does not suit our needs at this time

So last night we’re reading queries. (I don’t need a 9-to-5-er, really. What would I do with all that time? And does anyone actually *have* those kinds of jobs anymore?) And I’m looking at the form rejection. A truly unfortunate thing, form rejections. But given the sheer volume of letters I get (just me; not even taking a stab at what the rest of the agency pulls down), I can’t imagine how I’d have time for anything else (like sleeping, which I should do more of) if I wrote individual replies to everyone. Sad, but true. Anyway, so there I am, looking at my form rejection and thinking somewhat abstractly about all the writers that I have met at conferences who have told me horror stories about them. Some of them are apparently just this side of rude. And a few come across as downright insulting, or so I hear. Oddly — I’ve been told that mine is one of the nicer ones. But I’m not happy with it. I don’t know if I ever could be really. I mean, it’s a form rejection and they suck. Maybe those people who said that to me were just understanding the necessity and being kind. Maybe it’s time for a new version or something. So, I thought to myself that I would ask for suggestions. And stories. It’s Friday after all and one could use stories. Ergo, please comment on the following:

*Stories of the best/worst form rejections ever received.
*Take a stab at writing one yourself and posting it here. This would be particularly interesting to me….

99 responses to “does not suit our needs at this time

  1. (I don’t need a 9-to-5-er, really. What would I do with all that time? And does anyone actually *have* those kinds of jobs anymore?)
    Does 8 to 5 count? And does it still count if it’s the thing that pays, but not your actual career? πŸ˜‰

    • I think 8-to-5 would only count if you got a *really* long lunch break or some other benefit. And, yeah, I’m only talking about the “job” — not those things people pursue that might occasionally pay (or not) but are more a part of their real life and a pursuit of the dream, than those things what put food on the table, if you know what I mean.

      • I think 8-to-5 would only count if you got a *really* long lunch break or some other benefit.
        Ah. Well, in that case, I’m not sure anyone ever really did have such jobs outside of the movies. I do get an hour lunch, tho, and being non-exempt, don’t do a minute more than eight hours, no matter how much still needs done, because they don’t want to pay overtime.
        Having done both, I actually still haven’t decided whether it’s worse to work until it’s done or to have too much work to cram into a 40-hour week…

        • Having done both, I actually still haven’t decided whether it’s worse to work until it’s done or to have too much work to cram into a 40-hour week…
          It’s hard to say…. my early days at the agency were more towards the 40 hour week (except for the reading on the train and at home). Now? I wouldn’t pretend to know how many hours I put in. And actually I’m not sure I want to know. Heh. But with my own client list and never a day the same, pretty much, it’s become a different sort of beast. More of a career, than a job that pays the bills. And more of a passion (except for the paperwork — I just can’t muster it up for that).

    • *raises hand* I’m 8-5, hour lunch, also. Frankly, it’s soul-deadening enough that I sometimes think something that an 80-hour week doing something I love would be much less tiring.

  2. Take a stab at writing one yourself and posting it here.
    Hm. Not sure how well this one would be received, but…
    Dear Writer,
    Thank you for your submission. I regret to say that it does not meet our needs at our time.
    I know that many people tend to read between the lines of form letters such as this one, searching for the “real” reason why their submission was turned down. To be perfectly honest, saying that a submission does not meet our needs is simply that — a statement that what you sent is simply not what we’re looking for.
    I regret the necessity of sending you this form letter, but please understand that I receive well over five hundred (or whatever) submissions a month. If agents spent our time crafting personal notes when rejecting material, we’d never have time to accept material — which is the eventual goal on both our sides.
    Good luck with this submission elsewhere. If it is accepted by someone else, feel free to gloat.

    • It’d be also interesting to see how people respond to any samples that get posted here. I’m trying to put myself in the writer’s shoes here, and I have to wonder if I’d care at all how many queries they get. I mean, that’s hardly my problem, right?
      I like the second paragraph — it points out something very relevant, to my mind. I actually got an email this week that was someone following up on my form rejection and asking if the reason I didn’t want their book was length. Of course, I couldn’t individually remember their letter. Sometimes if I get a really good (or really bad one), they do stick in my mind. But generally, not.

      • I’m glad you liked the second paragraph. I’m also glad to see that others like the letter as well. Because really, when you get down to it, what else can you possibly say?

    • Anything that discourages rejectomancy is probably a good thing.

    • I love this one! Explains why the form letter is necessary, and the bit about gloating is a nice humorous touch.

    • WAH!!!
      I like this one a lot, Michael. It says some useful things, and it’s humorous.

    • That’s gracious and complete.

    • That’s a good one. Rejects, explains, and is very polite. I’d be happy to get that form letter (er, happy would be an acceptance, but you know :D).

    • If a form letter is necessary, this would be a good one to get.

  3. I have had quite a few…duh, I’m a professional writer! πŸ˜‰
    I don’t think I’ve ever had one that was particularly insulting, but let’s face it, some writers think they’re the right hand of God and even the most neutral form letter is proof that the world Misunderstands their Genius ™.
    A form letter to the effect that ‘something does not suit our needs at this time’ is fine, really. Realistically, one does not expect editors and agents to have the time to go into detail as to why the mss wasn’t suitable.
    I have had weird rejections from WEIRD TALES, chastising me for using italics, e.g, when no italics were present in the mss. That’s just baffling.

    • I think the key word above is “realistically.” *wry smile* And that’s odd — the thing about the italics, I mean. You’re right, they don’t appreciate your Genius.

    • i had the same weird tales rejection. they in fact sent me this, for lack of a better term, document (thing must’ve been 12 pages) on how to properly lay out my manuscript. which, y’know, i had done. it was just odd. never subbed again.

      • That is *so* peculiar. I mean, I know people can get a lot of submissions and sometimes it makes your head spin, but I just don’t follow this one at all.

      • It has occurred to me that they follow the William Burroughs cut-up method of rejection slips – they do match a story. Just not the story one submitted.

