Posted On July 11, 2012 by Print This Post

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – Interpreting the Rejection Letter

“It’s not you . . . it’s me.”  We’ve all been there, done that and probably have an ugly t-shirt to prove it.  But, what does it mean when you hear “this project wasn’t right for me”?  Sara is here and she’s giving you the inside scoop on what rejection can mean for you.

I’m sorry, this project just isn’t quite right for me.”

Sara Megibow

What does this mean? As an author, have you ever seen this before? (If not, celebrate and move on to another blog post) Was this a response you got from an agent? From an editor? On your query? On sample pages? Perhaps on the full manuscript? Let’s break it down…

As we all know, getting feedback on a submission is tough. No feedback feels frustrating and if there is some personalized information, it’s hard to interpret. Here’s how I personally use this phrase:

1) When passing on query letters, sample pages and full manuscripts, 99% of the time I use the standard form rejection letter.

2) If I veer from the form letter, it’s usually because I met you at a conference, you were referred to me by a client or there was some aspect of your story I wanted to address.

3) Two to three times per month we get really young writers in the slush pile – 10 years old, 12 years old, even 8 and 9 years old sometimes. I do try to respond personally to these writers.

4) If I add a comment, 99% of the time it sounds something like this: “I just didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped” or “it’s not quite right for me.”

So, what does it mean when I use this phrase?
1) It means yes – I read your work personally and wanted to write something to you above and beyond the standard form rejection letter. It’s not meant as a critique letter or an edit letter – it’s meant as an acknowledgement. I’m reaching out across cyber space to say thank you for submitting to us and I’m sorry not to be offering for the book.

2) I must love a book – LOVE LOVE LOVE a book in order to invest the time and energy needed to be a good advocate. I need to stay up nights thinking about the story and get lost in my imagination when pondering the characters. That’s the kind of investment I feel I need to have in order to sign a new client. So, if it’s not 100% adoration, I will pass. “I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped” usually means just that – the story or the characters didn’t capture my imagination enough for me to sit and stare into space thinking about them for hours on end. If the phone rings and I don’t hear it because I am reading your book – that’s a good sign. For the record, this is exactly how I felt when I first read THE SIREN by Tiffany Reisz. I double dog dare you to read it and not feel the same way. ;)

3) “It’s just not quite right for me” could mean that while the book is mechanically sound, I have a book too similar to yours already under my representation. For example, I’m getting a lot of submissions right now for young adult contemporary novels with a heroine who plays sports – like CATCHING JORDAN by Miranda Kenneally. We also get a lot of young adult spy submissions, but Kristin represents Ally Carter and those are big shoes to fill. It’s likely that these books will get a pass just because I’m not the right agent for the concept.

4) “Not quite right” frequently means the writer isn’t executing the mechanics as flawlessly as I’d like. Most of my clients do go through a round or two of revisions before I send them out on submission. However, if I don’t have a solid feel for the book (again, if I don’t love it enough), I won’t be the best editor for it. For example, I’ve seen submissions in which characters are compelling but the story doesn’t have a large enough conflict. I’ve seen ones where the story sounds cool (has a cool concept) but the characters are too generic and don’t stand out in the slush pile. I’ve seen too much dialogue (or not enough), too much datadump, overload on backstory and awkward world building. If I love the story, I will offer for it and provide an edit letter. Otherwise, any one of these mechanical errors is enough to make me pass on a submission. If I pass, the note will likely be the same = “This project just isn’t right for me” and that means I don’t have the right editorial vision to take it where it needs to go.

My biggest fear in writing this post is that it’s impossible to answer these two questions: “why did it get rejected” and “what can I do to the book in order to get a book deal?” What I’m trying to explain is that the phrase “it just wasn’t right for me” isn’t just a blow off. True that it’s not much better than the standard form rejection letter, but if you need to dissect an agent’s response (or an editor’s response), this is a behind the scenes look at what might be going through our head as we type.

Sincerely,

Sara

***

Wow – so much information and my head is swimming. Sara is here to answer your questions – ready, set, go!

On Friday, join author Anne R. Allen as she visits RU.

***

Bio:

Bio: Sara Megibow, Associate Literary Agent
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC

Sara has worked at the Nelson Literary Agency since 2006. As the Associate Literary Agent, Sara is actively acquiring new clients! The Nelson Literary Agency specializes in representing all genres of romance (except inspirational or category), young adult fiction of all subgenres, science fiction/ fantasy and commercial fiction (including women’s fiction and chick lit). Sara is an avid romance reader and a rabid fan girl of super sexy and intelligent stories.

Nelson Literary Agency is a member of AAR, RWA, SFWA and SCBWI. Please visit our website http://http://www.nelsonagency.com/for submission guidelines, FAQs, resources and sample query letters. Sara’s Publisher’s Marketplace site (www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/SaraMegibow) is a great place to find more about her personal tastes, clients and recent sales. You can also cyber stalk Sara on twitter @SaraMegibowHow an agent chooses what books to read.

