Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Rejection Letter

I don't really try and hide that I have a standard rejection letter. All agents do, and there's just no time for me to write out individual letters to thousands of people. So naturally, my rejection letter is 1) vague (so it can address nearly any reason for rejection) and 2) brief.

Here it is in all its bland glory:

Thank you for your recent letter. I regret to say that I don’t feel that I’m the most appropriate agent for your work.

However, opinions vary considerably in this business, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for representation.

Best wishes,
Nathan Bransford

I know it's bland, I know it's not terribly helpful, but I do hope that people find it 1) honest and 2) polite.

Now, if you mention my blog or my clients' books, I'll almost always write you a short personal note thanking you for reading my blog or expressing appreciation that you read my clients' books. But that's about as expressive as I'm able to get. I wish I could do more, and I honestly do wish you the best of luck in your search for representation, but the time crunch necessitates brevity.

When I'm responding to a partial manuscript request I have varying degrees of vagueness or specificity. If there's one or two specific things I can point to that made the partial a "no" for me, I'll try and point it out. If, however, I just have a general feeling that it's not for me but can't point to anything in particular, I write a similarly vague rejection note back -- I just don't think it would be helpful for me to say something just to say something, and I'd rather be vague than lead you astray.

But despite the inevitable blandness of these letters, I just want to say here that I very much appreciate the care and time that (most) people take to write to me when they're querying. I know how asymmetrical it is for me to expect an amazing query letter that takes a great deal of time to prepare, only to send a vague rejection letter in return. I definitely get that. But just remember that you have one query to write at a time, while agents are receiving dozens a day. It's asymmetrical for us too.






64 comments:

Erik said...

What matters is that you *send* a rejection, so that the submitter knows where s/he stands. It may not feel great, but it's better than not knowing. People need to appreciate what's important.

BTW, on a side note, we were discussing changes at Borders last week. Their financial condition has noticeably worsened:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080320/ap_on_bi_ge/booksellers_2

Adaora A. said...

Did someone send you a mean reply to your e-ject Nathan?

I detect a pattern here. You post very useful blog entries but it seems to coincide with experience. The barade of phone calls and now this.

Look at it this way, at least you give them the opportunity to go onto the next query. Some agents just give no reply (which irks me greatly, though they have the right to I suppose).

I mentioned this yesterday but, THE ALMANAC had a whole row for Jeopardy . It was right next to a row of LITERATURE related questions. I breezed through it, beating the pants off of my entire family.

MUAHHAHAHA

Nathan Bransford said...

adaora-

Actually, it's been quite a while since I've received an angry query response, now that you mention it! So that's good.

And how cool about Jeopardy!

Ex-writer said...

Most of all, thank you for responding, even if it’s with a rejection. In a business where that courtesy is becoming rare, you stand head and shoulders above your compatriots.

Nadine said...

I love that you send rejections. It's just nice to know you received the material. So many agents don't send anything back and that leaves me wondering if the query even got to them.

Good to know the vague partial rejection means that it just wasn't a right fit, but if you had something to say, you would have said it.

Your clients are lucky to have you!

Adaora A. said...

Maybe you sprinkle your 'bland' rejection letter with 'Nathan Bransford blog whitty humour' and then the nasty reply flots from their mind.

Yea It was very cool. Ironic enough, the last Jeopardy had all Winston Churhill too. It was very funny. I also feel like a legend when I breeze through a whole row of the board. Doesn't everybody?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

The Knife Otherwise Known as Vague

That's why you send out multiple queries at the same time -

I don't mean 50, I just mean, several, 3 or 4, so you can survey all your responses (or nonresponses).

I think it's called playing the field. Or whole battalions versus single spys. Or something.

Erik -

I saw that about Border's too - it's a little scary - what the heck - there will just be amazon.com and Barns and Noble? The Coke and Pepsi of books? By the way, how's the weather in St. Paul?

Wanda B.

Dwight Wannabe said...

And this, Scarecrow, is why we love you most of all.

Diana said...

I'm with everyone else. At least you take the time to give a response. There are several agents and agencies whose web sites say some version of this: "Because I'm/we're very busy and important, I'll/we'll only contact you if I/we want you."

A postcard (or e-mail) saying nothing more than "no thanks" would at least alert me to the fact that the agent or agency received it, and that the agent or agency made a decision. I can get on with my life without wondering.

