The Language in Rejection Letters

What did I miss?

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I'm midway through a third campaign of querying agents and I'm sort of getting into it, in a masochistic way. o_O

I fired off an initial salvo of 13 submissions, including a couple to newly promoted agents who are looking to add to their roster of clients. To my great surprise, one answered within 48 hours, which is the second fastest response I've had from 540 queries made in the last three years! It's also only the fifth personalised reply I've received, the rest being form letters or nothing at all.

Her reply was polite, though contained a strange choice of words:

I'm afraid this isn't for me. The writing didn't quite pull me in and the plot seems a little too outlandish, for my tastes.

I'm unsure what she means by a little too outlandish—would slightly outlandish work? :rolleyes: Or should I go for the opposite of outlandish, which is conventional? And, what's a conventional crime plot anyway? Do readers want something predictable? Strangely enough, although the book I'm querying The Dead Need Nobody contains some strange incidents, they're mostly based on real-life crimes that have occurred in Cornwall in the last five years. I worried that I was being too humdrum, not too weird!

I almost didn't query this particular agent, as of her seven clients, only one has written a crime novel, but she said she was looking for "crime or thrillers driven by a compelling lead", so I thought I'd offer my mesmeric Cornish Detective.

This rejection had me wondering if there was some form of coded language used by literary agents, so did an online search, finding this amusing article, which ranks replies from agents on a scale of 0-10:

Ranking rejection - The Writer

Agent Pete's video on handling rejection is reassuring. What he says, in passing, about Internet-only publishers is something I've noticed while researching who to query. Digital publishers look to be more open-minded and flexible in their approach than conventional agents and publishers, who come across as hidebound. E-book publishers are more hit-and-run in their marketing, whereas approaching a conventional operation somehow makes me feel like I'm a raw recruit trying to join an army who'll slowly manoeuvre their ranks into a campaign to capture readers. I used to be dubious about digital publishing—why give away 50% of your royalties when you can self-publish and keep most of it? But, I'm coming around to their maverick ways.

Whatever option I choose, including self-publishing, I remain undaunted.

Have you ever received any peculiarly worded rejection letters?


In my constant raving against the evils of the publishing industry (which I will one day assume my true form to lash out against and destroy in a fiery maelstrom), I sometimes mention one of the last things I submitted before giving up writing a few years ago. It was something I was actually almost proud of personally (a serious rarity for me) and got rave feedback from beta readers (including one who had never liked anything else by me they ever read). It was a short story called "Interesting Days."

The two-sentence rejection letter included the phrase "This just didn't interest me."

I have a very hard time not taking that personally.
Since we have a very recent thread in The Back Room on this exact same subject, can I ask you two to move your posts to that thread instead? That way everyone can benefit from a continuation of the same discussion, as opposed to starting a new one on the same subject. Thanks.
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What did I miss?

Net your Reader with The Holes