Query Letters and Rejection

Posted: July 7, 2015 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,



This will be a short post about the query process and the rejections that go with it.  Yes, I’ve covered this topic before, but that was long before my manuscript was complete and ready for agents to view.  Writing about it then was like a virgin writing about the experience of intercourse.  You think you know, but you don’t.

I’m 19 query letters into the publication industry and I’ve been rejected just five times.  I’ll be sending out more in the morning.  I am still an infant in this process, but I can say that being rejected is not the big bad wolf I had thought it would be.  In fact, all of the feedback I’ve received has been positive.  One agent’s rejection letter read, “Thank you for a wonderful note!”  Another’s said, “Your process is excellent and there’s a lot to like about your approach, but…”  My favorite so far, in response to a section of a query that praised the agent and the author for an important work:  “Your letter was a wonderful surprise!  It’s always nice to hear that someone’s work has inspired someone to do something good – I’ll be sure to share that info with Sarah. But I’m sorry to say that due to the huge stack of manuscripts awaiting my review, I must declare a moratorium on new submissions for the rest of the year.”

Of the five agents to reject me, only one had nothing personal to say to me.  That’s okay, too.  See, I’m just happy to receive NOTICE of a rejection.

So many literary agencies have a disclaimer such as this on their website:  “Due to the volume of submissions we receive, we can’t reply to all, but we do review each one carefully and will be in touch if we’d like to see more material from you.”  Some will say, “If you haven’t heard from us in ___  weeks, you can assume we are not interested in your work.”

Now, I understand how busy literary agents are.  Some receive as many as 500 queries in one week, making personal contact with aspiring authors nearly impossible.  If they’re responding to all who query them, they have little time to act as agents for those they represent.  It must be hard for them to come back from vacation.

For writers, however, it is one thing to be rejected.  It is another thing altogether to be denied a rejection.  To me, having a rejection withheld is far, far worse.

I’ll take that rejection notice every time, thank you.

If you’re a literary agent who happens to read this post, please know how grateful I am to those who take a moment to write a note, personal or not, that says, “No.”

It’s the right thing to do.

  1. Oh, my, yes. I am still an infant in the process as well. I have only sent my own manuscript out to five agents so far, before I realized I wanted to revise the whole danged thing one more time. But, of those five agents? Only *one* blessed me with a form note. I completely understand how busy folks are, but I would even appreciate a little message from a phone app that just said, “REJECTED!” Also, your queries must be doing something right, if you’re getting such a great response after only 14 submissions! Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks, Mr. Wolfgang. My last post, a rough draft of my query, got such great responses from people that alterations became simple. I’ll say here first that my followers deserve a lot of the credit for the construction of my letter! That said, I’m not in yet. I expect a good long fight. I’m up for it… and I hope you are too! Keep your chin up!

  2. Reblogged this on R.R. Wolfgang and commented:
    Yes, this, many times this. I echo the sentiment so aptly stated by Eric Schlehlein here: “I deserve to be rejected, dang it!” If you’ve ever written query letters into the gaping abyss of silence, you understand what he’s talking about.

  3. Gah! I haven’t even finished enough material to even send it out to be rejected…The struggle. I wish I could sit down and write a whole novel in one sitting, oh but the agony. Having to stay motivated, and keeping faith in your writing ability, it’s all so much. I commend you for even being in the infant process, I haven’t even entered the womb. Trust me I’d love to be rejected! Lol, thanks so much for sharing:D & Congratulations!

  4. MishaBurnett says:

    When I finished Catskinner’s Book I sent out twenty-something query letters to agents and never got any reply at all–not even to acknowledge that a manuscript had been received.

  5. sam1128 says:

    I am new to all this but my thoughts are to publish as an eBook, it seems if your book is good a publisher could still take it up,maybe. Does that even matter even? Or Amazon do print on demand. Am I misguided with these thoughts?

  6. Writergurlny says:

    Every writer experiences this. Just keep going. JK Rowling was rejected 12 times before a publisher accepted Harry Potter. It happens to the best of us.

  7. sam1128 says:

    So can I ask why the old fashioned way?

    • Wow. Good question! After nearly 20 minutes of searching myself for a good answer, my best response is, “Because I’d like to prove to myself that I can do it.” If I’m struggling a year or two down the road then I’ll consider other options.

  8. sam1128 says:

    Ok…thats what I wondered…its about merit…and the acceptance by a publisher…means that it is confirmed as good..as opposed to self publishing where you have no real yard stick…and it might be crap that one is publishing….no validation unless the unlikely happens and it becomes a hit. Always a query.. I wondered…its interesting..

  9. You are so far ahead of so many. Think of how many steps you’ve taken to even get to the point of receiving rejection letters. My novel still lives in my head for Pete’s sake 😉


    • I’ll be paying attention, Ms. McCullough, when your novel is put to paper.

      • That’s awesome of you to say. Thanks. I’m about to leap… No more hesitation.