Richard Mabry said...

Nathan,
The word on the street is that you respond quickly. Score one for you. Your boilerplate rejection is indeed vague, but it's neither mean-spirited nor likely to send the recipient to the kitchen to browse among the knives. Full marks for being considerate.

If you want a standard for comparison, try, "I've read your work and found the writing to be not as good as I'd hoped." Yep, got that one--but signed with an agent the next month, so it all evens out.

Jackie said...

is the middle of the week better to send a Query, rather than overloading an Inbox on a bright and shiny Monday morning (along with a ton of other Querries)?

ORION said...

I remember the first time I got a scribbled handwritten note on a rejection letter from Dan Lazar- It gave me impetus to continue to write.
I have actually saved all 80+ of my rejection letters LOL!!
I don't have one from you tho...
You can send it to:
Patricia Wood
1164 Bishop Street
Suite 124-214
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
I'd hate for my collection to be incomplete...

Nathan Bransford said...

Jackie-

I don't think there's a particular time that's better than others, except around major holidays.

Orion-

Given your tremendous success with LOTTERY I'd like to think you wouldn't have gotten one from me!

Jackie said...

crap, lol, that means I have an entire week to rewrite

ty

Margaret Yang said...

I LOVE The form response! I would love it even more if the standard response could just be one word, "yes" or "no."

I am totally serious. I have received a ton of personal responses and not a single one of them has ever been helpful. Some have been hurtful. I've never been hurt by a form letter.

A "No, but..." is still a no, isn't it? Once you have that essential information, no other information is going to be relevant.

Besides, the form letter lets agents respond quickly, helping to make the entire process quicker, and therefore less painful. After all, the longer the wait, the worse the ouch. The form letter emphasizes that it's not personal.

The form letter is a perfect reflection that the rejection is not personal. It's professional.

I could go on and on, but the longer I'm in this business, the more I like the form letter.

Jackie said...

I did get one rejection that was quite surprising. Even though it is a Format Letter, it encourages a person to continue because it only takes one 'yes'

Adaora A. said...

I've always wondered why agents say this:

"Your book was wonderful. I/We really fell in love with the character. You are a very talented writer, and your book does belong on the book shelves...BUT"

???

Blindsighted!

Thicken your skin, pull yourself back up off of the floor, and see the light at the end of the tunnel. The greatest writers in history had 100+ mailjections didn't they?

Dwight Wannabe said...

[Still banging my head on the desk, thinking about Pat Wood enduring only 80 rejection letters before she scored representation for her wonderfully written, commercially successful book.]

Sigh. Talk about talent trumping all...

"Medic!"

Jackie said...

ADAORA Nostrodamus got mail or email rejections???

Sam Hranac said...

How does this fit with the response I received that took the form of a restraining order?

Jackie said...

I love The Mythbusters: "I reject your theory and substitute my own."

Adaora A. said...

@Jackie - Mail of course. That vexed me greatly considering I'm very anti- plastic bag, and anything that is ill for the environment. I like agents who lean towards e-queries. Why waste paper if a chunk of reply is going to be a 'no thanks(which absolutely they have the right to give).' I just believe that it's not worth it.

Quick question Nathan:

If you enter a writing contest - a good one with a good publishing house - and you win, could you still query a particular agent to recieve representation or would it have to be for another project?

Dwight Wannabe said...

@ Adaora,

Yep. That's the warning light telling you good things are ahead for you.

The funny part is how you can get ten of those "extra effort" complimentary suggestions (manna, pure manna), and the clause following the "But..." is always different. Leaves you chasing your tail in ten different directions.

But give Miss Snark her due respect. She said, "It only takes one 'yes.'"

As I can attest, she was right.

The "But..." rejections mean you are getting close. Hang in there.

Nathan Bransford said...

adaora-

You'd have to check the rules of the contest. Sometimes when you win those contests you're bound to the publisher's "standard" agreement and an agent might not be able to help you much.

Jackie said...

@ Dwight, I agree, I look at a rejection reply as they saw something they liked and zipped me off a rejection

Jackie said...

Nathan, aside from reading a contract as a must...no offense, but hasn't a person reached what they wanted to achieve when a Publisher accepts their work?

