Thursday, February 12, 2009

Recognizing a form letter when you see one-updated

I'm beginning to have more empathy for silence =no agents.
This is not a good thing.

What's getting me there is that queriers are now responding to form letters with cheerful little notes like:

Thanks so much for your prompt reply. I regret that we will not be able to work together on this project, but perhaps our professional paths will cross in the future as I continue writing my next novel.

Take care. Have a nice day.


Thank you for your kind response.

I am submitting to multiple agencies and I look forward to a "yes" soon.

Best wishes,

On the face of it, this doesn't matter much.
But, managing incoming email is an increasing problem.
Five or ten of these a day (I'm not kidding!) start making me think about sending something like:

I got your query.
If I want to read more I'll let you know.

I really value your input on this; thank you!

Here's the newest, revised version of the form rejection letter. Feel free to critique!

Thank you for your query and I apologize for this form reply.

I regret I have to pass on many interesting projects due to time constraints.
I urge you to query widely of course!

All good wishes,

Janet Reid
FinePrint Literary Management

PS There's no need to respond to this email.



Crimogenic said...

Dear Author, move along.

I did this once, and only once. It was my first query, but I learned better very quickly. I'm still embarassed that I did it and won't ever do it again.

Whirlochre said...

This seems like miserable spite in the face of unavoidable necessity.

Scott said...

I did this once - well, all I said was "thanks". Still, in my defense, I just feel it is polite to acknowledge receipt of emails. I normally responded to business emails where requested information has been submitted with a quick "thank you" just to let the sender know I received the email. So, old habits die hard and I made the mistake of doing that to an agent. I then believe I read - on the very same day - a blog post about not doing that. Oh well, lesson learned and won't happen again. : )


ryan field said...

Some people need to have the last word, especially with e-mail.

DeadlyAccurate said...

(Reposting, because I left out words that make the post make sense. Apparently, this is important for communication. Who knew?)

I suspect the silence=no agents get a lot more "my previous query might have been lost, so here's another one."

The form letters that started with

Dear Author:

Please excuse this form reply...

are easier to deal with, because it meant I only had to read two words to know it was a rejection.

Eric said...

Seems to me that many authors simply don't want to risk burning any bridges behind them, and think they are being polite. (And, who knows, maybe it will help you remember them, or so they think, in the future if they want to switch agents and might interest you at that point.)

If you get 10 of these a day, it's hard to imagine it takes longer than 10 seconds each (at most) to skim them and delete them. So, one minute - 40 seconds of your day.

I say, meh.

Janet Reid said...

One of the great values of this blog is being able to hear from y'all.

I've made a change to the form letter (I inserted "this is a form letter") and we'll see if that helps.

Of course, I could just get over myself too. That's probably the sanest response!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I've seen writers post their form rejections on Absolute Writer Water Cooler, and gush how wonderfully personalized it is (which it wasn't). It was only when everyone else posted the same rejection letter was the point taken. It's a common mistake we all make until the rejections start to all sound the same.

pseudosu said...

I agree W/Deadly that non responses instigate requerrying. They do get lost. I've had it happen twice I know of. Every non reply is paranoia inducing now.

Margaret Yang said...

How about putting one line below your signature that says, "No need to respond." The people that already know won't be offended and those who need to learn that information can learn it quickly.

I've heard that many companies do this with business email to cut down on the endless back and forth.

Fran said...

It's just possible that you're getting a 'form letter' acknowledgement back. Why not?

With the number of queries we have floating around out there, it's almost necessary to have a little program that could separate the wheat from the chaff in our mailboxes too! If only my computer was smart enough to do that...

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Some agents have mentioned in their blogs that they like the 'thank you' emails. If you don't, I suppose adding 'no need to reply to this' should be sufficient.

Pablo said...

What are your thoughts on responding to a non-form rejection of a partial or a full with a thank you?

spinregina said...

Carolyn See, the author of Making a Literary Life, is an advocate of sending notes in the mail. That is the approach I like to take. I can see that it would be annoying to have more missives take up valuable real estate in your inbox, but remember that they are meant with the best of intentions, and the world could (I think) use a softer side.

Great blog, I enjoy it a lot.

Welshcake said...

I had an agent reject the full. She asked to see anything I might write in the future. I e-mailed to thank her for getting back to me so quickly.

I thought it was polite?

Matt said...

Remind yourself of the loneliness that is being a hopeful writer when you feel the urge to start ignoring queries. I suspect many of us track your blog because you somehow achieve a wonderful mix of respectful elegance and unfiltered snark. Don't allow the behavior of others (no matter how well-intended) to change that.

SundaySoup said...