    • Now, that is a magazine that baffles me. The length of their rejection letters is longer than some of my stories. And yes, they do emphatically advise me not to do the things that I don’t do…
      But back on topic, I don’t mind form letters, what I really dislike is when the editor/agent makes no attempt whatsoever to include my name or submission in the form letter. I can’t imagine it taking too much time to scribble, “Mur” and “Last Chance For a Bite” somewhere on the letter. Some rejections I get I have to look up in my database what the heck is actually rejected because I’ve forgotten what I sent. (and yes, I know for novels it’s different, but still).
      But yes, some authors are going to be so offended that you didn’t recognize their genius that you could say, “Sorry we rejected you, we’re clearly fools, and here’s $100 for your trouble,” they would still be no consoling them.

      • So… here’s the thing. It actually does take a lot of time to scribble in the names when you’re answering 100 letters or more a week. Plus, I have to admit, that when I get a xeroxed query with my name written in at the top, it just doesn’t strike me as all that professional looking. It’s an interesting point — it would be nice to somehow personalize them, but I just can’t come up with an efficient way to do it.

        • Can you batch the form rejections and do a mail merge in Word at the end of a week o’ rejections?
          Just a suggestion, because I really don’t know your process, but now I’m all intrigued. πŸ™‚ One of my dayjob tasks is looking at the flow of paper through a process, and making the system better (faster and more efficient). My natural inclination is to start asking you questions, ask you to benchmark your time, start busting out flowcharts… Uh, anyway.

          • My natural inclination is to start asking you questions, ask you to benchmark your time, start busting out flowcharts…
            Which, of course, would also take time. I had been reading not that long ago about time management in an attempt to try and speed up my responses to authors. And I realized that I was spending a heck of a lot of time figuring it out instead of reading submissions. Heh.
            I’m not even that sure about how much time a mail merge effort would take. I use that to print labels for my Christmas cards and it always ends up being a whole lot of time and trouble.

            • Mail merges are harder if you use them irregularly. But when I was sending out ten thousand letters a year, it was a snap. Only works well if you’re already tracking the relevant data, though, which started a whole chain of thoughts which caused my Inner Process Management Demon to rear her fuzzy head.

        • You know, I’d never consider sending a form query, and could definitely see that as unprofessional, but a form rejection with my name on it doesn’t strike me as so… I guess it’s because I am *not* sending out 100 queries a week, and you *are* sending out 100 rejections a week.

    • The weird Weird Tales rejections are legendary. I particularly like the ones that parrot disinformation at one. “You can’t turn on your heel; try it.”
      So I did. Apparently, the WT staff are not boots-wearers. *g*
      My best one ever was from Algis Budrys, and ended, “but it petered out at the end. This made me sad.”
      It provided a minor epiphany for me, because that was the first time I realized that editors were out there *rooting* for my stories not to suck.
      Not gatekeeping, but cheerleading.
      It was an eye-opener.
      And yeah, I’m in accordance on the form letters….

      • It provided a minor epiphany for me, because that was the first time I realized that editors were out there *rooting* for my stories not to suck.
        Not gatekeeping, but cheerleading.

        A really good point, which I think gets forgotten far too often. And one of the reasons why I can honestly reply to people when asked: “my list is never full.” Because I *am* always looking for the next project and writer that makes me sit up and take notice and get that buzz inside. But, I often get the impression that a lot of writers view me as the enemy, as part of the giant machine that is standing in their way. It makes me sad.

      • oh heck. I remember you asking me out of the blue if I turned on my toe or on my heel, and replying something like, “I’m a dancer; I can do both. but I turn on my toe in high heels and on my heel in my stompy boots. why?”
        and then goggling before typing back, “that’s even stupider than the weird tales reject *I* got.”

  4. PS: I gave up submitting to WEIRD TALES. I think they misunderstand my genius. πŸ˜‰

  5. *Stories of the best/worst form rejections ever received.
    *Take a stab at writing one yourself and posting it here. This would be particularly interesting to me….
    I’ve had a few odd rejection letters, but I had the advantge of knowing that the editor was odd as well, so….
    We did once get a rather baffling “neener neener shows what you know” repsonse to one of our form letters: the respondent claimed to have been plucked out by one of our competitors and given a multi-dollar contract. A few minutes spent on the phone with various said competitors showed that nobody even remembered reading the manuscript, much less buying it.
    We didn’t respond. If that’s what it took to make the author feel better, let him have it.
    Interestingly enough, editors tend to take more heat for non-form rejects, under the “they responded personally; if I annoy them enough now, I’ll break down their willpower and turn no to yes!” sales theory, I guess. No, it never worked at NAL. Sorry, folk.

    • No, it never worked at NAL.
      I don’t believe it ever worked at DMLA either. At least, not that I recall. And we’ve had the same sort of thing. In fact, when I replied to the email I mentioned above and said that it probably wasn’t the length (145K), I got another response attempting to convince me to take a look anyway. At this point, I ceased replying. Another agent of my acquaintance, who apparently has more free time than I, has, in the past, continued to correspond on these and I have wondered what, if anything, it accomplished. She admits that it pretty much just ends up being a long go-round for the same answer.
      Occasionally, resubmitting a substantially revised work *has* yielded results. Or submitting a newer work down the road. I have at least one client that I corresponded with and read samples from for about three years before we finally agreed to work together and take a book to market. She’s sold three novels now. The promise was there all along, naturally.

    • We also got one once filled with expletives about how stupid and horrible we were. Had to send that one down to legal, IIRC. Ah, crazy people.

  6. *Take a stab at writing one yourself and posting it here. This would be particularly interesting to me….
    Dear Author:
    Why did you feel the need to senselessly slaughter so many innocent trees just to send me this rambling piece of nonesense? May god have mercy on your soul.
    Best regards,
    Or is that too blunt?

