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How To Interpret Rejection Letters From Literary Agents And Editors

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.

Submit to Review Board

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!

Dear Ronnie,

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!

91 Responses to How To Interpret Rejection Letters From Literary Agents And Editors

  1. Receiving rejections letter is apart of the experience, but rejecting work cause it simply don’t ‘fit’ in your press makes no sense to me. There is work being overlooked, simply because it doesn’t come close to the style of work, that is being submitted. I am noticing a lot of publishers, especially poetry publishers, are not being open to poetry of all types. My last rejection letter plainly stated we can use these. The work I submitted was approved by two well accomplished poetry teachers, and even got a lot of attention in the classes. The same publisher that rejected the poems, was publishing poetry with line breaks as poetry and poems with cliches. I was completely shocked.

    I have had some of my most loved work, by readers and very success writing teachers, rejected.
    The problem with the publishing companies today, is that a lot of them are ran by writers as well, and writers who are stuck on judging the quality of work on whether they could of wrote it or can imitate it or if they think they could better, or if they feel it is nothing like they would of wrote. Great work is being accepted just because it is not the particular ‘taste’ of the publisher. The people who judge the work should be writing professors or a secret panel of readers, who are not given the name of the writer.
    Because there is there is the internet, one can Google someone’s name, before making a decision on their work, and if they see they don’t have much of a fan club yet, that may influence their decision.
    I think manuscripts need to be judged without the authors names known.

  2. Hello, I’ve read this article I guess 10 times. Just recently I received a letter from quarterly contest. I am not so sure if it’s a form letter or not. Because it has a few typos. I cut a few parts of it (for privacy reasons) so it reads like that:
    “It is fine if you would like to edit this story and re-submit it. That completely fine to do. We have had many people do that and have success the second time around.

    I look forward to helping you in some way and look forward to your response.”

    is this a form letter? or should i take an invitation for the next free contest as something serious.

  3. Hi, thank you for your helpful article. After so many standard form rejections, I find myself analysing every response for something that seems slightly more personal/positive to help keep me going :) I’m doing just that with my last rejection. It was from a publisher in response to my children’s picture book submission. Everything about it was pretty standard but after thanking me for my submission he did say “I thought it was really sweet but unfortunately there’s no space for it on our list.” In your experience do you think the sweet comment could be personal?

  4. Hi Krishna,

    We can’t speak for individual agents, as each will have their own type of form rejection. But that sounds like a fairly standard, but still nice rejection letter.

  5. I received the following rejection letter from a publisher

    Dear (my name),

    Thank you for sending us your submission for consideration.

    Unfortunately, we didn’t think that the novel was quite right for our list, so we will decline from publishing your work on this occasion.

    Please do not feel that this is a reflection on your writing. We very much enjoyed reading what you sent us, and felt it was well written and engaging.

    Is this a standard rejection letter, or should I feel differently because of the last line?

  6. Hi Elizabeth,

    We can’t speak for individual agents, as each will have their own type of form rejection. That being said, this does seem to be a very nice, personalized rejection letter. I would thank this agent for his/her words of encouragement, and continue submitting your book to other agents.

  7. Hi Shay,

    While there’s no way for us to know 100% the intentions of the agent, this is a much warmer rejection letter than is typical for a form letter. And it seems very complimentary and hopeful for your ultimate success. You can send a “thank you for your kind words” reply—it never hurts to be grateful!

  8. Dear —:

    Thank you so much for sending your project for my consideration! I found your query and sample pages well-written with a strong concept. I have ultimately decided to step aside, but I think another agent is going to be intrigued enough to ask for the manuscript.

    Good luck with all your publishing endeavors!

    Agents Name

    Was this a form rejection letter, and should I reply?

  9. The following was the best rejection letter I think I received. Am I getting too excited over nothing? Or is this agent truly seeing something in me and my work? Could this be the kindest form letter out there? (Brody is the character in the story.)This email was confusing to me. I am trying to hold onto the positives – other than being asked to submit the entire manuscript – and yet feel sad as I think this agent and I would have been a great fit. Thank you so much!

    Dear Elizabeth,
    Thank you so much for entrusting me with your manuscript. You write great chemistry and I really like Brody as a leading man. Unfortunately your story is too similar to some of the ones I already have on my list. You are a talented writer and I have no doubt that you will find the right agent for your story. I’m sorry that it is not me.

    Best of luck on your publishing journey,

  10. I submitted my manuscript to an agent, and this is what she replied:

    “Many thanks for sending me your submission, which I read with interest. I’m afraid, however, that I didn’t feel passionately enough about it to offer you representation. Our business is subjective by nature and another agent may well feel differently – I wish you good luck with that.”

