This is the short note a writer will get when I return something. It means what it says.
If I add anything more, that's good news. Sometimes I'll tell you your novel is too long or too short (and don't email me back about IT or Johnathan Livingston Seagull - you are neither King nor Bach). Sometimes I'll add that it's publishable, but just not my cup of tea - keep trying (don't email me back asking me to read it anyway). Sometimes I'll tell you to look for an agent who specializes in inspirational books, which I don't (don't email me back asking me to recommend someone. If I thought it was right for someone, I'd tell you.) So, basically, don't email me back, unless you want to thank me for taking the time to explain to you why you were rejected. I've already given you your minutes of my time.
Of course, there are many other major and minor reasons why something gets rejected (you can't write, you send the email to the wrong agent and/or it was part of a group email blast of all the agents in the U.S., Canada and England), but most of the time I will read through the letter even if there are one or two spelling errors (depends on what they are though - I have no patience for horror writers who can't spell cemetery). If I take the time to open the email, I do try to give it a shot.
And sometimes, something is written badly, but it's unique and I hope by telling the author to join a writer's workshop or pull out a copy of Strunk & White's Elements of Style, it will come back to me transformed, with a note that says, "you are the only one who told me the truth about my writing," and a beautiful relationship will begin. This has happened.
A little over two years ago, I lost my fabulous assistant of a year and was reorganizing how I wanted to run my office (since then I decided to relocate to the home office, where I have been much happier), but I was beginning to be overwhelmed with snail mail. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes, which I had no physical room for. So I cleverly sent a form rejection letter that said (and I paraphrase here) "I was overwhelmed with submissions at the moment and was currently not reading for new clients, but that if the writer believed his/her work was truly suitable for my agency to requery in six months."
To my amazement, I got lambasted by writers and writers organizations for not notifying every writing site that I wasn't reading (and that wasn't true - I just did't want any more than what I already had and was just taking a break from the pace of unsolicteds, which is demanding). Why was I still listed in Writer's Market? Why was I doing writer's conferences. It was surreal. (if you do a google search on me, you can still find these diatribes). I really felt like I couldn't win for loosing, and that's also why I keep my rejection letter short and sweet.
Over at Miss Snark's (misssnark.blogspot.com - a great agent blog, if you do not know about it), there's a post about an agent that just hand wrote a rejection on the envelope. I know an agent who used to just write "No," in red on the letter. So the next time you get what you think is a cold form rejection, know that the words were carefully chosen even if they're not what you want to read.