Many 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!
3 WAYS YOU KNOW IT’S NOT A FORM REJECTION
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.