There are hundreds of sites that tell you how to write a query letter, but I'm fairly certain that there aren't many that help with rejection letters. Since so many agents get it wrong or right (depending on how they feel about things) it must be an art form. As about ninety percent or more of the agents are female it seems... I can't figure out how they've forgotten their roots. Maybe the ability to read subtext where there is none is stronger (like the force) with some. Anyway, in my opinion... this would be the way to write a less crushing rejection letter.
First of all, the salutation:
Dear (Cut and paste author's first name)
The exception would be if the author has "Dear Agent" or "To Whom it may concern" -ed you. In which case... go ahead and "Dear Author" us. It serves us right.
Onto the body of the letter:
I have considered your submission but I have a very specific type of manuscript and writing style I'm looking for. I also have a limited number of clients I'm able to take on. I hope you will find the right agent for you elsewhere, but in the meantime, keep writing and good luck.
Simple... to the point... Agents read thousands of submissions a year so I don't blame you for not wasting time on something not for you.
A few things that crush my soul that should not be put in a rejection letter:
*not publishable. (There must be nicer words than this.)
*upon careful consideration. (It's either a lie dressed up nicely... or it's true, but authors will always believe it's a cliche phrase meaning you used their manuscript to wipe up something that spilled.)
*I wanted to like your submission. (I've received more than just one letter... and seen several on-line that use this phrase. To me... it means, "Your plot sounds promising, but wow... you really blew in execution. What the hell is wrong with you? Did you even take any English classes?" )
*pass (This word equates to "fail" in my vernacular. It's odd, because it shouldn't, but around the third time an agent says "I'm sorry to say I'm passing on your manuscript," it suddenly takes on the same meaning as the phrase "passed on." As in, "I'm sorry... your manuscript is dead. My condolences." )
*not for me (This phrase sounds pretentious. As in "this is not for me as I exist on a plane far above authors." )
*DO NOT MENTION THE IMPROBABILITY OF AN AUTHOR FINDING AN AGENT. How is that supposed to make me feel better?
*There is no need to mention it's a form letter. Chances are... I know it's a form letter from the salutation of "Dear Author," so pointing out that it's a form letter is unnecessary. I'd rather imagine it wasn't... if the rejection was actually nice.
If I've followed the submission guidelines to the letter and addressed you by name... I just honestly feel like I deserve a nice form letter rejection. Unless I'm sending you something profane or awful... in which case, here is the form letter for that:
Dear Author... if you think you can call yourself that,
Did you really think your pile of rubbish was worth printing? I invited everyone in the office to walk through and step on it before I set it on fire in the bathroom sink. Along with this email rejection I'm sending you a virus that will hopefully corrupt and delete all copies of that crap from your computer. Whatever your day job is... you need another one just so you have no extra time on your hands to contribute to the moral decay of society.
Regards and lose our email address,
I think if I move on to printing out queries and going that route... I'm going to include a self-addressed rejection letter with blanks to fill in. It'll be like picking out a gynecologist. You know that no good will come of it, so you might as well go for the most comfortable. I'll be feeling a little defeatest by the time that rolls around apparently.
By the way, this was tongue-in-cheek humor. (Actually... basically everything I write is either that or full-on sarcasm.)
Oh... hey... it's time for yoga. I should get going.