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Here’s What It Means If Your Manuscript’s Query Letter Is Rejected

In order to address Innovative Editing’s literary agent/query letter/traditional publishing Writing Rule of the week Part 2 , we need to first go back to Writing Rule #31, which went like this:

Getting traditionally published ain’t easy.

The Big 5 rarely accepts unsolicited manuscript submissions from writers they don’t know. They almost always work through literary agents – who are also hard to get…

And while the “little guys” [i.e., smaller publishing companies] are a bit more approachable, they’re pretty picky too.

Well, a week hasn’t changed those facts. Neither will another week, another month, another year nor – unless the publishing world changes drastically and rapidly – another decade or even century.

In other words, getting traditionally published still ain’t easy. And that trend’s sadly looking good for a while more, my darling authors-in-the-making.

That’s why Writing Rule #32 is basically just a repeat of Writing Rule #31. I guess you can consider it to be a reiterating rephrase. Or maybe it’s an interpretive rephrase. I’ll let you be the judge, but here it is:

A rejection to your query letter doesn’t mean you’re worthless.

Almost every single published author out there has gotten a rejection letter to at least one of their manuscripts. The big exceptions are those people who have high-profile daddies. Which, incidentally, I still have no objection to as long as they’re open to genuine constructive criticism along the way instead of relying on sycophantic bootlickers.


As for those of us who have to suffer through the slings and arrows of the typical query letter process, it’s important to recognize the rejections we’re inevitably going to get from literary agents and small publishing companies for what they really are – if for no other reason than to keep ourselves out of the insane asylum.

With that hope in mind, let’s break it down.

Here’s what getting a “sorry, we’re not interested” response definitely does mean:

  • The literary agent or small publishing company you reached out to really just isn’t interested since not everyone has the same tastes and interests.

  • You’re not going to get a publishing contract in that particular way at that particular time.

  • You should either evaluate your roughly 350-word message and see how you can strengthen it, then try out your new spiel on the next target on your list. Or you can start thinking about self-publishing (which is something we’re going to delve into next week).

Here’s what it could mean:

  • Query letter writing isn’t a natural skill for you. I know it’s not mine. Set me to writing a 100,000-word manuscript, and I’ll take you up on that challenge. But a 350-word highlight of why you’re going to love my story?

Please just shoot me now and put me out of my misery.

  • You didn’t use the right words to catch the right literary agent (or small publishing company) on the right day at the right time after they’ve consumed the right amount of coffee.

  • You made a simple mistake or didn’t follow the publisher/agency’s exact query letter writing rules.

  • The publishing contact you reached out to was simply too busy to give your manuscript proposal the attention it deserved.

Here’s what it doesn’t mean:

  • Your manuscript is hopeless.

  • You’re never going to cut it in the publishing world.

  • Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You should eat some worms.

If that negative little voice inside your head tells you otherwise, then tell it to shush up already.

Eat a little ice cream, indulge in some Netflix. Then snap out of it and stop being such a melodramatic artist. It’s not an attractive or useful look on any of us.

Besides. Worms are gross.

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