Here is an example of gracious rejecting in action. The agent Jill Grinberg rejected my short story collection and novel with using a kind, yet fairly standard love metaphor: "I've now finally had a chance to finish reading your work. While I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity to consider your manuscripts--it was a pleasure to read them--I'm afraid in my heart of hearts I just didn't fall enough in love with the material to feel comfortable offering representation." Note that she didn't feel compelled to tell me all that was wrong with my work or offer perfunctory criticism to get me off her back. Just a gentle no was all that was necessary.
Somehow I hadn't managed to include an SASE, but did Jill Grinberg yell at me, or fob me meanly off to her assistant so as to imply that I was taking up too much time? Did anyone treat me as if I were a big needy freak and get all weird when I wanted to stop by and pick up my manuscripts? No. Jill Grinberg was very, very nice. She wrote: "I know you mentioned wanting to pick up the manuscripts in your email. I will give them to my assistant Kirsten Wolf to hold for you." When I was trying to figure out logistics because I was out of town at a writer's colony (i.e., should I have a friend pick up the manuscripts? Should I send postage to have them sent back?), the comforting assistant wrote: "Whichever [way] is easier for you--I'm more than happy to put them in the mail if you would like to provide postage. Let me know--I have the manuscripts here waiting for your decision either way." They are living proof that agents can and do act like decent human beings from time to time, offering up a little dignity to the already humiliated party. A class act, I'd say.
I ended up sending a check, and my manuscripts were sent safely back.