Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A BookEnds Rejection

By request, I’m doing something that for some reason feels a little scary. I’m going to post my standard rejection letter on the blog. I don’t know why this feels scary, like I’m revealing a big dirty secret or something, since you can find this in various writers’ forums and websites all over the Internet.

That being said, here goes:

Thank you so much for sending along your query and for giving BookEnds a chance to consider your work. While I found your query intriguing I’m afraid I wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic to ask for more at this time.

As I’m sure you know, publishing is a subjective business and I’m sure there’s another agent out there better suited to your work.

I wish you the best of luck and the greatest success.

Now, keep in mind that this is my standard rejection. I also have a few variations of this for different circumstances. For example, if I feel your query is a complete disaster I might suggest you revamp it before sending it to other agents; if your query was really close and maybe a tweak or two would have pushed me to asking for more, I have a rejection for that. I also have responses for queries that are sent as attachments (but I won’t read), novellas (which I typically don’t do), queries for books with obvious word count issues, etc.

So, since I shared my rejection, I’m curious. If you were an agent receiving close to 100 queries a day, what kind of standard rejection would you write? Or would you even send rejections? Would you try to personalize every one?

The trick for me is writing a rejection that’s kind and encouraging, that’s vague enough so that the author doesn’t think a rewrite is necessary when I don’t know if it is, and that doesn’t sound condescending. Believe it or not, I don’t want to crush the hopes and dreams of authors.



Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Your standard rejection is just fine, I think I even got one once.
All I ever want to know is that someone read it.

If it's not accepted, back to the keyboard...or...head in the oven.

You can't be everything to
everybody, spare every feeling, encouage every nut but letting us know that at least you read it, is sometimes enough.

Richard Mabry said...

Jessica, I've read this brief communication a couple of times, trying to put myself in the shoes of the recipient. The first time, I was encouraged--"intriguing," "another agent out there." The second time, it became more obvious to me that this is exactly as you describe it--boilerplate.
Then again, it's better than "if you don't hear from me in __ weeks, consider it a rejection." With the potential for emails to go astray, I think I'd rather have a definite "no." To serve that purpose, I suppose this one is as good as any.
I'm glad you have a few variations, although I'm sure you send them out with the fear that they'll spark a response and potential dialogue from the recipient. No easy answer, is there?

pooks said...

I have come to the conclusion that anyone who complains about any form rejection whatsoever is hurting all writers on the agent hunt, because clearly, if you're getting complaints on that lovely boilerplate, I can see why you (or others like you) would fling up your hands and go to "no response means no interest" mode.

Any boilerplate rejection--even, "Sorry, not for me"--should be welcomed with great relief.

It certainly beats waiting for weeks after an agent has already passed on a project, for the calendar pages to flip over one by one, until the day when you finally know "for sure" that it's a rejection. This is particularly true in agencies where you might have someone else on your list and can't approach them for 6 or 8 weeks, when that agent may have read your query within days.

So people, get rid of the idea that any agent you query owes you personal feedback, quit complaining about rejection letters before we end up getting none at all.

My opinion. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

I think your standard rejection is just fine, particularly because if the query wasn't intriguing (ie a disaster) you do let people know.

Janet Reid said...

I notice you don't say "this is a form rejection." I ended up adding that phrase because my form rejection generated a lot of return email from people thinking it was personalized.

Did you ever use that phrase, and elect to take it out?

Mercy Loomis said...

I think it's a good letter. I know I would much rather have a form letter than no reply at all. (And how else am I going to get more Rejection Points with no rejection letter???)

I used to be a purchasing manager for a company that distributed board games, and I had very similar letters set up for the folks who wanted us to carry their games, along the lines of "thanks but no thanks," "not right for our company but keep trying," and "can't take you on but here is the contact info for some consolidators we work with." And of course if it was a good game or had obvious issues or I had some concrete feedback, I would add it to the letter.

Having been on both sides of the paper, so to speak, I know I really appreciate form letters. You just can't personalize every one of 'em (and sometimes there's really not much to say other than "no"), and again, I would rather get a negative response than no response at all.

Touch of Ink said...

I hope I'd write something just like your standard rejection letter. There is no way I could send a personal rejection to everyone.

Also, writers read form rejection as "no", but a personalized rejection as "no, but you have promise so keep at it".