    I just wanted to know if this is a form rejection or did the agent mean what she wrote? Was she truly interested? And what should I reply?

  11. Hi guys,

    I got my first rejection a few months ago and I always assumed it was a standard rejection. The email mentioned the name of my piece and did end with ‘Although your piece was not selected for publication this time, we encourage you to submit more work in the future.’ But it also has lines such as ‘We understand that much time and effort goes into the literary realization of a creative thought, and we sincerely appreciate the chance to read your work.’ So I was wondering, is it just a form rejection?

    Thank you for this great website and article.

  12. Hi Tyler,

    Thank you for your comment. It’s understandable how you might read a rejection letter and, based on the terminology, not be sure if it’s a form letter or a personal response. But the fact is that most literary journals are understaffed and overworked, so they have one standard rejection letter that they use to cover multiple scenarios: Not suitable for us and Not exactly what we’re looking for are two commonly used phrases in boilerplate rejection letters.

    Also, we’ve noticed that literary editors often hate to hurt the feelings of the writers who submit work to them. So they try to put a positive-sounding spin on the rejection with phrases like: We are not right for your work; Cannot use it/accept it at this time, etc.

    You may find our article about interpreting rejection letters helpful: https://writersrelief.com/blog/2011/01/how-to-interpret-rejection-letters-from-literary-agents-and-editors/

  13. sorry to ask but i feel like this is a form letter but it sounds a lot more personal. what do you think?
    Dear Ty**** ********

    Thank you for letting me review your query. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that we are the appropriate agents to represent this material. In this very competitive market, we are simply not enthusiastic enough about our ability to sell this work to offer you representation.

    We wish you the best of luck placing this successfully. Thank you, once again, for letting us consider it.

    Best regard

  14. An agent sent me a rejection letter stating it was very hard for her to turn down my book. She said I had a strong story and it drew her in right away. She added I had talent. But….she just didn’t love it enough. She added she was sure it would find a home soon. So far it hasn’t, although I’ve had one or two compliments on my writing.

    I’ve rewritten the beginning but I’ve kept the rest as is.

  15. Hello Millie,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Don’t be discouraged! If you are interested in self-publishing, you can schedule a free consultation with Self-Publishing Relief to discuss your options.

  16. I received my first form rejection letter (for a novel) so I thought I’d share it! I’d recently made some huge revisions to my novel based on a publishers recommendations (to make my novel commercially appealing), and had a writing friend help me make some other huge edits, but it seems my novel still needs work… lol. I’ve gone through all the agents I can (except one, but I know that will be a rejection) and now I have only 30 publishers to try before I’ll need to resort to self-publishing. I think the whole premise behind my story is the issue, and no matter what I do it will always be unappealing. That’s my fault though, I was writing ‘for myself’ not for the market.

    Hi (my name)

    Thank you for submitting your work to the agency. After careful consideration I’m afraid we do not feel we are the right agency for this work, and we are therefore unable to offer to represent you. I’m sure you can appreciate the need for an agent to be totally committed to a work to sell it enthusiastically to a publisher; to do otherwise is not in the best interests of the author.

    Unfortunately, because of the volume of submissions we receive, we cannot offer any critical comments on your submission.

    Of course, another reader might have a completely different response to your writing, and we encourage you to send your work to other agents, or directly to publishers.

    With best wishes,

  17. Hello Carly,
    It sounds like you received a form rejection. Don’t get discouraged—each rejection brings you closer to an acceptance. A journal or literary magazine may not feel that a specific piece you submitted is right for that issue, but you can certainly submit to that journal again after reading their submission guidelines (so that you don’t submit work again too soon). A good submission strategy is to research journals online and read an issue or two of a particular journal to get an idea of the type of work they publish. Good luck with your writing!

  18. I got a rejection from a journal I really like saying, “After discussion, we do not feel XXXXXX is a good fit for your work.” It was a story—are they telling me they don’t want to see any more of my work? Or is this a sort of form letter?

  19. Hello Edward,
    Thank you for your comment.
    While some literary magazines/journals use a standard or generic reply for writing not accepted, a personalized reply from an editor or staff member is definitely worth keeping track of to submit more of your work to.

  20. I have sent short stories via submission managers and sometimes have received under the heading comments by staff a generic comment with the fiction editor’s name under it. Other times from different submission managers I’ve received no comment at all. Is a comment by the staff and the editor’s name by it a way of letting me down easy with a personal touch or can I take it as a positive sign?

