Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Evolution of My Rejection Letter

All of the talk lately about whether "no means no" is an appropriate response for agents to give to query letters had me thinking about my own rejection letters over the years. I agree with Janet Reid when she says that a response is not only important, but pretty easy. It's something we've always done at BookEnds--responded to all queries and submissions--and something I think we all agree is important and plan to continue to do.

That being said, it's amazing how things have changed in the past 12 years and how much my queries, submissions, and responses have changed. When we first opened the agency we were hungry agents looking for great authors. Everything in those days (2001) was done by snail mail, so we had an open policy to unsolicited partials. That meant that without even getting a request you could snail mail us a copy of your query/cover letter, the first three chapters of your book, and a synopsis. Man, you should have seen the piles of mail. More often than not it took multiple armloads just to get from the mailbox to our desks. That was every day.

At that time, because we were hungry, I somewhat personalized every rejection. I had several forms, sure, but I actually took the time to type into each letter the name and address of each person I was rejecting. I'd love to know how much time that took me each week.

Over time, within probably 3 to 5 years, we were getting busier and busier, actually tending to our clients, because we actually had clients. So instead of the personalized rejection, we started to go the way of the "Dear Author" form. Away went the address and name and instead we had a stack of letters printed out that we could just stick into envelopes and send off. This was for unsolicited material. For solicited proposals we were still writing in the names and addresses.

And then email really took hold, at least for submissions. Agents became less afraid of being inundated with queries in their email inbox and opened to email submissions. We were right there with the rest. By this time we had done away with the unsolicited partials and were accepting queries only via email and we came up with a very clever way to reply to those queries. That magical signature line. Most email programs allow you to have multiple signatures to choose from. Maybe you have your business standard and another for personal use. Well, we have somewhere around 10. I have my standard signature that goes on the bottom of all email, and then I have the "letter" signatures or the form rejection signatures. I have one that says I'm closed to queries, one that requests material, one that rejects material, one I can easily modify to make more personal, and those that give some specific information (like the book is too short or too much like a magazine article).

I've found it's never hard to pop on that signature and hit send, and hopefully it allows me to keep networking with authors and helps them to keep thinking of me.



Artemis Grey said...

Thanks so much for this Jessica! As authors sending out queries and trying to hook agents we *know* that you all are very busy and that form rejections are part of the deal because of that. But your description of your rejection evolution was very interesting and offered us a personal perspective into HOW a form rejection comes to be.

Since we personalize queries because it's drilled into our head that agents want to be recognized as individuals, it's easy for us to get frustrated when we receive - in return - unfeeling form rejections from those very agents we made a special effort to address personally. But it's also easy to forget that while we slave over queries, and then send out maybe a whopping couple of dozen, you agents open your email and receive maybe three or four HUNDRED. A day. Maybe less, but the picture is clear, and it's good for us writers to be reminded of the difference.

Emma Cunningham said...

That sounds like a great method for answering queries without wasting time!

Unknown said...

Thanks! This policy is respectful of authors, and I appreciate that.

Julie Daines said...

You have no idea how wonderful it is as an author to receive a form rejection. I understand the "no response means no" situation, but even a form rejection saying "no thanks" is a million times better than nothing.

For us, it's sort of like sending our child on an airplane trip and never finding out if he reached his destination safely.

Ok, maybe not that drastic...but still...

Elissa M said...

I love all agents who give some kind of response, personalized or not. That you bother to select between various signatures makes your "form" rejections somewhat personalized even if you don't hand-type anything. You being this considerate of non-clients makes me think you must treat your clients very well indeed.

Good for you!

Robin Coyle said...

It is nice to hear that you are considerate and respectful to the authors submitting their work to you.

Kristin Laughtin said...

That's a very thoughtful way to respond, since whichever signature you use still gives the author's some idea of where their query might have erred without taking up too much of your time. It seems like a great compromise between efficiency and personalization.

Pagination said...

I was just struggling with this kind of scenario a few weeks ago, and found that there's another easy and fast way to personalize while still going quickly through formulaic responses. That's using some kind of text accelerator program like TextExpander. Basically, you have a formatted (and fully typed out) response that you tie into a keyword, like "tooshort" or "wronggenre" and when you type that phrase into any open window or word processing / email program, it replaces that text with the full body of your formatted response. Since you can combine several of them together ("tooshort" can be followed by "wronggenre" followed by "refertoagentx") you can string together tailored responses super fast.

Apps like TextExpander (and there are others that are just as good for Windows) also allow you the ability to create Mad Lib-like forms for yourself, so you can do something like "tooshort" which you can pre-write with substitution text fields that you are walked through like an actual form submission.

(NB: I have no relationship of any kind with TextExpander! That's just the free trial that I ended up downloading and using a lot while I was doing research.)

Arwen said...

Yes, yes. What everyone else said here. God bless you for sending rejections. Form rejections are far preferable to the deafening silence of the void. Like everyone else, I understand that agents are busy, but I honestly don't see why more of them don't set up auto-send rejection forms. I confess it stings a little when I spend upward of 3 hours researching an agent to see if they match what I'm pitching, reading material they've repped previously, crafting a custom query, etc. -- and then the recipient can't be bothered to set up an auto-response that goes out when they hit the delete button (a button they have to hit anyway!) :D

Cassandra said...

And that -- your respecting us enough to take the five seconds to reply -- is why you will be queried ahead of many other fine agents who don't. Someday that will make all the difference.

So -- thanks.

Bonnee Crawford said...

I can see how the evolution happened here; when you're busy, you have time for personalized replies and they're good for keeping customers happy and letting them know that you're human. But once you get busy, there isn't time to keep personalizing unless you want to have everything piling up to your ears and getting higher.

Huntress said...

Speaking from this side of the fence, an automated response is much appreciated.

A rejection slip might sting but Hokey Smokes, Bullwinkle, that is so much better than crickets chirping. The serious writers who put in the time and carefully research agents can appreciate the time you’ve taken to review all the submissions.

So Thank You for your response. Any response.

G. B. Miller said...

I actually didn't mind getting rejection letters this time around when I was querying my novel, but what I did appreciate was the form rejection that didn't look like a form rejection.

Believe it or not, I got some rejections that looked like the form was copied crookedly in the copier before being sent out.

Being a professional means making sure that every aspect of your business correspondence should scream "professionalism".

Not "middle school".

Janet Reid said...

One of the ways I measure if I'm on the right track is to see if I'm doing what BookEnds,LLC is doing. If they are, it's all good. If they aren't, I re-think.

Glad to know I'm on the right track.