The Unhelpful Rejection Letter


Have you ever received an unhelpful rejection letter that says, “Sorry, but this just isn’t a fit for us.”? I have. And I’ve also written more of these rejections than I’d like to admit. In fact, after I write this post, I may just have to send out twenty more.

Some authors write back to say, “Can’t you tell me what I can do better? What suggestions do you have?” I’m sure I frustrate writers when I tell them I can’t comment further. As a published author in my own right, I understand why writers want feedback. So now let me tell you why I don’t feel it’s in your best interest for me to offer feedback when the answer is a firm no.

Lead Me On

When you were in high school, you kept from encouraging people you didn’t want to date, right? Sometimes those people were nice and would make a great match for someone else. Just not you. You hated the fact you couldn’t, in your heart of hearts, be passionate enough about spending time with them to accept invitations for dinner. But how to tell them without gaining an enemy forever? Ouch!

I don’t want make writers, especially my lovely friends, think I’m going to introduce their work to editors if I have no intention of doing so. If I tell you, “Well, I’d like this better if the heroine’s eyes were blue and her name was Sally,” and you changed both factors and sent it back to me, you’d expect me to pursue your work. Now, in truth, I might think your book would be better with blue-eyed Sally instead of green-eyed Sarah, but another agent might disagree. Unless I’m serious about pursuit, it’s better for me to keep my opinion to myself.

Tick Tock Tick Tock

Another factor in a lack of meaningful comment is time. I would love to mentor more writers, but time doesn’t allow. I’m simply not able to give each writer with a shred of promise a line-by-line edit. Until you are published and receiving meaty critiques from professional editors at publishing houses, look for critique partners to do heavy edits. And expect to return the favor many times over. Even better, learn self-editing so your critiques are light both in critique group and from the editor at your publishing house.

And realize that even a morsel of advice can take considerable time to compose so that it is genuinely helpful.

You Owe Me!

When you follow up with an editor or agent after a conference, you may be disappointed if you receive an unhelpful rejection letter. But for the reasons I’ve stated, you’ll have to swallow disappointment even when you’ve made a great personal connection. Some editors and agents may go the extra mile with a few comments based on the great time you had over lunch at conference, but they don’t owe you. Remember, agents and editors are more swamped than ever after big conferences so they may be treading water with the tsunami of resulting submissions.


Believe it or not when we do provide a bit of critique or advice a few writers take it as an affront and fire vitriol in return. Steve Laube shared this final salvo from a person he tried to help by saying the manuscript was too long for the current market:

You have rejected the proposal, so why do you insist on insulting me? Why does it matter to you? My manuscript is what it is and everything included is vital information … Please do not email me again.

A Forever No?

In my view, a rejection letter is not a forever no, even if you feel the letter is unhelpful. You can always try again with a new submission, especially if you have worked hard to improve the material. Persistence is just as helpful in writing as it is any other profession.

The Helpful Rejection Letter

Did you score a helpful rejection letter? One that provides specific advice or critique? Rejoice! It’s the next best thing to an acceptance. The helpful rejection almost always means the agent is engaged in your work and is taking the time to groom you for possible representation. Listen, heed, and resubmit.

Your Turn

What was the most helpful rejection letter you ever received?

What was the worst rejection letter you’ve received?

Did you follow up on advice given in a rejection letter? What happened?

85 Responses to The Unhelpful Rejection Letter

  1. Sara Baysinger March 8, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    I received a rejection letter from Steve Laube only last month. I appreciate the time he took to provide helpful feedback. I must say, though, if his comment was that the mss was too long, I would have cropped that sucker up and resubmitted it! My rejection had to do more with the genre… not as easy a fix as cropping. 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:38 am #

      Sara, this is a great example of Steve Laube’s skill at offering constructive feedback while still making clear that this particular manuscript missed the mark with him for another reason. That is one of the most helpful type of rejection letters a writer can receive. So now you know to crop the story and approach an agent looking for your genre. God bless you on your journey!

