Is Nice in the Eye of the Beholder

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 20 2010

I was reading a Tweet from a colleague in which she said she had recently sent a rejection to a friend of a relative and hoped it was nice. As I hope you know by now, when it comes to sending rejections, agents work really hard, maybe too hard, to be nice, but when it comes to rejections from referrals from family or friends we try extra hard. I mean, who wants to hear what a nasty shark you are over Thanksgiving turkey?

However, when I read this Tweet my immediate thought was that the only person who will know for sure whether that rejection was nice enough is the person who receives the letter, and whether or not she thought it was nice will depend entirely on her expectations.

For example, it might have been the nicest rejection in history, but if the writer was fully expecting heaps of praise and a contract, nice probably isn’t going to be enough.

If the author is already beat down from hundreds of rejections, even the nicest letter will possibly be one rejection too many.

And for a writer who has heard nothing but horror stories about rejections, a really polite form rejection might seem like the sweetest thing she’s ever heard.

So, no matter how nice we’re trying to be, I suspect it’s all going to come down to the experiences of the one reading the letter, just like everything we read is impacted by the “baggage” we bring in before reading.


19 responses to “Is Nice in the Eye of the Beholder”

  1. Avatar Rick Daley says:

    I think any response from an agent is a sign of courtesy. No response at all stings the most.

  2. I think you are absolutely right. Although its great to try and be as nice as possible in your rejection, it's still a rejection and how they take it will really depend on them and their experience.

  3. Avatar Hillsy says:

    Peversly, sometimes it's the nicities that can be offensive. My feelings will be sufficiently intact after reading "Thanks for querying, but you really need to scrap that and start again. Sorry!"

    To be honest agents are trapped between Rock City and Hard Place Town when it comes to rejection letters. What's the phrase? 'You can please some of the people…..'

  4. Avatar Malin says:

    Rejections in other parts of their lives will also influence the way someone accepts a query response as "nice" or not.

    Personally, I prefer not getting an answer if it's an rejection. That way it's not a sudden "I failed" moment, just a slow realisation that I didn't succeed. (yes, I know it's not a failure, but my brain play tricks on me)

  5. Avatar MadDabbler says:

    I don't think it hurts to be nice at all. What do you lose in knowing you've done your best to be kind?

    Sometimes (like querying) you just have to do your best and realize that *someone* out there is going to find fault in it. Does it stink? Yeah. But you still did your best. Move on.

    And I strongly agree with Rick Daly. I prefer a query response vs. the silent offenders. Have the friend of the family send out other queries and she'll see how kind the original response really was.

  6. Avatar T C Mckee says:

    Being a writer has many advantages. I get to read blogs in my PJ's, day dream like there's no tomorrow, write down all those weird day dreams and hopefully one day get them in print. But it does come with one huge qualification: You absolutely must have thick skin. Without it, you will undoubtedly talk yourself out of it before anyone else has the opportunity to do so. I try to look at rejections as a challenge rather than a failure. Then I redo the query while having a drink. It makes the revision more colorful…I think.

  7. Avatar wry wryter says:

    What's most important is that someone read it.
    Like Hillsy said, you can't please all of the people…blah, blah, blah. If you take the profession of writing seriously you know,…it is what it is…some will like it, some won't.

    Ms Trite says,
    Never over-estimate being nice. There is so much in our lives that stinks, let someone else shovel the crap. Stink sticks.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I got a reject on Valentine's Day last February.

    Not so nice. She could've waited a day, really.

  9. Avatar Walt M says:

    One of the nicest rejections I've ever received was an agent form letter. However, it didn't seem like a form letter when I first read it. I'm convinced that this particular agent has a special standard rejection letter for anyone who has taken the time to review and follow his submission guidelines.

  10. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    Nice is good, but a push in the right direction is even better. One sentence saying how the writing might improve is like finding a gem in your lunch salad.

    I know that nobody has time for that anymore, (not the gems, the advice) but truthfully, a morsel of something, a crumb, will give the writer hope and take the sting out of no thanks.

    All this talk of salads and crumbs is making me hungry. Must go find a snack. ; )

  11. Avatar tamarapaulin says:

    For a query, I'd be fine with no reply.

    I don't like being lied to though: for example, an "autoreply" that comes a week after submission. A true autoreply is sent by the computer and would come instantly. A fake autoreply is a form rejection without any decency. 🙂

    Honesty is kind, it is not brutal.

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Jessica, I think you're plenty nice, just busy–like most agents. What writers really want to know is if they're on the right track or wasting their time–and the few agents who bother with any feedback are like gold. It's amazing what a few words of constructive criticism or praise can do.

    Then again, encouraging someone to "keep trying" when their ms. sucks is giving them false hope. No wonder agents walk a fine line…

  13. Avatar Rowenna says:

    I see "nice" as meaning respectful and compassionate. So, the fact that you're responding shows respect, and the fact that you have her disappointment in mind will color your phrasing with compassion. To me, no response is not respectful, nor is responding far after your "promise date" (if one is given) without apology, nor is a form letter that is patronizing or curt; overly rude replies are not compassionate.

    How someone takes it is entirely up to them, but objectively, anyone should appreciate respect and compassion. On the other side, a "nice" author will respect the agent's time and understand that he or she is trying to be nice!

  14. Avatar Lexi says:

    I got a form rejection yesterday, from a query I sent 139 days ago.

    It made me laugh; during that time I've changed the name of the novel, self-published a paperback and e-book, and got into the top 50 of the UK Kindle chart.

  15. Avatar jfaust says:


    Can you imagine the backlash if I did use a rejection like that? Not that it's not a bad idea in some cases, it's just that if I get horrific responses from my letter now what would that start?

    Anon 10:27
    Yes, I would imagine a Valentine's Day query might hurt. Honestly though, I never even pay attention to the date. I answer queries when I have the time.

    actually, not always the case. my autoresponse to queries goes out from my email program not from the server. That means it doesn't go out until I actually turn on my computer and log into my email program. If I've been away that could easily be a week. If it's an agent who has a separate account for queries it's possible email to that account is only downloaded weekly.

    Anon 11:46
    I agree, but it's often tough to tell on queries. Although, all of us have different opinions so I'd hate to discourage an author who might actually have luck with another agent.


  16. Replace "Rejection" with "Every comment you ever made / phrase you ever uttered" and this becomes profound.

  17. I wonder if this agent personalized the rejection a bit since it was a referral my assumption is that they did due to the worry over it being nice (compared to every other rejection the agent sends). My first rejection (for a short story) was very detailed and personalized and I *did* view it as sweet and awesome because I had been expecting a form response at best.

  18. Avatar AE says:

    Well, I would almost prefer brutal. I mean, granted I prefer a response over no response, and I prefer a brutal response over a nice one. How else could I hope to improve my work? But, I do prefer nice in their blog posts. I'm in the process of querying a novel, and I read the blogs of many agents. I query the nice ones.

  19. Avatar Hillsy says:


    'Zactly. I wouldn't like to be in your shoes (I'm a 12 and they're likely to give me blisters). Rejection is rejection and however you say it you'll annoy someone.

    I don't think, in any practcal manner, it would help changing what you are doing. I just think, idealogically, are the people who don't want to hear any criticism the ones who should be placated?

    Probably not, but I imagine that it would sap your enjoyment of the job if every 5th rejection spawned a rant of Bill Hicks standard (although probably not eloquence). Like I said, totally impractical though