How to Decipher an Agent’s Rejection Letter

You’ve been querying agents and receiving rejections, but you don’t know what they mean. Should you stop querying and revise the manuscript? Should you keep going because the right agent hasn’t seen your work yet? It only takes one, right? Or should you move on to another project?

Notice I didn’t give you the option to stop writing altogether? There’s a reason for that. Receiving rejection after rejection from agents can really bruise your ego, especially if you have not yet developed a thick skin. But rejections can do more damage than that. They can crush your creativity and your confidence. Granted, some people will never make a living off of their writing, just as some people will never become famous actors or musicians. Does that mean the artist should stop creating? Stop acting? Stop singing? Nope. It just means she’ll need a day job.

Of course, even authors who manage to land an agent and a publisher or those who self-publish might have to keep their day job too. Getting published isn’t a guarantee to making millions or even minimum wage. But, that’s a whole other topic.

If you’re receiving rejection letters, you should understand how to decipher them because once you know what the message means, you can learn from it and grow as a writer. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios.

1. Rejection from a Query Only:

a) You received a form letter or no reply. This usually means one of three things: the agent has a full client list and is being really picky, the agent doesn’t represent your genre and you didn’t do your research, or the query blurb didn’t hook the agent. Obviously, if the agent had a full client list, you knew the odds were stacked against you, so don’t take this rejection to heart. If you didn’t check to see if the agent represents your genre before you queried. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. You can do better than that. If you didn’t hook the agent, don’t worry about it yet. This business is very subjective. What doesn’t hook one agent might hook another. But don’t blast the Internet with queries. Take it slow and watch for feedback.

b) The agent didn’t request more pages but did take the time to send you a personalized rejection letter. I don’t mean she added your name and the book’s title to the form letter. Maybe she told you the query needs work and you shouldn’t query anyone else until you’ve revised it. Maybe she enjoyed your writing style, but the idea wasn’t unique enough. Maybe she liked the idea, but editors have told her they don’t want to see another unicorn, which is what your story is all about. Listen to the feedback you receive. Does any of it ring true? Have you heard this before from another agent or writer? Should you stop querying? Maybe. Or you might want to keep going to see if another agent loves your writing enough to take a chance on you and your unicorn. Again, don’t send out a ton of queries. Go for a handful at a time and wait for feedback.

Why am I suggesting you take the tortoise’s journey instead of the hare’s? Simple. If you query all the agents on your list too soon, you’ll lose your chance to query them again for the same project. While some agents will take another look at something they’ve rejected, many won’t. And even those who do won’t be as excited about the manuscript as they could’ve been because they’ve already seen it (or it’s blurb).

Instead, when you first start querying, take your time. Yes, this means you have to be REALLY patient because some agents take three months just to read the query letter. But, it could be worth it. Maybe Agent B will tell you why the query didn’t work for her, giving you the opportunity to revise before you submit to Agent F.

This is the first part of the series on deciphering an agent’s rejection letter. Stop by next week for part 2.

Lynnette Labelle

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