And yes, I'd totally send form rejections instead of nothing at all. The waiting is the worst, and at least the rejection lets you know the waiting part is over.

Jane Lebak said...

I would prefer "This sucks" to no response at all, and I tend to skim rejection letters just because they all say the same thing: NO. If it didn't mention my book with a specific detail, I assumed it was a form letter.

If I were designing a form letter, I'd omit "while I found your query intriguing," because if you're sending it to everyone, I'm sure there are some queries that didn't intrigue you at all, not even to the extent of being intrigued as to why the writer thought this story was a good idea. :-) That part seems designed to feel personal when it's just part of the form. For my own fictitious agency, I'd phrase it more along the lines of "I assure you that I read every query which comes to my agency, but I was not sufficiently enthusiastic to ask for more."

BTW, do you get repeat queries because they think "at this time" means if they requery next month, you might be sufficiently enthusiastic then? :#)

Hillsy said...

Im surprised actually. I'd expect this response to equate to a "the query is fine but just not for me" type thing, meaning just keep sending it out to agents and you'll be fine.

But then again I'd prefer no salutation, just a line that says something like "No. Your plot is incomprehensible!" than some generalised platitude designed to soothe the feelings of those easily offended.

Personally, I'd come up with a standard list, 10 or 15 long, of reasons for rejection and apply one to each query I receive, quote the number on the rejection and then explain a bit more in depth on the website. So it'd go like this:
1) "This is fine, just not for me....etc"

for queries that you can't fault, or

7) "the Character's motives are under developed and we no nothing about him....etc"

for specific problems you could identify, and finally to

15) "The query is confused and, unfortuantely, gives me no sense of the story at all. A rewrite is in order....etc"

and all you'd need to add to the standard query above is a line that says. "For additional information, visit our website {URL} and look at reason 5 on our rejection feedback list."

It'd be a my way of giving detailed, but depersonalised feedback without taking any more time other than to decide Why you are rejecting (Which I presume you would know 95% of the time) and typing in a maximum of 2 digits.

If you need soemone to set this up for you I would be glad to help for a small consultancy fee....LOL

haleigh said...

I've received several similarly worded rejection letters from agents, and I find them to be professional and as kind as possible given the circumstances.

It's definitely not possible to personalize every letter, nor do you as an agent have any responsibility to do so.

Though I will say, the phrase "While I found your query intriguing" does somewhat rub me the wrong way, only because I've gotten excited about that line in a rejection letter before, and then remembered that it was a form rejection they sent to everyone, and therefore probably not true. Or at the very least, we have no idea if it's true or not.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I never even thought of using the phrase "form rejection" I guess part of me likes (liked) the illusion that I was personalizing. I have no idea why.

I figure if I reject 100 queries I get roughly 5 replies, mostly thank yous and the rare angry response. The angry responses probably wouldn't change.


Joseph L. Selby said...

My biggest pet peeve (after not having a professional website) is agents who don't offer a response. I'd rather get a form rejection than nothing at all.

I do remember specifically when I got your form rejection because I couldn't tell if it was a standard rejection or not. The inclusion of "I was intrigued" makes it sound like the story had potential but in the end just didn't click with you. Knowing that you say that to every manuscript you receive... Well, that's a little disappointing. (Not too much, because I assumed, but still, not everything is intriguing.)

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


When BookEnds accepted unsolicited proposals (I can't even imagine now) I did have 5-10 letters exactly as you describe. In those days we were still snail mail so I had each letter saved and would simply plug in the author's name and title.

The problem with specific form letters like that for queries is that, honestly, I've found that it really comes down to the fact that the query just doesn't grab me. I've thought and thought of different rejection letters, but the core of it is just exactly what I'm saying.


M Clement Hall said...

Two aspects:
1. It's good to give an answer to a query. Many agents don't bother. If they don't see anything in it for themselves they just press the delete button and "ferget it." So, yes, it's good to send an answer.

2. Is it an honest answer? It implies the work had merit. Did it? Are you giving an incorrect or unmerited statement to make the author feel better about you yourself? "Not for us" is adequate and honest.

And thank you for posting this. It takes a while before one finds these replies from agents are really boilerplate and meaningless. More transparency is desirable and you've been brave enough to open it up.

Rick Daley said...

I would send a form rejection. I would personalized some rejections based on time constraints (or lack thereof).