I believe, and I might be wrong, that agents who say they like thank yous are referring to rejections after they've read a PARTIAL or a FULL. Not a thank you to a form letter. I think adding the form letter bit makes lots of sense, as it's a nice form letter and could be mistaken for a personal letter. When I queried agents, I sent nothing for form letter replies, an email thank you for rejections of partials, and a snail post card for rejections on fulls. If it's a form rejection, there are no bridges to possibly burn.

Even though I have a wonderful agent, I really appreciate those of you (him included) who respond regardless because it keeps courtesy alive. I hate the no response = no. It's rude in my book.

L.C. Gant said...

I agree that inserting "no need to reply" would be the best strategy.

Like Sandra, I've seen several agents state that they appreciate thank you emails as well. It can be confusing. I think adding that line of explanation would help clear things up.

S.E.Ingraham said...

For myself, any e-mail that is prefaced with, or has in the subject line, "no response required", "no need to reply", or anything of that nature - frees me from thinking a follow-up of any kind is expected, whether it be a thank-you, have a good one, or whatever. For new writers, this might seem a grey area - take the mystery away and it's a done deal, at least in my opinion.

Eric said...

It certainly beats:

"Re: Your Query,

This is a form reply. Read into it what you will. Keep your day job."

Leave me alone.

Best regards,


I don't know if they still do, but when I used to get form rejections from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, they had a silhouette of Alfred on them and were addressed to "Dear Author." Something about that softened the blow.

Maria said...

I don't know. I think that those thank you letters are just people trying to be polite. Call it the cost of doing business on your end. Realizing your time is valuable, I don't think the note at the end of your new form will solve the problem and it may serve to confuse.

I did receive an email/form reply similar to the one you are proposing years ago. I recall feeling a bit put off at the time--as though the agent were suggesting that I was somehow going to beg, stalk or do other than go away.

Thank you notes that are just thank you notes really aren't harmful. Some of us do it because we're old fashioned and we especially might do it if we feel we "know" or "like" the agent due to having seen her at a conference, having read her blog or having spoken to her personally.

Adrian said...

I think that it is helpful to put that it is a form letter (and I've seen others do this).

It's also funny how a form letter has to walk a fine line between being supportive of new writers and patronizing to more experienced ones. The more you try to gently impart the basic realities of publishing, the more offended veteran writers will be that you mistook them for a rookie.

You can't win. :)

Ulysses said...

Sane responses are not a good fit for insane times, so don't bother getting over yourself.

However, what do people think about changing "There's no need to respond to this email." to "Please do not respond to this e-mail."

The first, I think, sounds like, "You don't have to, but you can." And if they can, they will. The second is supposed to deny that possibility. It may be a bit too brusque, though.

Sarah Jensen said...

I see nothing wrong with sending form rejections. If you have something you want to say, go ahead and send a personal one. And adding there is no need to reply might not be a bad idea.
Writers need to thicken their skin if they are to make it. It reminds me of the cry babies on American Idol. I mean the ones who beg, not just because they cry that they weren't put through.
The new judge told one contestant that they were doing him a favor, because the industry would eat him alive.
Rejection is part of the game. It's a fact of life.
So if you feel that you need to send form letters to stay sane, by all means, do so.

Anonymous said...

I'd much rather receive a form letter rejection than no response at all. At least then I know the letter made it to its recipient.

And like Matt said earlier, there's a certain amount of loneliness involved in being a writer. After spending the better part of six months staring at a barren inbox, I value all responses I receive -- requests and rejections.

As for your new form letter, I think it looks great. It's succinct and polite. I like the postscript. :)

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add -- I've never sent an agent a rude or egocentric response for rejecting me. Too few people practice politeness, IMO. I did once ask an agent who form letter rejected a full if they had a specific reason for passing, but I never received a response.

I know sometimes it's a matter of passion or a project not fitting the agent, but I'd rather hear that than hear nothing at all. Otherwise I'm left wondering what the heck I did wrong.

Amity said...

When I was a younger author, I was told to send thank-yous. Fortunately, this was followed with clarification--only if someone take the time to give you detailed advice (aka, commented on a partial/full). That same person said to mail it, and write "thank you" on the envelope flap so the agent can read it during down time when she's too fried to do anything else.

I have noticed on blogs that the agents practicing "silence=no" complain more about people who query multiple times. I hate no responders, because I don't know if the agent is incredibly slow or if they say no--especially if the agency's known to take weeks to respond. When do I send out more queries? When is it a no? I don't want to mail fifty at once!

The only silent agent I haven't minded is Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown--her PM page clearly states if there's no reply after 10 days, it's a no. Short time, clear answer. Plus, I sympathize with her stated reason. I still prefer, however, "Dear Author, I apologize for this form letter..."

Sharla said...