  21. Good day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after going through some
    of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely delighted I stumbled upon it and I’ll be book-marking
    it and checking back regularly!

  22. Kristen, it look like the first couple of pages of your manuscript weren’t enticing enough for the agent. We think some of our tips might help you when editing your manuscript.

  23. hi Writer’s Relief. Through the year I’ve been querying agents for two mss, I’ve gotten the garden variety version of what you’ve mentioned in your article of “not right for me/not right for my list at this time/not a good fit for my agency.” A few times, I’ve gotten a rejection, like the recent one that states that “my writing didn’t pull them in as she hoped”–this was from a Twitter contest two weeks ago when she faved my pitch. What did this rejection mean?

  24. hi,I received my rejection letter about my fiction.
    she wrote me:Thank you so much for sharing (book name) with me. Though I think you have an interesting story here, I didn’t quite fall in love with it in the way that I need to in order to request more. In this subjective industry, I’m sure another agent will feel differently, and I wish you the best of luck on your writing journey.

    is this a personalized rejection or what?


  25. Ryan, this sounds like a standard rejection letter. Most personalized rejection letter will mention your work by name or characters/situations in it and offer a small critique. We would suggest submitting it elsewhere AND working on your manuscript. It wouldn’t hurt doing a little critiquing of your own!

  26. First of all, thank you for this informative and resassuring post.
    Secondly, I have recieved my first ever rejection letter and i’m really having trouble trying to interpret what the problem with my work actually is. Can you help?

    The rejection –

    “Dear Ryan,

    This was a difficult decision as I was really impressed with your submission. However, ultimately, I did not feel convinced I could find a publisher for it and therefore I don’t feel able to offer you representation for this project.

    I am sorry not to be writing with better news.

    Thank you for sharing your work with us and we wish you every success with your writing.”

    I can’t tell if this is just a really nice form letter and i need to work on my manuscript or that i shoudl submit elsewhere to an agent who has more experience with my genre. Please help!

  27. hallo,
    today i received my first rejection letter for literary agent. she wrote me:
    Thank you for sending me your submission request. Although the synopsis sounds interesting, I am not taking on any more authors. I wish you the best in finding a Literary Agent for your book.

    the last sentence is in blue, no black.
    my question is:

    this is a standard rejection or maybe is true?

  28. Sandra, From our experience, editors and agents (especially) who go out of their way to write a personalized rejection letter are usually good editors/agents to consider again once it becomes time to resubmit work. If you feel like you’ve made considerable revisions (both on your own and from their suggestions, if necessary) we would most certainly recommend resubmitting to them. Be sure to check the publisher/agent’s guidelines on resubmitting work.

  29. Thank you for the article! Trying to discern whether or not it is worth trying to resubmit to one publisher, and if I should respond. An excerpt from their very lengthy response:

    “We have read your submission with interest; you certainly know how to conjure up the historical period evocatively and authentically. The story is well structured, with charming characters and you
    have a very natural, fluid writing style. However, whilst we appreciate the care and attention that has gone into the preparation of your submission, regrettably we feel that your story is not sufficiently developed for publication on our Historical list.
    We are always looking for new Historical authors, although the standard we require in a first manuscript is very high. Please do not be discouraged by this rejection, however, because we feel that
    your style and voice show a great deal of potential. Here are our top tips to make your next submission stand out from the crowd.”

    I’ve gotten another similar response, so I have taken some time to think about the suggestions and have begun making revisions. Interested in your take on the letter and if I should resubmit to this one publisher in particular as they are quite well known.


  30. Sarah, You can resubmit to these agents, just be sure to mention that the mss. has gone through considerable changes since the last time you’ve queried them. Be sure to check with an agent/organizations guidelines to see if they have any note about resubmitting work to an agent(s), and how long you should wait before doing so.

  31. So I’ve got 19 rejections under my belt and 2 requests for partials. I also had two positive, personal rejections from agents saying that my story was good, my characters were strong, and/or that I had an interesting idea but x, y, and z were problems. One of the agents encouraged me to keep going forward with it and submit to other agents as it was bound to catch someone’s eye, but since then I’ve had no luck. This was back in December, and I have since edited my mss. If I go over and edit them, can I resubmit to these agents? I never gave them a thank you note as I didn’t know you were supposed to do that.

  32. RA, that person probably meant that your story wasn’t enticing enough or attention-grabbing, so they were not able to be as immersed into your story as they would have liked to. Reading more books and revising your manuscript is a great way to start the editing process, so we would certainly suggest that.

