What does your rejection letter mean?

How many rejection letters have you got so far? Do you keep them all? Neatly in a folder, in date order, or are they chucked into the recycling bin in disgust as soon as they plop onto your doormat?
Or do you, like me, analyse them, and try to understand what they really mean?
I’ve been sorting out my rejection letters (yup, I’m the person who keeps them neatly in a folder in date order) into piles of content ie “our lists are full” to “sounds good, send more”.
I’ve deciphered the replies and made lists! It’s official, I’m sad.
Here is my list:
Doesn’t fit our needs. This is the one-size fits all letter that could mean anything. It could relate to lack of professionalism, or even its (lack of) marketability. I call this: it’s-five-to-five-and-junior-agent-wants-to-go-home rejection letter.
Lists are closed. Ah, who didn’t do their homework? If you received this you probably sent off a query without checking to see if the agency is receiving submissions.
Not suitable for our lists. So, you sent a raunchy romance to a Christian stories only agent. Waste of postage, next time check!
Sorry, but we aren’t taking on any more clients at the moment. Your query letter and synopsis probably let you down here. They peeled off the most-used rejection template letter, handwrote your name at the top, and bunged it back in your SAE.

Doesn’t have market appeal. No need to intercept this. It means exactly that, only you have to work out what type.  Maybe the market for your work is too niche, or you’re before your time because it’s too “out there” (agents don’t like to take risks if you are an unknown). Or the opposite, and maybe your work lacks originality?

Did not reach publication standard. Ouch! Back to the drawing board, or rather, buy a how-to-write-a-novel book.
Just couldn’t get excited about it. This is actually good! It reflects that the agent liked your writing style, but the comment does reflect a weak story or protagonist and the agent can’t engage with your story because of this. Might be worth keeping hold of this agent, and trying again with something new and remind them of your previous try.

The writing doesn’t stand out. You’re boring me!

Not fresh enough. Unoriginal. Tired or even clichéd. Not another vampire book!

I’d like to see more of this ms. Actually, you’d get a phone call (quicker). A letter is usually always a rejection.
I started counting my rejection letters, and at about eighty six the phone rang and I lost count. I can’t be bothered to do it again. At a guess I’d say a hundred and twenty. Not all for the same book, I hasten to add!

I’ve had rejection letter on “forms”, where my particular reason for rejection is ticked. I really, really dislike these even though I know they are no different to the “doesn’t fit our needs”. To me, and I may be the only one who feels this, it reads “can’t really be bothered with you, sod off.” I even dislike them more than the rejections that are written across the cover letter in bold: not for us.

As you pour dolefully over your rejection letters, scratching your head and wondering just what the dickens the agent meant, here is a book dedicated to such letters: Rotten Rejections by Andre Bernard.
Among the gems of editorial misjudgement included in the book are: ‘You are welcome to Le Carre – he hasn’t got any future.’ (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, 1963); ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories…’ (Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1945); and ‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.’ (Carrie, Stephen King, early 1970s). In the company of such hallowed names as Thomas Wolfe, Gertrude Stein, Henry James, Joseph Heller and many others, Rotten Rejections makes encouraging reading for all would-be authors.
Write in telling us about your wonderful rejections. Not to poke fun at agents, but to gather together for a group cyber commiseration hug.

12 thoughts on “What does your rejection letter mean?

  1. I keep my rejection-love, but I don't organize it. I have it mostly for short stories. Only one for the novel so far – it was the 'doesn't excite me one'. I've rewritten since and have it out to 4 – awaiting judgment.


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