    • M.J. Piazza January 1, 2018 at 4:28 pm #

      So do you actually take the time to write out individual letters instead of having a one-size-fits all rejection slip? The rejection letter I got from Mr. Laube was very nice, and he even hand-signed it (I sent in a hard copy with a SASE). I had one literary agent spell my name wrong and forget to capitalize the word “I” in his one-sentence rejection email to me, and now I’m glad he isn’t my agent.

  2. Matt Morton March 8, 2012 at 5:53 am #

    I once received a rejection letter from an agent 14 minutes after submitting the proposal. There wasn’t anything offensive about the letter itself, but I couldn’t help wishing they had at least held onto it for 30 minutes and pretended to read the thing. 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:41 am #

      Matt, I get it! But if the reason was something obvious such as “I simply do not represent poetry,” I hope you can forgive the agent. If the reason wasn’t that easy, then look at it this way — at least the agent didn’t say, “Man, I’ve got to pretend to read this,” move on to the next email, and then make you wait several days/weeks/months for a response when you could have had an answer in 14 minutes. Hope you find a wonderful agent soon!

      • Matt Morton March 8, 2012 at 9:29 am #

        Thanks Tamela. My comment was somewhat tongue in cheek. I assumed they looked at the query and quickly decided it wasnt for them. I did subsequently find a great agent with that same proposal so I can laugh about it now. I thought your post was great!

    • Karla November 18, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

      I got one today that was exactly 30 minutes from the time I submitted it… the extra 16 minutes didn’t do much for my ego! ?

  3. Susie March 8, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    I also received a rejection letter from Steve Laube…he was so very kind and encouraging.

    The least helpful rejection I received read “I’m going to have to pass.” That was it. No “Thank you for submitting” or anything. It seemed unprofessional to me. A standard, mass produced rejection letter.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:45 am #

      Susie, I appreciate hearing good things about my boss! As for the “I’ll have to pass” letter — I’m assuming it was a brief email. While not the most flowery, I think it does mean you got a human on the other end and you actually did not receive a standard form letter. Just a quick response from someone going through a huge number of emails, is my guess. Don’t get discouraged. Keep at it!

    • Juliettownsenf June 25, 2021 at 1:57 am #

      I have been rejected millions of time I need help to get my letter out to the doctors also mentalheath so deppressed deprived of sleep I feel like death is on me every day please can you help me with my strength please godbless

  4. Pat Trainum March 8, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    One of the best rejections I’ve received was from an editor who loved my short story but had a problem with one aspect of the ms. I fixed the problem and she bought the story. I’ve also received many “I’m going to have to pass” letters and looking back at those early mss, I totally understand.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:46 am #

      Pat, a few editors did me a favor by not publishing some of my early work, either. My first published novel was the fourth I had completed.

  5. Lindsay Harrel March 8, 2012 at 6:34 am #

    Wow, I can’t believe some people! They obviously didn’t read Steve’s post about not burning bridges, right? 😉

    I’ve received the standard rejection letters with no explanation, and others with more explanation. I like knowing exactly what the editor/agent was thinking and the reasons they rejected the work, but that’s just my personal preference. I understand that not every editor/agent has the time, though. If they gave detailed feedback (or even minimal feedback that is personalized), that might take up 1/3 of their time, which is time they wouldn’t have to spend on their current clients.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:48 am #

      Right on, Lindsay! And you can use that information to approach the editor or agent with a different project.

  6. Pegg Thomas March 8, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    I’m just starting out and got my first rejection letter from an editor last week. She sent a 3 paragraph e-mail with nice comments and offered to help me find an agent! It’s from a major CBA house, so I’m more than tickled… I’m thrilled!

  7. J.L. Lyon March 8, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    I don’t think anyone likes rejection, but it does soften the blow a bit when you receive a reason why. The author you spoke of just took that reason as an affront to him instead of advice on how he might make his ms better. It really confuses me when I hear stories like this. Yes, writing a proposal can feel a bit like begging for bread at times, which makes things more emotionally charged…but if an author can’t take constructive criticism from an agent or editor, how then will they react to inevitable negative reviews? Poor sales? A failed project? Every author believes they have written the next big thing, and maybe they have, but their agent needs to be able to trust that they can take these things in stride and keep going. It IS a business, after all. You don’t want to hire someone who you’re afraid will quit when the pressure gets to be too much. That’s why rejection is such a vital part of the publishing process, one almost all great authors have been through. It sharpens us and makes us better writers.