The main reason I would send them is so the author knows the query was received and reviewed. I hate not knowing if my email was trapped by a SPAM filter, or if it just slipped between the cracks. At the very minimum, a form rejection provides closure.

R.S. Bohn said...

Except for the "intriguing" bit, it sounds like a form letter, and that's fine. I'm sure we'd all rather get a rejection than no response at all.

It's that one word, "intriguing" -- it invites the query sender to think that if they re-vamp their query, or maybe polish the story itself a bit, then they'd have a chance with you. So same query, basically, but something that got you a bit more enthused.

I don't know. I've got this sort of line in form rejections before, and initially, I'm running around, "I got rejected, but they think I'm good!!!!!" While that is encouraging, which you state you want to be, I'm not sure if it's somehow slightly... deceiving. Perhaps a word change? "While your query was interesting..."?

Meh. In the end, it's a rejection. And it's fairly soft -- I've got a one or two that were, shall we say, curt. One was even a bit obnoxious. So I'd definitely prefer this over those, LOL!

Kimber Li said...

The best I've received was

No, thanks.

That's all it boils down to. Back in Queryland, I really couldn't care less what else it said. I sped-read it to get the gist that the agent was passing. "Dear Author" usually sufficed and then I hit delete or chucked it into the garbage can. After a couple of novels, I didn't even bother recording it because so many agents don't respond at all. Who knows how many were actually lost in cyberspace? I figured it was too maddening to keep track and my family needs me to be sane.

I'll never forget the time I learned to read returned SASEs. Until that point, I'd believed every SASE I sent which came back to me was a rejection letter. So, I just chucked 'em. Then, one day I opened one just because I was bored. It was a request for a Full.

Debra Moore said...

What would I like to see in a standard rejection letter? I got to thinking about's what I think:

Dear Jane Smith: (use the actual name—easy add, even on a standard R)

I did consider your submission, and while it’s not right for me, that doesn’t mean it’s not right. Keep trying. Writing/publishing is a hard business, but with belief in yourself and hard work, you might find you have what it takes.

Best of luck,


(I think short and sweet with plenty of encouragement that is nice but not necessarily specific is good. Frankly, my favorite R of all time said, “Not for me” and the agent’s name. Clear enough! LOL)

Your letter is nice, too. ☺

Anonymous said...

A form rejection is a form rejection. Authors should've read into at all. I much rather a form rejection than what seems to be becoming the standard among agencies, which is no reply means no.

I get it, agents are busy. We are told that over and over. Authors are just as busy too with their day jobs, writing, and family life. We aren't employees looking for a job, we're potential clients, and it's hard for me to believe that potential clients are met with silence. Sorry for the rant.

On the subject of your form rejection. There's nothing wrong with it and I for one am very happy to get a form rejection over no response means no any day.

MadDabbler said...

The only thing I might suggest is changing the first line to "While I regret I must pass on your project, thank you so much..." This way one doesn't get excited reading the letter and then realize it's a rejection letter.

It really irritates me that people get upset over this, particularly enough to send hate mail. I'd rather know, for certain, where I stand because the waiting is the worst part of the whole process.

I've appreciated your fast query response times (I've received one form reject and one request for proposal).

Do I think you should personalize each one? Nope. I think that's a huge mistake. Like you've said before, it opens up a dialogue with the author, and that can be dangerous to your inbox. Once it gets to the proposal/ms review, I believe feedback is appropriate because you've actually reviewed the work.

Laurel said...

I think it's perfect. Polite, professional no. Especially since you have other variations you use to give the writer a head's up if the query is an utter disaster. It's a nice compromise of encouragement without leaving the epic fail query writers clueless.

Laurel said...

Sorry for the double post but I thought it worth mentioning that if the blogging agents are representative of the majority, you guys put as much blood, sweat, and tears into form rejections as writers do queries. It has to be designed generically enough to apply to anyone who will receive it and you want to make sure it's clear.

If I got reamed from one side about how "no means no" is inadequate and the other side about how rude and soul crushing a form rejection is, mine would end up like this:

"Nope on a rope. Good luck!"

Kay said...

Thank you for sharing this AND for admitting it was a bit frightening to do. One of the reasons I am devoted to your blog is because you are so honest and humble as you "tell it like it is."