    • *laugh* Thanks. I needed that.
      There are, indeed, some queries where that would seem like an appropriate response, I have to admit. By and large, though, most are not downright bad. They’re just not exceptionally good either. (see TNH’s Slushkiller) So perhaps that wouldn’t be a fair reply.

      • So perhaps that wouldn’t be a fair reply.
        I’d love to see what kind of reactions it got though.
        But more seriously, I just look for straightforwardness with a mixture of manners in a rejection form. Kind of like when getting turned down for a date — don’t try to soften the blow by making up an excuse, just give it to me straight. No? Okay, I’ll move on.
        “Thank you for taking the time to send me your manuscript/query. Unfortunately I won’t be able to offer you representation at this time, but I hope this won’t dissuade you from submitting to other agencies/publishers. Needs and trends change every day, and it never hurts to keep trying.
        Best of luck to you,

    • Why did you feel the need to senselessly slaughter so many innocent trees just to send me this rambling piece of nonesense? May god have mercy on your soul.


  7. i once got told, at a party by a drunk editor, that she hated everything i’d ever written. everything, she kept saying, but especially that latest thing i sent.
    i’ve also had stories compared to sylvester stallone and editors who have swung at my public school education. that’s all short story stuff, though, and i’ve had a number of nice things, so it’s even. on agents, i’ve had nice things only, same with publishers for novels.
    on form rejections, a simple, ‘this doesn’t suit my needs at the time’ is perfectly fine.

    • i once got told, at a party by a drunk editor, that she hated everything i’d ever written. everything, she kept saying, but especially that latest thing i sent.
      Note to self: Do not over-indulge at parties with writers. Pacing one’s self is good….

  8. There is this, from Teresa Neilsen Hayden last year:
    I found this to be EXTREMELY insightful.
    Yoda’s Rejection Letter:
    Dear Padawan,
    Received your submission I did. Assured you may be that your manuscript, a fair review it has been given. Due to the high volume we receive, you must have the deepest commitment; the most serious mind. Only a Jedi, with the Force as his ally, will succeed.
    Unfortunately, rise to the level of Jedi Author you do not. Strong am I in the Force, and swamped am I with unsolicited manuscripts. Unable to publish it at this time are we, for consumed by the Dark Side your manuscript is.
    Despair not, young Padawan. Your last hope, we are not. Always another, there is.
    May the Force be with you

    • Now that’s a fun one… Of course it works better if you’re exclusively in the SF/F genre, which I’m not. At least it shows some personality, though, which I think might be what is currently making me look at my own somewhat cross-eyed.

  9. Dear X
    Re your book
    This is a rejection letter.
    And it’s a form letter.
    I’m sorry about that, but given the sheer volume of work I cannot reply personally to every submission. This means I have rejected your work for one of many, many possible reasons – including the possibility that I simply didn’t click with it. My rejection doesn’t mean your work won’t get published – it’s simply that I’m not the one to help you do this.
    Being a writer is hard, and unless you’re extra ordinary lucky, you’re going to get a lot of rejection letters before you get that yes. However, the biggest difference between a failed writer and a successful one is that the former gave up.
    – or something like that. It’s hard to come up with a form idea without stumbling into cliches. But I think the most important points are for the writer to know it’s a form letter, that it’s not personal, and that failure to suceed with you doesn’t mean they’re damned to obscurity.

    • It’s hard to come up with a form idea without stumbling into cliches.
      Yes. Very much so.
      This one’s pretty good, to my eye. But I’m not a writer. I’m not entirely sure I agree that the biggest difference between a failed writer and a successful (depending on your definition of this word) one is that the former gave up. I want to mull that over a bit.

      • I do believe that determination is a huge factor in being successful in writing – but then I’m only beginning to have any success at all! πŸ™‚
        I also think if you’re determined to be a successful writer then you will put in the time and effort to hone your craft, to learn from rejection and to continually come up with better work.
        If you have the imagination to write a novel – even if it’s a terrible novel, then you can learn craft, you can learn to be better. However, if you’re not really serious then in time you will give up – which is why (if I was an agent) I wouldn’t worry too much about encouraging people to keep sending me their tree-killers.
        I’m explaining this terribly – but hopefully you see the point I”m flailing around.

        • Actually, I think you’re explaining it very well. I just don’t know that I think determination is the biggest factor. I agree it’s certainly an element, and a very important one.
          However, I also feel compelled to admit that I think there are people out there who will never become successful writers if all they have is determination. Even if it helps them improve their craft. I’ve had discussions before about how great writing can overcome the flaws in a half-way decent idea and a great idea can overcome the flaws in half-way decent prose. But I think at least one of them has to be great, and I think that’s a lot tougher than it sounds.

          • You’re right – determination alone doesn’t cut it, and neither does imagination without craft or vice versa. However, I would think it was impossible to tell someone with 100% certainty that they will never make it, and really there are a lot of people out there (including myself) who’d rather keep going than give up regardless of the odds stacked against us. πŸ™‚

            • I’m not meaning to say it as a discouragment for people to try and try again. I have more than one author on my list who has done so.
              And – yeah – I’d agree that one should never say to someone that there is absolutely no way they can succeed. That judgement is not only subjective; there’s a chance it could be wrong.

              • Whether you’re writing comedy or not, timing also seems to be a huge issue.
                I’m still totally bemused by a number of novels that have become best sellers. It strikes me that the book market is a strange and curious beast that is constantly morphing, so in many ways all you can do it write what you write as well as you can write it, and hope if you’re out of tune with the current market, it’s because you’re ahead of your time (and not behind it.)

  10. And my oddest rejection came years ago from Interzone, who kept my manuscript for ages, then returned it – retyped, with an explanation that there had been an accident with some chicken livers, and although they didn’t want the story, they felt they couldn’t send the original back in the state it was now in.

    • I can probably chase this up for you…but do we want to?
      Stories were brought to the pub, but not read in the pub. And the pub doesn’t serve chicken livers.