  8. Richard Mabry March 8, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    The most helpful rejection letter was an email. I was trying (unsuccessfully) to sell the non-fiction book I wrote after the death of my first wife. An editor (and I don’t recall who it was, but may God bless them!) emailed back a standard rejection response, ending with, “You really should attend a Christian writer’s conference.” I did, and not only got the push I needed to make that non-fiction book a reality, but was introduced to writing fiction by some wonderfully helpful authors and editors.
    I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d just pouted instead of acting on that advice. And I regularly thank that unknown editor for taking the extra few seconds to point me toward learning the craft more thoroughly.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:52 am #

      Richard, your many fans are thanking that editor! And yes, going to a conference is one of the most helpful things you can do to get energized and connect with others.

  9. Debbie Lynne Costello March 8, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    I think my best and the worst were one in the same. An editor gave a lengthy rejection. She had some great advice and I edited the ms and tried to heed much of her advice. Some of her comments where harsh and not put in the nicest way, but the fact that she took so much time to tell me it was encouraging. I think we are all made so very different and for this editor dancing around and trying not to hurt someone’s feelings wasn’t her way. But on the flip side she was very kind to take the time to write the long rejection that targeted many aspects she didn’t like. When I first began my search for an agent I kept getting the same type of rejection, “I’m sorry the time period is an impediment.” I saw a pattern in the rejections and began writing in a different time period. It worked!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:53 am #

      Absolutely, Debbie Lynne! It’s hard to let go of a time period you’ve fallen in love with and spent a lot of time researching, but at least it’s a concrete change a writer can make.

  10. Nicola Morgan March 8, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Fab post – am writing a post on rejection/feedback for next week and will send people over to read this. My own most unfavourite rejection letter consisted of my own letter, returned with a line scrawled across it and the word (in pencil) NO! Turns out that it was an administrative error – not an error that they said No but that they sent it to me like that! I survived. (And got published in the end, though not with that book.)

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:58 am #

      Nicola, thank you for the compliment. I’m so glad you have found my post helpful! I share your pain about the scrawled NO! Part of my writing history includes a healthy number of newspaper and magazine articles. I once received a rejection on which someone wrote “too old” when I sent in an article on a missionary. I couldn’t figure out what they meant. I called and found out, and it was a factor I couldn’t change. So, still a NO!

  11. Janet Ann Collins March 8, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    One of the first things I ever submitted was rejected with a detailed list of suggestions for improvements. I didn’t know until several years later that I could have followed the suggestions and submitted it again to the same magazine and by the time I found that out the publication had gone under. Ignorance isn’t always bliss.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 8:01 am #

      Janet, it’s easy to misinterpret unless the letter specifically states you can resubmit. When I’m spending that much time writing a rejection, I usually suggest to the author that s/he can resubmit if s/he wishes.

  12. Rick Barry March 8, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    Although I realize that some authors are sensitive souls who feel attacked by constructive criticism of their baby, it’s never wise to burn bridges. One editor who declined a manuscript of mine later wrote me a complimentary note regarding a magazine article I’d written. We’ve developed a professional friendship. Who knows, maybe someday she’ll like a future m.s. of mine, but even if not I’ve gained yet another friend in the publishing world.

    Thanks for the interesting post, Tamela!

  13. Deanne Durrett March 8, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    My worst rejection letter came in a series of about four. The first: We like your story but would you do this? I did and sent it back for another response: We like your story but maybe add a little of that. I did and sent it back. This continued for a couple more volleys and then I got a reject that said: Your story seems to have lost what we liked in the first place. Sorry! (It was a short picture book)

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 8:06 am #

      Deanne, sometimes this happens with longer works, too. I’d say just use the comments you agreed with and try submitting elsewhere. Hope that helps!

  14. Regina Merrick March 8, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    I received my first rejection letter a few weeks ago, and believe it or not, was actually ENCOURAGED by it. It was from a major publishing house, and it confirmed what I had thought all along – it simply wasn’t a good fit for THAT HOUSE, and wished me good luck finding the right place for my book. She didn’t say that it was unpublishable, just not what they were looking for. I think, all along, I knew that, but since I’m unagented, I felt I had to try!

