Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, December 17, 2007

About Those Follow-Up Questions After a Rejection...

I know. My standard query rejection letters are just as ambiguous and unhelpful as every other agent's (except that if you personalize your letter to me I'll personalize mine back). I know you're left hanging, that you'd like some leads, some more info... anything more than what I'm able to give you.

But I'm sorry -- my response is my response. That's it. I get 6,000-7,000 queries a year. I can't provide tips or referrals or answer further questions to even a small portion of these, or else I'd do nothing but answer queries and query questions. I have to delete follow-up questions so I can move on with my day. I mean, I can't even respond to say I'm not responding, simply because that alone would be such a huge time suck. So I just delete them.

Here are the appropriate responses to a rejection:

1) a brief thank you
2) an offer to use the query for a blog critique
3) if I responded to your partial or full, I'm a bit more open-minded about clarifying points that I made in my rejection if they're unclear. But please don't abuse this one.
4) an offer to pay me $3,000,000 USD if I would kindly lovely provide my bank account information for the prodigious transfer of secret funds (by the way, Rose, your top secret gold oil discovery cash money hasn't arrived yet and I gave you all of the bank information you need -- contact me asap!)

If you want to ask me a question about publishing or if you want a tip or anything else, please please please first google my name and the topic. At this point it's a good bet that I've already blogged about it at some point. If you don't find the answer, please either offer it as a potential blog topic, via e-mail, or ask through the comments sections. I can't get to all of these questions, but if I can answer it in such a way that more people will see the question and answer I'll be much much more inclined to respond.

Thanks for understanding -- this is what the blog is for, and while I don't like deleting people's e-mails when they are asking a good-natured question, I just have to do it. At least until Rose's oil gold cash money arrives in my bank account.


Scott said...

Seems like this a natural result of taking email queries. It seems less formal than a letter, and it's so easy to hit reply and ask questions.

Thanks for clarifying.

Heidi the Hick said...

I can tell that the publishing industry is trying to wind down for the year, and that agents are clearing off their desks...after nary a sound for about 6 weeks, I got two rejections last week.

Yep, both form letters!

I didn't write back. I've learned. Trying to be a good student...

amanda h said...


Your rejections are so nice. (I know of what I speak). I can see why writers feel comfortable firing off a reply to you. (But they shouldn't!)

Thanks for the whole year of blogs.

Have a great holiday!


By the way, Rose decided to share her inheritance, her deceased husband's earnings, and her top secret gold oil discovery cash money with me. Sorry.

Josephine Damian said...

Scott, totally agree - the email format makes it way to easy to try to whine/complain/argue after getting rejected.

After being rejected, there's one and only word to say, and you say it to yourself: NEXT!

Nathan: here's a question. I just checked out your "how to format" post but I did not see anything about how many lines from the top of the page do you write "chapter #"? Also, page # and title in a header or footer? Do agents like it on top or bottom? :-)

Nathan Bransford said...


As long as the title and page number are there I don't really notice how they're formatted.

Other Lisa said...

Luckily for the agenting community, I'm generally too busy assuming the fetal position when I get rejected to demand follow-ups.

Laurel Amberdine said...

Yeah, no kidding, other lisa. Replying would involve thinking about the rejection and perhaps even re-reading it.


John Askins said...

I spoke to Rose and she said you'll get the top secret gold oil discovery cash money as soon as you answer her very simple question about whether she should reformat her original query in Helvetica and try again.

Julie Weathers said...

But, why would you share my information about oil gold discovery, when I said it was top secret? I mean Rose said it was top secret.

The main problem I have with e-mail queries and the resulting rejections is the incorporeal aspect. I decided to wallpaper my office with rejection letters and I'm only half finished. This could turn into a genuine dilemma for an avid do-it-yourselfer.

On a serious note, I agree with Scott. It's simply too easy to hit reply.

Thank you, Nathan for reminding us.

cwsherwoodedits said...

My question is this: If you've received a form e-jection to a query, are you -supposed- to send a quick thank you to the agent? I just assumed that would clog his/her email even more. But I don't want to be rude by not sending a thank you.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thank yous are entirely, completely optional, and yeah, if you get an obvious form rejection you may not be in the thankyou spirit.

CindaChima said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CindaChima said...

I know at least two writers who make hand-made paper out of their rejections. Very green and somehow soul-satisfying.


Jennifer L. Griffith said...

Ah, the joys of being a helpful agent!!

I've come to realize that there is no link/job/position in the publishing business deemed "easy".

Blessings to you, Nathan.

Linnea said...

Shoot, that's a lot of email queries! I was whining about all my email from students and set up a website to deal with it. Seems pretty petty compared to what you have to read. I think my eyes would fall out. Holiday time soon, Nathan!

Kalynne Pudner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kalynne Pudner said...

It IS so easy to hit reply (as I did to Nathan's rejection about a half hour before he posted this But on the other hand, if the agent has just then sent the rejection, there's some chance he still remembers why, and it's helpful to know whether it was the query, the writing style, or the work's concept (or combination thereof) that didn't appeal. Asking this would never be feasible by snail mail, since the rejected query would long since have been forgotten, but instantaneously, it's a maybe.

