Rejection letters from literary agents and editors of literary journals can be discouraging—especially impersonal, one-line form letters. But rejection is a necessary part of the writing process, and creative writers should know how to interpret the information in rejection letters and then use this knowledge to improve their submissions.
First, let’s look at the different types of rejection letters:
The form letter rejection
A form letter rejection is easy to spot. This may be a short, generic note that reads something like, “Dear Writer—No thanks.” Or “Dear Writer—Please try again.”
There’s not much to be learned from a blanket rejection letter. But a few literary journals do have “tiered” rejection letters: one form for writers they don’t want to encourage; one for people who are good writers but who aren’t a good fit; one for writers who are invited to submit again.
Some literary agents or editors who do not use a form will simply send the work in question back with a handwritten note that says something like, “Not for us.”
Standard phrases used in rejection letters from literary agents and editors of literary journals:
Cannot use it/accept it at this time
Didn’t pique my interest
Didn’t strike a chord
Doesn’t meet our needs
Doesn’t fit our plans
Have to pass on this
Isn’t resonating with me/us
Isn’t something we’d like to pursue
No room for more clients (unless truly compelling)
Not a right fit
Not exactly what we’re looking for
Not for us
Not suitable for us
Not quite right for this list/publication
We are not enthusiastic enough about this work
We are not certain we could be effective in placing your work
We are not right for your work
We recommend you buy/subscribe/read our magazine
We do not have a place/room for this
and the list goes on!
If you receive a rejection letter with phrases like those above, be careful not to misinterpret it. A form letter doesn’t mean you targeted your writing to the wrong agent or editor. It doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake by sending your submission. A form letter, no matter what the exact phrasing, is a nice, generic way of saying no thanks.
The personal rejection letter
When a literary agent or editor has taken the time to include a comment about your submission, then you know it’s a personalized rejection.
Even if the comment is a critique of your work, we recommend you consider resubmitting to any literary agent or editor who cared enough about your work to offer a personal comment.
Send the agent or editor a thank-you note, and if/when you resubmit, reference the comments from the original rejection.
An invitation to resubmit
Some journals and literary agents always invite writers to submit again—it’s part of their form rejection. But others make such an offer more cautiously. At Writer’s Relief, we track our clients’ rejections and acceptances, so we know when these kinds of comments are “boilerplate” phrases in a form letter and when they are personalized.
We invite you to submit more in the future.
Do you have anything else we can consider? Please send.
Why, you may wonder, are you being rejected if the writing is so great?
A piece may be rejected simply because the timing is off. Or your project was too similar to something else already in the works. Or the editor or agent might believe you have talent and he/she is looking forward to seeing you develop it.
Either way, send a thank-you note and a new submission (when possible), and again, reference the original comments in your cover/query letter.
Close, but not quite
Often, writers will begin to get discouraged when they get too many “near misses.” But there’s a valuable lesson to be learned if you’re receiving rejections that imply “close but not quite.”
Take the time to analyze any comments you’ve received. Is there a common thread (i.e., tired theme, flat characters, weak ending)?
When choosing to make revisions based on feedback, think carefully before you begin to start taking every piece of advice thrown your way. Follow your heart and consider the comments thoughtfully—avoid knee-jerk reactions.
If one agent says “you should have written this in first person,” you may want to wait to hear if any other agents have the same comment before making such a drastic revision. It’s important to trust your instincts.
Keep in mind that what one agent dislikes, another agent might enjoy! That said, if you receive multiple comments that critique the same elements, it’s certainly time to revise.
Finally, if you’re getting many nice rejections, it may be time to reevaluate your submission strategy. Professional writers submit habitually and carefully—with proper etiquette and targeting. If you’re not sure of exactly what’s required by the industry, Writer’s Relief can help you with that.
Why do literary agents and magazine editors use form letters?
The fact is, editors and agents receive too many submissions to provide a personal comment on each piece. Hence, form letters.
Many of our clients find that working with Writer’s Relief allows them to take a more professional (and less emotional) approach to their rejection letters. (Of course, getting acceptances through Writer’s Relief helps too!)
Here’s an example of how one client changed her attitude about rejection letters—and changed her life!
I’ve been a Writer’s Relief client for nine months. Over that time, I’ve received one acceptance, one provisional acceptance (the editor asked me to resubmit with changes), and three encouraging rejections from editors at top-tier literary journals. The positive feedback from editors makes all the rejection slips I’ve been collecting worthwhile—and I should add that I never would have been able to stand the rejections without the support of your service and your staff. My confidence has grown, and along with it, I believe I’m producing higher-quality work. I never could have made this kind of progress without Writer’s Relief.
Alisa W., Writer
How should writers deal with rejection letters?
Writing is a business, and writers must remember that agents and editors have nothing against them personally.
Agents’/editors’ jobs depend on the choices they make, and if they don’t feel the work will sell—or they simply don’t feel any enthusiasm or passion for the piece—they don’t have time to argue or explain exactly why.
Literary agents and editors of literary journals have different tastes and interests, which is why writers should learn what they can from rejection letters and then keep submitting to find the agent or editor who will love their work. Writer’s Relief has been helping writers do just this since 1994. We have a team of industry-specific submission strategists who can increase your acceptance rate for book manuscripts, short prose, and poetry. Give us a call if rejections are getting you down!