      • Excellent! During the research phase of my novel I probably could have stopped after six months. Instead, I continued researching for nearly four more months just because I was afraid to start writing. It really is a leap, as you say. But once you’re in, it’s fairly easy to swim. I’ve seen your work. You’re a good writer! You’ll do great!

      • Kinder words could not have been spoken. Thank you for reading. Thank you for offering kindness and inspiration. It goes a long way.

  10. Christy Luis says:

    Good to hear from the trenches. All I’ve been hearing lately is that writers are giving up on traditional and going indie; but I really want to at least TRY getting an agent for my first few manuscripts. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. It’s not just publishing. Go for a job interview and if you don’t get it, you don’t hear. The world is getting filled with rude ba****ds. But this is a very positive encouraging post, thanks.

  12. Peter Klopp says:

    Well written post for all aspiring writers, but also for everyone else as an example of how we should communicate with each other. Let’s put the human touch back to all our communications!

  13. giffmacshane says:

    So, we’re in the query trenches together. I just hit 30 rejections (including the no-answers). Got some very positive feedback, too, to help me along my way. Someday, someone’s not going to be able to say no! Best of luck to you!

  14. djmorand says:

    YES! I totally understand this. I’ve received about 6 rejections, but I’ve queried near to 20 or so agents, so I get your feeling about wanting at least a notice of rejection.

  15. called2b says:

    I love how you don’t take rejection personally, but use it as an opportunity to grow and get better. I am new to your post and this question may have been presented to you before but have you considered self-publishing?

    • I wouldn’t say I don’t take it personally. In fact, two rejections today have put my self-esteem in the ash-can. I told my wife an hour ago that I feel like I did in school after being dumped by a girlfriend. Rejection always hurts, but in the publishing game, it’s an expectation. Remembering that those closest to you love and support you is vital to your sanity. As to self-publishing, it’s always an option. I want to see if I can do this the old fashioned way, first. It’s a pride thing… and I’m in no hurry. If I’m still being rejected in a year or two, my tune will change. Thanks for the conversation! It’s great to meet you!

  16. I’ve published 15 books over the years, traditional publishers. I’ve also taught writing at several universities. One thing I’ve always told my students is that EVERY writer gets rejected, no matter who they are, no matter how great they are. Everyone gets rejected. It’s nothing to get despondent over. Some get rejected more than others, of course, but still, it’s to be expected, as you said in one of your comments. I think you have a good attitude about it all. Good luck.

  17. jennymiller62 says:

    I agree with you. Rejection letters are not that bad. If someone says no to you, that’s ok–you aren’t any worse than before. Now, if someone gives you a nasty critique, that’s a little harder to shrug off. I really enjoyed reading your posts and look forward to more. Thank you for liking my posts!

  18. Kriswasp says:

    Really good approach to looking at it. In a day and age when everybody is too hyper-busy to remember manners, receiving a letter, even for rejection is a positive. Everyone has a need to be validated and recognised and the world seems to have forgotten that, probably thinking ‘if I’m not getting it, they sure as hell won’t be either, certainly not from me.’ Hopefully more people will read this and become less upset if they receive a response following a query letter!

  19. jennnanigans says:

    Wow, way to stick with it!

    A hundred years ago when I still had hope of being traditionally published I sent out a bunch of query letters for something else I wrote, and received some polite and professional rejections. I absolutely agree that the personal touch is SO HELPFUL and encouraging – and just good manners! It’s so easy to throw your line out there and feel discouraged when nothing happens – and if you don’t learn what you’re doing “wrong” (if anything) you’ll never change your methodology.

  20. gpeynon says:

    Oh yes, I’m feeling this. I’ve had two non-standard-reply rejections from agents. Both were surprisingly uplifting and both contained a useful bit of a advice to take forward. Excellent post, and good luck getting published.

  21. Very classy of you to thank agents for their time. So often, the writers who aren’t accepted allow their disappointment and hurt to cloud their judgement, and they forget their manners. At the end of the day, all an acceptance means is that the agent thinks they can sell your book to a publisher. And a rejection doesn’t mean your book isn’t worth paying for the read.

  22. Keep up the positive flair, sooner or later it should pay off! Love your classic humor, delightful to read your blog and thank you for visiting mine.


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  24. toconnell88 says:

    Sounds like you have the right attitude to endure this process. There are myriad factors at play and it is, above all, a numbers game. Stay positive and keep at it. Any positive responses are a boon.

  25. skipmars says:

    The standing comment among writers was if you couldn’t wallpaper your bathroom with rejection letters, you weren’t submitting enough! That was back when there weren’t 20 million out there struggling to be discovered.

    Stay the course, regardless.

    Thanks for dropping by my writing studio and reading/responding to Mrs. Foy’s Koi.

    I’m kind of a Civil War nut myself, having just returned from a day at Harper’s Ferry (the day before a fire broke out and no, it wasn’t I who started it). Bought W.E.B. Dubois’ book on John Brown at the bookstore there, but have yet to crack it open.

