I used to go to Writers.net a lot when I was learning how to write queries and stuff back in the mid-2000s. Then there were too many trolls during the 2008 election spouting hateful crap and the site started to develop technical glitches and I dropped out for a while. I came back on a limited basis last year just to say "buy my book!"--not that anyone did. Mostly because it's pretty much a ghost town.
Anyway, last month I checked in and saw someone crowing about this "personal" rejection they got on a query:
Thank you for sending us ****** and for giving us the opportunity to consider your work. Apologies for the delay in responding.
While we enjoyed reading your work, which stood out from the many we receive, we couldn't find an agent here who felt strongly enough to take it further and therefore we are afraid we are not able to offer you representation for this project.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your material and we wish you every success with your writing.
She was super-psyched they said it "stood out" from the others. Wow, what a great rejection! Of course since I'm a Grumpy Bulldog I had to tell her that this is still just a form rejection. You can tell because they never say anything personal about her or the book. The title and author's name can be merged in easily enough. Otherwise it's all just vague stuff.
She was of course not happy with me and decried my negativism, as it seems many people do anymore if you don't immediately heap praise upon them. Which incidentally is why I think letters like this one exist. Saying you "stood out" makes you feel good, even if you're being rejected. It's like if your significant other said, "You're the best fuck I ever had!" and then says, "BTW, I'm dumping you." Well so what, I'm the best fuck you ever had, woo hoo!!!
Anyway, if you want to see just how insidious these "personal" responses can be, check this out. The first is a response from 3/12/07:
Thanks for sending along the opening pages of Forever Young. Truth be told, though, I'm afraid they didn't draw me in as much as I had hoped. I'm pressed for time these days and, what with my reservations about the project, I suspect I wouldn't be the best fit. Thanks so much for contacting me, though, and for giving me this opportunity. It's much appreciated, and I'm sorry to be passing. I wish you the very best of luck in your search for representation.
And you might say, well that's a really nice letter. She's really apologetic and actually critiqued the story (somewhat). We can build on this!
Not so fast, sport. Here's a rejection from the same agent 4 years later on 4/12/11:
Thanks for sending along the pages of your manuscript, A Hero's Journey. Truth be told, though, I'm afraid these pages just didn't draw me in as much as I had hoped. I'm pressed for time these days and, what with my reservations about the project, I suspect I wouldn't be the best fit. Thanks so much for contacting me and for giving me this opportunity. It's much appreciated, and I'm sorry to be passing. I wish you the very best of luck in your search for representation.
As you can see, it's the EXACT same letter. The same "critique" and everything. So yeah, this is what this agent says to everyone. Wah-wah-waaaaaah.
When it comes to these letters, agents are pretty evil about them. Thanks to mail merge, cut and paste, and intern slaves it's pretty easy to come up with forms that seem like natural human responses and send them out by the hundreds.
So really unless that letter is handwritten or uses very specific details about the story and characters, then just take it as a given that it's a form and move on with your life. Don't sit around obsessing over it or worse yet, take it as some kind of actual advice.