I think the remarks thus far have been pretty much on the mark. Would I like to know exactly what you thought about my query? Of course. Do I think it's feasible? Of course NOT.

Thus far I've received six rejections. All, I suspect were boilerplate--after this thread I know yours and Janet's were. :-) Two of the rejections said, "Dear Kay," and had the name of my m/s in the letter. While I don't expect this, it was nice to see that personal touch. Most of all I appreciate a response.

Thank you for all the help you provide through your blog.

Susan said...

Thanks for posting this! I've never seen a rejection letter (or any letter from an agent/editor), so it's interesting to see.

I have an unrelated question about pitching/query etiquette:

If an author gives a 3-line pitches to an agent, not in person but through an online medium (like a blog contest), is it considered bad form to query this agent later for the same project? Or is that like the Big Bad Re-query?

I like that agents accept pitches through blogs and contests, but I don't want to burn a bridge by partaking (since my query is much stronger than my 3-line pitch).


Caitie F said...

My rejection when I was interning was very similar, but I did not say that i was "sure there was another agent" aren't. Mine also had a line about how we were incredibly selective and need to be extremely excited about something to request it, which was true.

It was honest, but not mean which I think is what need to be in a form rejection.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I guess part of me likes (liked) the illusion that I was personalizing

Ooh. That's sweet of you, but confusing for writers. Recipients will be scrutinizing your response. Is it a form rejection? Is it a personalized rejection?

I much, much prefer something that is unequivocably a form rejection when that is what it is. Anything else feels like a cheat.

In a writer's eyes, your current rejection seems to pass judgment. Why are you SURE there's an agent out there for the work? It must be marketable! You were intrigued: It must be a killer concept!

So (whine, whine), if it's killer and marketable, WHY did you pass on it??? WHY weren't you enthusiastic about it?

And bringing "luck" into a business equation just doesn't feel right to me. Makes it sound like it's all a lottery draw that has little to do with skill and professionalism.

My suggestion is to keep it neutral:

Thanks, but I'm passing on this.

Publishing is a subjective business. Another agent may feel differently about your work.

I appreciate you thinking of me,
Agent Wonderful

Darrell B. Nelson said...

Here is a rejection letter that should encourage the writer, it was for a magazine but you could change it to work.

“We have read your manuscript with boundless delight, and if we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And, as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition and beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity. ”

illukar said...

Yours is a polite and not at all offensive or discouraging letter. My only problem with it is that it is perhaps _too_ encouraging, particularly the line "while I found your query intriguing".

That, I think, is inappropriate for a form rejection letter because it seems highly unlikely to be true. I would suggest changing it to a more neutral "while I appreciate you giving me a chance to consider your proposal".

My own instinct, should I be in your position, would be to make absolutely clear that the rejection is a form letter and not in any way a personalised letter by stating clearly something in the order of "Please note that this is my standard rejection letter - I apologise for not being able to give a personalised response to all queries. I have included at the end of this email a query FAQ for my agency practices."

After the signature line I would include the FAQ with things like: "My requery policy is...", "My standard response time is... If you do not receive a response ..." etc etc.

While stating clearly that the rejection is a form letter may offend a small minority of submitters, I think it does less damage overall than letters which sound like they are personalised when they are not.

Buffy Andrews said...

I think your response is fine. I would not include "intriguing" however. I just think it can be perceived in a way you might not intend. I suggest modifying slightly. Perhaps:

Thank you so much for giving BookEnds a chance to consider your work. I’m afraid I wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic to ask for more at this time.

As I’m sure you know, publishing is a subjective business and another agent might feel differently.

I wish you the best of luck and the greatest success.

I understand the fine line you must walk and appreciate you asking for feedback. It speaks volumes about you as an agent. Good luck with all of your publishing endeavors. You do a great job with your blog. It's always a treat to read. Keep up the great work.

Hillsy said...

Huh.....That's really interesting. Honestly, even though I follow lots of agent blogs and understand it's about enthusiasm as much as craft, I wouldn't have guessed the majority were rejected for inarticulatable(?) reasons.

I suppose that's a reaction to both the sublime/ridiculous nature of Query examples used to show what works and what doesn't, and also the wealth of information available: one always thinks there is Something specific wrong rather than something as nebulous as "It's just that particular agents opinion."

