AUPQ: How Do You Feel About Form Responses To Queries?

Before we delve in, we are hosting a Giveaway on Path2pub with Lit Agent Nina Leon giving a query letter critique. She’s also doing a wonderful interview with her client on the agenting process! So send your letter and inform your friends! A second place prize will be receiving a query critique from we the Path2pub ladies. Check out the main post for guidelines and submit!

Today’s Ask Us Pub Questions is from an anonymous reader who wants to know: Is a form response always appropriate?

99.9% of the time, I’d say they’re absolutely fine. I’d rather hear a firm NO than mark the agent as CNR after months of silence. However? There are a couple of scenarios in which form letters *can* feel a bit insensitive to the writer.

The first is in cases where fulls are requested. We are owed nothing, and I don’t expect an agent to sit down and write a thesis on why they won’t be repping me, but a few sentences on what made them want to keep reading (or quit) can go a long way towards course correction. An ‘it’s subjective’ hits differently once you’re past piquing their interest.

Another scenario: When batch form letters are sent and don’t align with the materials given. I recently had an agent praise, yet reject a manuscript I never gave them. A few others reached out shortly after and told me the same thing had happened to them! Mistakes happen, but submitting is vulnerable. I’m grateful for agents who understand that!

Sarah, All Things YA!

My answer is super subjective! I’ve never been disturbed by form responses specifically because to me they’d meant the same thing as a personalized response: a rejection. It equally sucked. And personality-wise, I learn better with time and experience, than from being told. So e.g. if an agent told me my query letter isn’t strong enough, I’ll wring myself dry over it, but my next edited letter probably still won’t cut it. Rather, constant rewriting of the letter (and more rejections) eventually will help me learn to improve it. I learned from seeing successful letters/synopsis/first pages and gradually digesting why they worked—so personalized responses wouldn’t have helped me much.

Going further, I understand why agents use form responses. I knew someone who got a fair amount of personalized rejections to her query, and honestly? It could be so frustrating because these feedbacks often clashed. I remember an agent telling her to re-query her story if she took out the fairytale retelling element, while most agents who asked for full MSs mentioned loving her take on the retelling. Some liked her opening pages—an agent said she didn’t like the use of flash-forward in the opening pages. The feedbacks at this early stage literally made our heads spin, to the point where we decided to leave the query package as it was when these feedbacks came in. Most agents are aware that tastes differ and don’t want their personal opinions to ruin an author’s story or chances with others, especially at the query stage where they know quite little about a book hence the form responses.

– Lucia, The Fantasy and Regency Writer!

I always appreciate a quick and polite form response from an agent on a query because it reduces my anxiety about querying a lot more than when I have to CNR a query. I like not having to worry wondering whether my email got lost in an endless void in cyberspace.

However, I have also been querying long enough that I have received some pretty brutal and rude form responses to queries as well. I recently received a form response to a query that condensed to the following: my book’s premise doesn’t sound unique because the themes and tropes are too common, and it definitely won’t sell. This response felt unnecessarily harsh for just a query rejection. I don’t think it’s asking too much for form responses to be respectful of an author’s feelings. I’m definitely more likely to query an agent again with future projects if they have a kind form response.

On the other hand, a form response on a partial or full manuscript always makes me think the agent didn’t read the requested material. While I appreciate the few full rejections I’ve received with paragraphs of wonderful feedback, I know agents are busy and not all of them have the time to do that. All I really hope for is one to two lines of constructive feedback so I can take it into consideration for potential edits to my manuscript.

Reem, All Things With Heart in YA!

Something I definitely don’t miss from my querying days is the constant waiting for a response from agents. It would sometimes take months to hear back from them. During those times, my heart would be on a roller coaster going from the possibility of a YES to the heartbreak of a NO. After a while, most of the times an answer to my query would come. In those cases I would be grateful to be getting some closure with that agent, even if I didn’t receive the reply I really hoped for.

The majority of the times I got form rejections, which I didn’t really like, but I was still thankful to get an answer. It would sting, of course, but for me not getting a reply after months and months was much worse. Although I got a good share of form rejections, thankfully none of them were rude or brutal, which ultimately helped me to keep the faith and continue querying.