      • This was back around 1988 – a long time ago, and I’m fairly sure that back then my stories were not worthy – but it remains my weirdest rejection. I will treasure it as a little ancedote, but I do doubt whether I want to know more. (I suspect it was in with someones shopping on the way home, but that answer is so dull πŸ™‚ )

  11. I think a very straightforward “Thank you for your query/submission. This does not suit our needs at this time.” works well.
    As a writer, if I’m rejected by an editor or an agent, I don’t expect anything other than a form R. If it’s something more, well that’s just a bonus.
    I received a rejection letter from the editor at Luna once. I was amazed and complimented that she wrote a more personalized R that also offered very helpful constructive criticism and praise. I framed that one.
    That being said, I think such letters are rare due to the volume of submission material that publishing houses and agencies receive. There’s just not enough time in the day to do more than a form R. Just my .02. Your mileage may vary.

  12. Actually, as a writer, the only thing I really require of a form letter, whether pos or neg, is that it comes quickly. This is why people revere Gordon, because he either throws a swift axe or a swift rose.
    Gordon also sent me the longest rejection letter I’ve ever received (2 pages of A4), explaining why, on a Jungian basis, he does not connect with my work. I appreciated that, though “I didn’t like it” would have been fine, really.

    • It’s actually become an axiom for me that the more detailed reasons Gordon gives me for disliking a story… the more likely I am to sell it to Ellen.
      And yeah. He’s fast, he’s friendly, and he’s efficient. That’s all we want, really. (Also, JJA is a sweetie. But don’t tell him I said so.)

      • Well, I’d like to think I’m not too awfully slow in responding. Of course, I think it’s somewhat different with short stories than with novels. But not so much with queries and unsolicited materials. I try to answer those the same week they land on my desk. Because I’m just deciding whether to pursue it at all. That shouldn’t take long. Requested submissions take me longer because I’m planning on giving at least some level of feedback there. On those, my mileage varies. I never can tell what people think is a reasonable amount of time….

    • Somewhat tangential to this entire discussion, how long do short story rejections usually take?
      I submitted a story (my first ever) to a local college literary magazine at the beginning of April, and haven’t heard a peep since. When should I begin to wonder if it got lost in the ether?

      • I can’t actually answer this, since I only handle novel-length fiction. It’s possible lists response rates for may of its sources, but it probably doesn’t cover something like local university. Perhaps, though, it could help you try to figure what the usual range might be and then if it’s been too long you could follow up with a polite query to the magazine?

  13. The worst form rejection I ever received was from an agent who not only had a form letter, she had a form letter with check boxes for different reasons that she ticked off — and it was badly photocopied. Maybe that was her way to try to give some type of reason, but it just left me scratching her head.
    The weirdest form rejection letter I had was also from an agent. I submitted to Agent A after meeting her at a conference and she appeared to like my pitch. I mailed it two days after I got back. Six weeks later, I received a rejection letter from Agent B, who wasn’t another agent at the same agency, but at a different one all together. That letter said that Agent A had decided to leave the business and had passed all of their submissions over to Agent B for review. Unfortunately, since Agent B’s agency did not represent the type of work I had submitted, so they were not interested in representing me.
    Rejection letters have one good purpose, though — they keep the IRS convinced I’m working at getting published, which allows me to make take certain deductions on my taxes, which last year funded the laptop I’m using.

  14. First, a solution to the “write name and submission” on the rejection, perhaps: Couldn’t you just include the first page of the submission along with the rejection? Or the cover letter or query letter if it mentions the title, etc? Just a thought.
    Oh, I was rejected by arcaedia many, many, MANY times. But they were all nice rejections. (I can’t honestly remember a form letter rejection, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. After a while, the form letter rejections just don’t get read, but are filed away for posterity.)
    And here’s my attempt:
    Dear Author:
    Thank you for your submission. However, your novel (short story, whatever) does not fit the market’s current needs. Please do not take this form letter as a personal affront. [Include 2nd paragraph that you liked (and I like) from above suggestion.]
    I wish you luck in the search for publication.
    Sincerely, etc, etc, etc.
    I think making it impersonal at the beginning is professional, but then adding a short personal paragraph at the end takes the sting out. This last paragraph could also be made a little more personal, like the Yoda rejection, if you want.
    As for my horror story . . . a certain agent (I won’t name names . . . here, but I’ll be at World Fantasy; NOT this agent though) once sent me a horrible personal rejection in which he ripped my book to shreds. Almost literally. Me, being stupid, proceeded to allow him to rip my next 2 novels to shreds as well.
    I’m less stupid now.

    • Stupid isn’t the same as uninformed. (Sorry, that’s a hot button word for me. *smile*)
      And, not counting queries, I don’t think is was *that* many times. *g* The first time, I believe, was several years ago. And I’m not sure you fell into the mass query pile, because I think you had a referral (clarification: from someone I actually knew)? Or am I not remembering the first time?
      There are a couple of types of replies that I give: the form rejection (which is pretty generic), a more personalized version of same (which goes to only a few), and then letters with actual substantive feedback (very rarely, unless I’ve requested material). I think even on the initial submission you made, you were in the second category.
      Anyway…. nice attempt at the letter. I’m getting a lot of helpful hints here on how to craft one that is more helpful. I might try to actually take a stab at it over the weekend.

      • I think the first instance I pestered you at the World Sci-Fi con in Philadelphia after a panel and got your card. The rejection was indeed of the second nature, with a little note that you’d like to see other things I wrote. Very gratifying.
        Second time, I tacked on pbray as a reference . . . pluse the previous note . . . but this was a strange book that wasn’t quite sci-fi, wasn’t quite mainstream. Just weird. Rejection was like the first one, same note to continue trying with my next novel.
        The third one, you mainly said it was a good novel but you were swamped and trimming out your client list as it was. Good news is I found an agent and sold the trilogy. So all ended happily. Otherwise you’d probably still be hearing from me. *grin*
        As for the rejection letter revisions: I think what you really want is to keep it short and to the point. I don’t like the checklist rejection. I really didn’t like the cover letter with a scribbled “no thanks” on it, even if there was a slightly longer, more personal note. A paragraph or two saying no thanks, sorry about the form letter, then another where you can get a little more personal (with the “I”) should do it. Anyone who truly wants to be in the business is going to understand. The others probably wouldn’t survive the process anyway. Hard fact, but true I think.

