Reactions to Rejection Letters

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 02 2009

I often share the frustrating and sometimes humorous tales of responses I get to rejection letters. Why? It gives me something to write about. The truth though is that most of you, most writers, are kind, courteous and professional. I frequently get thank-you notes (which we’ve discussed ad nauseam at this point) and I’ve noticed a real improvement in queries. People are listening and learning and I’m delighted by that.

So why is it that there are those who feel the need to respond in anger? I’ve thought about this a lot. Of course I can’t really get into the heads of the writers who are responding. I’m not an Author Profiler after all, but I do have two theories.

The first is the newbie. The beginning writer who is at the beginning of the query process. My rejection letter is one of the first received and proper query etiquette is not yet known. The author really thought, after the glowing reviews of friends and family, that everyone would be as delighted as she is by her book. She failed to really accept that publishing is a business.

The second is the frustrated, end-of-her-rope author. She’s been querying for months and months and is running to the end of her list. She’s never taken the time to think maybe it’s something she’s doing (like the query itself) and for whatever reason, the letter I send is the one that makes her snap.

I’m sure there’s also the arrogant writer who just thinks all agents are a bunch of idiots, but I would prefer to assume that these authors, with these horrible replies, are not replying to every query this way. Can you imagine the time and energy that would take? But instead, once in a while, they feel the need to vent and, let’s face it, agents are often the machine that gets raged against the most.

Never fear though, when I share these I share them as a way to vent as well as a way to maybe add an astonished smile to your day. Rarely, very, very rarely, do these angry replies ever get me down. There are a lot of other things going on in publishing to do that.


24 responses to “Reactions to Rejection Letters”

  1. Best advice I ever got was “Put your ego in the back seat.”
    I think the ones who respond negatively are leading with their ego. They need to let it go and get on with the business part of writing. If we want to get read we need to figure out what gets other people read. That means networking with other writers, critique groups and research into what makes a good query.
    The best part is all the information on agent blogs makes this so much easier now days.

  2. Avatar Fawn Neun says:

    I’m glad to hear you don’t let it get you down. Really, there are a-holes everywhere – even (and sometimes especially) in business.

  3. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    I’m suspicious that people who respond to query rejections like that respond to EVERYTHING like that. They’re probably rude to waitresses and dental hygienists and insult everybody else they encounter, whether they intend to or not.

  4. Avatar E's says:

    I like what George V. Higgins said: “Arrogant, smart people write good fiction. Their arrogance is what impels them to demand center stage as the tellers of the stories. Their intelligence is what enables them to conceal that arrogance.”

    Maybe the writers just weren’t smart. LOL.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I bet you can’t wait to fill your list.

  6. Rudeness is unacceptable. However, I suspect there may be another aspect to the angry responder going off the deep end.

    It is mostly queries that are being rejected, not the actual novel. What may be particularly frustrating for these rude folks is that they’ve spent months, years on a novel that, after a stack of rejections on their queries, it appears nobody even wants to read. I suppose it’s one thing to be told your novel isn’t worth publishing; it’s another to be told even the idea isn’t worth anybody’s time to read.

    If there are flaws in their writing that keep them from being published, they’ll never accept that from a rejected query, because they feel the query isn’t their novel. If the agent would only read the book, she’d feel differently, they think.

    No solutions to this. The query process is daunting, but we all have to deal with it. Part of the discipline necessary to write is the ability deal stoically, if not actually graciously, with rejection.

  7. Avatar pubbloghub says:

    You’d have to wonder, assuming a fair portion of these angry responders are doing so to other agetns rejections as well, why they are burning these bridges? They’re acting like this is the only book they’re going to write, that this is it, the one shot to make it. Odds are it will be the only book they write. Because if you burn a bridge in publishing, it doesn’t get rebuilt.

  8. Avatar Kim W says:

    There is no excuse for responding to rejections with rudeness. That being said, I do feel for the end-of-the-rope author.

    With rejections and no feedback as to why something isn’t working, it does tend to leave a person floundering.

    I totally agree and understand why no feedback is offered (I’ve read what can happen when an agent offers feedback or a reason for rejection) but still, there’s no other way around this, it is frustrating to not know WHY a story is being rejected.