Nathan Bransford said...

Jackie-

In many respects selling the book is only a first step. Depending what rights were granted, an agent might be able to help sell rights overseas. Or help try and sell film and audio rights. Or help with the next book.

An agent just sell a book to a publisher and say "My work is done." They say, "My work has just begun."

Adaora A. said...

@dwight - Exactly! So fustrating. But you move on.


You mean for that particular book which you are submitting right? You'd have to query the regular way with another project if the contest says you can't, I suppse. Thank you very much indeed, for your answer. I can't seem to find the rules for it, but I suppose it is just like " Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award," contest.

Ann Handley said...

Nathan -- As others have said, kudos for sending a letter at all (even one that breaks a heart).

For the record, editors like me have this same problem, even at biz pubs like ours. I get a ton of unsolicited submissions, and it's tough to offer anything more specific than, "I appreciate you thinking of us, but I don't think we're a good match for your work."

The tough part comes when the writer wants specific advice: "What could I do differently? How could this be better?"

I'd love to help... but....

Jackie said...

I guess what I am asking is I don't know how Publishers operate, my understanding is that a Literary Agent does not bind a a client after a Query is published, Publishers do the same or not?

Nathan Bransford said...

Jackie-

You have some reading to do.

Jodi said...

Having received one of your standard rejections recently, I was impressed by the speed of your response. And I'm sorry I didn't mention that I read your blog... I do! Your efforts to communicate with authors this way truly sets you apart.

I do want to quibble with the notion that authors only have to prepare one query at a time. Anyone seriously looking for an agent or a publisher is working on many queries. It's not like you can expect the first one to say "yes."

Marissa Scott said...

Every day I look forward to reading your blog. First, because you're witty and fun. Second, because you're direct and tell it like it is... no BS here. And third, because your insight into the industry is very helpful to those who are "newbies". As I am already repped by an agent, this post doesn't really pertain to me, but some of my friends found this to be very helpful in wondering why they get the "generic" rejection letter. They now know it's not personal, it's just how business has to be because agents and editors are very busy people.

So, thanks, for your insight into the industry.

Jackie said...

I look forward to your Blog also. This entire writing world is brand new to me and I have all of it to learn and read about. You do provide the opportunities for insight and readily give any information in this computer world.

Remember the name, I still need to yell at my mother for naming me "Jack" because it appears I have adopted the "Jack of all Trades" theme but I throw out the master of none, because I have had lots of occupations and Titkes and had more than one golden opportunity handed to me...I have turned my attention to this writing world and I am more than eager to learn.

I will also insert the quip of you want me to read too, while my gossipy neighbor feels it pertanent to call me to inform me my x's little woman just gave birth to 3 Triplets, I am doing laundry, getting dinner for my oldest son all while I really would just rather be sitting here and reading and typing? :)

Ramen w/ Cheese & Tuna said...

What you need to do is change the complimentary close.

"Kung Fu!
Nathan Bransford"

Anonymous said...

for what it's worth, a scribbled note over the form letter of a big magazine publisher really stayed with me as encouragement

Will Entrekin said...

I've seen worse. Hell, I've gotten worse.

Some of the best advice I've ever heard concerning agenting/publishing is "follow the enthusiasm." Would I want an agent who thinks my books is okay and salable? 'Course not; I want the one who's going to love it. I want the agent who would see my book, pull it from the shelf, and buy it even had he (or she) never heard of me.

Feeling it's not the right project is really all that needs to be said, I think. I'd rather have no agent than the wrong one.

Jackie said...

@ Anon, I would keep that as encouragement also

Jackie said...

@ Will I just turned an Agent down for the same belief you have.

Diana said...

Nostrodamus got mail or email rejections???

Probably, but I suspect he wasn't surprised by them.

*Diana ducks*

Furious D said...

I don't mind rejection letters.

I don't mind impersonal form rejection letters.

What I can't stand are the folks who never respond at all, even when you fulfilled all their requirements. It's annoying and I feel it's unprofessional.

And I thought the editor who sent a rejection letter written in blood was just being melodramatic.

Speaking of Jeopardy.

I have freaked out my family at final jeopardy on four occasions. Alex Trebek gives the topic, and I blurt out the "correct question." And when it comes up I was right.

