How To Interpret Rejection Letters From Literary Agents And Editors

Rejection letters from literary agents and editors of literary journals can be discouraging — especially impersonal, one-line form letters. But rejection is a necessary part of the writing process, and creative writers should know how to interpret the information in rejection letters and then use this knowledge to improve their submissions.

Why do literary agents and magazine editors use form rejection letters? The fact is, editors and agents receive too many submissions to provide a personal comment on each piece, so they use form letters.

Let’s look at the different types of rejection letters:

The form letter rejection: A form letter rejection is easy to spot. This may be a short, generic note that reads something like, “Dear Writer — No thanks.” Or “Dear Writer — Please try again.” There’s not much to be learned from a blanket rejection letter.

Standard phrases used in rejection letters from literary agents and editors of literary journals:

Cannot use it/accept it at this time
Didn’t pique my interest
Didn’t strike a chord
Doesn’t meet our needs
Doesn’t fit our plans
Have to pass on this
Isn’t resonating with me/us
Isn’t something we’d like to pursue
No room for more clients (unless truly compelling)
Not a right fit
Not exactly what we’re looking for
Not for us
Not suitable for us
Not quite right for this list/publication
We are not enthusiastic enough about this work
We are not certain we could be effective in placing your work
We are not right for your work
We recommend you buy/subscribe/read our magazine
We do not have a place/room for this

and the list goes on!

If you receive a rejection letter with phrases like those above, be careful not to misinterpret it! A form rejection letter doesn’t mean you targeted your writing to the wrong agent or editor. A form letter, no matter what the exact phrasing, is a nice, generic way of saying no thanks.

The personal rejection letter: When a literary agent or editor has taken the time to include a comment about your submission, then you know it’s a personalized rejection. Even if the comment is a critique of your work, we recommend you consider resubmitting to any literary agent or editor who cared enough about your work to offer a personal comment. Send the agent or editor a thank-you note, and if/when you resubmit, reference the comments from the original rejection.

An invitation to resubmit: Some journals and literary agents always invite writers to submit again — it’s part of their form rejection. But others make such an offer more cautiously.

We invite you to submit more in the future.

Do you have anything else we can consider? Please send.

Why, you may wonder, are you being rejected if the writing is so great?

A piece may be rejected simply because the timing is off. Or your project was too similar to something else already in the works. Or the editor or agent might believe you have talent and is looking forward to seeing you develop it.

Either way, send a thank-you note and a new submission (when possible), and again, reference the original comments in your cover/query letter.

How should you handle a “near miss” rejection?

Often, writers will begin to get discouraged when they get too many “near misses.” But there’s a valuable lesson to be learned if you’re receiving rejections that imply “close but not quite.” Take the time to analyze any comments you’ve received. Is there a common thread (i.e., tired theme, flat characters, weak ending)?

When choosing to make revisions based on feedback, think carefully before you begin to start taking every piece of advice thrown your way. Follow your heart and consider the comments thoughtfully — avoid knee-jerk reactions.

If one agent says “you should have written this in first person,” you may want to wait to hear if any other agents have the same comment before making such a drastic revision. It’s important to trust your instincts. Keep in mind that what one editor dislikes, another editor might enjoy! That said, if you receive multiple comments that critique the same elements, it’s certainly time to revise.

How should you cope with receiving the inevitable rejection letters?

Writing is a business, and writers must remember that agents and editors have nothing against them personally. Literary agents and editors of literary journals have different tastes and interests, which is why writers should learn what they can from rejection letters and then keep submitting to find the agent or editor who will love their work.

For more writing tips and advice visit WritersRelief.com.

Author’s Submission Service Est. 1994. We help authors reach their publishing goals with targeted submissions to literary agents and editors.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Writer’s Relief

Writer’s Relief

Author’s Submission Service Est. 1994. We help authors reach their publishing goals with targeted submissions to literary agents and editors.

More from Medium

Know When To Give Up On A Writing Project

Writing for the Re-Reader: Callbacks

Key Aspects of the Narrative Arc

narrative arc

How to Avoid Author Intrusion