  33. What does ” writing style did not involve me in your novels world” mean? Now what do I have to work on? Read more books and revise my Ms accordingly? Please tell me what to do?

  34. MR, If a journal doesn’t offer feedback in the initial rejection, then chances are they will not offer constructive criticism if solicited again. Because of the large number of submissions some journals receive, it is hard for them to offer personalized rejections with feedback included. So, although we think it is not appropriate to follow up with them again, we’re sorry for your unfortunate situation.

  35. Thank you for the useful article and comments. I’m feeling very down about a rejection letter. On occasion, I submit work to literary competitions. The competition is fierce, so I expect rejections; they don’t bother me. I look at it as a way to hone pieces for the next round. Recently, though, the Iowa Review contacted me after a competition to inform me that a piece I had submitted was selected as a finalist. Later, they emailed to let me know that, although my submission was not chosen, they were “impressed” and would like to consider it for publication if it was still available. It was sent before the editors, and I waited. Today, the managing editor emailed a rejection, which apologized for the editor’s decision to pass “after much consideration” and congratulated me again for being a finalist. It’s particularly hard to take, esp. since THEY approached ME about publication. Mainly, though, I would like a little more insight into their decision. Is it appropriate to ask for constructive criticism, along with thanking them again? If so, is there a format I should follow? (It would have been my first published piece, by the way.)

  36. This sitte was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found
    something that helped me. Many thanks!

  37. After several months of communication with an agent my published friend referred me to (including a Happy Holidays email initiated by said agent), I finally sent the ms off to her in February. I followed up 2 weeks ago and just received a response that “invited” me to go ahead and shop it to other agents. Talk about cold! A simple no would have sufficed. Ah, this business….!

  38. The ultimate rejection: I wrote a satirical piece on being rejected by agents and publishers, which I thought was funny, for the website literaryrejections.com. It was rejected.

  39. Nikki, there’s many avenues you can take in your situation. All of the things you have suggested here are great options, depending on what area you think needs the most work. When it comes to improving your writing, may we also suggest going to writing conferences, working with a writing mentor or studying under a fellow published writer, or joining a reputable writing group. If you need help with your query letters, editing, or just staying positive despite the rejections, try our publishing toolkit: https://writersrelief.com/free-publishing-resources-toolkit-for-writers/

  40. Writer’s Relief, quick question (truthfully…questions):

    How does a writer who has received multiple rejections determine where she should expend her energy?

    In other words, should she go back and revise her novel or put even more energy back into querying agents and publishers again, put energy into making her synopsis and outlines better, start working on book two of her series, or work on a completely different story all together?

    Sincerest Regards, Frustrated Writer Newbie

  41. Hi there – I find myself in a strange position and am wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience. So, recently I sent out my first three chapters to three agents and have received two full mss requests. The third has come back saying he’s getting to it now. All good. The first agent passed on the full mss. The second read the full and came back very quickly saying ‘A and B worked well, X and Y needed work, was I prepared to work on it, and if I already had representation, best wishes.’

    I thought this was rather lukewarm but she’s a big name and I adore her list so I replied saying of course I was prepared to work on it and would love to work with her on it. She replied ‘great, let’s talk, I’ll get back to you next week.’ So… three weeks have gone by. Nothing. No call or email. I’m preparing a short polite chaser email but before I do I wanted to know what people thought. Should I be worried – is her first lukewarm response and then no follow-up a sign of uninterest or a change of heart? Or is she just crazy busy or forgetful? She was so quick to respond after the first three chapters (2 days) and the full mss (8 days) and now…. silence.

    I thought agents were meant to be passionate about your work if they take you on and I find myself wondering if she’s that interested. Because we haven’t even had a phone conversation yet.

    I’d love an opinion / feedback / advice. This is my first novel.

  42. Thank you for this helpful post. I just got my first rejection from the editors of a literary journal. The email was brief but felt personal. “Your work impressed the editorial staff with (specific comments about my story).bThough not selected for publication, the piece makes us hope we’ll see more of your writing in the near future.”

    When you recommend sending a thank you note, do you mean via email? I would love to get a better sense of what kind of reply is appropriate. Thank you.

  43. It unfortunately sounds like a really nice way of saying no. We’ve found that unless agents state something specific about the work, they’re giving you their standard responses. Thanks for the comment!

  44. Hi,

    I got two rejections which read:
    Thank you for sending us a sample of your novel, but I’m afraid we can’t help you with it.

