I've been struggling to get work published for a year now. Patience is not my strongest attribute, but this process has me improving radically. I feel blessed to have gotten two short stories published this year. I often ask myself, if I'd not gotten a single acceptance this year, would I have had the heart to continue trying? It is the acceptances and the rejections with personal comments that keep me going. I get those on my short stories, but not so much from my agent queries."Not for me, thanks."
For my novella I have gotten fifteen some odd form rejections from literary agents. I'm not sure whether to count the one-liners ("Not for me, thanks") as form or as personal, but either way they are not helpful to me. My question is, how does an author figure out if rejections are due to: agent not interested in novellas (word count), weak query, manuscript has a weak opening, weak writing, silly premise, etc, or that the project is altogether unsellable?
This rejection is usually an indication that the query was typed on the wrong kind of paper or using the wrong typeface. Possibly you put a staple in one of the forbidden zones, or, if it was an email, the agent could tell you would have put a staple in it if you could have. Resubmit without using any kind of paper, typefaces, or staples (hypothetical or otherwise). And don't use those stupid shaped paperclips; I hate them.
"Not for me, thanks"
Notice the absence of a period. This rejection, slightly abbreviated, means your word count was between 1 to 2,000 words too short. If the final 's' had been left off, it would mean your work was up to 100,000 words too short. This word shortfall should be made up mostly in adjectives and adverbs, and in changing all active verbs to passive voice. Then resubmit.
"Not for, me thanks."
Misplaced comma: This means punctuation and/or grammatical problems. The agent wants you to see a freelance editor and then resubmit. If the comma is placed between 'not' and 'for', it means the agent wants you to resubmit on perfumed paper.
"Thanks, not for me."
The transposition of clauses is a sure sign that the agent thinks you're approaching your story from the wrong POV or even the wrong sequence of events. Try rewriting your story backwards, from the point of view of the main character's toaster. Then resubmit.
"not for me thanks."
Lack of capitalization is a subtle and often-missed hint that your concept/premise is lacking in marketability, or alternatively that you have no platform. The agent wants you to revise your manuscript to include more dinosaurs, sparkles, or crime, or alternatively to commit a high-profile crime involving sparkly dinosaurs.
"Not for me, thnaks."
Word is misspelled: This rejection was typed with the agent's nose as she beat her head against her keyboard.
I know how desperately authors want to know what it is they need to fix. But no matter how you parse it, a form rejection will not tell you: the answer is not there.
Agents are under no obligation (professional, social, or otherwise) to tell you why they're saying no, and if they don't tell you, you can't use rejection ouija to figure it out.
Take a deep breath. Keep writing, reading, attending conferences, and visiting critique groups. Keep trying. And when you get a form rejection, remember that this is a sign that you should lift your shoulders and then drop them again in what is known as a 'shrug'. Then move on.