    And there is only so much you can get from CPs and the like. When you’ve worked with them and have what you all believe is a great story, yet it’s rejected by an industry professional with no reason, it’s hard not to be frustrated. And this is even after you’ve done the market research, agent research, know you’ve written a book others would love to read (okay, maybe some ego thing here :D) and still – nothing.

    Again, though, this does not excuse rudeness. That’s what you have friends for – to vent and cry on their shoulders.

  9. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    It takes a lot more energy to be rude than it does to be nice. I’d rather take my frustration out on a good scene in a story than some poor innocent bystander!

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Those are probably the right categories…I might add one, for fun, just to flip it around. The not-rude “rude” letter — I once received a response to a query with musings about a specific plot point from a newbie agent intern. I responded to her question, not rudely at all. She just about lost her mind, scolding me for daring to respond, threatening to end my career. Reject us, enlighten us, ask for partials, but don’t BAIT us poor scriveners. If you find you’re getting more than your share of “rude” responses compared to other agents, it may not just be bad luck. And if you find your intern is “getting abused,” maybe do a little post-mortem on a few. 🙂

  11. Avatar quixotic says:

    It’s a shame you have to deal with the backlash of author frustration. I’m glad to hear you don’t take it all personally. Seems this is a rough business for all involved, the pro’s and the wannabies.

  12. Avatar Scott says:

    While I haven’t gone through the query process yet, I suspect the Ms. Lynch remarks are pretty accurate for some writers.

    Jessica, I’m sure you’re aware that your friend Nathan Bransford has started taking five MS pages along with each query. I wondered if that is becoming the norm?

    By doing this, and I understand with the volume of queries you receive it would be difficult, I think you as an agent get a better feel for the project before saying yea or nea.

  13. Avatar Dara says:

    Unfortunately there are always people in any aspect of business–or life–that just don’t get it and are complete jerks. I deal with some cranky real estate agents every day 🙂 Thankfully most are NOT cranky and demanding. 🙂

  14. Although I agree with Mark Terry that many writers who respond rudely to rejection are probably just rude people in general, there is something somewhat “anonymous” and “impersonal” about writing an angry letter versus spewing the same vitriol to someone’s face… even if the writers in question sign their own names.

    To a certain extent, I can understand such writers’ frustration at the established process – though I do not understand the sense of entitlement. And I believe it’s best to keep one’s frustrations to oneself and try not to burn any future bridges. That’s just common sense, good business practice, and an act of self-preservation.

    I’m glad that agents like Jessica don’t get too distracted by such nonsense. Gives hope that agents like her won’t assume all writers are that delusional and difficult. ‘Cause we’re not!

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Frankly, I think many established agents have gotten lazy and just want to pick up the phone and make an easy sale. So it's easier to reject a query than spend time selling a ms. they're not "passionate" about…

    After talking to a top agent a few times about representation, s/he basically backed off based on one phone call with one editor who wasn't that interested.

    We spend years writing & researching our novel, and they give up after one or two no's? Not my kind of agent anyway…

  16. Avatar jilljames says:

    From reading some of the replies to rejection letters you get I was thinking the same thing. Either new and inexperienced or tired, worn-out, and frustrated with the system. I don’t think lots of people like to be mean just to be mean. I hope not.

  17. “Frankly, I think many established agents have gotten lazy and just want to pick up the phone and make an easy sale. So it’s easier to reject a query than spend time selling a ms. they’re not “passionate” about…”

    Would you choose to write 90,000 words about something that didn’t excite you? I sure wouldn’t. And just like I have to feel passionate about writing the story, my agent has to feel passionate about selling it. As anyone who’s ever tried it can attest, sales is hard work, whether you’re selling real estate, used cars, vacuum cleaners, or books. My first ms. took three years to sell, and I can assure you that my (established) agent certainly wasn’t lazy, and also didn’t stop submitting it, even after I got a contract for a series of other books. Because – yes – she felt passionate about it. She loves that book, almost as much as I do. I don’t blame agents at all for wanting to feel passionate about the projects they represent, and for rejecting projects they don’t feel passionate about. I can’t imagine what it would be like being partnered with an agent who wasn’t passionate about my work. My humble 0.02.

  18. Avatar Rain Likely says:

    “Frankly, I think many established agents have gotten lazy and just want to pick up the phone and make an easy sale. So it’s easier to reject a query than spend time selling a ms. they’re not “passionate” about…”

    An agent is a salesperson, and passion is a salesperson’s most important tool.