    You have some interesting ideas, but when publishers are being even more cautious than usual, especially where new writers are concerned, we just don’t think we’d succeed in selling your work.

    Of course all publishing judgements are subjective, and others might feel differently. Sorry to disappoint you, and good luck anyway.

    And this one
    Thank you for sending us a sample of your above book to review and for your patience while we read it.

    I enjoyed your writing, but after extensive consideration, we do not feel that we are the right agency to represent your proposed material.

    We wish you all the best with the publication and success of your work.

    Is this standard language or do they really mean they enjoyed reading or found my ideas interesting??


  45. I received a rejection letter stating that the publisher didn’t think they could, successfully, publish it but they encouraged me to approach a literary agent.

    I am not sure if this means it just wasn’t a fit for them.

  46. I have so far received two rejections with comments, neither particularly full of praise (but I suppose if they were full of praise they wouldn’t have rejected them. One said the characters were flat the other, for a separate story, said it was plotless and pointless. I guess the fact that they said anything at all is a good thing.

  47. Just received my first rejection letter today. When I first checked my email, I wasn’t expecting such a fast turn around (I’d just sent it yesterday). When I saw it sitting in my inbox, my first reaction was “Oh! I got a response!” After reading it, I immediately found myself here. The tone of the response was very light and encouraging, even though it was a rejection. When I finished this article, it made me feel even better to know that my line of thinking was already in the right area. I was smiling while I read the letter, mostly because I was still excited by the fact that they had responded. If anything, it’s a motivator! I’m going to print and store this beautiful bit of “No, thank you” and keep doing so until that “Yes” finally comes along.

  48. I’ve been writing novels for years. In trying get one of them published, all I get is “it’s not right for us”. With one agent, I asked if my book was marketable and this agent wouldn’t answer the question. I firmly believe, based on the articles I’ve read that unless you become acquainted personally with these agents, you’re wasting your time querying them.

  49. Almost all the rejection notes I have received have been at least civil. Some have been encouraging, and have even emboldened me to write back and ask if I might see the readers’ notes. In these instances, I found the notes so much to the point and so useful that I submitted another draft, which was accepted. This also started a fine relationship between me and the editors, who now know me as someone who is open to trying to write a better poem, and who can respond quickly.

    The only rejection note I would really call rude was a form letter. It annoyed me so much that I wrote a poem about it.

  50. This one could go either way, Matt. If the paragraphs are about your work and how you could make it better, you could consider this a positive AND personal response; however, journals do have a tendency to advertise contests and submission dates in their emails. It is important to check exactly what is in the body of the letter.

    Still, the editor was kind enough to include his name, instead of just mentioning the journal, so this may very well be a personal invitation to submit in the future! YAY!

  51. My first rejection letter ever and I am confused as to how to interpret it. It addressed both me and my story by name, was several paragraphs long, and was signed by an individual editor. The part that confuses me is: “…we further encourage you to share more work with us in the not too distant future.” Could this be a “tiered” letter? It would seem counterproductive to me to encourage writers whose work you didn’t like to submit more stories, as it would waste both the author and magazine’s time, but stranger things have happened.

  52. Hi
    Thanks so much for the reply – it is as I feared, but I am inspired by the ‘paper games’ suggested in your link and I love the encouraging and positive tone of this blog – thanks again – I’ll keep you posted as to whether I end up making a lifesize papier mache mouse – or an elephant!

  53. I just received my first rejection letter today after submitting the query three days ago. I am surprisingly okay with it, and I think it is because I knew what I was getting into when I decided I wanted to write as a career. This is a fabulous article, though, and I appreciate reading the responses. The one I got was pretty nice but also generic, which I guess is the way it’s done. I am looking forward to the other responses I get as well.

  54. We wouldn’t recommend responding with anything too personal, but a quick, “Thank you” may be appropriate. Unlike editors, most agents aren’t prone to staying in touch if they weren’t distinctly interested in your work, so it’s best to keep any response short and professional.

  55. Thanks for the great advice!! Since it could be a personal rejection, I was going to reply with a quick thank you, etc. Do you think this is a good idea?

  56. Hi Karla, unfortunately, this appears to be a form letter. Agencies and editors alike use similar language at the end of rejections to put a more positive spin on the idea, so rejections will often have positive language on the end to “soften the blow,” so to speak.

    Receiving a rejection is still a good note, however, as many agents do respond at all unless they are interested. Also, this is only your first rejection, so don’t fret! You may receive many more as time goes by, but sending out your work and getting your name into the writing world is important. Heck, you can even have some fun with those rejections while you’re at it!

