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Good and Bad Query Letter Rejections

Updated on March 25, 2015

A Rather Silly Question

Does anyone truly enjoy being rejected?

Rejection is cold. It is a knife to the back. It is the cold slice of steel through flesh, the disembowelment of another, using words as the weapon of choice.

To a writer, rejection just may be the end of a writing career, for many writers have what we can safely call “fragile egos.”

So you can be excused if you read the title of this article and found yourself just a bit confused. How is it possible that rejection could be good? Is there really any benefit to having your heart cut out and served to you on a platter?

Yes, there is!

It all depends on the type of rejection and how it is handled by the rejected.

Listen, if you query editors, agents, or publishers, the first thing you need to understand is that you will be rejected. There is no last minute reprieve, no midnight call from the governor staying your execution…you will be rejected!

It helps immensely knowing that going in.

The next thing you need to know is that, not only will you be rejected, but you will be rejected often.

The best hitter in professional baseball fails seven times out of ten. Compared to that hitter, a writer who sends query letters in hopes of being published is mired forever in the minor leagues, because the failure rate is closer to 90%. On a good day he hits .100.

How’s that for a slap of reality?

So I think it’s important that a writer understand what a good rejection looks like. If he/she is going to receive so many rejections, it would be beneficial to at least find some good in a few of them, right?

Let’s march forward and see what a good rejection letter looks like. I’m going to share a couple of my own rejection letters and tell you why I consider each of them “good” rejection letters.

The face of rejection
The face of rejection | Source

The Good

Hi William,

Thank you for your patience with me, and for giving me a chance to consider your project. I've gone through your query and your sample pages, and unfortunately I am going to have to pass as it just doesn't feel like the right project for me at this time. Please remember that this is a highly subjective industry, and what doesn't work for me is probably exactly what another agent may be looking for. It only takes one yes to get you in the door!

With that in mind, here is a link to Chuck Sambuchino's agents blog to help you - he blogs about new agents in the field, and interviews others so you have a better chance of finding one that is perfect for you.

I wish you all the best in your search!


Naomi Davis

Literary Agent, Inklings Literary Agency

What a great rejection this one is. This is like having the most beautiful girl in school tell you no, she can’t go to the dance with you, but she would love to go out with you another time. Naomi not only read some of my sample pages, but she wrote a personal note giving me advice for the future. Yep, this is a good one.

Let’s take a look at another.

Dear Bill,

Thank you for your query, which my readers and I have considered carefully. While we all agreed this project has very strong potential, I have reluctantly decided to pass as it is not a perfect fit for my list at this time. And please note that we can only provide specific editorial feedback to our clients.

I appreciate the opportunity to read and consider your work. Should you have another project in future which you are also looking for representation we ask that you consider resubmitting that work to us as I would be pleased to receive it.

Yours sincerely,

Stephanie Sinclair

This is a bonanza. This is like getting money in the mail. This is a warm caress from a beautiful woman. Yes, Stephanie rejected my manuscript, but she told me it has very strong potential AND she invited me to submit other work to her in the future. Believe me when I tell you that agents do not make that offer to every writer who contacts them. This is a keeper.

I’ve got one more for you and then we’ll take a look at the bad.

Dear Bill,

Thank you for letting me read your partial manuscript, which I read with interest. Your passion for your project certainly shines through.

However we're going to decline this at this time, as it’s not one for our lists. While you’ve set the scene with your three main characters and their background stories, I would have preferred immediate reference to the source of all his troubles: the books he’s written, the enemies he’s acquired. To me, starting off with this section makes his story much more effective in hooking the reader in.

The publishing industry is very subjective, so what may not work for us could be just what another agency is looking for. So we encourage you to continue your pursuit of publication.

In your search for the perfect agent you may want to check out Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog. We have found it to be a great resource for finding new agents that are looking to build their lists.

Thank you for considering us for your work and we wish you great success with your writing career.

All the best,

Jana Pleyto

Corvisiero Literary Agency

Note that although I was rejected in this letter, the agent took the time to point out a strength of the novel and also a helpful pointer should I decide to re-write it in the future.

My opinion of bad rejection letters
My opinion of bad rejection letters | Source

The Bad

Yes, I have received some bad ones as well. Let’s get it over with and then we’ll return to a more pleasurable discussion.

Thank you for your query to the P.S. Literary Agency; unfortunately, we don't feel like we're the right agency for your project.

Our agency receives over 1,000 queries per month and we only take on a few new clients per year. With the publishing industry being extremely competitive we need to feel a strong conviction when representing your work. While it is not for us another agent / agency may well feel differently.

We apologize for responding with a form email, but doing so enables us to respond in a timely manner. We wish you all the best for finding the perfect home for your work soon.

P.S. Literary Agency

Totally impersonal….a form letter….leaves me to wonder if this agent even bothered to read my letter.

Can you stomach another?

Thank you for considering Victoria Sanders & Associates as a potential agency to represent your work. We have reviewed the material you sent and we regret that we will not be offering to review your work further at this time. Please know that we are very selective with the materials that we request. We encourage you to keep writing and we wish you every success. Please forgive this impersonal note. We receive a tremendous number of queries and are forced to focus our attention on a limited number of projects.

Kind regards,

Victoria Sanders

Again, this one leaves me feeling as cold as a dead fish. This is like that same Homecoming Queen not only rejecting you but slapping you in the face before she leaves.

It only takes one acceptance to make your writing life brighter
It only takes one acceptance to make your writing life brighter | Source

Back to the Good News

This is probably a great time to share one last piece of good news with you, so here it is: the fact that you have a manuscript and you can query agents and publishers makes you special. There are very few of us in the world. Be proud of that fact.

And one more piece of good news for you: lightning only has to strike once for a writer. If the right agent reads your work and is impressed, new doors will open for you, and those new doors may open onto a world you never imagined.

It only takes once!

Get out there and start knocking on those doors of opportunity.

2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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