectful.

Anything beyond that is always appreciated.

Anonymous said...


I didn't know you were a Jersey girl. Go Jersey girls!!!

Coll (Cherry Hill)

Robena Grant said...

Having received a rejection from you recently, I must say I consider yours to be thoughtful and considerate.

I've never recieved a nasty response from either an editor or agent so am not sure how I would respond. It takes me a long time to trust enough to send and I send to one person at a time. I'm working on this. I'll know I've arrived (as in toughened up) when I send out five email queries on one day without feeling disloyal. Ha ha.

Anne-Marie said...

Hi Jessica,
I have to admit I have never received a rude rejection letter, mostly a slew of "not right for me". The one I received from you was kind and [polite, and I appreciated that even though I wished it had gone a different way.

The best rejection I ever received was from a UK agent who told me he liked the partial, but had no editor contacts who would be receptive to my subject. He also went on to add that my actual proposal package was among the most professional he'd encountered in his short, new life as an agent and that he wished more writers followed my example. I've kept the letter as a reminder that it's about finding the right fit.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I submitted a first book and an editor was nice enough to write a long handwritten letter about why it was a useless no-talent piece of crap. Her comments were immensely useful to my professional growth and I wrote a letter of thanks. I have sometimes wondered what she thought of being thanked for brutal frankness, so your blog entry was very enlightening. Incidentally, I agree that it is a useless, no-talent piece of crap. I use the MS for a doorstop (in a box, of course), but may some day send it out for recycling. Not everyone who plays with words is an adult child, a prima donna, a narcissist, or an egomaniac. I am surely in the minority, but I like the truth, and I like it straight and hard. There is no other way to improve.

What's wrong with "beyond cold and downright mean"? (I assume you are referring to Janet Reid here.) Some wannabe writers need to give their computers to the Salvation Army and go out and shoot shotguns instead. Some of them comment to this blog.

Jay Montville said...

In my search for an agent, I didn't get a single response that I thought was inappropriate. A bunch of form rejections, of course, and a couple of very nice no thank yous, but nothing like some of the other posters have mentioned here.

I did, however, write a thank you note to a lovely agent who rejected my full with a very thoughtful letter about why. It was clear that she'd rad the whole thing (or most of it, anyway) and it just wasn't the right fit for her, and she provided me with some good criticisms to keep in mind for revision. While as an author I'm always hoping for "yes", I do appreciate a good "no." :)

Kimbra Kasch said...

Thanks for sharing this. We writers sometimes forget the flip side of the coin.

Unknown said...

Jessica, please don't be sad. I've never had an unkind letter from an agent, but I did send a Christmas card once, to an agent who sent me the kindest and most helpful rejection letter I'd ever received, and told him why I was sending him a card.

Letters like yours are a wonderful dose of moral support; kudos to you that somebody felt that from you and wanted to let you know.

Not all of us are down/discouraged/disgruntled, etc. It's just that some agents are so very thoughtful that they stand well out from the mass. We appreciate them!

Julie Weathers said...

I kept all my rejection letters from my last incarnation as a writer. A good many of them were requests for partials or at least very kind.

Now that I am taking a deep breath and getting ready to travel that road again, they give me strength. I said once I was going to keep all my rejection letters and wallpaper my office. It's just so darned hard to paper a wall with emails.

Jessica, it does make a huge difference to those of us wondering where we misplaced our sanity. Those few kind words are more valuable than gold.

JJ Cooper said...

The toughest rejections are those you do not receive.

Form rejections are fine IMHO, as they bring closure and allow the writer to move onto the next agent on their list. It's the non-response that really messes with a writer's head as it leaves them somewhat 'lost' as to when they should send a follow-up (if at all) or when to send out another query. Those agents who do not respond (even a form letter) are really the ones leaving the writers hanging and causing the heartaches. This habit also encourages writers to start to 'blanket' submit in the hope of just hearing from an agent.

Literary agents hold the hopes and dreams of writers who labour over their love just for the chance of publication. We understand it is a business and measure this against our dreams. We accept that form letters are part of the business. But for me, the non-responses just suck the life and enthusiasm from the writer.

I think at the very least, a nicely constructed form rejection really does help the writer.


Maggie Stiefvater said...

I'm beginning to think that I must be an author from another planet. Before I got my first contract, I acquired my fair share of rejection letters -- heck, I started submitting manuscripts when I was 16 -- and I don't remember ever suffering a blow to my ego.

How can a form letter hurt -- it's FORM, not personalized -- so of course it's not personal.

And the personalized ones that took the time to tell me what was wrong, often in brutally honest terms? Worth their weight in gold, because those free critiques from people in the business. And they took the time to send you a real one instead of a form. That alone was encouragement enough for me.

Writers need to either have or get thick skins -- we're one in a sea of others with the same dream, and editors and agents are just trying to surf through the paper and keep their heads above water.

Anonymous said...

After fruitless searching on the internet, your blog truly gave me some insight into the whole agent process. I just sent some Queries out last week to a few agents after being one chapter away from "fine-tuning" my book I finished in June but I have been going over it with a fine toothed comb to make sure my book flows well before I even solict it. You verified my worst fears, you agents are saturated by queries. How do we? A new person writing a book(a worthy book) stand a chance when agents receive 200 plus queries a week from people who most of them don't even know how to write?
Before I read your blog, My mindset was saying,"How can they want your whole entire novel explained in a single page letter?"
I guess you wouldn't have time to read this if you were reading 200 manuscripts weekly.
I'm from Iowa btw and I'll snail mail you my Query letter :P

Marjorie said...

My memoir is my blog "marjorie-pentimentos." I am a retired teacher and NYC stand-up comic and my blog and the photos in it are hilarious. I don't bother anymore with query letters because rejection letters are demeaning.