The Different Types Of Rejection Letters And What They Mean For Writers

Writer’s Relief
May 3, 2018 · 3 min read

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!

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. “Boilerplate” form letter phrases include:

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.

Writer’s Relief
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