Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Does This Rejection MEAN?

A few days ago one of the kid-lit writers on my favorite chat-board asked if there was a code to decipher the ubiquitous rejections that state something along the lines of, “nice, has potential, not for us.”

Most writers answered by saying that it means nothing. Since the rejections that say nothing clear and specific about the story are essentially forms, the only thing they mean is that your offering is not accepted. That’s it. For people who are not accustomed to putting themselves in the line-of-fire that comes with competitive endeavors, (like writers, actors, musicians etc.) explaining the form rejection would be to say that it’s akin to getting the standard polite letter to a job application. You know, the sort stating that you were among the best applicants but alas they cannot offer you the job. It’s a step above not getting any response, but it tells you nothing. Not even, truthfully, that you were in fact among the best applicants. Maybe, maybe not.

The chat-board responders were right, of course. The letters may have been personalized with the writer’s name and the story’s name. The story may have been referred to as “cute,” “clever,” or “interesting.” But until it said something along the lines of “the story would be stronger if Mary is the one who figures out how not to have her little lamb follow her, instead of the teacher giving the answer,” until then it was not a reaction to her story. Without comments specific to the story, no decoding will make it so.

Repeat: forms mean NO, and nothing else.

Feeling stuffed full of holiday pie, and with many form rejections in my journey’s baggage, I sat to let out some of the steam with what I think these forms would say had they been one hundred percent blunt and said exactly what they mean. Here’s my version of the decoded message.

Dear think-you’re-a-writer,

I don’t rightly know if you are a good writer, nor do I know if your story has potential. I barely had the time to glance at the first two lines, and the only thing I know is that I don’t want to read further.

I can’t tell you what to do with your story, because I don’t care. As we won’t be publishing it, I don’t have the time to think about it.

If you saw my heaping pile of submissions, you would not feel special in getting this form. It’s just what mass submissions have brought overworked people like me to.

Nothing personal,

Ms. Pretty Drained

Lesson? None. Other than it’s time to move on, and think no more about it.

And if you get a truly personal response, one where the editor/agent has something illuminating to say about how Mary and her lamb may someday break their pattern so the teacher doesn’t have to come up with the answer, kiss that letter and send virtual air blessing to the editor/agent. They bothered, in the middle of wading through a huge pile, to craft a response. I’ve been fortunate to get some of those, and they were helpful. No decoding needed.

And please don’t cry, Mary.


  1. So true. Forms are forms are forms. But sometimes it's hard to tell, especially when an agent has a really nice form response. One thing that's helpful is looking up specific agents on QueryTracker, because people often post the specific text of their rejections in the comments. If you're not sure, but then find the exact same wording in someone else's rejection ...

  2. Mirka, your form is probably the most honest form letter ... I have hundreds of rejections and I guess from the beginning I had a tough hide (maybe being a scientist had something to do with it -- failed expts and all), so I let my kids scribble all over them. Have I told you that my kids (when angry) have sent rejection letters to each other when they were little? it was very personal! Hee hee.

  3. "Have I told you that my kids (when angry) have sent rejection letters to each other when they were little? it was very personal!"

    Now these^ I'd really want to see published!

  4. Your advice is the best-- it's a no, move on. Your kids sent rejection letters to each other? That is absolutely hilarious!

  5. I think writers should copy your letter, sub it with a SASE (old school) and see how many agents or editors sign and return it!

    Thanks for stopping in at Write Game to say hi. Hope to see you again.

  6. Mirka, this is so true! As a matter of fact I blogged about it myself before. Very similar, though I think your form letter is a bit nicer than mine. http://kaistrand.blogspot.com/2012/07/when-no-means-no-guide-to-rejections.html

    That said, I've fallen prey to the really polite rejection. They can really spur you to keep on submitting.

    1. I just reads your post, Kai. Actually, I don’t think a form rejection means your story is drivel. It doesn’t mean ANYTHING. It isn’t even negative feedback. It just means they won’t peruse it. Truly nothing personal or informative, if you can call a negative reaction “informative.”

  7. Yep, it's a waste of time IMHO to try to read too anything into a form rejection other than it was a form rejection. However, if you end up with a stack of rejections all for one story, I think it would be beneficial to take a fresh look at that story and see if you can figure out why it's not generating any interest. It might be a sign to revisit and revise!

  8. Hah! How I wish an agent would be inspired by your form letter!

  9. That is just too clever. So in love with that letter.

  10. I understand how tempting it is to try to read more into things than really exists. But we don't do ourselves any favors that way.
    Love your "nothing personal" letter, no room for misinterpretation there ;)