  15. Teena Stewart March 8, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    It is so good to hear an agent’s explanation of what they go through. I would hate to be in your shoes. As a book doctor friend once said, “Any feedback you get that goes beyond that standard rejection notice is all good.” If you receive a rejection and the editor or agent takes time to give any feedback, consider it a blessing and weigh their input to see what you can improve.

  16. Sally Bradley March 8, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    My most helpful rejection letters came from a publisher at a major house who wrote three pages–THREE!–on things she wanted me to address in a rewrite. I did the rewrite and by the time I finished it, she’d moved on to another publisher, but I still viewed it as a huge gift. She was right about everything she said and my book was better for it.

    Steve Laube also gave me a helpful rejection letter a number of years ago. He gave me an A- then rejected me. The two things in the same letter made me laugh. But he also shared what he thought was the problem with the sample pages, and again he was right. I fixed it but didn’t resubmit because another agent had just offered representation.

    So, yes, personalized rejection letters are the best, but a number of generic ones can say a lot too. It means we have to examine our writing because some aspect of it–plot, characters, writing style–just isn’t up there. That’s where we have to have that tough skin and look at our story with a business-like attitude.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      Sally, that’s a good point. When a manuscript receives rejection after rejection with just a form letter, it may not be resonating enough with anyone to evoke more than that. Time to reassess and start anew.

  17. Cat Howard March 8, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    I recently received a rejection from Coteau Books in Regina, Sask. The letter was actually quite positive, considering they were telling me “no”, in that they stated that while it didn’t meet their criteria, there were other publishers out there I might try.

  18. Staci Eastin March 8, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Like the others, my most helpful rejection contained a specific reason why the publisher was passing. Their books all held to a specific formula, and my book didn’t fit.

    But like an earlier commenter mentioned, as I look over some of the first short stories I submitted, I can see why I got form rejections. I wouldn’t know where to start with the critique, and I wrote it!

    Writers are used to toiling away in isolation, it doesn’t take much encouragement to keep us going. But if people are wading through hundreds of submissions a month, I understand why form rejections are necessary.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

      Staci, thank you for that. How wonderful we have this place where we can share!

  19. Heather Day Gilbert March 8, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I have received some rejection letters, and one typical vague response is, “I just didn’t connect with the character.” But that’s what it’s all about–connecting. If the agent doesn’t connect with your book, why would you want that agent anyway? You need a champion for your words.

    I received advice to change my POV/tense/historical time period, but I’m glad I stuck with my gut and didn’t change it. Now I’ve signed with an agent who represents my book and believes in it (not to say I didn’t have editing work to do!).

    It’s very subjective, and I think you have to protect the integrity of your story, while being willing to accept valid criticisms. The key is learning to differentiate between the two.

    • J.L. Lyon March 8, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

      I had a similar experience recently, but the advice came from a conference and I unfortunately took it to heart. I went home and simplified my story into what I thought better fit the “mold” of what this particular agent was looking for. Now I wish I hadn’t, because I ended up getting rejected for telling vs. showing (which I take as publishing speak for “this has no heart”). Looking back over the original, I saw with horror what I had done, stripping the plot of all its finer elements in exchange for a lower word count. I guess that proves that sometimes we just have to follow our instincts, whether they fit with a certain publisher/agent or not.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

      Yes, I will often send rejection letters stating that my opinion is not the only opinion.

  20. Bob Mayer March 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Who cares? An agent is a dinosaur trying to hang on. Readers are the new gatekeepers. Agents are trying to skim the best of self-publishers off the Amazon/Pubit/Kobo pile, but the question is, what deal can they get a successful indie that is better than what they’re doing?

    I’ve rejected agents lately. Why? What can you offer me? What can you do for me?

    Agents always worked for authors. Now they really know it.

    • haj March 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      You are my hero. lol I feel as finding a lit agent is like a sorority hazing. What dog and pony show can I perform to impress you fine sir or madam. Oh you read my proposal? The 16 words about my MS is what really counts not the 300 plus pages I slaved over?
      It makes me sad and quite frankly Im on the brink of tossing it all in the trash.

