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Rejection Letters

April 21, 2010 | 2 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I run a very small book publishing business, which receives many manuscripts each year that I have to reject. It pains me to dash a writer's hopes, or bruise their feelings, although it does seem unavoidable. I try to say something positive, if possible; offer a concise, honest statement of why I found the manuscript lacking; note that this is my subjective opinion with which others might disagree; thank the writer for the opportunity to consider their work, and wish him or her well in finding the right publisher for the text. I strive to be courteous and diplomatic, but succinct and professional.

That said, do you have any suggestions about rejection letters generally?



John, you are a good man and conscientious but I do believe that promptness is the crucial thing when rejecting a writer's work and that a very simple "This is just not right for us" is good enough. A "concise, honest statement of why (you) found the manuscript lacking" is very likely to jab deep under the writer's fingernails. What he wants to hear is that the work is "brilliant, lyrical, edgy, and reminiscent of (some writer he admires)" and anything less than that is likely to leave them feeling faintly insulted. For writers, published or not, praise falls like snow on a sidewalk, but hostility is a chunk of ice in our heart. We barely notice the good reviews and we commit the bad ones to memory. You know after reading 100 words whether the manuscript interests you or not, and there's no need to offer an explanation — either the writer has got something or he does not. Make it easy on yourself.


100 words! Wow, seems like a quick judgement. Of course, I gave up on Faulkner after about 100 words, so maybe you have a point.

Dear Mr. Keillor, you are a wise man and a sweetheart. Thank you for this illuminating and helpful advice.


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