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SASE's Return
A Rejection Survival Toolkit

by Brian Mercer


Anyone who's queried an agent or an editor has likely experienced it. You're walking out to your mailbox, anticipating a package, a magazine, perhaps the occasional, cherished letter, and there it is:  That familiar white rectangle; your self-addressed stamped envelope--your little carrier pigeon has come home.  And while it can be the bearer of good news, dreams fulfilled, even continued hope if the agent/editor shows interest, what's most likely sitting in that harmless looking envelope is the dreaded rejection letter.  

It's usually a simple form letter: “Thanks, but it's not right for us,” but what it means, in essence, is "no."  And at a core level it means something more visceral.  When we send out a query letter, we're not just asking a question: "Can I send this manuscript to you?  Will you publish this?"  It is something entirely more profound.  We are asking for our dreams to be fulfilled.  Every query letter equals Hope.  Despite what we know of the odds, there is nothing more optimistic than putting a query letter in the mail. 


We know intellectually that this is folly.  We know we're buying lottery tickets.  We know what's likely sitting in that return envelope. Yet none of that prepares us for the metaphoric kick in the gut that is the rejection letter.  Anyone who does this long enough builds up a Skinnerian association, until the mere sight of your SASE is enough to send you reeling.  Self-addressed stamped envelope equals Hopes Dashed. 

For me, in the early days, the instant I recognized my return letter, I felt a very real sensation of dread that started at my solar plexus and spread outward.  I had to fight the inclination to collapse on the couch, curl into a fetal position and sob, inconsolable by family or pets.  And that was before I even opened the letter! 

Like anything that happens to you in life, the event itself matters less than how you perceive it.  The trick is to get past the rejection letter and see it for what it is: a response to a question and nothing more.  The ultimate aim is to get through the query process without growing so discouraged that you give up your dreams.  While it’s not always possible to propel instantly from despair to enlightenment, there are some road-tested methods for helping you along the way. 

Over the years I've developed several techniques for making the process of querying agents and editors as smooth and effortless as possible.  What follows is a rejection letter survival toolkit, or what I like to call "Brian's Candy-Ass Methods for Pain Avoidance."


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Technique #1: Write Your Own Response

Most replies from agents and editors are form letters.  By necessity, with the amount of material they receive, there just isn't time to personalize every response.   

Most agents and editors have one form letter.  Everyone gets the same one.  Its content, therefore, is meaningless. 

Knowing this intellectually doesn't stop people (consciously or unconsciously) from scrutinizing the letter for clues as to why they were rejected.  Everything comes into play--the letter's length, its verbiage, the precision of the folding, the quality and clarity of the photocopy.  What subliminal message is being conveyed? 

One way to circumvent the rejection letter is to bypass it altogether.  Instead of including a self-addressed stamped envelope with your query letter, try creating a response card instead. 

The response card resembles a postcard:  On one side, your address, the agent's return address, and a postage stamp.  On the flip side, print a few simple phrases and the space for a multiple-choice answer.  For example, something like this:  "Thank you for querying me about your novel, Flight of the Rain Pigs.   (Please circle desired answer.)  a) Please send me the first ­­­­____ chapters.  b) Please send me the first ____ pages.  c) Please send me the entire manuscript.  d) I am not interested in seeing any material at this time."  Be sure to leave space for the agent or editor to write comments. 

The advantage of this method is that you will, in essence, receive your own letter, which you can craft to sound as positive as you'd like.  The only thing you're liable to see from the agent/editor is the response he or she has circled.  And for the agent/editor, it's much easier than fussing with a rejection letter.  They simply mark their answer and drop the card in the mail. 

Creating an agent/editor response card is easy.  All you need is a computer, a good printer, some card stock, and a paper cutter.  If you find it easier, the cost to have them professionally printed is minimal. 

Using this method doesn't mean that you won't come to dread seeing your response card in your mailbox, but it does lessen the anticipation of opening your returned SASE and having your subconscious struggle to find significance in the agent/editor's meaningless form letter.  When you create your own response card, you've whittled the reply down to the simple answer:  "Yes" or "No."

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