When Not to Respond to a Rejection Letter

If you ask an agent the least favorite part of her job, she’ll usually say it’s sending out rejection letters. As an aspiring writer years ago, I saw more rejection letters than I care to recall. Still, I can’t remember one that wasn’t nice. Some were even helpful.

Back then, you had to kill trees and use at least one postage stamp, or run up a long distance phone bill (charged by the minute and spelled out on your phone bill) to respond to a rejection letter, so I don’t believe I responded to any rejection letters.

Email is super but it also makes it easy to fire back. At our office, we never know what will trigger an outraged response. We’ll send out what we believe is a perfectly nice letter, and receive something along the lines of:

1.) You’ll be sorry when I’m famous.

2.) God gave me this book, so now I’m on His side and you’re not.

3.) You’re obviously a hillbilly since you have no taste.

4.) You’re a lousy agent.

5.) My friend loves my book, so you don’t know what you’re talking about.

As an author living in a free country, you have every right to feel all of these emotions. They may or may not be based in truth. But for the moment, they are your truth. But don’t hit the SEND button on any email stating any of these temporary truths to anyone who could have an impact on your future career. That includes the Godless, hillbilly agent who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. So if you:

1.) Feel your face flushing red and hot;

2.) Feel your heart thumping rapidly; or

3.) Want to scream and throw things…

please don’t press SEND on any email. Email is forever and not the friend of the angry and disappointed.

So instead, you can pray and then:

1.) Call your friend, who loves your book.

2.) Drink tea.

3.) Watch a half hour of mindless television.

4.) Catch up on laundry.

5.) Walk around the block a few times.

In other words, do something else to calm down. And be glad you didn’t show your insecurities, pride, and anger to anyone in professional publishing.

Your turn:

Have you ever sent an email you regretted? How did you recover?

What advice would you offer a person angry about being rejected?

25 Responses to When Not to Respond to a Rejection Letter

  1. Avatar
    virelle kidder March 12, 2015 at 5:15 am #

    Terrific post. Every professional writer has taken their knocks. The best thing to do is thank God for “endorsing” your early career with a rejection letter and get busy on your next project. One of the most encouraging rejection letters I ever got, I never responded to. How I wished I’d thanked David Kopp back then.

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    Bobbie March 12, 2015 at 5:22 am #

    Tamela has given great advice not only for rejection letters, but life’s response in general. Working as a Human Resource Manager most of my life, I have often seen high level management personnel respond to emails in a most unprofessional manner. I have seen people on Facebook and other social venues respond in inappropriate ways too.

    My rule was when I was sending an email or posting a response about something I felt passionate about: Write it, walk away for ten minutes, then read it aloud. Would I want my mother or grandmother to see what I wrote? Would God be pleased with my comment? And, if I was still upset, have someone you trust read it and give feedback. I had my secretary read my emails on several occasions and it probably saved some egg on my face.

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    DIANA HARKNESS March 12, 2015 at 5:41 am #

    I received a rejection letter immediately prior to my own email to the company. It had taken about 6 months and I was ready to inquire, but decided to take another look at my novel first. That look told me what the outcome would be–I wouldn’t have published it either. And that’s what I told the publisher when they responded before I sent my email. I told them that it obviously needed more work and I wouldn’t have published it either. I didn’t apologize for sending it to them in it’s raw state because they had asked for it after seeing a sample. Now, it is close to publishable and I haven’t burned any bridges, so that’s one publisher that may still be in the running when it is submitted to them by an agent.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 12, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      Diana, yes, it is always helpful to an agent when the author has maintained good relationships.

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    Rebekah Millet March 12, 2015 at 5:59 am #

    I’m always shocked when I hear stories like this. Those authors are lucky to get a response at all in today’s world of the query process. My rule of thumb is to be professional. It’s a subjective business, but still a business. Plus I imagine agents having a secret database they share of writers to avoid. Hahaha.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 12, 2015 at 9:30 am #

      Rebekah, I don’t keep such a database, but it sounds like it could be a good idea! Hahaha!

      Seriously, I don’t judge an author’s past, but his or her present. If the author treats me in a professional way today, I can overlook past missteps.

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    Martha Rogers March 12, 2015 at 5:59 am #

    It’s not in my nature to respond rejection letters with an angry response even though I may feel it. I’ve said some things I wish I could take back, and I’ve had to apologize. If I do write something in anger, I put those emails in draft and then come back and read them later and delete. After the initial disappointment, frustration, and even anger wears off a rejection, I realize it’s a learning opportunity to make my manuscript even better. I’ve done that and later had it accepted by another editor.

  6. Avatar
    Martha Rogers March 12, 2015 at 6:00 am #

    By the way, Tamela, you’re the best and your emails are always so sweet and encouraging.

  7. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka March 12, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    Wise post, Tamela. It’s never good to react in anger, even if it does make us feel better in the moment. I have recommended, as you mentioned, writing a letter and then deleting it. I’ve talked through things with a trusted friend, who was able to commiserate and also readjust my perspective. That was helpful.

  8. Avatar
    Casey Herringshaw March 12, 2015 at 6:25 am #

    As the one who responds to our agency’s unsolicited queries, I have gotten more “thank you for responding” to me notes back than I have from authors who are upset. Though I have gotten a couple of doozies where that is concerned too. I’m starting a fun little collection. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Avatar
    Rick Barry March 12, 2015 at 6:45 am #

    It’s common knowledge that many now-famous books were once rejected, some of them dozens of times. That’s to be expected. Some people like Brussels sprouts; some don’t. Some people like Van Gogh’s paintings; some don’t. Some people like The Lord of the Rings; some don’t.