  57. Hi Gina, interestingly enough, this one could go either way. If she was able to read your work despite the “transition period” she’s experiencing, this most likely is a personal rejection. She sounds genuine, and if she’s giving you this information, it’s also an invitation to send your work to her again (or send a different piece) in the future, once she’s more settled. Even if she is sending it out to multiple submitters as a form letter, she may be only sending it to those with work she is interested in reading again once she gets her career back on track.

    At the same time, she may be sending this out to anyone she’s read, since she is currently between agencies. It certainly doesn’t mean she dismissed your work without looking at it, but there’s a good chance she may be using this email to avoid “ignoring” submitters while she is moving.

    Both are possible, but keep her archived just in case! If you submit to her again when she’s in a more stable work environment and write, “You previously expressed interest in another of my stories, Xxxx…” in your query letter to jog her memory, you’ll have a better chance of garnering some attention. Good luck!

  58. I just got my first response to a query also. It reads;

    My name,
    Thanks so much for letting me read (book name)! I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read, but unfortunately, I’m going to have to pass. I’m in a transition period where I’m not able to take on clients and I’m not sure when I’m going to be at that point again – soon, I hope! I’ve left (Agency name) and I’m waiting until I get settled in at another agency to begin accepting queries and taking on new clients.

    I wish you the best of luck in finding the perfect agent for you!

    I thought this was a personal rejection but I am questioning if it is a form letter rejection that is sent to everyone that had queried this agent, since she is no longer at this agency. Please let me know what you think!


  59. Hi
    I just got this, after submitting the required elements of my novel to an agency, which was recommended to me by friend, who is also an existing client of the agent:

    “… unfortunately we did not think that we would be the best agent to represent your interests.

    However, we would like to thank you for letting us consider your work and would like to wish you all the best in the future.”

    It is similar to the standard rejection ‘we are not right for your work’ but it does go on to thank me, and wish me luck. Problem is, I wonder if it would have been more dismissive if it hadn’t been for the friend recommending me? Or do you think the agent is genuinely saying I have simply submmitted it to the wrong one?

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated – this is my first rejection, and trickier to interpret, perhaps, because of my having referenced a recommendation by our mutual acquaintance in making my submission?

  60. Desiree, go ahead and bask! Some agents don’t even reply at all unless they’re interested in a book; you should be proud to have received such a personal, positive response.

  61. I just got this response to my first query ever:

    Hey there Desiree,

    Thanks so much for giving me a shot at your picture book. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its poise and polish, so I ought to step aside, but I truly appreciate the look, and I wish you the best of luck!



    I felt encouraged that he called my writing “poised and polished.” Do agents ever say things like that just to be nice, or can I let myself bask in the glow of a sincere compliment??

  62. Hi Sara, unfortunately, unless the letter includes the name of a specific editor or editors, it’s most likely a form letter. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you weren’t among the finalists; in fact, the line, “the judges felt that the piece was ultimately not the winner” suggests that you work was among the group be considered for first place.

    “We look forward to seeing more work” may be part of the form letter, but it’s possible that it was only included for those who made it past the November finalists section. More likely than not, those who were not included in this group were sent rejection e-mails before mid-November, giving them more time to resubmit their work elsewhere and allowing the journal in question to focus on the finalists.

    Regardless, you shouldn’t let rejections get you down. Every rejection puts you closer to acceptance, so revise your work (or create a new piece) and send it back to them the next time they’re reading! You can even include in your letter that they asked to see more of your work; having them remember you and your quality work is just one of the many ways to boost your chance of acceptance.

  63. I received the following response today from a reputable literary mag:
    “Thank you for submitting “Flight” to — contest. We appreciated the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the judges felt that the piece was ultimately not the winner.

    Best of luck with this. Thanks again, and we look forward to seeing more of your work. ”

    Form letter, yes? It was signed, “The Editors”. The website says that finalists were forwarded on to the judges in mid-November, but if I were among that group they would have specified this, right?

  64. Jayne,

    It’s great that a literary agent took the time to personally respond to you, especially when most lit agents don’t these days. See if any other feedback comes to you, and then consider revising. It can’t hurt!

    Rejections are always tough; but the more you submit, the easier the process can become and the more likely an agent will ask for more pages.

    Keep at it!

  65. I received an email reply (re: a book submission) from an agent a day after I sent it that read:

    “Thank you for your submission. While I did enjoy this I felt the concept and tone was a bit too quiet and I think it would be a struggle to place it with a publisher at this time. Therefore regretfully I am going to have to pass on this but I wish you the best of luck in finding another agent for this project”.

