We all know rejections aren't personal, but they feel that way. It's an emotional process any way you look at it, but I think there are a few things that could make it hurt a little less.
Querying has enough uncertainty as it is. Some can be taken away with a short automatic reply when a query is received. Pretty much every e-mail program and service can do this.
The best part is the message can say anything you want. One agent I queried repeated their guidelines and the genres they represent in their auto-response, and I knew immediately that my information was outdated and they no longer represented what I sent them (whoops).
NO RESPONSE MEANS NO
I know I'm in the minority on this, but I honestly think that -- emotionally -- no response is better than getting a form rejection. No matter how many times I get turned down, every e-mail from an agent sparks a tiny, misguided hope. Having that hope shattered hurts more than not getting any e-mail at all.
That said, this only works (emotionally) if the agent offers a time limit. Most agents who've opted for no response have something in their guidelines that says, "If you haven't heard from me after X weeks, you may assume I have passed." (This is a great thing to get in an auto-response message, btw). When the time limit passes, I still have that tiny, misguided hope ("Maybe they're just behind in their queries..."), but as the days pass quietly, that hope dies a gradual death that I barely even notice.
It hurts, but it hurts less and I don't try to read into it.
IF YOU MUST RESPOND...
Not all form rejections are created equal. We all know not to read anything into the rejections, but there's a part of us that always tries. We can't help it. This is why I think no response is better, but for the agent that must send a form rejection, these are things I've seen that have taken a little of the sting out:
- Something positive. Even the worst story can technically be said to "have potential" or "look promising." I know it doesn't mean anything, but small positive phrases like that help me trick my brain out of believing my work is crap and I'll never amount to anything.
- Something hopeful. Similar to above, it can be said of any rejected manuscript that "it's not right for my list" or "it's not what I'm looking for at this time." The main thing we writers want to know is what did we do wrong? Agents don't have the time to tell us, but it helps me feel better about myself if I think it's not my fault.
Maybe these are misleading, especially for a particularly awful project. But honestly ANY form rejection is going to be misleading. I say it's better to mislead in a hopeful direction. It hurts less and makes us less likely to argue or ask for a reason.
Even a small personalization added to a form rejection takes a lot of time. I get that, but I wanted to mention that the very best rejections I've ever gotten were personalized (in one case, the agent said they recognized my name from the comments on their client's blog -- I don't care if it's true or not, it made me feel awesome!).
The few agents who personalize form rejections still say all the same things: "Your work has potential, but it isn't right for my list," "This is a subjective business and another agent might feel differently," or something equally nice-but-unenlightening. But that small personal touch at the beginning makes it different somehow. It feels like they mean it.
(Writers: this is also why you should personalize your queries, even just a little).
I'm under no illusions that this little post can change the industry, or even that my opinions are 100% correct. Even if I were right, I still expect silence from some agents with neither auto-response nor time limit. I still expect curt form letters that make me wonder if my ideas suck. And I still expect that, even for an agent who does all the "right" things, I will feel the sting of crushed dreams.
But, hey, it's my blog.
Have you ever gotten a form rejection that made you feel good? Terrible? Share in the comments.