Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them.
– Isaac Asimov
By no stretch of the imagination am I immune to fear of rejection (just like I am apparently not immune to using cliches), but it is not a significant issue for me in this context. I count among both my strengths and my weaknesses my ability to empathize. If you have ever been in a position to hire someone and received over 100 resumes, you can empathize with literary agents too … except, imagine you were receiving 50-100 resumes every day, all the time. Out of pure necessity, as a survival or coping mechanism, you would use any reason to set a resume on the NO pile. If you’re receiving 50 resumes a day, one of them must fire on all cylinders (see there, no fear of cliches) just to make it to the MAYBE pile. As the NO pile gets higher and higher, the odds that there are people in that pile that would have impressed you in an interview and been great employees increase. If thinking about this does not cause you to experience empathy for literary agents, it should, at a minimum, make it easier not to take a form letter rejection personally. I guess I should add that if you are taking every rejection personally for more than a few moments, that state of mind is likely reflected in other aspects of your approach to the whole process of publishing and you’re inserting rejection into your queries somehow. Just my opinion.
Fear of rejection is not, to my mind, the same as discouragement. For me, discouragement doesn’t come from rejections piling up, it comes from the lack of any forward movement. My solution for this is to always be writing something else so I’m experiencing progress and accomplishment over here while rejections are coming in over there.
Originally, my plan was to post all my rejections here, but turns out they’re just not that interesting and rejection is a little repetitive. I mean, no surprise. How many ways are there to say no? So, what you’ll find here are samples of rejections and perhaps some notes along the way.
BASIC DEAR JOHN. This is your basic rejection: Apologize for form letter. Mention how many submissions you receive. The pass (various versions of “not a fit.”). Good luck. Thank you. These elements, in one configuration or another, make up the majority of rejections.
IT’S NOT YOU IT’S ME. Several agents include a note about the subjectivity of their opinion along with encouragement to keep trying (i.e. there are plenty of fish in the sea).
CRUSHED HOPES. Sometimes an agent will suggest (or even state outright) that the query/concept/idea was interesting but then when they read the writing it did not live up to their expectations. These take a few extra minutes to get over.
EMPATHY AND ADVICE. Some rejections, though clearly form letters, come along with a helping of career advice. That’s nice. You could get discouraged by the fact that you are already following the advice, but why do that? Instead, take heart that the agent is really rooting for writers.
SHORT AND SWEET! I think this is my favorite so far. To me, this is the most respectful of writers because there are no assumptions being made. I know agents receive a ton of queries. I know they don’t have time to write detailed replies or offer critiques. I know that agents, like everyone else, are subjective. I know I should not give up and send out a lot of query letters. And if I didn’t know these things, it’s not the agent’s job to educate me in a rejection letter. Nothing wrong with other rejections, but I like this sort of acknowledgement that surely I’m an adult and a professional and understand an agent owes me nothing more than a simple “No, thank you.”