  15. The worst rejections for me were the two I got that weren’t form letters at all, but rather my own query letter sent back with “no thanks” scribbled across it. I’ve no idea why this upset me so much, but it did.
    To be honest, I’d *love* a checklist like the one above (maybe one based on TNH’s Slushkiller). Or the Red Line O’Doom I’ve heard about showing where the reader stopped reading. Anything to get me a little more information…. But I can understand why agents are hesitant to do something that may just get them more hate mail. (Can we *request* a Slushkiller reject? *grin*)
    Other than that? Short and polite is all I really ask or expect. Everyone’s busy, and given time I can figure out the story’s problems on my own and write another.

    • The worst rejections for me were the two I got that weren’t form letters at all, but rather my own query letter sent back with “no thanks” scribbled across it. I’ve no idea why this upset me so much, but it did.
      Because somehow it’s more rude and disrespectful than a xeroxed form reply? It just strikes me as really darn cold.

    • I would love to get a Slushkiller reject. “Last time I was level 9, but now I’m up to 11!”

  16. Stories of the best/worst form rejections ever received
    Worst for a novel was the young feller who felt that it was very brave of me to be submitting in the SF genre when it was obvious that English was my second language.
    Best for novel was the editor who called me up to talk about the book and the characters and how they reallyreally liked the worldbuilding an’ all — but it was a romance novel and they would therefore be returning it on Monday.
    Worst for short story: The form letter on which the only box checked in a lengthy list was “Kill your television.” At that point, I think the last time I’d watched television was eight or nine years previous.
    Best for short story: Something to the tune of, The selection committee looks forward to your submissions, which are uniformly entertaining, but we can’t possibly publish your stories in our magazine. Looking forward to the next…
    Take a stab at writing one yourself and posting it here
    Rather than rehash any of the several excellent letters above — would it be possible to have two form letters: One for tree-killers and one for people who were really close and who you might want to encourage to show you their next? Or is that just asking for trouble?

    • Rather than rehash any of the several excellent letters above — would it be possible to have two form letters: One for tree-killers and one for people who were really close and who you might want to encourage to show you their next? Or is that just asking for trouble?
      I suspect having a number of different replies would put me in the category of suffering from rejectomancy. But, I do already do this to a certain degree, though I suspect the level to which a query must rise to get out of the so-called tree-killer range is pretty darn high. If something really seems close, I do tend to take the time to send a personal reply. I just can’t bear not to. And I have occasionally asked people to keep me in mind for future projects, even when rejecting the current one. I have to admit that I only do that when I’m really quite sincerely interested though. If a person gets that from me, I mean it. I’m not just being polite.

    • Oh, goodness, I remember receiving the “Kill your television” one, but I think it was more like “KILL YOUR TELEVISION” in huge shouting caps. The irony of your situation applied to me also, since at that point in my life I hardly watched any TV at all.

  17. my worst one? definitely the one where they hadn’t even PROOFREAD the letter, and it said something along the lines of…
    “We’re sorry to tell you that your work is right for our line.”
    I was sorely tempted to correct it in red pen and send it back. haha!

  18. I have a file folder of rejections from editors & agents, back before I had you to run interference for me πŸ™‚
    The most bizarre rejection was a badly photocopied form letter that came from a completely different imprint than I had submitted to at that publisher. It would be like submitting to Bantam Spectra and getting a photocopied rejection from an editor at Knopf. I had no idea what to do with it, whether the manuscript had been completely misrouted and I needed to resubmit, or if they’d recruited that editor to help clear out their slush pile and the editor had simply used his own form rejection letter.
    Personally a form letter that says “This doesn’t work for me/us. We wish you best of luck placing it elsewhere.” is fine with me. And I like the suggestions above that say that due to the volume of submissions there isn’t time to write personal letters.

  19. I liked the checklist that Asimov’s (was it?) used:
    [x] Insufficient characterization
    [x] Too many references to penguins
    People ARE going to take offense, but I think most of them are transferring their anger at the rejection itself to the form in which the rejection arrived. Judging by writers’ forums, any attempt at humor is taken particularly badly.

  20. I like ‘s sample. But I also like it when markets/editors/agents/whatever use different types of rejection letters depending on the situation. Like Realms of Fantasy’s “blue form of death” (which basically means your story didn’t make it past the slush reader) and “yellow form of promise” (which means it got to the editor; this in turn means it was pretty good and they’d like you to try again in the future). The terms for each letter are rejectee-coined, but you see what I mean. Also, there’s the “coded letter”, which rejectees will also come up with collective interpretations for. F&SF sends rejection letters with (paraphrase) “Thank you for your submission, but it did not grab my interest”, where “did not grab my interest” is sometimes replaced by “did not hold (emphasis mine) my interest” or simply “was not right for this market.” The masses have taken these to mean the reader didn’t get past the first paragraph, or got past the opener but couldn’t finish it, or read it through but still didn’t like it.
    In either case, they’re effectively using rejectomancy to their own advantage. It’s impossible to avoid rejectomancy; insecure writers will always put their own spin on it. But if there’s already a collective spin, writers are less likely to come up with *extreme* variations on that.
    If that makes any sense. Basically, why don’t you try multiple rejection letters? =)

    • I have to admit, I don’t understand rejectomancy. It’s either yes or no. If yes, go on to look at contract. If no, see if anything useful is in the letter. If no, toss and move on. If yes, file it for backbrain to chew on, toss, and go on.
      But I seem to be in a minority
      (and it’s not because I don’t have my share of writerly paranoia, and Jenn can stop snickering, now…)

      • See me not snickering, yep.
        As for rejectomancy, I have to say that I don’t really get it either. I think it sounds as if it’s more common in the short story field than the novel one, though.

