Query letter rejections: How writers can deal with it

Query letters for books need a lot of TLC (tender love & care) to create. Getting the mailing list of the best literary agents and publishers to send your carefully crafted query letter takes longer. Waiting for the publishers and the book agents takes forever.

So no matter how determined you are in wanting to get your novel or non-fiction book published, rejections can be very disappointing.

How you deal with rejections and move on is an important part of the learning curve. Here are a few things you can do to help you put things in perspective and improve your book proposal or query letters.

Types of query letter and book proposal rejections

There are essentially 3 types of rejections.

Standard template rejections
The bulk of rejection letters writers get would fall in this category. This means that someone in the publishing house or the literary agency has had a chance to review what you sent them and they don’t think you’d be their next best-selling author.

What you can do about standard template rejections
There’s no reading between the lines you can really do in the rejection letter itself. But you can still take a step back and review your approach. Go back to the publishers’ websites and see if you are making some fundamental mistakes. Have you in your enthusiasm ignored some essential points from their submission guidelines?

Customized rejection letters
Though a rejection is bad in any form, customized rejections for your proposals are many times better than the other two categories listed in this post. It means someone important in the publishing house not only read your email and possibly your plot summary, but also thought it was worth their time to selectively give you feedback about why they weren’t completely convinced with your idea.

What you can do about customized rejection emails
Read the response very carefully. It might have some constructive feedback on what you could do with your manuscript so that they’d have some interest in taking a re-look at your book. You don’t have to jump into making those changes just for that one publisher (unless they figure right up there in your dream list). Keep in mind that these are only suggestions and fixing what they’ve recommended does not guarantee anything. But you’ve got some leads to start thinking about.

No response
I’d say it would be a little unprofessional for the publishers or literary agents not to respond to book proposals and query letters, specially in case their websites have not specifically mentioned that they are NOT accepting proposals from new writers and authors. A standard template response doesn’t require much from their side, and it gives the writer a clear signal not to keep waiting for a response and to move on. But well, it happens more frequently than you’d think. So have a plan to deal with it.

What you can do about no responses
The trouble with this category is that the ball is in the writer’s court to pull the plug or keep waiting. So if the submission guidelines on the publishers website does not mention an expected wait time, as the author you decide how long you are willing to wait. 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year?

In Summary
Always keep in mind that the book publisher or agent might’ve rejected your work for a 100 other reasons. Don’t translate them all to one universal reason (‘Your writing sucks’). In many cases, it’s got more to do with the way you’ve structured and written your query letter rather than the quality of your book.

Create the letter, shoot it out, wait, review results, tweak process, shoot it out again. When you’ve cracked the query letter code for your book, you will eventually get that request to send across a partial or full manuscript for review.

14 Comments

  1. Nethra says:

    Stumbled upon this one, right when yet another door closed on me and I replied back with a ‘Thanks for your time nevertheless’ Balm for hurt. Wont give up anyway 🙂 Fingers still crossed.

  2. Sameer says:

    Here’s another perspective on it.

    All the publishers, literary agents are channels for you to reach your ultimate reader.

    So, in the bigger scheme of things, a rejection from a publisher or book agent does the least damage to your writing career.

    It’s better to wait for the right team to adopt you and your book, so they can ensure that the best product comes out of the printing press and reaches those whose judgement really matters – the readers.

    Till then, hang in there.

  3. Rahul says:

    Sameer Bhai, CPC error in the second paragraph. Your output has become prolific now. Did the second print of the book sell out ?

  4. Sameer says:

    Thanks for pointing out the typo, Rahul. Fixed.

    Second print-run not sold out yet. Hopefully it’ll get there slowly.

    [Update: In early 2015, the book is looking at a 5th reprint 🙂 ]

  5. Shibu Y says:

    Thank you sir, it was an encouraging article. God bless

  6. rohit says:

    I screwed up with a literary agent because of some unprofessional behavior by me. He rejected my manuscript without even going through it.. (It was the first time I had written to someone about my book, so, I was talking a little informally)
    Do you think it would be a nice idea to send an apology letter now? The incident is around 2 months old.

  7. Sameer says:

    Sure, send across an apology note, if you truly think you were at fault.

    If it was a serious lapse, don’t expect a turnaround by the literary agent (even if you have written a bestseller). But do it anyway to take the interaction to a logical conclusion.

    Let the faux pas remain etched in your memory as you approach other literary agents.

    Never forget that it’s a professional relationship no matter how casual and friendly the discussions may sound.

  8. was thinking whom to ask for a suggestion and then u struck my mind.

    I had sent my submission to as many publishers as I could possibly come
    across, the good ones, approx 25. With a due date of 7-8 weeks I got reply
    from all of them almost rejecting my submission within 1 week. Does this
    show how possibly pathetic it was that nobody took the pains to atleast
    reply a bit late. I had heard after finishing ur book u have to wait, a long
    wait. But my way was very easy, 1 week and I stand nowhere. So can this
    possibly mean that I should understand that my book isn’t worth ? Agent?
    Editor? Will i have to depend on them now?Suggest!

  9. Sameer says:

    Ankita,

    Getting a quick response consistently from all the publishers you’ve submitted it to could have many reasons:

    – Maybe the publisher isn’t accepting new (unsolicited) manuscripts, but they don’t have the patience/courtesy/inclination/time to mention that on their submission page.

    – Maybe they’ve recruited a new trainee who’s only job is to keep cleaning up the general submissions mailbox on a weekly basis.

    If nobody at the publisher’s office has read your manuscript (or query letter), there’s no way they can reject it on the basis of quality or your writing style.

    So don’t read too much into it and don’t take it personally.

    If it’s any of the reasons, an editor won’t make much of a difference. But a literary agents could, as they’d know which publisher is focussing on what genre at that point in time.

  10. Subhajit says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Have a query. Really appreciate for helping me with my other queries ealier.

    I had submitted my proposal to one of the leading publishers in India and they reverted saying my novel doesn’t fit into their publishing list and therefore, they will not be able to take it up for publishing.

    Does this simply mean they rejected my proposal or there is some other story behind it? Your thoughts on this?

    Thanks & Regards,

    Subhajit

  11. Subhajit, looks like a standard rejection letter.

    In their attempts to make it sound polite and professional, publishers tend to use vague content that doesn’t give authors any insight into why their book was rejected.

    Pick yourself up and move on.

  12. Jose pazhukaran says:

    Hai Sameer,
    What about the publishers and literary agents, I think the more rejected work will be the more accepted work and i feel the matter that I’m on the way of most rejected. My tribal issue- political novel become rejected. What can i do on the way of my writing. tell me anything, please.

    jose pazhukaran

  13. Uzma says:

    will an author from pakistan be published in india? I am thinking of Mohammad Hanif and Raza Rumi. Also I had deleted my email account that contained the list of publishers and agents whom I sent my work. I also cant retrieve emails containing rejections. What do I do? Should I just go ahead, compile a new list and start the process all over again by composing new query letters and risk the chance that I may be resubmitting to the same publisher that I had tried before. Thanks a lot.

  14. Mihir says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Thank you for your wonderful insights. You really have been a beacon in the troubled waters known as the ‘publishing scene’.

    I wanted to know what exactly comes under the customized form of rejection? I understand a rejection’s a rejection either way, but if I find myself getting rejected in ‘customized’ way that means at least i am doing something right – not wholly, but at least partially!

    The deal is, I got rejected from an international agent but this time, unlike the usual ‘we will not be able to represent you’, an assistant editor mailed on behalf of the agent. and I know that because it said so in the mail. Do I take it as a customized rejection? Trivial question, but a question nonetheless!

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