Thanks for your reply Jessica, very eye-opening!

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Well, not an agent, but am an editor and I think the "while I found your query intriguing" might lift too many hopes. Unless, of course, you're removing it from the disasters.

Since I take fulls and sample chapters, I have a chance to look at the actual writing, and I do find that if the premise is really exciting (but the writing/genre not for me) or the writing is quite excellent (but not the premise/genre for me), I do try to take a moment to add an encouraging line or two to our form declines to encourage and help point the writer in a better direction. I'll let them know what I did like and why I'm declining. (i.e. not our market, not our preferred genre, etc.)

The worst part about the slush pile is the amount of time it takes to find good matches. It really is. As someone who both writes and publishes, you just never know who the work is really going to connect with -- and that is just so important.

Loree Huebner said...

Your rejection letter is fine.

You let me know that you actually read my query. This is very important to me. Then, you are honest in saying that you’re just not that passionate about it to request more material. Although it stings the heart for a minute, I want to know this. You gently follow up with encouragement by stating what isn’t your cup of tea might be someone else’s. I get this and truly appreciate the time you have taken to go over my query.

I know you can’t personalize every query that comes along. You would never get anything done if you did. There are some writer’s don’t know this yet.

We writer’s (most of us anyway) understand the agent’s position, and we want an agent who is excited about the work. If you have sent me this letter, I’m happy that you at least have responded and in a nice manner. I think it would irritate me more to have no reply at all.

When it comes down to it, rejection is rejection. It stings for a bit. Not all people take to it the same way. Writers must become thick-skinned to survive in the business.

Anonymous said...

I like that your form rejection letter is kind. I have received it twice. One potential downside is that some people think it's personalized when it's not. Someone in my critique group posted it to our email list with great excitement, thinking you'd particularly liked her query. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd received exactly the same letter from you and knew it was a form rejection.

Silver James said...

I've received this rejection. It was succinct, business-like, and contained the necessary information. I appreciate the time you take to read each query and respond. Some agents don't. They have a boilerplate on their site to the tune of, "If you never hear from me, I'm obviously not interested." However, that situation leaves the writer wondering if the query was ever received.

I'd rather have a kindly worded "Not interested, thanks" than silence. This is a business after all. Both parties should act professional and you do. Thank you.

Dale Bishop said...

It's fine. It says what it has to say.

And, if I were an agent these days I'd probably be going after writers instead of waiting for them to come to me. I'd close all queries and take control of who and what I rep. I couldn't have done this ten years ago. But I can do it now.

There are many good authors out there winging it on their own because they've become frustrated with the query system. And some are even getting nice sales ranks.

Just saying what I'd do, not what anyone else should do, so no need for any of the readers/potential authors to comment on my comment.

DeadlyAccurate said...

I'm with the others about losing the "intriguing" bit. It does sound a bit more personalized, especially for a less experienced writer desperate for any kind of feedback.

I rather like the rejection letters that begin with "Please forgive this form response," because I know that's all I need to read. Done. Filed. On to the next agent. It's unequivocally a form rejection, and I'm not left wondering.

Hah! While I was typing this, an email popped up in my notifier. It started with "Dear Author: First, my apologies for this form e-mail response..." I didn't even have to open my inbox to know it was an R. No risk of confusion on my end. I liked it (I mean, as much as one can like a rejection).

Robena Grant said...

I think it's a sensitive and caring form rejection. I've received one or two from you, and heck, I might even go for a third. : )
You've removed any cause for the recipient to question your words (or read more into them than you intended)so I'd say, leave it as is.

Margo Lerwill said...

I think this form rejection sounds fine. I'm pleasantly surprised that you have a small collection of situation-specific rejections. That sounds like a lot of work, considering the number of queries the typical agent receives.

If I were in your shoes and decided I'd rather send out personalized rejections than sleep or eat, I might try something along the lines of one I got from a magazine years ago. It was obviously a rejection, but it also had a checklist for things they thought I'd done well, things they thought needed improvement, and space at the bottom for comments. It was one of the first times I was elated at a rejection.

Joanne Sheppard said...

This looks like a perfectly good, polite rejection to me.

However, I think if it were me, I'd take out 'While I found your query intriguing' altogether. I think it would, in many cases, make a writer think that their query was far promising than it actually was. And in all honesty, I can't believe that most of the queries you receive are remotely intriguing. So, I personally think that an even more neutral (but equally polite response) might be what I'd go for in your position.

fOIS In The City said...