  21. Having been on both ends of form rejection letters — receiving them after submitting my own work, and sending them when I was working with On Spec — I think the best rejection is simple, to the point, and brief. I wouldn’t make any jokes, no matter how well-meant. I’d prefer something like:
    Dear [do use a mail merge if possible to insert the author’s name] Author:
    Many thanks for showing us your work [insert title if possible]. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m the right agent for you [you could insert “because I don’t handle nonfiction” if this is the case].
    I regret the need to use a form rejection slip, but I receive such a high volume of submissions, I simply cannot offer individual replies or critiques.
    Best of luck with your writing.
    At times with On Spec, we wanted to say in rejection letters “Please don’t *ever* send us anything again!” But hey, we’re Canadian: we had to be polite. We found if we wern’t saying “We love it and are sending a check,” the next best thing to say was “We’re sorry, but this isn’t right for us.” We learned the hard way that adding “at this time” meant to some authors “We’d love to see this story three more times in the next six months, and don’t change a single word!”
    When we tried to add any personality or gentle humor to rejections, the response was not good. Some authors got downright hostile over our attempt to (I suppose) make fun or them or trivialize their pain and suffering at being rejected. I still have a file folder full of letters marked “Psycho Nutbar Mail.” One editor I know received death threats from an author she rejected — one in my psycho nutbar file.
    Sorry to ramble on…

  22. At the Magazine, we developed a coversheet for submissions that had checkboxes for 32 reasons why the story was rejected, with an additional blank box for “other”, which Marion would then fill in and it was up to the staff to try and interpret. I still wish I had a copy of that coversheet, because she had a very, very strong idea of what it was that made a story unusable.
    Anyway, the science of it was that Marion would check the reason that applied, and then I would go to the reject-o-matic, and generate a rejection slip that had that particular rejection worked into it as a full explanatory paragraph. It looked something like this:
    Dear Author,
    Thank you for your submission to XXX. Unfortunately, we cannot use your work at this time.
    All best,
    And I liked this system. It was specific. Most stories DID fit into the rejection types. So when it worked, it worked. But it’s also a bit more than most people want to do.
    No matter how you phrase it, though, the truth is still the truth: the query has been rejected for some reason. Sorry, Mario, but our princess is in another castle. (In fact, that would be a great rejection slip for a gaming magazine…but I digress.)
    The line that really ticked me off from my last form rejection was: “not a marketable work”. Not because I disagree or agree, but because after putting a zinger like that into a form rejection, I think the editor owes me a reason as to WHY it’s not a marketable work. Even a one sentence scribble — “Opening didn’t grab me.” “Main character too transparent.” “Story too vapid.” “Too many monkeys.” — whatever, I just want something to tell me what justifies that line.
    But that’s probably too much to ask for from editors. πŸ™‚ C’est la vie. That’s why I just keep on writing.

  23. number one
    Two posts, because I am lengthy, and I don’t want lj to mess things up. πŸ™‚
    I have a few, most from around ’98 and ’99, when I was (*attempts simple math*) fifteen years old.
    The one that probably scarred me the most was a scribbled note on top of my query, and had misspelled words circled (I’ve never been a good speller, and I don’t think the computer I was working on back then had a spell checker).
    One form letter I really liked had a list of positive things at the bottom, like how Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and how Einstein failed math.
    Here’s my favorite one. I think it just about made my life for someone to take the time to write such a nice rejection (and I hope he wouldn’t mind me posting the letter here).
    (see next pebble)

    • number two

      Dear Jodi:
      Thank you for your recent query and for your interest in our agency.
      While your proposal is not without merit, we are forced to give serious consideration to the realities of the publishing marketplace when deciding which writers to represent. In order to maintain the quality of service our clients deserve, we must regrettably decline to take on some authors from time to time. Your material is a category that we don’t handle. That category is Young Adult/Fantasy (and by-the-way I personally love unicorn stories and what they represent in fiction).
      Having said that I want to give you some advice regarding your query letter. Whenever you are sending letters to agents make sure your letters have been edited for any mistakes in spelling. Your letter for instance contains the word “finished” twice in the first paragraph and the word “journey” in the second paragraph–both have been incorrectly spelled. It may seem like a little thing, but most agents will immediately reject letters with these kinds of mistakes. Take the time to read your letter again-one last time-before sending it out. It will help you in the long run.
      I want to discuss with you your writing. Whenever a young adult has the courage, the will and the need to sit down and face that blank piece of paper and begin to create a world with words, I am always impressed. One of our jobs as agents in the literary world is to try and urge people with writing talent to pursue that dream. I want to do that now. Please don’t be discouraged no matter how many times you get a rejection. The art of writing demands practice to make the writer a professional. Without the craft of being able to write, no matter what story or plot, it will never be right. If the first book doesn’t find a publisher, then start the next and the next, and the next and so on.
      Our agency wishes you every success with this after and all your literary endeavors.
      Good luck! Agent.

      More recently I’ve sent two queries and received one email form letter, and one email reject I think might have really been a nice form letter, but I’m not sure. πŸ™‚
      Now you know the story of my life. Lucky you! πŸ˜‰

  24. Um…
    I came here from ‘s blog, and decided to be completely obnxious and see if I could hijack this space to ask you if and how I could send you any of my writing. (officially, I mean. I won’t start posting chapters on your blog or anything, I swear.)I’ve had a couple of articles published in specialty magazines, and I’d quite like to get a book under my belt before I’m forty, and I can’t seem to get myself past the ‘I wanna be a writer’ stage.
    I’m taking the chance that the fact we have one LJ friend and a few interests in common (Neil Gaiman and Joan of Arcadia being a couple examples) you won’t decide I’m a complete pest, and at least humor me a bit.
    Thanks. Feel free to tell me to go away quietly.

