Rejection letters from literary agents and editors of literary journals can be discouraging for creative writers—especially impersonal, one-line responses. But writers who want to succeed at getting their work published know rejection is an unavoidable and even necessary part of the writing process. So it’s important to know how to interpret the different types of rejection letters—and then use this knowledge to improve your submissions!
At Writer’s Relief, we know that a rejection from a literary agent or editor is not personal. If your work is rejected, it doesn’t automatically mean your writing isn’t good enough. It could simply be a matter of poor timing (the agency has received a glut of Westerns along with yours); the submission wasn’t appropriate (you submitted romantic poetry to a steampunk magazine); or the agent or editor simply didn’t feel passionate about your work (but the next one may!).
However, if you find a common thread mentioned in many of the responses—too many plot problems, underdeveloped characters, etc.—it may be time to take another look at the work you’re submitting.
(Note: When choosing to make revisions based on feedback, think carefully before you edit. Follow your heart and consider the comments thoughtfully to avoid knee-jerk reactions.)
Different Types of Rejection Letters Sent To Writers
The form letter
A form letter rejection is easy to spot but doesn’t offer much in the way of information: “Dear Writer—No thanks.” Or “Dear Author—Please try again.” Some literary agents or editors will simply reply with something like, “Not for us.” A form letter, no matter what the exact phrasing, is a nice, generic way of saying “no thanks.”
Standard phrases used in form 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!
The personal rejection letter
When a literary agent or editor has taken the time to include a personal comment about your submission—even if the comment is a critique—we recommend you submit future work to anyone who cared enough about your work to offer an opinion.
Send the agent or editor a thank-you note, and if/when you resubmit, reference the comments from the original rejection.
The invitation to resubmit
Some journals and literary agents always invite writers to submit again—it’s part of their form rejection letter. But others make such an offer more cautiously. At Writer’s Relief, we track our clients’ rejections and acceptances, so we recognize the “boilerplate” form letter phrases:
We invite you to submit more in the future.
Do you have anything else we can consider? Please send.
Whether it’s a boilerplate response or a sincere offer, send a thank-you note and a new submission (when possible). Remember to reference the original comments in your cover/query letter.
The glowing rejection
And finally, sometimes an author receives a rejection that offers sincere appreciation of their writing, often going into detail about what makes the writing worthy. It’s still a rejection, but it’s also priceless validation of a writer’s talent. If you get one of these, it’s good as gold! (And be sure to send a new submission!)
How should writers deal with rejection letters?
First, keep in mind that agents and editors are people. They have varying likes and dislikes, and sometimes they have bad days… Again, rejection is not personal. You should let mean-spirited or impersonal rejection letters slide off your back, and cherish any comments or constructive criticisms that come your way. Many editors and agents truly want you to succeed, so pay attention to what they’re saying about your work and its place in the literary market. (And check out our Rejection Tool Kit for Writers.)
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. Since 1994, Writer’s Relief has been helping writers meet their publishing goals. We have a team of industry-specific submission strategists who can increase your acceptance rate for book manuscripts, short prose, and poetry. Let us know if rejections are getting you down!
Question: What’s the “best” rejection letter you ever received?
In my experience, the agents and editors expect us writers to submit a professional query, synopsis, etc. I always went out of my way to follow instructions and guidelines to the t. I even bought stationary paper to match my book title. This was before e-mail submissions. What bothers me is, why do they expect us to be professional when a few times I literally got a horizontal strip of paper saying, ‘not for us’. I found that rude and yes, very unprofessional.
I also received a rejection letter from an editor telling me my main female character was too wishy-washy because she would pray before making a decision in the situation.
For the most part, in the past, I only ever received rejection form letters.
After twenty years of rejection letters, I was grateful when amazon’s self-publishing was born.
AND, I recently read an editor’s article claiming ‘older’ writers are not favored by traditional publishers or agents. We have no clue how to reach the younger audience of today, we’re too old and unreliable for book tours, we don’t look good in pictures or on television. In other words, older writers should sit back and let their arteries harden because we have no place in a youthful industry.
You can see how this discourages writers of seasoned age. It’s also age discrimination!