    While my initial reaction was to think ‘well, it’s obviously boring and I need to spend some time spicing it up’, since reading your article and these comments I’m feeling less rejected and less inclined to edit the book until I see what the next few agents have to say.

    I hate this part of writing! It really takes away the passion in our work, doesn’t it…?

  66. Emma, great question! It really depends on the agency in question. You mentioned representation, which leads me to believe you are talking about a book submission, so there’s a good chance the letter was, in fact, a personal response.

    Keep in mind, however, that whether it is a personal response or not shouldn’t discourage you from submitting your work elsewhere. Sometimes agencies do have to send out form letters due to the amount of submissions they receive, but that should never make you think your work was glossed over in any way! Every rejection brings you closer to an acceptance and, at the very least, gets your name out into the writing world. Good luck and keep writing!

    P.S. Might we suggest doing something fun with that rejection letter?

  67. I have had a couple of polite rejections of my submission. I think my book is fantastic. When I see the plethora of rubbish on the bookshelves in town I know mine is better than these but how on earth do most of them make it to the shops? Also, the first three chapters is usually requested and no doubt agents can gauge if they like a style but in countless books I have read you have to hang in there to get the gist of what’s coming later. I think first fifty pages is a better way to judge. Still got rejected tho. Boo hoo.
    Good luck all

  68. I got my first rejection letter today. It said ‘we read your work with interest,’ and ‘while we enjoyed your material it is not a good fit.’ It also said, ‘Please do not be discouraged by our response’, and that they hope I find an agent who can represent me. I felt encouraged. I thought, people don’t say they enjoy something if they don’t mean it, especially not these people. Then my partner said it was just a form letter and that all the rejects get that. He said ‘it’s just a polite ‘no.’ Is it?

  69. I sent my manuscript to an agent whose website said to expect three months to get a reply. Ten days later I got a form rejection letter with neither my name nor the date on it. I suspect no one at the agency even glanced at the manuscript, or even read my cover letter.

    If they’re that busy, they should say they’re closed to any new submissions.

  70. As a literary agent, former magazine editor, and writer myself, I’ve been on all sides of the submission process and found your article spot-on. An aside: Most rejections fall into this category: It’s like the blind date your mother sets up for you with a nice guy or gal. Midway in the date you look up from your plate of spaghetti and you realize, “Wow, they’re terrific, they’d make someone a great spouse. JUST NOT ME.”

  71. I have sent out several query letters and have received a few rejections. I understand that the agency has a form rejection letter they use, but it is very frustrating and discouraging when they tell you that your work doesn’t fit their agency and you know it does.
    I am writing in a sub-genre and one of the agencies I queried was started by an author who writes under the same sub-genre and I’ve read several of their authors (also in the same sub-genre) that they represent so I know my work “fits”. I would rather hear that they are not interested in my work rather than making something up.
    It’s hard when many agents say they are interested in my sub-genre, but they don’t represent many authors that actually write in that category. So when I find an agency that does and they say they are not a good fit, it can make it difficult to go on with confidence.

  72. Dear tzoyia,

    Although we can’t see the rejections, it does sound like they are form letters. Some agencies have a standard letter that interns or assistants will modify by plugging in a writer’s name or book title. Many form letters are very encouraging and warm (as many agents are encouraging and warm, even when they have to say no).

    Some agents or editors will see something they like in a given work, even if that piece is not exactly “right.” Hence, writers will often get invitations to resubmit.

    Hope this helps!

  73. I started sending submissions a month ago, so far I have received two rejections. I received the first, a day after I emailed the query and synopsis. It was a form rejection, the title of my novel was not mentioned and they addressed me by my full name. The rejection was quite brief, only two sentences. Just that they could not offer their services and that they wished me luck.
    Today I received the second rejection. I was addressed by my first name, the agent mentioned the title of the novel(she wrote the title in capitals) but she told me that it is not the right book for the agency at this time and explained to me that she needs to fell in love with my work instantly. She encouraged me to submit to her in the future.She was very kind and told me that this is just her opinion and there are other agents out there more suitable.
    I believe that both letters were form rejections, although I admit that I cannot understand why would someone ask to resubmit. I thought that no means no, no?

  74. Anisa,

    Although this does look like a form letter, it is very possible that this is a positive “tiered response.” Often journals have more than one form letter response that they send to writers. For example, one that invites the writer to submit again and one that thanks them for their submission but without the invitation to resubmit.