  21. J.A. Pak March 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Really, the only feedback I want to hear is either “submit more” or “almost got published”.

    The worst feedback was something like this: “Really enjoyed this piece until I found out the protagonist wasn’t homosexual”. This is also my favorite. 😉

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

      J.A., if you hear “almost got published,” then that’s a sign dialogue might be possible.

  22. Dianne Price March 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    The most helpful rejection was from your own Steve Laube! He asked that I scrub some mild language, and stated that he was contemplating asking for a full manuscript, but my work was too long.

    I made some corrections, resubmitted to him, enclosing a copy of his first comments and received the most confusing rejection I have ever received. He stated that he didn’t remember what he had said the first time around! He did say that I was a good writer, which was encouraging, but rejected my proposal.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

      Dianne, take Steve Laube’s encouragement to heart. If you have not yet found an agent, I recommend that you try him again with a new project. Sometimes agents talk with writers over the course of several projects before agreeing to work together.

  23. Victoria Noe March 8, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    I’ve gotten these kinds of nice but unhelpful rejections.
    But by far, the worst rejections are the silent ones: no response at all. I know people are busy, and I don’t require a personalized response with bullet points about why you didn’t like my query. Sometimes the agent’s site will say “if you don’t hear in X weeks, that means I’m not interested.” I know agents are busy, but still…sounds like a good job for an intern.

  24. haj March 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    I received one of the most helpful rejections letters from Ms. Annie Bomke. Not only did she specify exactly why my ms wasn’t for her, she advised me on how to make it stronger for another agent.
    Honestly, I wished my project was right for her because that is the kind of agent I’d like in my corner.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

      Right, sometimes an agent doesn’t have the right connections for you, but another agent will.

  25. Nicholas McRae March 8, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    A publisher once went to great pains to send me my least helpful rejection letter. Of course, I am being quite facetious when I say this. The publisher trimmed my rejection off of a sheet of rejections that had been photocopied several times to save paper. In its entirety, the letter I received measured eight an one-half inches, by two and three-eighths inches. I had to tape it to a full sheet of paper in order to enter it into my “Binder-O-Rejection.” I’d quote it, but the photocopy was too grainy to read in its entirety. I could make out “Thank you for your interest,” and “not for us.” This story has been slightly embellished for the sake of amusement.

    The most helpful rejection letter I received came from Claire Eddy at Tor/Forge. While my manuscript did not fit what Tor was looking for, Ms. Eddy took the time to thank me for my submission and offered her encouragement. She said that I did a good job; I’d just missed the mark with their target audience. Bolstered by her response, I sent the manuscript through another round revisions and found a more niche-appropriate publisher, who accepted my manuscript, Piggy Moto: All-Star Boar Band, and published it last year.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

      Ah, the copy machine! Since the advent of email, that form of letter is almost extinct, thank goodness. But I’ve seen those. Blech.

      Congrats on your success!

  26. Jodi Wainwright March 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    This is part of my latest rejection. It gives me hope.

    I really love your premise. Unfortunately I don’t feel it’s quite right for my list. I’m regretfully going to pass.

    Please don’t take this rejection as a comment on your writing, because it isn’t intended to be one. While your novel has merit, I am forced to give serious consideration to the realities of the marketplace when deciding which writers to represent. And I really have to be absolutely in love with every project I choose to take on.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

      Jodi, I know I didn’t write that but it reads in a similar vein to many I send. I appreciate learning this is the type of letter that authors find encouraging. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Peter DeHaan March 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Is there a way to distinguish between a “this-project-is-not-for-me” rejection and a “don’t-ever-sent-me-another-proposal” rejection?

    I’d hate to assume that it was the first kind, when really it was the latter. But even worse would be to make the opposite assumption.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

      Good question, Peter. When I am really interested in an author, I’ll say something such as, “The door is always open,” or otherwise refer to the future. I think you can send agents new projects even without blatant encouragement as long as it makes sense to do so. The only general guideline I can offer — and I stress that this is a very general guideline — if you have sent the same agent several submissions and the rejections get colder and colder and/or the agent ceases to respond, it’s time to move on to someone else. But my guess is that you won’t be sending any one agent submission after submission before being offered representation by someone, so I wouldn’t worry if I were you.

