Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We Regret to Inform You: The Form Rejection (Rerun)

Another hectic week, meine Autoren, so here's another classic from the PMN vault. Enjoy! — E

Episode: "We Regret to Inform You: The Form Rejection"
Originally aired: Monday, November 2nd, 2009

For those of you in the know (and there are more of you than you might think), there have, over the past several months and years, been periodic imbroglios re: the use of the form rejection by literary agents. I don't usually foray into this territory, but I thought a patented PMN Analogy® might be of some use. It's actually not my analogy—I'm shamelessly appropriating it from a guy I was talking to last week—but I find it too good to pass up.

Remember when you applied to college? Fun, right? The standardized tests, the trips to the guidance office, the teacher recommendations, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, &c &c. The point being: remember when maybe you didn't get into that one college? Did they send you a personalized four-page essay on how you were super great, but they just didn't have room for you? Or did they send you a one-page "thanks, but no thanks, better luck elsewhere"?


As I've said before, you, gentle (though as-yet-unrepresented) readers, are not any given agent's primary focus or responsibility. Their time and efforts go first and foremost to their clients, and only after they've negotiated contracts, calmed down their own hysterical authors, sat through endless rounds of auctions, and attended every known (and many an unknown) conference on the planet do they have time to sit and read your query. This is why said query has to be good, and this is why you can't be upset with a form rejection. Not only does an agent not have time to respond to every individual person who queries him or her, but to be completely honest, he or she wouldn't owe you a personal rejection even if he or she did have the time. Disheartening, perhaps, but true.

Caveat: this doesn't mean I wholeheartedly endorse the form rejection for, say, partials or fulls, and I've never been a fan of the idea that no news is bad news (i.e. no response means rejection). And I do realize that most (if not all) writers view their work as reflections or extensions of themselves, and often (perhaps subconsciously) equate rejection of their work with rejection of their overall abilities as writers, or even with rejection of themselves, period. But this is not the case, bros and she-bros. It's simply a rejection of your novel, not an indictment of your character.

I don't mean to sound harsh here. I write, you write, we all write, and we all get rejected. None of us likes being rejected, and I'm sure agents don't relish the opportunity to reject us. But it's a necessary evil of the system, cats and kittens, and if you want to graduate from the Publishing School of Hard Knocks, you've got to be able to take a form rejection or two. Or ten. Or two thousand.

All I can say is: soldier on, dear readers. Never give up! Never surrender!


  1. I realize they're busy, but it is so frustrating as a writer to not know whether they have read the book and thought it sucked or if they haven't read it because it just hasn't what they were looking for because the word count was too low or something else more specific.

  2. I don't mind the form reject. Frankly, rejection is rejection and it's just as well that it be painless and quick "Sorry, not for us." rather than specific and critical.

    Besides, it's not their job as agents to point out the problems in my manuscript/query/whatever, that's my job as the author to makes sure it's polished in the first place, and beta readers and critique groups.

    What I don't like is the non responders. It's not that hard to say "Thanks, but no thanks," is it??

  3. A form rejection is much better than no response. I welcome feedback, but I don't expect a critique; I'm satisfied with an answer.

    There are probably quite a few agents out there who've encountered unprofessional writers who don't deal well with form rejections, and presumably those are the agents who've decided to send no response unless they're interested, figuring the chance of problems is lower.

    I would like to find those writers and shake some sense into them. They're making things worse for the rest of us.

  4. I wear form rejections on my sleeve like a badge of honor because if I'm getting rejected it means I'm submitting, and if I'm submitting it means I believe in myself, and in my writing. That is all that matters.

  5. Rejections prove you are working hard, not that you're a bad writer. Pin 'em up on the wall so everyone can see your progress.

    Our writer's group has a policy that for every ten rejections we go out for a curry.

    p.s. Shameless plug for Galaxy Quest. One of the best comedy's of all time.

  6. My favourite response to rejection letters.... "Fall down 99 times, get up, 100 times" ... I'm around about 87

  7. For people whose raw material is thin air, we can be uncharacteristically useless when faced with an agent's vacuum.

  8. Well, if I was the only writer in the world who got a form rejection, I'd feel dejected. But hey! It goes with the territory. And what's the alternative? Yeah, better to send those babies even though you might find out you've got an ugly baby.

  9. You make some very good points about rejection, form rejection, all of it. I do dislike the idea of no news is bad news. I don't expect feedback on any submissions I make, but it really only takes another 2 minutes to either paste a template and my e-mail address into your e-mail, or drop an already printed piece of paper into my SASE.

    And I completely agree with Matthew and Martin (and anyone else if they said it) Rejections mean you're trying, and that's something to be proud of.

  10. Thank you for your [ interesting / dismaying / unbelievable / unfortunate / unpreventable ] submission to "Startling Stories."

    Unfortunately, your story (check one or more)
    [ ] put me to sleep
    [ ] made my daughter cry
    [ ] reminded us of things we'd much rather forget
    [ ] burst into flame when it accidentally came into contact with a decently written story
    [ ] caused the building to be evacuated
    [ ] may mean the end of civilization as we have come to know it

    Please do not bother to submit to us again. If at some future time, we find we need material such as this, we will hire a monkey or two to write it. Their output is of comparable quality, and they work for fruit -- it doesn't have to even be all that fresh. Yes, they throw feces, but compare that to the danger of having to read anything else by you!


    Illegible Scrawl
    Slush Pile Reader

  11. I don't mind form rejections. I prefer them to no response at all.
    It's tiring to hear how busy everyone is. I hope they are busy. That means they are working for a living like everyone else.
    If you don't want new submissions sent to you, post it on your website.

  12. I absolutely detest "no reply means no". That is the laziest cop out. I have had email submissions go astray - astray to where? I have no idea. So, if no reply means no, I have no idea that they were received in the first place. That, I mind. Also, some agents and pubs have auto email response to at least let you know it arrived safely. Now I may not exactly be a computer geek, but I know that this is not a difficult thing to do and should be industry standard if you are going to accept subs by email. Writers don't like to waste their time either.

  13. I agree with Randine - I would rather get rejected and move on than be ignored by Agents.

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