There were some rare occasions in which I got 2-3 sentences of personalized feedback even if the agent rejected me in the end. Those replies were like unicorns, because they gave me a hint of why the rejection was happening in a more specific way. I always appreciated that because even if the answer was NO, it provided me an extra kindness and positivity to keep me going forward in the querying journey.

Mariana, PB writer!

Like the others, I think I much prefer a form rejection to a CNR, because the latter leaves you hanging and you’re never quite sure whether it’s a No or whether you’ll still get a reply after six months! I do agree with Sarah that it’s an issue when the content of the form letter doesn’t align with the materials received – that sort of reflects on the abilities of the agent to organise their work, or simply says “I didn’t really read your query properly at all”. I’ve had friends who’ve received form rejections on full manuscripts, but they never even sent the full MS in the first place!

-Amber, YA/NA SFF!

As the responses above I much prefer some type of form instead of CNR. I think having some type of personalized feedback is better than just a quick No or something that’s not even relevant. I recently received a partial rejection in form letter which is better than nothing, but I would have liked knowing what exactly was what swayed them to the No. Just like Reem I received a similar personalized rejection where she said my writing was strong but my premise was not original and unsellable. Did I think it was necessary? Not really, because what idea is truly original? As a debut author you also want to have comps and hit a market, so I took it as maybe this agent is looking something completely new and it gives also gives some perspective for me to not query them in the future because I know we wouldn’t be a good fit. I think as authors when we query we also need to know our worth, and keep celebrating that even if it is a No, we finished a book and we are querying!

-Alexandra, YA & NA Romance Writer!

What are YOUR thoughts on form responses?

Published by path2pub

From The Trenches To The Shelves

16 thoughts on “AUPQ: How Do You Feel About Form Responses To Queries?

  1. I’m already so used to form responses that I forget there is something called personalized responses. I imagine I’d be confused too if at the querying stage I got many contradicting personalized responses. This was a relatable post!


    1. I know what you mean, Erica. Still, it’s important that when you approach feedback you pay attention to what resonates with you and feels true to your story. You need to let it rest and come back to it with a clear mind so that you can really be objective and decide whether the feedback works or not, and how you can incorporate it (if you decide to). Thanks for reading!


  2. I love seeing the merge of views and from writers in different parts of the journey!
    There are some responses that feel like personalized messages but you just aren’t sure about, but those make me see that there’s not much of a difference between personalized and form. As Lucia said, both still mean a rejection. But I understand Sarah and Alex too that the wrong form rejection can be frustrating. Then again, we writers make mistakes with queries such as with names or address etc. I guess it’s normal for agents to make that mistake too! I enjoyed this!


    1. I wholeheartedly agree with the ‘agents are only human’ thing. I’ve admittedly sent queries before that had typos and felt so silly afterward! The track record of the agent can clear a lot of this up for potential writers though. In my scenario, I had several people message me and accurately guess the agent who’d sent the form because the same had happened to them. Yikes!


  3. I don’t support form responses to full or partial manuscripts, because at that point you need to give the writer something. But other than that, I don’t care much if the rejection is in form or personalized. It’s still the same message!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! As I said, I’m aware writers aren’t owed anything—agents don’t get paid to read submissions, so their wanting to read it at all is a huge honor! Still, once you’ve consumed a project, you’re going to have feelings about it, good or bad. Reading ‘it’s subjective’ in a form rejection beyond that feels inauthentic.


  4. Alex and Reem so sorry that someone said that to you! Yikes, not cool

    I prefer personalized feedback over form, but we writers manage whatever we can get haha 😆


  5. I agree about preferring something more specific after a partial or full request; not only would it coddle my curiosity, but it would help me grow as a writer, especially if it matched up with others’ feedback. I’ve seen several form rejections, but I’ve been fortunate to see a few sweet, personalized ones, too, and they always make the rejection less painful. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! I was always thankful for those agents who took the time to write a line that felt addressed to me and my story. It made the rejection less painful and it didn’t crush my spirit. That’s very important so we can keep going as writers in a journey that can be emotionally hard. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

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