About five years ago, I had an internship at a very boutique literary agency. I learned the ins and outs of the publishing industry in a short nine months.
The internship was a crash course in the nitty gritty of what authors endure to be published: sending query letters, receiving rejection letters, receiving submission requests, and all that jazz.
I read manuscripts, I rejected query letters primarily based on the bad writing, and also requested manuscripts based on plot and a well-written query letter. I read some great manuscripts. Two of the manuscripts I read are now published and that makes me happy.
What I learned about this industry via the internship was that writing will always be abundant and there will be fantastic, mediocre, and terrible work out there. The goal is to weed out the fantastic and make sure this author is published. I think for the bad writing, they should receive letters of encouragement and advice that will help them improve. The problem with sending individualized rejection letters is that so many of them are sent at one time that there’s no time for special attention.
Bottom line: if you want a literary agent, make sure your query letter is on point. If there is one teeny typo or you discuss your writing history when you were age x, say buh bye to that agency. Be professional, succinct, and also make sure to stand out. It’s terrible to say, but the query letter is like a cover letter for your work. It’s not different than writing a personal statement for an MFA application.
As a writer myself, I am dreading the day I write a query letter but very thankful I have the experience of seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly letters at the internship.
Good luck to all!