The last time came a couple of weeks ago watching it with my father. "Authors" was the topic, I said "Who is William Faulkner?" when they went to commercial and when they came back and did final jeopardy I was right.

I've watched the show over 20 years and have only tried it 4 times, but so far I'm batting a thousand.

Marva said...

How about your queries to publishers on behalf of your clients? Are they usually specific about why they aren't interested or do you get the canned rejections from them?

La Gringa said...

Now I don't feel so bad about my own bland-but-polite form rejection letter. Whew!

Patti Auburn said...

I have to disagree with Margaret Yang about the simple "yes" or "no" rejection. I don't mind the forms but I love the unexpected letters like the one I got from the New Yorker, that said about my story, "despite its obvious merit.."

A letter like that can keep a girl writing for years.

I like your form letter, Nathan - prompt and polite.

Dave Wood said...

I've gotten your rejection e-mail, Nathan, and it didn't bother me at all. First, it was nice to *get* a rejection letter. (How strange that seems to say!) That tells me you got the query. If an agent doesn't respond to queries, there's no way to tell if they didn't receive it, lost it in press of business, or didn't like it. That just feels like bad business manners to me, especially when a form letter, once written, is so easy to send out.

But you've also put some thought into your letter. I've seen one or two that were so awkwardly phrased I've been glad not to be working with the agent after all. Seems to me that a letter that is going to be sent to a couple of thousand people each year should be well written. Yours is.

A final point. I've recently had the opportunity to read two letters: one, an acceptance; the other from an agent who took too long to read the partial and lost a writer he was interested in. They were both for a book that had already been rejected 20-30 times. Those two letters removed any doubts I had about how enthusiastic an agent can be for a project, and they showed me how much agent tastes can differ. I think I also have a better sense of how hard it must be on an agent *not* to be interested in project after project, day in and day out.

susan d said...

I know I'm an idealist, but I would just like to glean something from a rejection so I can reduce the chances of receiving more of them.

I always appreciate an agent's attempt to be courteous, but if he or she thinks the opening chapters are deadly dull, or horribly written, or shouldn't be part of the book, I'd rather know, so I can do something about it.

What's awesome is Nathan's green approach - reams of paper don't get wasted for naught. And his rapid response. And, at least with me, he didn't send a rejection on a Friday.

Steph Leite said...

To echo what some people have already said, I don't like it when agents say they'll only respond if they're interested. It's not curteous, it's not polite, and it's not professional.

They say silence is louder than words. It's also so much more hurtful.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the better form rejections I've seen. Polite and to the point.

The funniest form rejection I received came from an agent who wrote, "I'm sorry I can't offer you representation at this time." Well, of course you can't. You've read only my query letter.

A&J Writers said...

and I'd rather be vague than lead you astray.

We had an agent request our full manuscript and when we were rejected the reason was rather vague. I have been worried this vague response has made us change too much about the original.

Are you specific when rejecting fulls?

~J

Elyssa Papa said...

I agree that it's better to get some form of response as opposed to none whatsoever, but after a while, I guess the writing is pretty clear on the wall if you don't hear from the queried agent.

I think it's to be expected to get form rejection letters for queries, especially since agents get slammed with so many on a daily basis. Out of curiousity, how many do you usually get (a ballpark number)?

And I do expect a vague but sort of explanation on a partial. I hope to get a more detailed explanation on a full, if rejected (and back in August, this day happen)---the agent's suggestions/critiques was something that highlighted certain things and resulted in an overhaul revision.

But, mostly, it's a time-consuming, patience-wearing experience when you query and then when you move onto the next steps... it's definitely a waiting game.

Good blog and explanation of rejection letters, Nathan. It's almost like you explained why the guy never calls when he says he will. LOL

Leis said...

Hello Nathan,

I'm having a great time reading your blog; you make it not only informative, but fun. By the way, weekends are very lonely here... must you take time off? ;)

I'm curious how much time you spend on a query before you decide one way or the other? Do you usually need to read all the way before that little buzzer goes off in your head, your brain sends an impulse to your muscles that cause your lips to purse and your finger to fish for the Standard Query Rejection Letter?

Anonymous said...