  28. Ruth Douthitt March 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    I received an excellent rejection letter from Chip MacGregor that I don’t really consider a flat-out “rejection” of my MS. He just wanted me to re-work it. He advised me to keep on writing. He encouraged me! That’s what matters.

    Great post!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 8, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

      Ruth — good for you! Take his advice. Hope it works out for you both.

      So glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  29. Martha Ramirez March 9, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    What an awesome post, Tamela! I still can’t believe how some people attack agents. I have to say throughout the years I’ve been very blessed with lots of detailed rejections. I know how uncommon it is and am very grateful.

    My most helpful rejection would have to be from an agent a couple years ago. She emailed me several pages of feedback as constructive criticism. She also went as far as pointing out my strengths and adding encouraging words letting me know if she didn’t feel I had what it takes, she wouldn’t be sharing her feedback with me.

    Oh, and your rejection years ago was helpful too;) You mentioned you weren’t taking on any young adult projects at the time and was specific as to why not. Thank you again or that! Much appreciated.

  30. Andrea Nell March 9, 2012 at 2:24 am #

    Thanks for this post! I haven’t submitted anything since snail mail was the standard. I only ever received rejections form letters. I did have my manuscript requested a few times. I took that as encouragement even if it was followed by another rejection. (Now that I know what I’m doing those rejections don’t surprise me in the least!) I did research to try to decode the rejections and the best and worst advice I found was that I probably wouldn’t get published until I’d been published. So I cried and pouted and whined. Then I went back to college to earn a communication degree and got a job as a journalist. My first byline was the so exciting! It was my first step into the publishing world. It’s been a long road, but after almost ten years I’m about ready to submit fiction again. Gulp! I’m praying for kind rejections and helpful feedback this time around! (Or better yet, representation and contracts!)

  31. Laurie Alice Eakes March 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    My worst rejection has become a bit infamous amongst some writers, and now I can laugh about that. At the time, though, it made me incredibly angry because the editor essentially told me I didn’t know what I was talking about because she’d seen differently on TV. Yeah, right. Like the mediais so good at accurate reporting. I had personal and professional experience in the area…

    I nearly quit writing, but my lovely agent told me to write something else. Thinking selling was the best revenge, I did and sold that something else.

  32. Andra M. March 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Like others, I also received a rejection letter from Steve Laube, and he was just as helpful and encouraging as others have said.

    Another rejection letter I found encouraging was a short story I submitted to Guideposts years ago (my first submission in fact). On the standard form letter, the editor wrote “Sorry!” On face value it doesn’t sound like much, but considering he/she took the time to write that one word meant that the story touched them in some way. It simply wasn’t right for their magazine.

  33. Xochi E. Dixon March 10, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Thanks for sharing, Tamela.

    I follow up every rejection with a thank you note. The fact that someone took the time to review my work is a blessing. I learned long ago that editors / agents are human, just like me. They want projects they can sell and authors they can represent. They are not looking to discourage authors.

    If I’m focused on God’s plan and timing, learning the craft, studying the market, and being wise in preparing my submissions, I can feel confident when I receive a rejection. When God closes a door, it’s for a reason. I take a “no” as an opportunity to grow, a chance to learn more about the craft and see what my manuscript needs to bring it to the next level.

    One way I prevent unnecessary rejection is by researching the agent / editor before submitting my work.

    Rejections are never easy to swallow, but having a healthy perspective on the business side of publication is essential. It’s also vital to remember not to take rejection personally.

    I look at my past rejections as favors from God. I’ve grown so much as a writer over the last few years that I can now see those projects were not ready to be published.

    Thanks for being real.

    Tip for aspiring authors: Be teachable! We have a wonderful opportunity to hone our craft and learn about the business at the 2012 Mount Hermon conference. I’ll be there, ready to take notes.

