Cover Photo: A white envelope sits in the middld of a bright yellow background.

Decoding Rejection Letters from Literary Agents

Agents get rejected by editors, writers get rejected by agents, and we’re all trying to figure out “when they said [x], what did they really mean?”

In my career, I’ve been both an author and an agent, so I’ve had the somewhat unusual opportunity to process rejection letters from both sides of the desk. While this might be unexpected, rejections are often harder to send than to receive, at least from my experience. As an agent, I’m often trying to process how the author will take my words; generally, I want to be encouraging, and, time permitting, give some useful feedback where I can. Like all agents (and editors, too), I sometimes have to pass on really promising projects for reasons that have little to do with the strength of the writing.

Generic Rejection/No Response


Rejections with Minor Feedback

Detailed Feedback/R&R Request


The Bottom Line

Jacqui Lipton is the founder of Raven Quill Literary Agency as well as a consultant on business and legal issues for creative artists. She also teaches law and legal writing at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as several online venues. She writes regular columns on legal and business issues for authors for the SCBWI, Luna Station Quarterly, the Authors Alliance, and Savvy Authors. Her book "Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers" is forthcoming from University of California Press in the fall of 2020. She is repped by Jane Dystel at DGBLM.