Your rejection is very polite and nice, Nathan, nothing to apologise for. In my opinion the worst rejections are those when the agent/editor sends you your rejection letter back with a "NO" written on it or a "NO" stamped on it. Or those small slips of paper that don't even have the rejecting agent's/editor's signature (even printed). In those instances I do feel mad that I spent so much time with my query letter, and didn't even get a signed letter in return.

But you're most definitely not in that category! I wish I could query you, but my manuscript is humorous "tween".

Happy Easter! :-)

Sue Eves said...

I recognize it from last year! Following your blog has steered us to an effective query letter and two full MS requests .
Thanks for your continuing support.

Fox E Parker (AKA Sue Eves & Alix Parker)

Margaret Yang said...

@patti auburn: I'm glad that the encouragement kept you writing. And I knew that I'd be in the minority opinion on liking the form.

About those people who want more specific information: I think that if an agent blogs 5 days a week, he's already doing his part to give writers all the information they need.

(Anyone who wants more information, go see Miss Snark's archives. There, you can find an education like no other.)

I'm fine with any agent using a form--love the form!--but if an agent is blogging as well, then they have even more reason to use the form!

susan dc said...

The funniest rejection I ever received was for a middle grade novel - the agent sent me a "no" along with list of book doctors!

Scott said...

I appreciate the form rejection. It says what it needs to say, and I was lucky enough to get a sentence or two of additional comments.

What I really appreciate is the speed. I didn't even have time to let the usual doubts and the feeling that people at the agency are hanging my query on the wall to laugh at, throw things at, and moon every time they walk by.

I once got an e-mailed rejection that said, simply, "no thanks." No capital letters. No punctuation. It felt rather hasty, like the agent didn't even want to take the time to copy & paste a form letter. It left me feeling kind of empty.

nancorbett said...

But just remember that you have one query to write at a time, while agents are receiving dozens a day.

Hmmm. Maybe I've been going about the query process all wrong. I've been carefully trying to supply precisely what each agent asks for...query letter only; query and first fifty pages; query, synopsis and first chapter; cover letter, list of credentials, cat's name and dob, etc.

Last night, I listened to a speaker who said that we should blast all these instructions to hades! "They (meaning agents) are the ones who need you!" he announced. "Send them all the same thing. A cover letter, a synopsis and the first chapter."

Well! I think it's a two-way street, that we are looking for each other in hopes of forming a useful bond. I'd like to take this writer's point and run with it. Looking for an agent has been sort of like standing next to an empty punch bowl, while watching my prom dress wrinkle. I don't want to agonize over it any more. I want to take off these pumps, throw them at the wall and dance.

Jan said...

I'm with everyone else ... it's great that you send responses. And I have seen this one before too ... except it wasn't signed Nathan Bransford :)

Nathan Bransford said...

Maybe I should clarify -- I know that people write many many different queries, often a different one for every agent. That's what I meant by "one at a time." I know you don't just write one query and send it out to every agent, just that you only wrote one for that particular agent.

Mark Terry said...

Dear (fill in here):
Thank you for your consideration, but unfortunately your rejection does not meet our needs at this time. Please do not view this rejection of your rejection as any reflection on the quality of your editorial acumen.

We apologize for the form letter, as we prefer to respond to each rejection with a personal note, but unfortunately the volume of rejections now makes this impossible.

We wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors.

Sincerely,
(fill in here, too)

nancorbett said...

This is a query to present the various options I offer for submission format. In an effort to minimize the time spent reviewing this package, I have added two new choices to my formatting options:

* Paper airplane format
* Pre-shredded

Sorry...couldn't resist. I hope you take this in the spirit of humor.

I always appreciate receiving a note and don't expect the agent to take the time to write something personal.

In my prior comment, I guess I was trying to say that I want to take myself a little less seriously and just go with the process.

Nikki Duncan said...

I have to say, as someone who's received such a letter from you, I didn't have a problem with it at all. I get that agents are very busy, and you add to that by blogging regularly about things that help us improve, which a lot of agents don't do. That said, I appreciate the response and the fact that it came quickly. You may not spend 5-10 minutes personalizing a response to every person but you don't leave them guessing and wondering either.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is why Stephan Barbara is the best

:)

Anonymous said...

As for me, I am glad that you take the time to send a form letter. One of my worst rejections was a rubber stamp to the "outside" of my envelope. In BIG letters "REJECTED." That really did wonders for my depression.

Keep sending a form letter.

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