 

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36 Responses to “Sara Megibow Sells Romance – Interpreting the Rejection Letter”

  1. Another great post, Sara. Because I swear I sometimes read rejections over and over again hoping for the words to magically explain themselves.

    I don’t really have a question, but #3 put a great big smile on my face. Any 8-12 year old who has the courage to send a query inspires the heck out of me. Yay you for your kindness!

    Sonali

    Posted by Sonali | July 11, 2012, 12:42 am
    • Thanks Sonali -

      yeah, it’s this huge dilemma. No response makes people mad, but some response is usually tough to interpret. It’s really a reach-across-cyber-space-to-say-nice-work and not a critique, but I wish there was a decoder ring too.

      The 8year old writers humble me. truly
      ;)

      Posted by Anonymous | July 11, 2012, 9:25 am
  2. Morning Sara…

    I’ve received both, it’s not quite right for me and I didn’t love it. Of course this was followed by hours of “What do you mean it’s not quite right?????” while stomping through the house and guzzling margaritas. =) Thanks for explaining….lol….maybe the next rejection will go down a bit easier!

    I agree with Sonali – congrats to those kids willing to send a query – wowsers!

    Thanks for another great post!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 11, 2012, 5:27 am
    • My pleasure Carrie – thanks!

      When my clients get a rejection from an editor, I usually say “don’t even think about it. Feedback from someone who is passing is irrelevant as they are not going to be our publishing partner.” Make it go down easier? no. But, trust me when I say that I guzzle margaritas and stomp around the house too. :)

      Posted by Anonymous | July 11, 2012, 9:45 am
  3. Thanks, Sara! When I first started submitting, rejections were always real heartbreakers.

    Now I’m either developing a thicker skin or I’m learning to appreciate the nuances of rejection letters. There are definitely “good” rejections, but any kind of personal message takes the sting out of “Sorry, but…”

    Thanks for taking the time to explain this process to us!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 11, 2012, 7:00 am
    • My pleasure

      Yeah – the process is a doozy. We *try* to be human about it – try try try. But, it’s still a doozy. I’m sorry and good job on getting the thicker skin. I’m still working on that.
      ;)

      Posted by Anonymous | July 11, 2012, 9:46 am
  4. Hi Sara,

    Since queries are sent electronically, rejections are sent back quicker too. Not a full letter, maybe a paragraph. The speed of rejection is amazing. My record is nineteen minutes. I submitted my first story to a magazine contest when I was twelve. Didn’t win.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | July 11, 2012, 7:02 am
    • The response time – that’s an EXCELLENT point! Thanks for mentioning it – I should have included a point about this.

      Our process is that Anita or I – we sit in front of the computer, turn off the phone and dive in. Usually there are 200 queries per day and usually we’re 2-3 days behind. So, we read, respond, read, respond – it’s very formula. No time for personalization – just a standard copy/paste rejection or copy/paste ask for sample pages. Each query gets about 10 seconds before decision is made. Occasionally, we do get caught up so it’s possible to email us and get a response in 19 minute. Rare, but possible. You’re still getting our full attention, you’re just higher up in the queue at the time.

      :)

      Posted by Anonymous | July 11, 2012, 9:48 am
      • Mary Jo, I got a rejection in four minutes! While I realize there could be many reasons behind the speedy “no,” it motivated me to take yet another hard look at my opening pages–and ultimately improve the whole book.

        Posted by MJ | July 11, 2012, 11:28 am
  5. Hi, Sara. Another great post! Before I found my agent, I’d actually grown to prefer a more generic rejection letter. If I was lucky enough to receive specific feedback, I always worked on fixing the issue, but sometimes the suggestions simply perplexed me and I didn’t know what to do with them. Then I’d wind up trying to fix something I didn’t understand and made a bigger mess. LOL.

    I think I learned to look at the rejections with more of an open mind and not feel like I needed to do something to the manuscripts after receiving each rejection. Particularly if I didn’t agree with the suggestions. It took a lot of pressure off.

    I think the biggest lesson I learned was that I should think of agents and editors as readers. Readers don’t love every book they read. It doesn’t make it a bad book.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | July 11, 2012, 7:14 am
  6. Hi Sara! Thanks so much for translating “agent-speak” into terms we writers can understand. I love your #10queriesin10tweets on Twitter. Thanks for helping us understand how the agenting side of publication works!

    Best,
    Lynn

    Posted by Lynn Kellan | July 11, 2012, 7:43 am
  7. Good post. One question: Do you not ask writers to change things when you love, love, love their books? I’m under the impression that changes are always required–sometimes substantial ones–and I wonder, if someone loves a book so much to represent or publish it, why would they require it to be almost completely rewritten?

    Posted by Dave Thome | July 11, 2012, 10:03 am
    • So, sometimes in our house, Dave reads a post one way, and then I read it another. I think the question you asked, Dave, is answered where Sara wrote, “Most of my clients do go through a round or two of revisions before I send them out on submission. However, if I don’t have a solid feel for the book (again, if I don’t love it enough), I won’t be the best editor for it.”