I only send thank you's after a partial request that has constructive feedback. One agent had a whole page of feedback, thoughts on particular phrases, small changes, and a sentence expressing interest in anything else later. That, I most definitely responded back on!

Form rejections on queries or partials--I assume the agent really doesn't have a need to hear from me again. :)

JES said...

I wonder how hard it'd be to set up one of those outgoing-email-only mailboxes for the domain, to be used for form rejections (and anything else you don't want replies to) only? So if the author doesn't understand a thanks-but-no-thanks, and hits the Reply button, the reply will simply bounce (or evaporate)? That way you'd never even see it.

(E-protocol would be to include a footnote in the rejection along the lines of, "This message is from an automated mailer which does not accept replies.")

RobinR said...

I would never send a thank you note.
Everyone knows a basket of mini muffins is correct etiquette.
There's a formula that's in the handbook:

Form rejection: Six pack of one flavor.

Hand written note: One dozen same flavor.

Rejection of partial: One dozen assorted, but never include *bran.

Rejection of full: Two dozen assorted with napkins.

I thought everyone knew this!


*The symbolism is too horrible to contemplate.

Elissa M said...

The form reply saying no need to respond works for me. Then again, I wouldn't respond to a form rejection anyway. I already feel guilty for interrupting an agent's busy life with a query! I don't really have self-esteem issues, it just looks that way 'cause I'm so shy. ;)

Heather said...

The real problem is that every agent feels differently on this. I actually asked an agent this very question on their blog:

Is it okay to answer with a polite, "Thanks for your time" note? Or is it annoying to add more emails to your inbox.

She told me that she *likes* when people respond with a Thank You.

So I think the note you added with the "No need to respond to this" will keep people from responding.

And I honestly hope you don't become one of the non-responders. I don't want to speak ill of those agents, as I understand they have a crazy-busy life, but I just think it's kind of rude to not respond at all.

It's hard enough as an author to go through the submission process of putting yourself out there and opening yourself up to rejection. (I know... part of the industry and I should stop my crying.)

But to put out your work and just get ignored? Especially when a return email form letter doesn't take much time at all... it actually makes me not want to query an agent when I see that is their policy. I still have submitted to them when they're a fit for my project, but I do think twice about it.

I guess I just hope this doesn't become standard.

Leif said...

Dear Janet,
As gentle and kind as your updated form rejection is - and it IS, both gentle and kind, while also being to the point - and as much as I would be disappointed to receive one of them when I submit, I would encourage you to be even a little more direct in the "no response is necessary" line.

Your current wording still leaves the door open to them thinking, "well, but maybe it'll help a LITTLE...". You do remember how desperate we can be, don't you?

In your earlier blogs, you've described how much you read - blogs, twitters, query letters, communications with clients, requested submissions,'s a lot.

Yes, you could just delete them. (but think how many minutes per year you would not be able to be diverted into one of Ms. Poelle's schemes...)

May I suggest something adding something like the following for your closing P.S.:

"There is no need to respond to this email. Thank you for refraining from replying."

It should weed out all but the most persistent of "last-worders".

Many thanks for what you give regularly to the writing community.

Janet said...

I would go further with the P.S. That could be read by excessively polite people as a veiled invitation to respond. I would put something along the lines of:

P.S. - Due the the volume of email I receive, I would appreciate it if you would not respond to this message.

Or even:

P.S. - Please do not respond to this message. My inbox is already full enough to induce nightmares.

Or something more in line with your own personality.

Richard Lewis said...

What a business where a personal compliment on a REJECTION is cause for celebrating, and where a FORM REJECTION receives a sincere thank you.

Matt said...

I love that we're crowdsourcing rejection.

Just_Me said...

I figure once an agent has rejected my query I figure that aspect of our relationship is over. Unless they give me some really good advice or have invested more than the basic read/reject/reply to my work I'm not going to waste my time.

Some people are nicer than me.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I hate form letters of any sort. My last experience with a form email was from the BBC.I hated it. It made me return to a web page, refill in a form and resend it just to tell them they were idiots who seemed unable to read an email

I finally found a live person at BBC America who stood up for Pixies and put me in touch with the right person.

Form emails are a huge turn off.

Megoblocks said...

Wonder how long it will be till you get a Homer Simpson that reads the PS, hits reply, types in "OK" and then hits send.

Anita said...

How about:

P.S. If you feel inclined to send a thank you response to this rejection, please send it in care of Barbara Poelle.


Mystery Robin said...

I think that people are probably just trying to be polite, and already know it's a form letter. They just don't realize that it's really the opposite of polite when you have to manage so many emails a day.

If you want them to really stop responding, I'd include a line that says "Due to the volume of email received at this agency we respectfully request that you do not respond to this letter." or something like that. Then at least those people thinking "Oh shoot, but I really like Janet and want her to know there's no hard feelings" will err on the side of not responding instead of responding.

