Deconstructing the Rejection Letter: What does it really mean?

Agency rejection letters might not look like a lot of thought has gone into them, but we take extreme care in crafting the response we give to writers whose work we pass on. We appreciate the time it takes to craft your query letters and do the research on our agency.

The P.S. Literary Agency’s rejection letter looks like this:

Dear Author

Thank you for your submission to the P.S. Literary Agency; unfortunately, we are unable to offer representation as it is not right for us at this time.

Our agency receives over 600 submissions per month and we only take on a few new clients per year. With the publishing industry being extremely competitive we need to feel a strong conviction when representing your work. While it is not for us another agent may well feel differently.

We apologize for responding with a form email, but doing so enables us to respond quickly so that you can continue querying without delay. We wish you luck elsewhere.

 Let’s break this down.

  • We address the email Dear Author has we do not have time to address each personally. You can imagine the time it takes our submissions manager and intern to do rejections let alone the time it would take to additionally check spelling on names etc.
  • We honestly appreciate the queries that come in unsolicited because you never know what we’ll find in there. That’s why we’re in the industry: to find and cultivate new writers and help them find their footing in the industry while we manage the business of their books.
  • While we’re unable to offer representation it might not be the right fit for us or it just might not be the right fit at this time. The business is fluid and readers’ interests change which means editors’ interests change all the time. Our job is to keep on top of trends and keep a look out for what is going to make a splash in the industry as well as develop up-and-coming writers that we believe in. A year ago it might have been something we were looking at, but aren’t now and vice versa. That’s why looking at our submission guidelines on our site (not our information reverberated around the internet) and agent blogs for up-to-date information about submission interests and guidelines is the smartest thing you can do.
  • PSLA receives yes, 600 submissions per month. This only increases as the months and years go by. And, yes, we read all the queries.
  • Our agency is extremely selective with the new fiction writers we take on. We keep our client list lean and extremely active giving them the attention they need at each stage of their publishing career.
  • The industry is arguably the most competitive it has ever been. In the 1990s and 2000s advances were lush and editors spoke with money. Post-recession, publishers are taking a more strategic approach to acquisitions–and what they put their money behind–which means agents must take a strategic approach to bringing new clients on board.
  • We believe that when taking on writers you have to love their current work and their body of work. We are not fair weather agents. In order to take authors work to full term and invest our time and energy in their books, no matter if they get picked up by an editor or not, we have to unwavering love it and have to go to bat for it.
  • PSLA believes that while your work might not be our taste it might be right for someone else and we hope you find the right agent for your work.
  • Curtis and I get back quickly to querying writers so you can move on with the pursuit of an agent.

I hope that provides some transparency and insight into our minds when we created this rejection letter.

Best wishes in your querying!

Image via Priscilla Nielsen at NPR

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

4 thoughts on “Deconstructing the Rejection Letter: What does it really mean?

  1. Six. Hundred.

    I’ve honestly been sitting with my hands hovering over the keyboard for a full minute. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I told you that your “how to write a query” post made me feel more confident? Deep breath. It’s ok. I guess I need this perspective too. (But ouch!)


  2. Carly, would you mind if I asked you a question about past perfect tense? I have a novel in critique right now, and a couple of my readers seem fixated on changing my past perfect tense (for recollection of action which happened “off-screen” and prior to the scene) to simple past tense.

    My understanding is that it’s proper to use past perfect for short recollections (sentence or paragraph length) and to sort of fade in and fade out, with a couple of past perfects on both ends, for longer things, like flashbacks. At least, that is what I think I’m seeing when I read published novels, and what I’ve learned via my studies.

    As an agent, is use of past perfect something that would turn you off? Do you have a stance on how it should be done?

    I hesitated before posting this comment (question), but I suspect your other readers might be interested in your answer as well. In fact, we might all be interested to know what stylistic things inspire you to reject a novel.


    1. Hi Renae,

      I don’t mind you asking at question at all. In this case, as I am an agent who is not formally trained in editorial, I would suggest whatever you think is best for the novel; whatever is most clear and most straightforward in getting the point across. If your beta readers are mentioning that past perfect is a problem it might be that past perfect naturally needs more words to get the point across: “have lived” (ppt) “lived” (spt). When you say short recollections you mean things that have already happened which is usually spt. A simple definition of ppt is for things that have not finished yet.

      I don’t have a stance on it; my stance is whatever makes the most sense for clarity, consistency, and smooth reading.



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