    • Re: Um…
      What I’m really curious about at the end of the day is this…. if you think, as you say above, that this is “completely obnoxious,” then why did you do it?
      And I bet those who are reading out there could give you plenty of advice on how best to approach an agent…. Any takers?

      • Re: Um…
        When we went looking for an agent (our third) we went into the search understanding that we weren’t looking for a guru, we were looking for a marketing partner. Some writers want a guru. We didn’t.
        Given that, we asked working professionals if they’d discuss current agents with us, under seal of confidence. We *listened* hard to the good/bad/ugly about some agents, and then we applied, respectfully (I think) and (IIRC) according to guidleines, to the person we’d selected as probably coming closest to matching our genre,style, and needs.
        You, of course, know the results.

      • Re: Um…
        It is a good idea to go to literary genre conventions (as opposed to strictly gaming or Star Trek/Star Wars-type conventions in the genre) and, when there, attend the panels with agents on them. Takes notes and follow their instructions. Know what your book is about. For example, can you tell me what the central conflict in your book is? You should be able to verbally pitch the story to an agent, should you be lucky enough to just happen to run into one at a con. Note: people who ‘fall into things’ usually spend a great deal of time near the edge.
        You will need to learn how to write a synopsis of your finished work. (It is finished, right? It had better be.) And you might want to run your story past some critiquing groups such as:
        OWW –
        Critters –
        or The Critique Circle –
        Learn how to craft a query letter. Then you will need to research agents to see if they handle your type of book. One of the best tools for that is an industry magazine called Locus. Here is a link to a Locus spreadsheet by the lovely and talented Melinda Goodin of Australia, which lets you know which agents handled what recently released books.
        *gently* If this sounds like a great deal of work, then you are getting the picture. Even those of us who have excellent stories told well must persevere through the work part of being a writer, or getting published will remain a distant dream.

      • Re: Um…
        well, one that I would recommend heartily is to check out the agent who has caught your fancy, find that agent’s website, look for the link that says submission guidelines, or some such, and follow that agent’s directions to the letter, triple checking for fanatical attention to detail, if necessary.
        *breathe, chelsea. breathe…*
        Because if one does this, it can be assumed that the writer has permission to enquire, and will be welcome to do so.

  25. My most impressive form rejection was from Weird Tales. It told me they were overstocked on science fiction. I’d sent them a fantasy story. (I still laugh every time I think of this.)
    As for writing one…the one I’d often love to send out, but am too nice to, runs:
    Dear wannabe,
    When you have mastered the rudiments of English grammar, punctuation and spelling and have learned to read and conform to guidelines, I will consider looking at your story. For the moment, please stop churning out deathly prose and spend the time taking some remedial English classes.
    Yours sincerely,

    • Joking aside, though, I have no problem with the standard “thank you for submitting; the work doesn’t suit us; sorry for being a form”. It’s nice to get something a little more personal, but I don’t expect it. It’s like sending in a job application; I don’t expect to get a personal response. I expect to get a business-like PFO. This is something that I think writers need to grasp early.

  26. I don’t think that form letters should have to be as nice as MAB’s was. Because getting rejecting, perserving and being professional is part of being a writer. If they get a super-nice one from and regular form letters from everyone else then they are not going to understand why you were so nice or they will double-think into thinking you were being scarcastic.
    I wish there was a standard form letter across the industry so there wasn’t the tea leave reading of JJA’s “didn’t grab” “didn’t hold” and “didn’t work” or RoF’s BFoD versus YFoP. Just that everyone, all editors & agents, used the same form letter with different letterhead. Then really nothing personal can be intiuted and personalized ones really stand out.

  27. I liked ‘s letter. So much that I’m not going to write another one myself. I’d certainly prefer a more personalized rejection over a form letter, but I think that form letter shows how impractical that is. I think I would respond well to humor but I know there are people who wouldn’t. Unfortunate for them.
    I also think I should start submitting stuff to Weird Tales. It looks like their rejection letters are lots of fun…

  28. I like this one, including the submission count, but especially the “feel free to gloat” part. I’d like that πŸ™‚ (For some definition of the word “like”.)

  29. in case you need a laugh,
    Some of the writers on OWW came up with a batch of rejectomancy poetry. In haiku form.
    Our guidelines preclude / the entire Star Wars series. / Try Stephen Spielberg
    If words were Spring rain / yours would be muddy puddles / with dead worms and oil
    Up on the tool bar… / it’s that small a-b-c thing / called a spell checker
    I read your story / I hate the universe now / I beg you: No more
    Story has no hook / Fell asleep on second page / Please excuse the drool
    It was a nice try / But your characters are weak / I am not their crutch
    It’s form #1 / because you don’t know the first / thing about writing
    Petals from heaven / white envelopes cover me / “thanks but not for us”
    I know you marked this / as disposable but my / trash man is picky
    Please enlighten me. / Was this written in English?/ Intentionally?
    Your grilled manuscript / has gotten on my hot dog / I must eat your words

  30. I miss Marion Zimmer Bradley’s selection of form rejects. Especially the one that essentially said ‘I couldn’t care less if the characters lived happily ever after or died in a convenient earthquake on the last page.”
    Now that was blunt. :>

  31. I’ve only gotten a few so far, and all have been fine. I can’t say I worry too much about the specific wording, so long as it’s civil, and they all have been. The encouraging kind (would like to see more from you in future) is obviously preferable, but only if it’s — you know — true.
    I’d love checkboxes if they provide even a glimmer of accurate info about why it didn’t fit (either for revision or for guidance as to what to submit in future).
    But if that’s too much work/not effective/going to lay you open to nastygrams in return, any form of “Sorry, didn’t fit, better luck next time/elsewhere” is plenty.