  34. Kara Isaac March 10, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    This one had my digging into my rejections archive and I can only surmise that I’ve been very lucky in that I don’t believe I’ve ever had an unhelpful rejection – apart from a couple that I never got replies to (when the agency stated they did reply) which left me wondering if my queries had gotten lost in cyberspace somewhere.

    I once had an incredibly brutal rejection which basically said that my writing was abysmal, not to quit my day job and please never bother her again. Fortunately for me it was awhile into this journey and around the same time as I got that I also got some very kind rejections and finaled in a couple of contests so I chalked it up to the agent having a really bad day. I would have been crushed though it I’d received it when I first started querying!

    The best rejection advice I’ve ever received came from your very own Steve Laube; “Please don’t see that as discouragement. Instead see it as a challenge. It may not be this story, it might be the next. This is a journey and not a sprint.”

    In terms of responses, I view anything beyond a “thanks but no thanks” as a real gift. As a manager who has to recruit for numerous positions I see them as being similar. If I’m interviewing ten candidates for a job, I don’t have time to sit down and go in-depth with the nine who weren’t successful as to why they weren’t. And sometimes, it wasn’t anything they did or didn’t say or do, they just weren’t the right fit. Or maybe they were but just not for THIS job.

  35. Suzy Norman March 27, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    Great post, thanks.

    I recently had a personalised rejection (after approacing four agents). She’s a former Booker prize-winning agent who took the time to say what she did like and just a sentence at the end where my book fell short. I thanked her sincerely, and tweaked my ms, but funnily enough, I did so after I’d accepted another agent.

    I still changed the ms after her comment. Thank you that lady, and she was right too, it’s a better book after the tweak.

  36. Gwyn Weyant August 13, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    I have received many rejection letters and most of the time I understand why. It is really hard to keep on writing when all you get is rejection letters. I know that I’m getting better with story that I write. It would be nice to have a little encouragement in a rejection letter.

    Friends say its great. But that’s not a writing professional.


  37. Janet Ann Collins August 13, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    I once sent a middle grade ms to an agent who told me it was good but too short for the age group. I sent it to an e-book publisher, who accepted it and it was published – after quite a few improvements, of course.

  38. Rebecca Aarup August 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    The most disappointing rejection letter I got was sent from an agents ipad. I’ll copy and paste it:

    “not the type of book i’m looking for

    so pass but may God bless

    Sent from my iPad”

    Not very helpful but I understood and replied with a “thank-you”.

    I did receive one very helpful rejection from a well-known agent that gave specific reasons why he wouldn’t take on the project as well as what I could do to improve my chances and have him reconsider. Probably the happiest I’ve ever been after a rejection! It’s always nice to have a glimmer of hope…

  39. Pamela September 11, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    I have 2 questions … The first is, do agents appreciate when writers send a quick “thank you!” email after a rejection on a partial/full? I would hate to be rude by not sending one, but I also don’t want to be an annoyance. I’m sure agents are busy enough without all these “thanks!” emails.

    The second is … OK, so I’ve been querying for months now. Got a total of 10 fulls — some came back with minimal suggestions, 1 came back with a ton of helpful advice (which I took and then continued to query), and then there were a handful of forms. The general gist is: we love the idea, but didn’t connect with/like the voice/tone.

    At this point, I’m sad and mopey and I don’t know if I should chalk this up to “subjective, truck on!!” or if I should sit down and re-visit my ms. Truthfully, I’m no longer in love with my ms as I once was but I don’t know if that’s a result of all these bashings I’ve been getting or if I’m now reading my ms with clear eyes.

    Stick with? Move on? Go with gut feeling?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray September 12, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      Pamela, these are good questions. As for a thank you note, it’s not necessary, particularly on a two-sentence “we’ll pass” email. But if you want to stay in touch and thank an agent for offering great tips and advice, then it’s a nice gesture.

      As for multiple rejections, since you’ve fallen out of love with your manuscript and no one else seems to be in love enough to offer a big diamond ring (or even a small “promise” ring) for it, I’d say, write a new book! I have several manuscripts on file I wrote years ago that will never be published. Consider this exercise part of your learning process, and query the most helpful agent first.

      Wishing you success!

      • Pamela September 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

        Thank you so much, Ms. Murray!

