Analyze This: Form Rejections, Personal Rejections, Revision Requests, and More

No one can read more into words than a writer. It makes sense. Why? We write. We play with context and permutations of words every day. So it’s perfectly logical we’ll analyze any letter from an agent or editor better than a forensic analyst working for the FBI.

Like so…

Did the editor sign her name by hand? (She loves me!) Did she include my name in the header? (She knows me so well!) Oh, look! She used the word “enjoyed”!!! (SHE REALLY DOES LOVES ME and she probably wears a 6 1/2 shoe and weighs 115 pounds.) OMG!!!!!!!

While most of this analysis is fairly useless, it’s what we writers do over and over again. So without further ado, I present to you “The C LIU Rejection Ladder”. This is how I define rejection.

PLEASE NOTE: Examples of real-life rejections are provided in the paperback version of the course.

  • Form Rejection – (the lowest rung on the rejection ladder, next to NO rejection at all which means the editor or agent doesn’t even respond). Usually a xeroxed form. Or a tiny scrap of paper.
  • Form Rejection PLUS – With nice wording, but the words could apply to anyone and/or the editor signs it. Maybe you’ve heard the same letter was sent to your writer friend. Your MS TITLE and your name could be on this rejection. BUT NOTE: THIS IS STILL A FORM REJECTION, according to C LIU standards. *Some editors will say a signature means something, though.
  • Personal Rejection – The rejection is personalized with SPECIFIC reference to the CONTENT of your story. There is also a clear indication that the manuscript is not right for them and they state why (that’s the rejection part). This could be something as simple as a note handwritten on the form. Or sentences typed into the letter that showed the editor was paying attention. If you can’t tell if your rejection is a personal or a form, assume it’s a form. You’ll know when you get a personal. Or ask a buddy skilled in the art of rejection analysis to help you figure it out.
  • Personal Rejection PLUS – Includes an explicit invite to send more work or open-ended suggestions to change the work. The editor or agent also might wish you best of luck no matter what you decide to do. If you choose to take the suggestions, you’ll want to do the right thing and give that editor or agent a first-look at the changes. Read, Exclusive Submissions or Simultaneous Submissions?
  • Revision Request – A letter that says “can you change this or that? I’d like to take a look at it again. Share with other editors/agents/take it to acquisitions.” It’s more of a commitment from the editor or agent. For editors, do not misconstrue this as “I’m so close!”. For some houses, it may not be that close at all (depending on the bureaucracy at the publishers). For agents, do not misconstrue this as “I’m so close!” For some agents, you may go through several rounds of revision and still not please them. C LIU views revision requests as a great way to improve your manuscript. It is neither a rejection nor an acceptance. You’ll want to give that editor or agent an exclusive though if you do decide to take the suggestions. Read, Exclusive Submissions or Simultaneous Submissions?

How Much Should I Read Into Each of My Rejections?

  • Unless your rejection is a long-detailed letter describing all the ways you can improve your manuscript, the editor or agent probably wrote your rejection in less than a minute (maybe less than ten seconds!). So should you spend one hour rereading every word? Probably not.

If You’re Getting “Formed” Like Crazy…

  • However, if you’re getting a lot of forms (form or form-plus)- say, 6 or more for the same work, then you might want to stop sending that puppy out and take stock. Is it too soon to jump to the submissions process? Perhaps you need to read my post, Get a Second Opinion – Critique Partners, Book Doctors, Editors, and More. Or take the crash course to see if you’re targeting the wrong people. Most of the slush pile is comprised of writers who were overly exuberant about their work, spammed the world, and had no idea if the book was any good or not. You don’t want to be that person. Do your research first before sending out your work. Submitting prematurely can lead to wasted time and expense for both you and the recipient. But more importantly, all those forms can break your heart.
  • Why can’t I just believe I haven’t connected with anyone yet? You can do that if you want, but this is C LIU’s opinion, remember? My belief is if your writing is decent and your story ideas aren’t totally out there, there’s a great chance you’ll get personals. Personals are your indication that you’re doing something right. A long string of forms (IF YOU HAVEN’T DONE YOUR RESEARCH) probably means you need to stop the violence, versus blindly send out your work to more people. Do more research, get more opinions, improve your writing. If you’ve done all that and you still think your work is marketable, then keep looking for that match.

