The Form Rejection

I have an unhealthy habit of checking my QueryTracker comments.

For those of you who don’t know what QueryTracker is, it’s an online query tracking system that allows users to find agents and publishers, list those they are querying, and track responses. Each agent is listed separately, and you can go in and look at comments users have posted about that agent. I like reading these comments because it helps me know what querying authors are thinking about me and my process.

Back in the early days, I was able to give some feedback on my queries. Not always, but you were far more likely to get some sort of personalized feedback then. I didn’t realize at the time that that luxury was afforded to me because I was new, lots of authors hadn’t found me yet (thus I wasn’t overwhelmed with new queries daily), and my client list and obligations were tiny. Basically, I had the time.

These days not so much. Ya’ll have all found me, lol (kidding, kidding). I get an inordinate number of queries weekly, the most in our firm; this is because I am currently our only agent who does kidlit, so all those come to me. You can go back and look at my DataExplorer tab in query tracker to see just how overwhelmed I was. My response rate became glacier at some point. (For reference, the DE shows every time a user submitted a query to me, and dives deeper into the data showing the genre of the book, its length, how it was submitted, when it was submitted, what their response was, and how long it took to get it). The “how long it took to get it” number is important here, because I was taking FOREVER. Something needed to change. That something was, in part, the form rejection. The second was the addition of a submissions manager to Spencerhill.

A form rejection is not an indication of your value as an author, but a reflection of an agent’s judicious use of their time.

So anyways, back to my unhealthy obsession with reading my comments. This one kinda got me in the heart, because you might know that I quite love querying authors, and wish I could do more for you all.

“I’m so sorry you got form-rejected.”

Youch. But also editing to say someone who read this article mentioned this is also querying author to querying author speak for, “I’m sorry it didn’t go further.” (So that makes me feel a little better).

Also, don’t go back and erase that whoever posted it. The rest of your comment was so nice and encouraging to the user you were chatting with.

But literally I hate how cold form rejections are/seem and that anyone would surmise I’m form rejecting for mean reasons, or that I don’t think you can write, or have potential, or any number of other nasty things!

I’m sure some of you have heard this before, but agents don’t form reject while wearing a witches cap! The reason boils down to this, if you have 150 new queries each week and you take say 3 minutes with each one, that’s 7.5 hours to respond to all those. Sometimes its 100, sometimes it’s 300 queries! Now, add in that I run across a few with potential and take much longer with those so that length of time grows! It’s a ton of work, and realistically 7+ hours of that work results in NO new saleable work for me. If I gave feedback to everyone, I’d never have time to pitch client work, edit client work, read fulls, sign new clients, meet new editors, etc.

Agents don’t form reject while wearing a witches cap!

Fortunately for you all, I’m not the only one who reads your queries anymore.

I know! I know! You don’t love this. You wanted me to read. Well, let me tell you, lots of agencies have readers. Often, these are interns! Sometimes they are assistants or junior agents. Spencerhill has a dedicated Submissions Manager who answers the majority of our queries, and maybe you’ll be pleased to know they are a former agent with significant quality sales. They know good writing. They know what sells. They know what I’m looking for, the boundaries of my word counts, and again, what ready-to-sell writing looks like. And they happen to have VERY similar taste to my own. Yay team!

Yes, they form reject. They are handling all our agents inflow. It’s A LOT.

However, the savvy QT user above also noticed I signed one of my form rejections “Ali Herring” and left a PS on that form rejection to “query me with new work sometime,” or something to that effect. They followed up with this:

Take heart, though–she saw something in your writing!

So yes, I do try to sign “Ali Herring” at least if I personally answered your query. It’s also likely, but not certain, that if I signed a response, you made it past our submissions manager. That being said, if it’s a form rejection with no name on it, I might have *also* answered that query and was just too busy or tired to type it that night. You know I have three kids, a house to run, and work an ungodlily amount of hours each week. It happens. I do *try* to sign though, but it again, it does happen that I sometimes don’t.