      Sara, thanks for tip-toeing into tricky territory.

      Posted by MJ | July 11, 2012, 11:23 am
      • MJ –

        Yes, that’s another great way of looking at it, thanks!

        It is tricky territory, especially when all agents have passed on books that go on to sell for big money (I certainly have) and some of the books we rep never sell (though hopefully not many)

        Great points all!
        Sara

        Posted by Sara Megibow | July 11, 2012, 1:52 pm
    • Dave – good question!

      Some of my clients do revisions before submission and some don’t. The honest answer is that if a book speaks to me, then it’s easy for me to pinpoint places where it might use tweaks. If the book doesn’t stick with me, then my editorial process is harder/ less clear/ less helpful, so I usually pass.

      I would never offer representation and say “I liked your book almost enough and here’s an edit letter.” I would, however, say “I adored your book with the heat of a thousand suns and here are some places it might be stronger.”

      :)
      Sara

      Posted by Sara Megibow | July 11, 2012, 1:51 pm
  8. One phrase, a million interpretations. It reminds me of the dreadful “I don’t have time for a relationship right now.”

    Thanks Sara for giving us a sense of how you tackle submissions. Both your post and your response to Mary Jo were very enlightening!

    Posted by Patchi | July 11, 2012, 11:42 am
  9. Great post couple years ago when I decided I wanted to pursue getting published dream , I jumped in the ocean with sharks and queried my first mss without knowing the rules and yes I queried you lol, I have learned so much about rejections, the biz and I am still learning one thing I keep in mind is that I have to put 110% in making my mss the best it can be and hope for the best.

    Posted by Keisha | July 11, 2012, 11:53 am
    • I love this advice Keisha – good point! Yes, put 110% into the book and keep writing. Great advice! My advice to myself is frequently “trust your gut, Sara.”

      Posted by Sara Megibow | July 11, 2012, 1:55 pm
  10. Sara – Have you ever had someone write back to you and argue about your rejection? (I met someone who did that once and I cringed inwardly) How do you handle that?

    Great post!! Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | July 11, 2012, 11:57 am
    • Ooh, great question!

      Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 11, 2012, 12:09 pm
    • Every. Single. Day.

      We just delete them. It’s usually some form of “I don’t need you anyway, I’ll just self publish,” or “You wouldn’t know the next John Grisham if it hit you in the head.”

      I did once get “you should reconsider, I know where you live.”
      And once I got “I’m going to query you every day until you say yes. This is a bestseller”

      hilarious.

      Posted by Sara Megibow | July 11, 2012, 2:07 pm
  11. Hi Sara,

    Getting rejected, via form e-mail or personalized message, is better than not hearing at all. Some agent websites cite…if you don’t hear from us in six weeks, assume we aren’t interested.

    Most writers agonize over their query letters. And even if the letter sucks, they deserve a reponse. I’d rather get a no via e-mail than silence.

    It’s great that you take the time to personalize responses to young writers.:)

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 11, 2012, 12:07 pm
    • Hi Jennifer –

      I know – our agency prefers the responding vs. not-responding method. However, remember that our job as literary agents is to serve our clients, not the slush pile. That’s the really hard and painful truth behind submissions. While it’s nice and professional to respond, it’s also very expensive and time-consuming. I’m supposed to be selling my clients’ books – that’s my top priority. So, have some patience with those agents who don’t respond – it’s not a bad policy, just a realistic one.

      sigh
      Best,
      Sara

      Posted by Sara Megibow | July 12, 2012, 7:45 am
  12. Thanks for this post Sara–as a newbie writer polishing my first manuscript and drafting my query, your comments and insight have proved helpful time and time again. Really appreciate that you take time out of your busy schedule to share these little nuggets. Between your #10queriesin10minutes and kristin’s pubrants site…i feel like i’ve been getting a heck of a great education :)

    Posted by lea taddonio | July 11, 2012, 3:05 pm
  13. Hey Sara,

    Great insight, as usual! Sorry to be late. You might be off the radar now, but I have to ask this question. :)

    What happens if you LOVE LOVE LOVE a story, but you already have a similar book on your list? How is that for conflict?! ;)

    Take care and thanks,
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | July 11, 2012, 6:12 pm
    • I’d likely pass – especially if I am shopping that similar book right now. We get a ton of young adult spy books, and since Kristin reps Ally Carter, we usually end up passing.

      Great question though
      :)

      Posted by Sara Megibow | July 12, 2012, 7:46 am
  14. Hey i read it whole and i really find it interesting from my end… thanks for sharing with us… it was a pleasure spending time over your blog

    Posted by bonzoi | July 16, 2012, 2:00 am
  15. Thank you for such an insightful post. I recently got a ‘Read with interest, but couldn’t immerse myself in the world’, and at first I was quite distraught, but now I think, well you can’t please everyone. I happen to dislike Lord of the Rings, but I have friends who think I’m bonkers for that. It’s down to personal taste, even for agents.

    Posted by Melissa Rynbout | July 20, 2012, 8:37 am

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