Stephanie said...

Way back in the old days (the 90s) at some point someone said thank you notes for rejections are a good idea because it puts your name on that editor's/agent's desk one more time. The whole thing left me confused...but that was before e-mail queries were even allowed. I was torn on it when I started querying agents again and I think I made the mistake of sending one thank you, but I quickly figured out that's a no no!

Gary Corby said...

I suspect they're merely being polite, and don't realize it's an irritant for you. A couple of solutions:

In your rejection emails, set the reply-to field to be a special email address. You can then corral all the rejection replies into one place.

Most people who reply probably include your text. Set a rule in your email reader that scans for text specific to your rejections, and puts those emails in a special folder.

I suppose you'd still have to check them in case there's something important, but at least you know to expect a time-waster when you open the email.

Rowenna said...

Coming from the world of small business, I know that I often request that customers confirm receipt of emails, and often confirm that I've received emails from them with a simple, polite, "form letter" acknowledgement. Of course, the situation is different--those emails serve to (hopefully) forge a business connection! In your box they're just clutter. But queriers with a different background probably don't realize they're doing this, thinking that it's correct to reply to any email. The "No need to reply" seems polite and direct to me--I'd get the hint and not be offended, though a more direct phrasing might seem rude (of course, people who don't get it won't get it unless it's blatant--conundrum, eh).

Rick Daley said...

"I regret I have to pass on many interesting projects due to time constraints."

That's a form letter? Damn! I thought you really found my project interesting but were too swamped to take on me as a client.

BJ said...

Rick Daley...

She only uses that particular form letter for the interesting subs. For the uninteresting subs, she uses one a lot less polite. So if you get one of the ones she talks about here, consider your sub interesting.


Rachel said...

You know, I wouldn't "apologise" for the fact you are sending a form rejection, either. The implication could be drawn that you think there's something wrong with sending a form rejection, when in fact it is a vital tool that lets you get your job done.

The sane will not need an apology, but there's a risk that those with a more tenuous grip on reality may see one as an opening to engage in further dialogue - "Aw, gee, she feels bad, better email her back and set her straight ...


BJ said...

Anything could be considered an invitation to reply for some people, even 'Don't you even dare to think of e-mailing me back because I don't have time to read it.' You'd probably get responses apologizing for taking up your time or who can't resist a 'dare'...

"Dear Janet; I understand how you feel. I wouldn't want to have to read a lot of meaningless e-mails, either. But since this one is from me, it - of course - is not meaningless. I just wanted to thank you."

chris said...

There's nothing you can do, I'm sorry. It's human nature to always want to have the last word.

Lauren said...

Here you go, Janet:

Thank you for your query. I apologize for this form reply, and I regret that your query is one of the projects I must pass on due to time constraints. I beg you not to respond to this as the number of e-mails I receive now is reaching the unmanageable status. Any more and I will be enrolling myself at the Institute for Non-Sane Agents in Need of Equilibrium (INSANE). Thank you for understanding and not responding.

All good wishes,

Janet Reid
FinePrint Literary Management

Susan Bonifant said...

I think you're very busy, but when someone rallies from the sting of rejection to send a little thank you for your time, you probably should just delete it and move on. It will take more time to re-phrase your letter in hopes of curtailing the writer's response, and you'll still get them anyway.

Richard Mabry said...

I once received a form rejection from an editor that began, "I hate sending form letters, but..." I accepted it for what it was and moved on.
Now this guy is an agent (not mine--she responds personally to every query). I wonder if he still uses form rejection letters.
As for yours, I think it would work fine. I'm especially fond of this postscript, done with just enough tongue-in-cheek to get a smile (one would hope).
P.S. - Please do not respond to this message. My inbox is already full enough to induce nightmares.

DCS said...

Form rejection letters don't bother me. It's not the agent's job to improve my writing except by telling me that my efforts haven't suceeded so far. To writers who need hand holding, I say, "Get over it!"

Kevin Clark said...

I have actually encountered an agent or two whose form letter seems like a personal letter with a critique of the work. One said something like, "the plot did not engage my interest as much as I had hoped." That made me think it was not a form letter, so I responded to it. In later dealings with the agent, I got the same form letter, at which point I realized my mistake.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that a form letter should be an obvious form letter.

Heather Wardell said...

I think the "I got your query, I'll let you know if I want to see more" will eventually be everywhere in the industry.

It just makes sense: the writer knows the query got to the agent, and the agent only has to respond if s/he wants to see more.

I've queried a few like that and didn't mind a bit.

I DO find non-responders difficult to deal with since I always wonder if perhaps the email just got lost.

And I agree with Kevin... obviously form letters are far easier to take than the ones you end up analyzing for some hidden meaning.