        OK, another question … I received a partial today (yay), but am hesitant to submit. Not to sound like a defeatist, but I know if I submit my ms as is, it will come back with a big fat R. (Eight other Rs serve as evidence.) It’s only a partial (30 pgs), so in the event I wanted to make changes/tweaks, it’s manageable. I’d love a chance to re-visit my ms, revise, and make it better before submitting. But should I? And if so, how do I do this in a professional way?


      • Tamela Hancock Murray September 13, 2012 at 8:13 am #

        Yes, always take the time to make your manuscript the best it can be!

  40. Susan W January 14, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Yay! I just received my very first rejection letter. And, it definitely falls into the “unhelpful” category.

    “Sorry, not right for me, but good luck to you.”

    It’s a start! Right? The first agent I sent my query to didn’t even reply…nor did the third.


    (Wonderful article, by the way. Informative and interesting.)

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 14, 2013 at 10:14 am #

      Susan: So glad my article could help. Keep that sense of perspective; it will get you through this process. 🙂

      Hope you will receive your very first acceptance letter soon!

  41. Laura Lea Smith January 6, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    Back in 1999, I typed a 236 page manuscript on my 1940’s Royal elite typewriter based on my dysfunctional life. I submitted it to a new age publisher and three months later I received a letter back from the editor. He stated that he enjoyed reading my manuscript and said it would make a great movie, but did not fit the new age theme of the publishing company.

    Needless to say I was happy that at least my manuscript was read. However, that was when more drama occurred, so I put the manuscript back into a box and set it on my closet shelf. A few months later, unbeknownst to me, it was tossed out by my then duffus husband when I informed him I wanted a divorce. Can we say “OMG! Sob sob”. But it does no good to cry over spilt milk.

    Since that time I have written several other shorter books, and found that self-publishing has worked better.

  42. deb palmer June 24, 2016 at 9:10 am #

    My worst rejection is no answer at all. I really hate that. Still, even that hurt turned positive by spurring me on to write another book.
    I am nearly finished with my proposal package for The Steve Laube Agency.
    Thanks for this post.

    • Janet Ann Collins June 24, 2016 at 9:53 am #

      Deb, I agree about hating it when I don’t get a rejection. I know editors and agents are busy, but it wouldn’t take much time to e-mail a form rejection. Or even an automated one saying “If you don’t hear from us by such-and-such a date we’re not interested” would be an improvement.

  43. Margo Carmichael February 5, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

    I guess the sweetest rejection I got was when I was seven and Mom sent my ms to Little Golden Books! The next best was when I met Pat Conroy at a book signing, he gave me his agent’s card and said to tell her he said to look at it, and she answered me in a week. But the most helpful was the one that said I had “clear talent as a storyteller.” That’s the message I cling. to.

  44. Victoria Bastedo May 1, 2017 at 1:45 am #

    I agree that it’s seems unkind to me if I submit and I don’t even get a form letter rejection. Even if, when I submit, it’s clearly stated; ‘if you don’t hear from us in such-in-such a time, assume rejection’, this is something I can deal with. Especially rude, I think, is the publisher that insists I can’t submit to others and it can take up to a year to be evaluated. If that publisher, after making me wait that long, doesn’t even send out a form rejection letter, I’m ruffled indeed!

  45. June 27, 2018 at 10:26 am #

    Rejection letters I’ve appreciated:
    – a simple “Thanks, but not for me” sent 3 days after submission. I appreciated the person getting back to me so promptly and politely.
    – a “this is too short for the genre” followed by some advice about what is typical in the genre. I reworked the MS and resubmitted, and then found out that agent had too full a client list to take me on … but his advice was still super helpful.

    Acceptance letter I have not appreciated (from a publishing house, not an agent):
    – “We think we can publish your MS, as long as you are open to development along the following lines:
    [list of bullet points of feedback, some of it self-contradictory, and including the following:]
    You have too many characters, and I couldn’t connect emotionally with any of them.”
    So, in other words, they want a complete rewrite, resulting in a completely different novel.

    I don’t want to be a prima donna who is unwilling to do revisions, but this feedback is confusing because beta readers did seem to be able to connect with the characters.

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