3 Ways You Know It’s Not A Form Rejection

researchMany writers keep their form rejections in a drawer and tally up their collection from time to time. A form rejection is a generic pass on your work that politely let’s you know we won’t be pursuing your project and doesn’t provide advice on what direction to take your manuscript. It’s a simple, “it’s not right for us at this time.”

Many writers crave feedback and just want to know what they’re doing ‘wrong’ per se. However, agents don’t have time for that in every case. And we aren’t able to provide referrals to other agents. We realize, and don’t pretend otherwise, that writers don’t glean much from form rejections, but alas, they’re part of the process.

But sometimes you’ll get that shimmer of hope: Personalized feedback! Not a form rejection! Something you can sink your teeth into!


1. The response is from the agent, not the submissions manager. When an agent addresses you personally from their account, not a general mailbox you know they have personally looked at it and felt strongly about giving comments. (When submissions managers get in touch agents have still read it, but it’s more of a formality when it goes through the proper submission channels.)

2. There are specific notes that show the manuscript has been read. Does the agent refer to things that happen later in the book? Do they talk about the book structurally as a whole? Not connecting with your voice can be a generic comment (but true!). However, if the response mentions character’s names, your conflict, and relationships between characters not only do you know it’s been carefully reviewed, but the agent also felt it necessary to pass along their notes, which we rarely do. This is rare so cherish those notes.

3. They give you a R&R (i.e. Revise & Resubmit edit letter). This is the gold mine. This means an agent cares enough to have read your book, share their opinions about it, and they have thought long and hard about how to improve it. It means they could see themselves representing it. It means they have a vision for it. Believe me, agents take this seriously and writers should too. If you get an R&R look at the feedback, see if it aligns with your vision and makes it better. If so, take some time to make those change and resubmit.

Remember: agents never say things they don’t mean. If they open the door to conversation make sure you take it seriously. We don’t throw around R&Rs. We only engage in feedback and conversations with authors we’re interested in working with.

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.

13 thoughts on “3 Ways You Know It’s Not A Form Rejection

  1. This is the time to thank you for the link to mswishlist. I contacted an editor on the list, who asked to see two stories and then minor revisions to one. I provided them and am now waiting to hear back.


  2. It’s always good to hear about rejection from an agent’s point of view. I have been lucky enough to receive personal feedback a couple of times in the past so your post makes me feel a lot more positive about the future. Thank you.


  3. After reading what you said about the “rules” for query letters I now realize it’s little wonder I got zero response from the 7 I sent out.

    Now that was several years ago and both I, and my writing, have matured I think greatly. But what I want to ask is are the statements you made about intro, pitch and bio, are those all the rules? I obviously need a mentor or at the very least a referral to a good resource so I can truly absorb just exactly how to present my very best query letter and thereby increase my chance of obtaining an agent.

    Any input you can offer would sure help.


    Linda Abramson

    P.S. Back years ago after I finished my first novel (yay! I actually did it!) I read my Writer’s Guide and they adamantly said not to bother submitting your full novel to any publisher. It doesn’t work that way anymore. You have to have an agent before you can get a publisher. Makes sense, but I’d like your yea or nay on that too.


  4. You’ve discussed here and on other posts what the form rejection means as well as what an agent giving specific comments on your ms means.

    What I’ve noticed with my own work is a fair amount of tailored responses that seem relatively positive (if rejection can ever feel positive) and then a whole pile of nothing.

    What’s interesting to me, from what I’ve read elsewhere in the agent-blog-verse, is that a non-response is both the most positive and the most negative response you can get (within a certain timeframe). Is it correct that if you like a work, you will let it percolate in your brain for a while before making any contact with the author? Or do you tend to respond to what you know you’re interested in right away?

    I realize every agent is different, but the changing trends are fascinating to me! :)


      1. Makes sense. I suppose I will take the absolute that I can pour into a glass and keep clicking away at the keys. :)

        I feel like the ease of querying agents over the internet has just shifted the type of work writers do now versus years ago. Instead of SASE’s and big manila envelopes, it’s hours of meticulous research, developing lists of agents to query and tailoring individual queries to their particular taste (as well as likely sending many many more than the previous writer might have mailed).

        I mean, I’m 100% against my generations (sad) sense of entitlement, and I absolutely believe in working harder than seems physically possible to prove it, but at some point I should probably remember to go on dates with my wife. :)

        What do you think? Was it easier for writers before – with physical queries, or easier now with electronic ones?


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