If You’re Getting “Personal’ed” To Death…

  • This is how C LIU deals with that. I revise my manuscript if someone has made a suggestion that speaks to me–suggestions I believe will make my manuscript better. I try to keep an open mind. I let the ideas simmer a bit before I decide whether or not the suggestion will work for my manuscript. (My first reaction though is to BALK. Then dye my hair a new color before I get to work.) If I’m lucky, several editors will give me personals for the same work. I can look at the comments as a group and go from there.
  • The main idea is not to be pig-headed about suggestions. Or feel personally offended when your work comes under scrutiny. Of course, you can’t help but feel wrecked when that personal comes in. (Hopes dashed and all.) So be sad, mad, and all that. But know you will come back to look at it more objectively. When the rejection demons are gone, you will respect and appreciate the editor/agent for trying to encourage you. He or she is telling you your writing shows promise…There’s a story in your work worth writing about.
  • And remember: A personal is just one opinion. It is not the end-all, be-all judgment of your book. If you don’t agree with the suggestion after consideration, then move on. Think about sending that editor/agent something else though when some time has passed.

If You’re Getting Invites To Send More Work With Those Personals, But No Deal On The Work You’ve Been Sending Out…

  • Switch widgets – What’s a widget? Anything you put out there to sell. While I sometimes refer to my own work as babies (when I’m feeling very good about them), I will often call them widgets in my head. I credit editor Wesley Adams of FSG for being very frank about what this business is. IT’S A BUSINESS. This is how important it is to be writing a lot. Chances are you are not the miracle writer who will land a giant book deal on the first manuscript. From an economic POV, you as a writer are producing a product you hope will sell. If that widget has no buyers, you present a new one and hope that takes. You keep pumping the widgets out until you land that buyer. (In essence, writers are entrepreneurs who don’t give up.)
  • When you land your first book contract, then you can pull out the old widgets that never would have sold as the first book and try to sell them again (hahaha). It worked for Jerry Spinelli. You don’t have to give up on your old stuff if you don’t want to. But it’s wise to keep the widgets coming…That’s the C LIU word on that.

If You Think You’re Getting Close, But You’re Not Sure…

  • If you’ve done the research, you’ve gotten raves from your educated critique group, several cheers from editors and so on, THEN you’re looking for that connection. You’re always keeping an eye out for ways to improve the ms, too, but keep sending that widget out. It is not uncommon for writers to hit up twenty editors (OR MORE!) before the book finds its home. The hunt could take a while. But don’t forget what I just said, write other stuff, too. Not only will you be productive, but you’ll also have something else to think about while you wait for your match!


  • You are a writer with your own writer-compass. Each of you will have your own path to success. One editor’s or agent’s opinion is just that. An opinion. That includes your critique partners viewpoints as well. But it is my hope, you will keep an open mind. And when you don’t know what you should be doing, trust yourself to know that answer.
  • Finally, climbing up the rejection ladder is not just about selling your work. Your goal should be to write the best work you can, then hope it sells. Not the other way around. I’ve seen and heard it happen – getting pulled in all different directions because of other peoples’ suggestions. Don’t lose your writing-compass because you want to make that sale. It could end up hurting your book and hinder your progress.
  • So enjoy your rejections – rip them up, hold them dear to your heart, use them for wallpaper. OR if you’d like, you may send them to Snoop. He will eat them upon request.

If you’re taking the crash course, go to Step Ten – Get a Response.


Happy writing,


6 thoughts on “Analyze This: Form Rejections, Personal Rejections, Revision Requests, and More

  1. Thanks for going to so much trouble with this informative site. May I please be put on your freetique notification list? Thank you.

  2. Your website is terrific. I come back and read this section when I feel like I should give up, because I have received “personal rejections PLUS” but haven’t sold anything. This helps me to remember that I have made some headway. Your website has tons of helpful information. I have recommended it to many people. Lee

  3. Thank you so much for your comment, Lee. I’m so glad to hear you find the information valuable.

    Keep on climbing that rejection ladder. It’s not always the funnest thing, but it certainly has its highlights!

    Plow on!

    Cynthea (and Snoop)

  4. Hi Cynthea,

    I just got back my first revision request rejection. After three re-writes, visits to my online critique group, a critique from SCBWI members, and some blue board members, I actually made this editor dislike my manuscript. The relationship between characters wasn’t as caring and the story wasn’t as humorous. Some of the corrections I made were according to her suggestions.

    I hope this isn’t an indication of what may happen with my future revision requests. 🙂


    1. That’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. (actually, a lot of the time). The important thing to remember is, are you happy with your new and improved version? If you are, then don’t worry about the editor’s rejection. It is, after all, just one person’s opinion. And he or she always reserves the right to change his or her mind.

      Just remember that in the end, you have to be happy with your product above all. If not, then you might have lost your way while gathering all those opinions. Recenter yourself and find your way back!

      Good luck!

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