I received a query this morning quoting a letter from a major publisher. The writer was sure this letter meant that all she needed was an agent and the publisher would buy her book. She knew I was unlikely to believe this without seeing the letter so she helpfully attached it for me.
It was left to me to break the bad news that this letter is, in fact, a form rejection.
These rejections are designed to make the writer feel hopeful. Publishers are not stupid. They are large companies with products to sell to consumers and the last thing, the LAST thing, they want to do is make consumers angry and unwilling to buy as in "oh those beasts at LaDeDah Publishers were so rude, I'll never buy one of their books again."
So the letter compliments the book in so general a way it can apply to any book they receive. It goes on to explain their policy of only working with agents, and then how to find an agent.
Their mission is accomplished.
One cardinal rule of querying is "do not quote rejection letters" but you can be forgiven for not recognizing a rejection letter that seems to compliment your book and steer you toward an agent.
So, how do you recognize all rejection letters now and forever more? Look for the phrase "Please send your novel to me now."
Not there? That's a rejection.
Whatever else it may say, without those words, it's a rejection.