Feedback Deciphered

By any other name…

For those who think sequentially, feel free to consider this post a direct descendant of something I put on Strictly Writing, not so long ago, just for fun.

Rejection can be a bitter pill to take, not least because it isn’t always clear what to do next. Oh, sure, you can dive into the Handbook or the Yearbook, but have you ever received a note back from an agent or publisher and wondered exactly what they’re trying to say?

Grab a comforting drink and find yourself a comfy space – it’s time to break the code…
1. Not one for me this time (because hell hasn’t frozen over and we want to stay solvent).
2. Your work shows great promise, however. (Many of the words are spelt correctly and appear in the right order. Well done, you.)
3. Unfortunately I’m unable to give you any feedback (because it’s difficult to laugh this much and type at the same time).
4. Our schedule is full for the next year (with real books). (And the year after that I’ll do whatever it takes…)

5. However, I’d be interested in seeing your next book. (Go away for a year or so and try to forget about me.)

6. We have a special scheme for new authors. (Do you have any money? We could really use a sponsor.)

7. It’s an unusual premise. (Your ideas scare me, or confuse me, or revolt me.)

8. Unfortunately we’ve recently taken on something similar (only with better ideas and better execution).

9. After careful consideration…(we let the intern decide).

10. It still needs some work. (You’ve cut corners and it shows.)

11. I hope you won’t feel too disappointed by this letter. (I have no concept of how important this is to you.)

12. I wish you every success in finding the right agent or publisher. (Next!)

13. The story failed to come alive on the page. (I want magical pages that sing and dance.)

14. There was insufficient narrative tension and the characterisation wasn’t fully realised. (I have an MA and you can’t disprove my opinions.)

15. It’s not our policy to reconsider previously rejected material. (You again? You may be desperate, but we’re not.)

16. This is only my opinion and you may find another agent or publisher who sees your book differently. (I didn’t like it – end of story. Someone else might dislike it less.)

About the author
Derek Thompson is a humorist and purveyor of words. Some people mistake that for being an embittered cynic, which is a shame. Especially if they are potential clients. However, if his brand of wit doesn’t put you off and you need a writer, drop him a line – he wants to buy some more shiny things.


  1. Chloe says:

    Ah Derek, how encouraging this is for those of us receiving such rejections. It's nice to know rejections are worse than you thought 😉

  2. Don't worry, Chloe, that's only when you sub directly without a representative. There's a different list for agented submissions! :o)

  3. Monika says:

    My grandfather saved every single one of his rejection letters, perhaps so he could laugh about them when he became rich and famous. In the end, he settled for "comfortably well-off and well-known in certain circles." And he also drank a lot of port, but that is another story.

    Being a writer, or any kind of artist, is a funny thing–not funny ha-ha, but funny in the existential sense–because you need massive reserves of confidence to believe in yourself and promote your art tirelessly, while at the same time being humble enough to accept rejection with equanimity–to hear the grains of truth in what otherwise feels like murderously personal criticism. You have a be a boulder in the stream: the stream washes over you, but never washes you away.

    Although two million years of erosion will eventually turn you back into molecules, but whatever.

  4. You're right, of course, on both counts. And even the boulders at Big Sur will eventually become pebbles (but what stories they could tell in the meantime). I like the career path of "comfortably well-off and well-known in certain circles". There is an art in receiving criticism and sifting out what's useful. Reviews, like revenge, are best served cold.

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