  32. Worst Rejection
    Dear [blank],
    I regret to inform you that we are unable to accept your literary work entitled [blank] at this time. Thank you for your interest.
    Yeah. That was pretty much the worst rejection I ever got not counting the guy that broke up with me using a Power Point presentation. (No, I’m not kidding.) They didn’t even bother to fill in the [blank]s. Might as well have finished it off with “…and we disliked your idea so much that we decided to use it as toilet paper.”
    I was 12-years-old, but it was still humiliating. No wonder I decided to give up writing to become a private investigator.

  33. More form-rejection discussion
    Over on the Rumor Mill a couple years ago, there was some discussion of form rejections (you’ll have to page back a couple of pages to mid-2002, using the “Older” link at the bottom of the page); I was trying to revamp the Strange Horizons form rejection, and was looking for feedback from authors. Don’t know if you’ll find that discussion useful, but figured it was worth mentioning.
    The general idea I was aiming for was summarized by Charlie Finlay as “brief, courteous, and clear”; I think those are three necessary (and probably sufficient) attributes of a form rejection. To me, “courteous” is the most important of those; I see no reason at all to insult authors. And I think our emphasis on being friendly has helped us, both in developing a reputation as being author-friendly, and in avoiding the ranting responses to rejections that I hear a lot of other publications receive. (We do get them, but usually only about one every three to six months, and usually only when we’ve been unusually impolite to an author over some particularly egregious offense.)

  34. *Take a stab at writing one yourself…etc.
    INSTRUCTIONS: In the brackets, please circle each statement that applies to your case. Or, simply circle the statement that makes you feel better, or work harder…whatever.
    Dear [Mr. Mrs. Ms.] (Insert your name here),
    [Sadly, Happily, It is with remorse]we regret to inform you that we are unable to help you at this time. The work that you sent our company was [trivial, inspiring, lackluster, droll, grand, insipid, at a first grade level]. We [know, don’t care] that you spent [two minutes, five years] [writing, scribbling out] this story. But we are [unable, apathetically unwilling] to [help you, make even more fun] of you at this time. We refer you instead to [no one, our enemies, the devil], as [they, he] may be able to publish this story which [has not a snowball’s chance in hell, even they would not want, which we loved but cannot accept].
    [Sincerely, With enmity, You’re stupid],
    [The editor/agent, (Insert Any Name here,) The Prince of Darkness]

  35. Rejections and other wild beasts
    Hi, I’m Pat.
    I have had several short stories published–and one rejected from Alfred Hitchchock Magazine. Straight form letter. Second rejection, identical from the first. Could be it that WILLED ACCIDENTS HAPPEN was too long (10,500 words) Could it have been the writing sucked? (I don’t think it was THAT bad) Or, had they just had a similar plot published in a previous magazine. Who knows? I won’t. I’ve filed the story away and will bring it back when I have time.
    The one novel I submitted was to Harlequin/Susan Litman (not sure I should have mentioned her name, only she was so wonderful about her rejection letter. I have it hanging on the wall.) It reads:
    Dear Ms. Guthrie:
    Thank you for submitting your manuscript IN THE ARMS OF THE ENEMY. I read it with interest, but I’m afraid that it does ot fit our needs.
    You have an interesting premise, but the story doesn’t quite work. You have a good framework for the story, but there are too many problematic plot elements. As well, the suspense is not strong enough to sustain the length of the book, mainly because seveal characters are made to appear overly suspicious from the beginning.
    I’m sorry not to have better news for you on this project. Should you feel you have another manuscript suitable for Silhouette in the future, I would be happy to take a look at it. Again, thank you for thinking of us.
    You know, I clicked my heels and yelled whoopee. It was a rejection I could understand. A rejection that could make my writing stronger. So what did i do? I put it away and worked on another project and pulled out ARMS once more. I read it aloud to a friend and was mortified. Ms Litman must have the patience of a saint. I found duplicated pages in the ms, typos, bad sentence structures, plot problems up the whazoo (is that how you spell whazoo?) and a sex scene from — well, you know. How could I have missed it? How many readers had I had?
    If I were going to write a rejection, that is exactly the letter I would have written.
    I must say it didn’t hurt to have had a face-to-face interview at a conference last spring (a year ago) where she requested the full. She had the letter back to me within in a month.
    I realize how many ms. agents and publishers get on their desks every day/week/month. I hear it alot. (I read it a lot) But, if agents and publishers really want quality, sending out ego slammers or nondescript rejections isn’t helping their cause. Writers don’t grow with those kind of letters. Agents/publishers want sales? Maybe if they were a little more helpful, the writers might come back with just the novel they’re looking for. I believe it was Donald Maas who stated it takes a good 10 years to become a writer and a good 7 novels before they’re ready to be published. I can see his point.
    Keep in mind Stephen King had Carrie rejected 35 times before he got her published–JK Rowlings had Harry Potter reject by some 100 publishers/agents/whatever. (Nobody thought they could market Harry Potter. Yeah right)
    A writer dedicated to their craft will eventually write a winning or at least publishable novel. Guess who the author will send it to? The agent/publisher who took the time to help. To express an interest in an unknown.
    Who knows? Mr. King, Mr. Koontz and Ms. Rawlings had to start somewhere. I believe even Nora Roberts had to have written a first novel sometime. Although with Ms. Roberts, maybe she was ALWAYS there. (LOL)
    Pat Guthrie

  36. There’s a new boilerplate, I think
    Gone are the days of “sorry, but this doesn’t meet our current needs.” What I get nowadays is (and I am told not to try rejectomancy on it, that it doesn’t mean anything in particular):
    “While there was a lot to admire about this project, in the end I just didn’t fall in love with it as much as I need to in order to offer representation. You deserve an agent who is eager to represent your project and has the commitment to see your work through to publication, and it would be unfair for me to take on this book without that level of enthusiasm.”
    I don’t feel any better after reading that than I did after reading the “not right for our line” rejections, though.

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