    I also completed the first draft of a two-act play based on Guy de Moupassant’s classic short story, “Boule de Suif.” I moved the setting to Savannah at the approach of Sherman on his march to the sea.

    — LSM

  26. Sassiestsue says:

    Meanwhile Stephen King or Danielle Steele can write crap on toilet paper and its published immediately. I am new to your blog so forgive me if I missed this piece of information but have you ever thought about self publishing your novel?

  27. fujihita says:

    I agree that while traditional publishing is tough, it is also more rewarding than self-publishing. I too would love to see my book in hardcover. At the end of the day, getting accepted after 100 letters means the same as getting accepted after 10 letters; there is no medal for being the first to cross the finish line.

  28. Ellen Hawley says:

    In the old days, when dinosaurs roamed the agents’ offices and all communications involved paper, we’d send a self-addressed stamped envelope and could at least count on a form rejection letter. (Sorry, but your manuscript does not meet our needs at the moment.) They were pretty grim to receive, but a whole lot better than silence.

  29. A @ moylomenterprises says:

    Love your position perspective on the whole process. Very inspiring…

  30. charlypriest says:

    You certainly have a positive attitude, the best line was the one where you say they agents say ” If you haven´t heard from us in _ weeks you can assume we are not interested in your work” had to smile at that one, thinking that´s a bit harsh.

  31. At least with rejection you feel (you hope!) that someone has at least read over some parts of your submission. Many years ago I received a mailed-in manuscript back with a rejection notice. But I felt not so bad when I could tell by the conditions of pages that a few chapters had actually been read. Since then I usually let my friends and neighbors (who are interested in certain subject matters… and are honest about what needs changing,clarifying, deleting, etc.) give me feedback on just my short stories, which sometimes need complete revamps. Nice post.

  32. chrislwriter says:

    I could not agree more! Of all the responses, none is my least favorite. I’d even prefer some negative feedback! (Note: Not too much…)

  33. tmcasciano says:

    Have you considered self publishing?

  34. blkkat49 says:

    Thank you so much for reading and liking my post. Now about your post, I admire any writer who is submitting their work. I have one book that’s finished but needs revision, and a short story online that I haven’t done anything with. I even posted a little story here. I keep saying I’ll polish them up and send them out, but…anyway, you keep on sending them out, and I will read about your progress, and grab on to your ‘never give up’ attitude and cheer you on.

  35. I knew there was reason I did not feel bad about being rejected … thanks – really!

  36. heyjude6119 says:

    I hesitate to comment because I know how busy you are and because you’ve said you try to respond to comments, so i feel like I’m adding to your load. However, I did want to say I get this. It’s like applying for a job, and never hearing back. Did they fill it, should I contact them to see if they got my resume, how long do you wait before you give up? I think even the courtesy of a form letter is much preferred to nothing.
    Good luck!!!

  37. jazzfeathers says:

    Hi there. I’ve just stumpled upon your blog because of the title of this post. I am seeking representation too at the moment. It isn’t the first time I try, but becuase this is a project very close to my heart and that has taken me five years to write (so far), I’m not dealing very well with rejections, I think.

    But I have to say. I’ve sent out some 15 queries so far and always I’ve gotten a note. Sometimes personal, sometimes standard, but every agent has taken the time to let me know thier decision. And yes, I appreciate that 🙂

    Thanks for sharing. Sometimes sharing helps 🙂

    • Stay the course! When negativity pervades the whole of me I get passed it through work. When you feel your worst, read your best parts or write another query. Engaging yourself is the best medicine for self-doubt.

  38. tczumwalt says:

    Hi, Eric, I love your post, Query Letters and Rejection. I hope agents and writers both see it. As a fellow writer, I certainly relate to what you’re saying about at least getting an acknowledgement, a shake of the head, something, to let us know they’ve glanced at it. Like you said, just a simple “No” is good. That way we can get closure and move on. I’ve been writing on-and-off for more than 20 years, and I still consider myself an infant. We’re all learning.

  39. Great post! You are right. I haven’t ever been in your exact situation, but I am thinking that it sounds very much like applying for multiple jobs and waiting to here a “Yes you got the job!” or an “I’m sorry, but we feel another candidate is more suited for our position at present.” It’s much better to know if you are rejected or not. At least then, you can move on and have a greater possibility of getting that yes. I am glad there are people writing about issues like this! Some of us are total newbies(like myself) and need the guidance. I don’t know anything about publishing and all the other technical stuff yet. I know I love to write, though, and someday I would love to finish my book and publish it. So, thank you for the great information. I look forward to reading more of your writing! Cheers!

  40. fairygamaw says:

    I am the kind of person who is so afraid of rejection that I would rather no try something at all than to be rejected. I miss lots of fun and good stuff this way, I know. That’s why your post really helped me. It’s good to know that this isn’t the “big bad wolf”. 🙂

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