It appears many of us have received this rejection. Not totally rotten either because at least you took the time to send something.

Anita Saxena said...

I think your standard rejection is excellent. I believe it's far better to receive a standard rejection then not to even hear back from an agent at all. I think personalizing each rejection would not be the best use of your time. You could be using this time to attend to your current and other prospective clients.

Kristin Laughtin said...

@Hillsy: Your plan is great from a writer's perspective, but it seems like it would be counterproductive to the agent's goal of getting through queries in a timely fashion. Sometimes no is just no, and spending time analyzing why cuts into time to read other queries (and possibly request manuscripts).

I like the form letter you posted, Jessica. Polite enough to not offend. I think I'd fixate too much on it if you listed some random issue with my query just to have something to say, when in reality all that is wrong with it is that it doesn't grab you. I may be in the minority with that sentiment, though (and would appreciate knowing if there was a major issue beyond it not being to your taste).

Jill said...

After reading "this is a form rejection," I imagine the sound of a door slamming.

Or maybe it's the chop of a guillotine.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay boys and girls…me thinks we need to differentiate something here. (Sorry…I’m trying to keep it light.)
So what is being rejected? The query or THE WHOLE PROJECT. (Large letters for impact.)
Receiving a no on a query to some emotional types means burn the book and start over, to we who have been in it for awhile it’s…ah…wait is it the query or the book. If you ask the question then you know the answer.

Is'nt it a pisser that two years, or more, of your writing life boils down to a one page letter of 250 words.
It's the query stupid.

Thank you Jessica for at least letting us know you're not our girl. (I'm at the age when I can use girl and people smile nicely.)

Hey class, be thankful someone took the time read the damn thing and respond.

Mira said...


I appreciate your bravery in putting out your rejection letter! I think that's very cool. :)

You're getting lots of feedback, often contradictory. I don't know if you posted to get feedback, but surely you know that a group of writers can't resist the opportunity to give feedback on writing! Especially on something so important and relevant to them.

Well, I'm no exception. I can't resist giving feedback. But please ignore if it doesn't feel right.

I like so much about this letter! I like the warm and encouraging tone - it doesn't matter that it's a form letter - conveying support and encouragement is still a very nice thing. I like the last line expecially - "I wish you the best of luck..." That's very friendly and kind.

There are a couple of tweaks I'd suggest - if they work for you. Unless you did find the query intriguing, I might use something more...true, such as it was "of interest" or just "I appreciate the opportunity to review your query. And the phrase "not sufficiently enthusiastic" could accidentally hurt someone's feelings. I'd probably say something like "I'm afraid it's not a right fit for me", or "I'm afraid I'm not the right agent to represent your work." (Stole that last line from Nathan.)

Also, I'm concered the line: "I'm sure there's another agent..." could be taken as a promise. I'd might be vague there: "publishing is a subjective business. I wish you the best of luck in your search for the right representative for your work."

Anyway, hope that's helpful. Hope you actually wanted feedback. :)

I wish you the best of luck in your form rejection letter, Jessica! :) Thanks for letting me go on here.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

A few thoughts come to mind.

I do object to the word "intriguing" being used for everyone if it is not true.

Any response is better than none. Agencies who have the policy "no reply means no thanks" is just, quite simply, lazy and inexcusable.

Maybe with the manuscripts/partials that just don't "grab you" but are written exceptionally well, you could make the effort to let them know this and perhaps encourage them to query with a different project.

I, for one, don't want to rush "back to the keyboard" if there is nothing wrong with my ms other than I just didn't hit the right person on the right day.

Anonymous said...

Really how good or sufficient your rejection letter is depends most on your goal with the letter.
Rejection or, as I like to call them, Thanks for Playing notices are pretty common in employment (I'm and HR pro by day, glamorous, I know). For the most part, we've probably a few more legal concerns to worry about that you might have.
If it were my letter, my goal would be to get to the point, without allowing much room for conjecture. Unfortunately, this tends to result in something of a sterile communication. Some might even call it cold. But it is meets my goal.
With that in mind, you might try:

Thank you so much for giving BookEnds a chance to consider your work via your query. Publishing is a subjective business. While another agent may be more suited to your work, I wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic to ask for more at this time.

