“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.”
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.
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: 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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