Of course, your typical narcissistic author (like me) doesn't think of the multiplication factor. Sorry for clogging the inbox, Nathan. Thanks for addressing it on the blog.

Joey said...

I have a question for you Nathan: Any advice on how long to wait after the new year to submit? I don't want to be part of the New Year's Resolution flood...

Thanks again for all of the great advice!

brian_ohio said...

I'm guessing, and this may be a long shot, that questioning what happened to my first question, after receiving your rejection, is out of the question.

Please leave an ambiguous, anonymous response in the comments. ;-)

Julie Weathers said...


I've joked for years about wallpapering my office with rejection letters, but I rather like the idea of making handmade paper out of them. Which brings us back to the problem of incorporeal rejections. It's hard to make handmade anything out of them.

I haven't submitted anything in a very long time, but I did save all my rejection letters in a very neatly organized three-ring binder. Fortunately, I haven't had any really nasty rejections or I might feel differently, but I think of them as mile markers. Many agents have been quite helpful and encouraging. I assume if an agent wants to give me a nugget of wisdom or an atta girl, they will do it in the rejection.

Either way, I try to send a polite thank you. Then I make some notes in their folder and move to the next target, er, agent.

December/Stacia said...

I always respond with a quick "Thanks anyway"--I'm glad to see another agent who appreciates that.

Bitter Hermit said...

Thank you for this post. And for your prompt reply to my query last week, complete with URL to your blog. I know now how to ask your memory without taking time from your conscious mind. Very handy, that.
Sorry about the follow-up, and thank you for letting us know. As an editor myself, I understand about limited time. Also as a prolific novelist, poet, and sometime philosopher as well as whiskey mystic and the main protag in the weirdest novel I've ever read/lived.

Heather Wardell said...

I don't respond to form rejects on a query. I figure, I sent one, the agent sent one, we're even.

I DO reply to rejections on partials, but never to ask for more information - I've always assumed that if the agent WANTED to give me more information, I'd have it already - just to say thank you (and I put 'thanks' or some variation in the subject line so they don't assume I'm ranting at them).

I've not yet had a full requested, so I don't know what I'll do. Send the agent a million dollars and a jellyfish tank, perhaps? :)


Dave Wood said...

I'm pretty much with Heather on the thank you's. Agents are busy folks and I don't want to clog their in boxes if we didn't get past the query stage.

One of the things I really like about email queries, without including a partial, is that it breaks the process up and makes it easier to figure out some of the answers for myself. If I send a query plus anywhere from five to thirty pages (which seems to be standard for agents who prefer snail mail), I have no way of telling whether the form rejection I get is due to the query, the concept, the writing, the character, or whatever happens to be my "it's not good enough" of the moment.

But if I get rejected based only on the query, I know it's probably one of two things: my concept wasn't strong enough, or the way I'd written the query didn't present the hook well enough (for example, maybe I started my query with a question). I like to think my concepts are pretty interesting, and one trick I've learned is to try writing a jacket blurb before I get started. If I can make the blurb sound bookstore-level interesting and unique, I figure I'm doing okay. So I usually suspect that I missed in how I wrote the query and I work on it. That's another place that mock jacket blurb can help. I look for about a 25% request rate based on my query. If I can get that, I figure the query is good -- there are so many other variables that can squelch even a perfect query. Beyond my arbitrary 25% return for hard work, I figure it comes down to luck, and I always seem to use mine up by winning four or five national lotteries a week.

Then, if I get rejections based on my partials (or fulls), I know it's something inherent to the book itself. Weak opening, turgid style, flat dialogue, cardboard characters -- like that. But I also tend to get a few more clues from the response, especially if the agent has requested a full.

Someday, I might even get an acceptance!

Oh, and I thank in advance and afterwards on partials and fulls, because I figure we've started a relationship of sorts.

Julie Weathers said...

I'll send a brief thank you regardless for the balancing aspect. I figure a polite thank you, might take the edge off the, "How dare you reject my masterpiece, you moron!" they open in the next e-mail.

Besides, it's just the cowgirl way to tip your hat and drawl a thank you.

Justin said...

It does seem a little more informal than snail mail queries, but I'm still pretty surprised that people would bug an agent about a project they just rejected. I mean, I know the feeling. Form rejections suck, and I want to ask the agent in question "WHY?" because of course I feel very insecure after something like that and want some reassurance. Still, I never have questioned an agent's decision. I've just moved on to the next one.

Still, I find this man's response to his rejection letter rather amusing:

alex said...

In all truth, your pleasant demeanor and personable replies within the blog briefly blinded and led me astray. Desperation is an ugly thing and as we all know, information and proper guidance is priceless!

I sincerely apologize for being so inconsiderate and unprofessional, and thank you again for your time.


Askablogr said...

Hey Nathan, this is a little left-field but I just came across this post and was curious: if there were a free blog widget that invited your readers to ask questions, protected your privacy and "automagically" turned their questions and your answers into blog posts, would it make it easier to deal with the volume of questions you get? If it might, please check out - I just built it and I'm looking for feedback. Thanks!

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