I wish you the best of luck and the greatest success.

Most of us know it is a form rejection. Those of us who don't have bigger issues to address.

Also, as an aside, saying you're afraid is like apologizing. Both imply you're conflicted about your decision. Don't do that. OWN your rejection. Your opinions, discerning taste, etc. is, afterall, a part of what defines you as an agent. And you happen to be good at it.

Susan S said...

Speaking as someone who's received your standard rejection (my novel was marginal as far as the subject meeting your preferences, but I thought I'd try anyway) I like it.

Which is to say, I like it as much as one can like rejection without being even more odd than most writers are by nature.

It didn't try to blow smoke, and it doesn't talk down to the writer - it's a professional response to a professional's inquiry. In the range of rejections I've seen, it's one of the better ones, though I haven't seen but about a dozen so I don't call myself an expert.

K.L. Brady said...

I personally think it's a bit verbose. You could condense it down to "No, thanks!" or "Not for me." LOL

Seriously, this is cool. Wouldn't hurt my feelings to receive it.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I think I'd try to be clever and come up with a haiku

Thank you for the query
Not right for me at this time
It is subjective!

But people would probably use it for target practice, thinking I was being an A-hole, when I thought I was being funny...

I think your rejection is fine: clear and to the point.

Prettypics123 said...

Thanks for revealing your rejection letter. Now I know that some of those adjectives used to describe my writing were not really for me, they were generic. Bummer!

Jim Jackson said...

That you "personalize" as many rejections as you apparently do with multiple "standard" rejections is the surprise to me.

Given I'm rejected and not receiving personalized feedback (which I do not expect) a "Not for us" is just as good as a three paragraph vanilla float rejection.

The positive check mark for you is that you let me know you have passed, rather than make me guess how long I need to wait to cross you off my list.

~ Jim

Geoff Cain said...


Although your request for an example rejection letter was intriguing, I was not sufficiently interested in your project to submit one at this time.

I wish you luck in submitting this proposal to more appropriate venues in the future.

Geoff Cain

jjdebenedictis said...

I like your form letter. It's positive and honest. I'm very impressed you have alternate versions; that's extra work.

When Nathan Bransford ran a simulated slush reading contest, I created a form letter, but I put a checklist at the end of it to allow me to indicate common problems, as well as a space to jot down personal comments when I had any.

But even that much personalization was more work than I think I would do if I were really an agent. That contest was an eye-opening experience.

Missives From Suburbia said...

I think it's fine. As other comments have noted, it's an answer, which is what I'm looking for, even if it's not the answer I want.

The freelance editor in me suggests adding a comma between "intriguing" and "I".

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh, so you mean my query wasn't really intriguing? And I guess next you're going to tell me that there is no Santa...

Seriously, I think your kind, thoughtful and encouraging letter is a reflection of the kind of agent/person that you are...a pleasure to work with...but, in the final analysis, I would have to agree with so many of the other commentors who state that you should lose the word "intriguing" unless you really mean it, but, then...if you do mean it, why are you passing on it?

In the end, this is a business and the query is a business letter and it is so appreciated when an agent takes the time to respond, rather than just ignore the letter, even if their response is just a form letter.

It was really sweet of you to open your letter to all of us this way. thanks

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that you give form rejections. But I'm going to chime in with the masses on changing the "intriguing" bit. Don't give any illusion.

I'd even suggest instead of "form rejection," just say "form decline." :)

Also, I found this blog very helpful by Ms. Gardner about why it's important for agents NOT to give individuaized form [declines].

Please keep sending them. It is frustrating to wonder if your query got received. I find it very respectful.

Thanks for posting this.

Bija Andrew Wright said...

I seem to recall having this discussion before... it seems like there was a similar debate over the use of "intriguing." In my own writing, I'd only use "intriguing" to describe something that really intrigued me. "I requested the full manuscript because the idea was intriguing, but passed because I didn't think it was marketable."

The end of the note kind of makes me think of something else. Once when I submitted a short story to a literary magazine, I got a photocopied form rejection that was a full page full of gushy apologies for sending a form rejection. "We know you put a lot of hard work into your story, and that no one likes rejection, and it must be horribly painful for you to get this rejection in a form letter, but take heart, because many other literary journals may find value in your work, so don't give up!" That was excessively condescending to me. So this note's nowhere near the same extent, but it does feel a little like it's treating the sensitive little author with kid gloves. Just my perspective.

