Unfortunately, I don't believe that we are the appropriate agents to represent this material
In this very competitive market, we are simply not enthusiastic enough about our ability to sell this work to offer you representation
We’re afraid your project does not seem right for our list
They are all very nice about it, and wish me luck as they send me out into the wilderness, and I am determinedly not taking it personally. After all, J.K. Rowling is said to have been rejected by 12 publishers (who are all very sad today) and C.S. Lewis was reportedly rejected over 800 times before he got something published! Beatrix Potter finally self-published. Meg Cabot collected rejections for three years before The Princess Diaries finally clicked with a publisher.
I've only received four rejections so far (six if you count the two who haven't responded). I have taken them to heart, though, and return to my first pages again and again to try to read them through someone else's eyes. I've looked more deeply at the openings of other books in the genre, and made some adjustments. I keep track of queries and responses and keep researching agents. Thank goodness there are a lot!
My optimism ultimately does not come from statistics or anecdotes, though. It is the memory of my 11-year-old friend, Eleanor, who asked to be excused early from dinner so she could finish the last twenty pages of my manuscript. That told me all I need to know. I'll keep sending it until a grown-up agent or editor has that same feeling.