  19. Avatar Anonymous says:

    There are very few books I have read that I feel passionate about. As a matter of fact I can count them on one hand. I feel the word is being misused. I do, however, feel passionate about my own MS. It seems unlikely to me that an agent can feel passion for every book they represent. There are a lot of books I like a lot, and would love to be the author, agent, or publisher of. Passionate equals intense feelings. I would think like a lot would be enough for me.

  20. Avatar Ruth says:

    I was on the NaNoWriMo forums yesterday, looking through the how-to-query thread, and came across a post which basically said: I've queried two places. They both rejected me although they said it was an interesting idea. WAAAA!! What am I doing wrong??

    I was going to helpfully reply and, I hope, give them slightly more realistic expectations, and then I realised I just didn't know where to start.

    There's just a huge level of naivetee out there, with writers who have done the basic research (i.e. I need to query an agent) but not much more than that, and don't seem to have any idea of how the publishing business works….

    Not that I do either, but I've been reading several agents', editors' and published novelists' blogs for a few months, and I think I'm starting to get an idea.

    But if I'd only queried two places and received two encouraging, personalised rejections, I think I'd be pretty happy! Oh well….

  21. Avatar Rain Likely says:

    Anonymous says: "There are very few books I have read that I feel passionate about. As a matter of fact I can count them on one hand."

    I feel sorry for you. Either you haven't read very many books, or you have a poor opinion of other writers in general. There's not enough room here for me to list all the books/authors I'm passionate about.

  22. Sigh. It's not because we fall into one of two categories, "newbie" or "end-of-rope." It's because writing is the most soul-crushing enterprise anyone can ever endure or bring upon themselves, and after bleeding everything you have onto sheets of paper stolen from your day job's supply cabinet you send your work out and wait months and months until someone (the kind of someone who lumps writers into two neat groups) sends you back a form rejection letter then turns around and accepts Joe the Plumber as a client, or some ten-year-old kid who wrote a book about being nice to girls, or decides to accept another f-ing book about unraveling the f-ing secrets behind the non-existent and fictional f-ing DaVinci code.

  23. Avatar Anonymous says:

    As a new writer (sort of, this is the first time I've queried) I took it for granted that the process would be dissapointing. My favorite chick-lit author talks a lot about being rejected for several YEARS! Now she's had a long running series, many of the books on the best sellers list, and has created other popular series (anyone heard of Janet Evanovich?).
    Anger at rejection is normal, not being able to keep your mouth shut is not. I have to take criticism at my day job all the time. I think the anonymity of e-mail makes it easier for some people to act like idiots.

  24. While I have no patience for rude writers that lack civility (or ones that don't do their homework about an agent's specializations, manuscript page-limit, client list, etc.,), this doesn't mean, however, that there isn't a basis for an author's frustration sometimes, even if it comes off as rudeness. One of the problems is that some agents aren't looking for the next great book, they're looking for the LAST great book, the one that sold well, which makes sense financially but is a nightmare artistically for writers that are punished when they write like everyone else and simultaneously punished when they don't write like everyone else (or when their book can't be pitched or summarized in a sentence to an editor). When an author has spent years and years writing + revising a book, only to receive a storm of generic rejection letters from agents that won't even take a look because his/her book doesn't fit their current editorial needs while bad ghost-written celebrity memoirs, emotionally anodyne workshop novels, insipid self-help books, and a lot of the other stuff is published for commercial instead of aesthetic reasons, I think it's completely understandable why frustration sneaks into responses at times because it seems like there's a double standard going on, one for unpublished literary writers, and another one for anyone else who's been published before.

    On the other hand, another problem is that there are too many authors clogging the airwaves (many of them, not that good), which means that the average agent is getting 200 query letters in a single weekend instead of 50, making it all the harder for talented, diligent, patient literary fiction writers to get a fair read. And some of these writers don't know what they're doing, why they've picked a particular agent, they don't understand the business side of publishing, and they're simply wasting everyone's time.

    The point is, it works both ways, but there are legitimate reasons why writers get frustrated, even if they don't know how to sublimate it sometimes. Of course, if you're being an asshole to an agent, you're obviously not that smart either. . . or you've reached a point of desperation I think.