    We hope you’ll take this journal up on their offer to submit again and that an acceptance is in your future!

  75. Hello,

    I just received my first rejection letter and it said “At this time we are not interested in publishing your story. We would, however, welcome another submission from you in the future.”

    Is this a form response?


  76. Amy, Generally, a journal won’t tell you that they’re impressed unless they are. Editors don’t have enough staff time to encourage submissions from writers who are submitting work that is inappropriate. Probably, you’re receiving a tiered rejection. It’s a very good thing that you’re getting nice rejections.

  77. I have a question about form rejections. A few months ago I received what I thought was a personal rejection from a journal–they said they were “very impressed” with my writing and hoped I would submit again. Yesterday I got a form rejection from a different magazine that said the exact same thing. Would this be considered a tiered personal rejection letter, or do these magazines tell everyone they are impressed with the writing?

    Thanks for the help!

  78. I can’t help but find some of these ‘responses’ from literary agents to be downright hurtful. I’ve been trying to submit the first of my proposed three-piece novel for the last several months. Although I’ve had a few “close calls,” I’ve had the arbitrary two word “We’ll pass” statement, which I find to be rediculous considering I put far more work into meeting their individual submission guideline than their two word horrid response.

    Then there is the fact that I have yet to receive anything I could take away as constructive criticism. If literary agents are thriving off of others’ work being submitted to them, they should at least make a vain attempt at motivating those that are trying to make their first steps. Not shoot them in the foot before they could even get it off of the ground.

    My only wish is that there was a place that existed outside of conventions which could offer some unobjected, yet motivating constructive criticism. I’ve scoured the net for such a place, but none exists. Relying on your family and friends doesn’t help to critique your work. A simple, neutral “hey, this part looks good, but how about (insert revision here)” would go a long way for prospective writers.

    With my experience with literary agents, its almost as if they are musing themselves as the doorkeeper to a person’s ability to get their word out. I don’t care about it being a business. So what if it should be considered one? My novel is not solely meant for personal gain, despite their obvious belief. I just feel that it’s a story that needed to be told. See what I’m getting at?

  79. I have received quiet a few form rejection letters over the years and do not mind them all that much. It is a business after all and the form letter serves an important purpose, it doesn’t burn any bridges. However there have been two letters that were nonsensical personal attacks. They rambled from one reason another none of it having anything to do with the story I submitted. They read like the editor was trying to convince him or her self and not me because I was convinced with the words we are sorry. The three paragraphs after that were well, overkill.

    But here is the thing spelling errors, grammar errors it is all bull nothing in this world is perfect especially not the printed word. What really is important is whether or not you tell a good story. All the rest is the delusional fantasy of people that believe they are guarding the gates against mediocrity when the truth is of the thousands of books I have read there were two that I would call great. Most authors telegraph their endings long before I get there and most plots are derivative. Greatness with regards to literature is a very over used word. One day, books will be published in a great on-line library and people not editors will decide what they want to read.

  80. I once received a rejection within 5 minutes of pressing the send button.

    The only thing I might disagree with in this article is the advice to thank an agent for a personalized rejection and resubmitting after taking their advice. Over the years I have read more than 1 agent blogging about this very issue and they say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” They say they are so busy with queries that if even 10% of the rejections sent thank yous or worse yet, resubmission of something they rejected, they’d be even more swamped. No is a no, regardless of how nice they said no. If they liked your idea but not your query, they’d ask for a partial. I guess if you’ve already been rejected, it couldn’t hurt, but I still wouldn’t want to annoy them. BTW, I’ve considered form thank you’s to all of the rejections. ;)

  81. I decided a couple of years ago not to call them rejections but to call them responses. If I offer someone a plate of cookies and they say, “No thanks,” they have not rejected my cookies, they have responded to my offer. That is easier on the ego.

  82. Ana, We’re sorry to hear about your experience with this editor, but don’t let one bad apple sour you on all online journals! As this article proves, writers should not let rejections (even very rude ones) stop them from continuing a well-rounded submission strategy. Read our article about online journals for more information on how to determine if an online journal is reputable. Good luck and keep submitting!

  83. I was sent a rejection, the prime reason being spelling. I responded to the editor and stated that there was no spelling issue (I am not a terrible speller and did use spell check a few times). I suspected that the editor of the online journal didn’t like the story but didn’t have the guts to say it.
    He responded to me. He basically lost his patience and started ranting. Since that email, I have never submitted work to any online, ‘allegedly’ highbrow journals.

  84. I once got a rejection letter where they said they were shooting me down because they were simply too busy to read it.

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