Now, if I left you a note on top of that signature, yes, that’s a super positive sign about you and your writing or your ability to conceive a hook. You didn’t get a note? That means nothing too. I might have been too busy answering too many queries to write one. But yes, a PS note is a certainly a good thing on a form rejection, and it means you should query me again with new work – AND YOU SHOULD NOTE IN FUTURE QUERIES THAT I ASKED TO SEE NEW WORK RIGHT UP FRONT, FIRST SENTENCE OF YOUR NEXT QUERY. If I follow you on Twitter, that’s also positive. I have secret list of “authors to watch” too my friends. So, yes, fill in your twitter username on the QueryManager form!

If I left you a note on top of that signature, yes, that’s a super positive sign about you and your writing or your ability to conceive a hook. You didn’t get a note? That means nothing too.

Last note, sometimes our submissions manager requests full manuscripts on my or other agent’s behalf. We learned something about how we should go about this better from a QT comment too, and have revised our policy based on that.

So yes, I love/hate my QT comments, but I also learn a lot too.

I don’t like form rejecting. Please remember: A form rejection is not an indication of your value as an author, but a reflection of an agent’s judicious use of their time.



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11 responses to “The Form Rejection

  1. Christina Fitz-Gallant

    I tweeted at you about my MS which is in its (hopefully last) revision, (and you replied and I practically squealed) how polished should it be?


    • Of course I wrote this long reply and I somehow deleted it, but the short answer is that it has to be so good its ready to publish (or like 99% there because there’s almost always something that needs a little work). But it has to be THAT good to compete. Remember that an idea is an idea is an idea is an idea but execution is execution. If you don’t execute well and I’m comparing you to 100 other queriers and one or two among them had a hook as good as yours but they sent me something done and solid, they’ll get the full request. So you need a great hook, plot with strong arc, solid realistic character motivations, stakes that matter to your MC, high stakes (personal, public, ultimate), realistic character actions and decisions, strong realistic characters with character arcs, a balance of narration, dialog and action beats, dialog that sounds like someone actually talking, something unique and standout in a genre that’s competitive (basically ALL of them), a great voice and great engaging writing, tension that stays tight, a middle that doesn’t sag and bore me into not continuing to read. Many many things, but it can be done! Just make sure that’s what you’re sending me. Don’t hang your hopes on a solid idea. EXECUTE.


      • Christina Fitz-Gallant

        Is there any method that you recommend to ensuring this prior to querying?


      • Not really. Usually writing a few novels first helps. A good CP. Understanding craft, genre expectations, expectations for word count, what not to do, etc. helps.


  2. brun

    Having read this, I see where you’re coming from, but I don’t agree. And although not an agent I am an author and I have a small imprint and have edited and published other authors. So, to parallel you: When I was open to subs for my imprint I received at one point more than a hundred a week. But I managed to find time to say a few words to all of them, even if their MS was really awful. Because… I’m human. And I know what a form rejection feels like. I don’t accept your argument.


    • Fair enough. You are entitled to your opinion. But I get about upwards of 300 a week. I can’t commit to reading deeply or long enough to providing good actionable feedback to someone. I could stir up a hornet’s nest of problems.


  3. Ali,
    I love your heart for the industry and authors. Keep doing what you do, make authors dreams come true, and shine as an agent. Most writers appreciate your time and dedication. You’ve always taken the time to answer my questions via your blog. Thank you for being one of the great ones!


  4. This was so great to read, though I do feel like there is a constant imbalance between agents/querying authors. Authors are told time and time again to make each query personal, or we might as well kiss that agent goodbye because agents are so busy. But not many people speak about the workload of authors as well. For instance, I work a full time job, babysit part time, am querying, writing a 3rd manuscript, training for a half marathon…the list goes on! Everyone is busy, but unfortunately, not many industry professionals give authors that grace and acknowledgment that they have lives and piles of things to do as well. I appreciate your insight on this! I think just maintaining the belief that there are no cruel intentions by a form rejection has helped me keep the spirits.


  5. I just read this blog post tonight because I’m going to query you soon, and I must say that nowadays, it’s nice even getting a form rejection. So many agents just ghost people who’ve queried them, even when they’ve requested a full manuscript. So thank you for your kindness. It means a lot.


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