It’s Not You, It’s Me

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The rejection letter is a genre of its own, and most of its writers hew pretty close to the script. I’d gone for years without any, but now that I’ve entered a newly competitive arena (fiction writing), I’m remembering them allllll over again.

First, the gratitude for submitting your work.

  • Thanks for sending and for your patience as I read!
  • Thanks for sending me your query.
  • Thanks for writing about your novel.
  • Thank you so much for sending your materials for my review.

Then the false hope.

  • I really enjoyed this and can see the potential in your writing.
  • I was really intrigued by the story idea and enjoyed your writing style.
  • There’s much to admire here…

Then the pivot…

  • Unfortunately, however, despite all that I liked, I didn’t quite fall in love with this as I had hoped, so I will not be offering representation at this time.
  • Even though there was so much I admired, I’m afraid after careful consideration I realized I ultimately didn’t feel enough enthusiasm for the work as a whole to offer representation.
  • …but I’m afraid I didn’t connect with the story strongly enough to feel I’d be the advocate the book deserves
  • I’m afraid this doesn’t seem like the right project for me…

Then the “you’ll find the right guy out there somewhere, honey…”

  • I am so sorry this didn’t work out for us, but I do wish you the very best on finding a great agent for your work.
  • Others are likely to feel differently and I encourage you to solicit additional opinions.
  • I’ll step aside, then, with best wishes for your finding the right match elsewhere.
  • …but I’m sure other agents will feel differently.

Honest to god, it’s like there’s a manual out there.

The hard ones are the ones where you get to the second round, where you get to the phone interview stage or the agent requests the full manuscript and not just the query. Those are the ones that make you feel like maybe, just maybe, this is your moment. As John Cleese put it, sitting on a dirt road in his bathrobe in the movie Clockwise, “It’s not the despair, Laura. I can stand the despair. It’s the hope…”

Rejection letters for faculty positions are the same genre. But because they aren’t very good writers, they tend to be just a touch more tone deaf.

Thank you for being one of a strong pool of 326 applicants. [Aren’t we awesome that 326 people wanted our job? Yay us!]. Although the committee was impressed by your credentials and achievements [committees aren’t impressed by anything, we all know that], we have decided to pursue a different course [really, nobody wants a scholar of 19th-century Japanese political theory right now]. We wish you the best in your academic career. [Not even the nicety of suggesting that another school might want you. Just “good luck, buddy” as you stagger off into the desert.]

In the writing world, agents and editors are beset by unsolicited queries, which are known by the lovely colloquialism “the slush pile.” And all of us special snowflakes are just part of the slush, unless someone picks us out specifically and puts us onto the microscope slide to be examined more carefully. Literary agents, in interviews, say that they get most of their new clients through referrals from existing clients. So too with faculty searches; you get isolated from the slush for more careful examination if you come recommended by a friend.