    The wonderful thing about a rejection letter is that it shows the author this is not an agent or editor who shares the same passion for this particular project. After all, who wants to enter a business relationship with someone who doesn’t believe in the product? If a story is well-crafted, it will most likely find an audience, and a rejection by one person simply means that was not the proper colleague in this particular case. Rather than getting huffy, the author should simply move on.

  10. Avatar
    Richard Mabry March 12, 2015 at 6:48 am #

    Tamela, Great advice. I’ve often said that the “send” key on a computer should have low-voltage electricity running through it, to make us pause before we push it. As you say, email is forever (something our government officials sometimes forget).
    You forgot one activity to help vent our frustration at a rejection letter–throwing darts at a picture of the offending person (but not slashing their tires…that’s going too far).
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 12, 2015 at 9:35 am #

      Richard, how convenient that everyone can download my picture from this site. LOL

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    Laura March 12, 2015 at 7:06 am #

    I’m sorry, but this blog made my laugh out loud! Hilarious! And, no, I’ve never responded this way. Maybe, because, I have yet to submit. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray March 12, 2015 at 9:38 am #

      Laura, I put the FUN in AGENCY. Oh, wait. “Agency” doesn’t have the word “fun” in it. Oh well.

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    Angela Breidenbach March 12, 2015 at 7:39 am #

    I usually send a thank you note (for their time and consideration). A few I haven’t sent because they showed themselves as unwilling to be pros. But if I meet that person, I often tell them what I’ve done to improve based on what they suggested.
    I also set them aside for a while if they have suggestions so I can come back when my mindset is on editing. Often very helpful! But sometimes we have to make a business “call” and realize that we are the ones knocking on the wrong door. I went to the wrong house once. The people I wanted were right next door. I’d written the address wrong. Business morphs and evolves. People move. The world spins. Ultimately I see rejections as a numbers game. Next?

  13. Avatar
    Penelope A Childers March 12, 2015 at 8:45 am #

    The best rejection letter I have received was very encouraging. I thanked the agent and am glad I did. She took the time to read my work and gave me an idea of the next step I needed to take. I try not to take it personal. Writing is a journey.

  14. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore March 12, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    Words of wisdom for sure, Tamela.
    I read in an article some years back stating that writers should feel a sense of accomplishment when they receive rejection letters, because that means work was actually submitted (as opposed to the countless folks who say they want to write a story but never do). ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Even though it’s really sad to me that some people would be so cruel, I still giggle when I think of the workshop you and Steve presented last year at ACFW, and Steve said he once was called a “spawn of the devil” – – oh my!

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    Sandy Faye Mauck March 12, 2015 at 9:35 am #

    I would think such awful responses would be hurtful to you. I just can’t comprehend it. I would hope to still be a friend to the one who rejected it, after all they are supposed to be Christian brothers and sisters.
    Your suggestion for the anger is so right. We tend to look at the negative and dwell there and can’t see the positive in what the rejection letter might say or mean to us until the gun powder settles.
    God does a fun thing with me. If I try to send an e-mail of something I that is not right for whatever reason, like preaching to my kids to much, etc.โ€”He shuts down the whole thing. Won’t let it send. I grab it out of the box and reformat it and when it is either deleted or purged of whatever HE didn’t want, it goes. It is an amazing thing. Happens on this blog, too!
    I will say once I sent a request for prayer for a friend and accidentally sent it to that particular friend and it caused a horrible rift. I repented right away . She was still angry but I told her I didn’t know what else to do but to ask her forgiveness and agree that the scriptures she gave me were right and I was wrong.

  16. Avatar
    Beverly Brooks March 12, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    I liked the phrase “writing is a journey”.

    While I’m not having fun with rejection, it keeps me moving toward improvement; makes me tougher for the long haul and guarantees I pay attention.

    I’m usually just so happy someone wrote back.

  17. Avatar
    Lisa Taylor March 12, 2015 at 12:25 pm #

    Though all rejection letters sting, most really are helpful at the end of the day.
    I did receive one once though that was nasty and snarky. The “YA fiction” agent told me “I can’t understand this, how do you expect a teenager to understand it,” (referring to the gaming jargon).
    While I was sorely tempted to write back and ask if she’d ever met a teenage boy, I refrained. I even refrained when the book was published and won two awards (and the sequel a third award).
    Instead I make it a fun story when I speak to other authors. Sometimes you need to shrug and laugh it off with your friends. Shrug and laugh it off with God too. He knows it hurts, but he knows we need to forgive the one who hurt us and He’s there to help with that.

  18. Avatar
    Terri Weldon March 12, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    Tamela – thankfully I’ve never responded in any of those ways to a rejection letter. Rejection is a big part of writing. If a rejection really bugs me I have lunch with friends (fellow writers) as a pick me up.

  19. Avatar
    Michele Israel Harper March 12, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I recently received another rejection letter, cried, and contemplated sending a response. The publisher was very kind and even made some very helpful suggestions. I wanted to thank them but was too bummed not to beg them to reconsider. Lol! I think I will write that reply now–my guess is publishers/agents don’t get enough kind responses from rejection letters. Time to change that! ๐Ÿ™‚ Again, excellent article! Thank you!

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