There are some fun things about reading through the slush pile (the pile of query emails acquisition editors respond to). I am introduced to amazing new worlds and characters in just a few paragraphs. I meet the passionate writers behind them. Sometimes I feel like I have a connection with a writer right away—their email addresses me directly (as opposed to “Dear Editor”), is thoughtful, polite, and exudes joy. Plus, the search for the next author and story I get to work with is exciting.

But no one prepared me for how bad I would feel potentially crushing writers’ dreams by rejecting their query letters.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer as well as an editor, and I’ve been on the other side of the equation. Maybe it’s because I constantly see writers’ Twitter feeds full of anguish about querying. Maybe it’s because I mentor other writers on a regular basis. Or maybe many editors feel this weight.

Writers are constantly told they need to grow thick skins, but editors do too. That skin includes the wisdom of knowing that a writer isn’t necessarily better off if we threw aside our trepidation and accepted their query. We’re not doing them a favour by publishing a book that isn’t ready to be published. Either the book would flop and the writer would be crushed anyway, or we would have to edit the book so much that it would cease to be the author’s work and they would have their name on something that wasn’t really written in their voice any more.

That thick skin also includes knowing when a well-written project isn’t right for us. Sometimes, “this book just isn’t right for us” is just a polite way to reject a query, but other times it’s an accurate statement. I might reject a query because I just can’t connect with the topic or writing style. For example, I’m not a fan of horror. I don’t read books in that genre. I don’t like being scared. I would not be the best editor for a horror novel, because I wouldn’t be passionate about it and I haven’t studied it as extensively as I have other genres. I am also uninterested in editing a book with many narrators. I love connecting with a book’s characters, and I find it difficult to do that when every chapter is narrated by someone different.

My preferences don’t mean these books aren’t good or publishable. They simply mean I’m not the best person to work on them. There will always be exceptions, of course. I may really connect with a horror novel because it crosses over to another genre I’m passionate about. I may find myself enjoying a novel with multiple points of view for other reasons. But my general preferences often apply. If a book is well-written but not my cup of tea, I will almost always invite the writer to submit future work to me. This lets them know I like their style and am open to working with them in the future.

I wish I could provide every query I receive with detailed feedback so the writer could be encouraged to keep querying, or, on the other hand, learn what needs improvement. Editors generally don’t do the latter because of a) time, and b) even if we had the time, we have no idea how a writer would respond to such a critique. Not every writer is open to criticism. Some take it personally. Some would email back to argue with everything we said. Editors have no reason to fight those battles. A writer’s improvement and openness to criticism is up to them. It’s their responsibility to learn, to grow, to join critique groups and strengthen their weaknesses.

Rejection may feel like it’s crushing both parties, but the writers who understand that writing is a process will get up again and use it as a learning experience. In that way, editors are not crushing dreams but are part of that magical (and difficult) journey all writers face. We are rooting for you, wherever you are on that journey.

Now, go forth and write!