Spy Scribbler said...

Awww. It's fabulous, Jessica.

Tricia Sanders said...

I think the fact that you send one is awesome. It's amazing how many agents don't. So it leaves the sender to wonder if they ever received the query.

Keep up the good work.

M. M. Justus said...

Just chiming in to add another vote to the "drop intriguing" side. Because chances are, it wasn't, and I assume you don't want to send out dozens of lies every day.

Also the bit about you being sure there's an agent for the novel out there somewhere. For the same reason.

I appreciate form rejections that apologize for being a form right up front, because, honestly? It makes me feel slightly better when it's phrased that way, and I don't have to go on and read the rest of the darned thing [wry g].

M. M. Justus said...

Argh. You'd never have known I was a proofreader in a past life.

I really do know how to punctuate, sorry!

TamaraKMartin said...

I'm just happy to get a reply. A no thanks is a no thanks whichever way it comes and i completely understand an agents time restrains so just appreciate something saying they've read it but it's not for them. Am very happy with the standard.

Anonymous said...

I like anon 1:02's (the HR person's) rejection. Because it doesn't stretch the truth. You don't really know that there is an agent out there for this work (because you haven't seen the full).

I agree with everyone who said take out "intriguing." I know you are trying to let the writer down easily, but it's a form rejection so it seems false to me.

Honestly, I can see why agents go for "no response means no" at the query stage. I probably would.

T. M. Hunter said...

Thank you for considering [our agency], but we have decided to pass on your submission.


Really, not much more to be said...short and to the point, and doesn't raise expectations where they shouldn't be. I always cringe when I see remarks about another agent out there just waiting to accept my submission, because I've been through this enough times to know that just isn't the case.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

ok. here's the deal. it's obvious that everyone thinks I should drop "intriguing" and so I did. but it feels so generic and so hopeless. I guess I like the feeling that i'm sending the author away with something to hold on to. something to feel good about and really, what's so wrong about that? And honestly, I do find most books intriguing. some aren't for me, but there's often something to recommend.

Don't worry. I'm not going to put it back in, but I'm struggling with the letter now, struggling with my own need to keep it uplifting and give the author something to crow about because sometimes we need that even if in the end we feel that "she says that to everyone"

I'll keep working, tweaking and revising this letter until it feels like me again.

Interesting and appreciated comments from all.

Thanks and best of luck ;)


Anonymous said...

"but it feels so generic and so hopeless."

That's because it *is* generic. You don't get much more generic than a form letter*, no matter how it's worded.

(But any hopelessness is in the fact that's it's a no, not the fact that it's lacking in compliments).

"I guess I like the feeling that i'm sending the author away with something to hold on to. something to feel good about and really, what's so wrong about that?"

False hope. To be blunt, it's not about how you feel; it's about how your queriers feel. The best thing for them is to come away from your rejection letter with Meh. OK, who's next? Not At least she liked it a little! Maybe if I revise, she'll like it more.

*Don't get me wrong. I don't consider this a negative. I'm just pointing out that a form letter has to be generic; else it's not form.

The Swivet said...

My own form rejection was similar although probably slightly less encouraging. I added the last line and found that it really helped cut back on responses to my form rejection:

"Thank you for your query. I'm afraid that your book isn't right for me at this time and I'm going to pass. Please keep in mind, however, that the publishing business is a subjective one and this is only one agent's opinion. There may very well be another agent out there for whom your work would be a better fit. Due to the sheer volume of queries I receive on a daily basis, I regret that I am unable to give you a personalized reply or offer any additional feedback on your query."

I did, however, get two insanely angry letters back complaining about the lack of personalization.

I think your letter is fine.=)


Durango Writer said...

Thanks for dropping the "intriguing" part. I received your form rejection some time ago and that one word made me think you'd personalized your response. I'm all for hope -- but it's okay to give us the straight story.

Unknown said...

I know I'm very late to this party, so it's unlikely that anyone will read this comment, but I thought I'd chip in.

Honestly, as soon as I can tell that a form rejection is just that, I stop reading. I don't think it matters what you say. When an author is gathering in rejection letter forty-three, the language doesn't matter all that much.