The Not For Me Shrug

I've been reading Miss Snark almost since its inception. I often hear the term "it's not for me" or "it doesn't fit me," referring to anagent who is declining to represent the work. Assuming the genre is a match, what exactly do those phrases mean? Is this just more publishing lingo for "your writing sucks?"

No, it doesn't mean your writing sucks, it means I'm not your biggest fan. I don't like coffee ice cream, so in essence, it's not for me, but that doesn't mean it's the most vile concontion in the world.

"Not for Me" means, well, it's ok, but I'm just not getting behind this one. Or, the writing's good, but not great. Or, the story is good, but not fantastic, and I'm too busy for nonfantasitc stuff right now. Agents cannot, I repeat, cannot write detailed rejection letters to everyone. It is physically impossible. "Not for me" is a way for us to say that you'd find better luck with a different agent who can get more excited about your work.


The Beautiful Schoolmarm said...

So, what do they write if the writing is the most vile thing to ever hit paper? I laughed, I cried, I can't believe you think this is publishable.

Anonymous said...

No, what it means is, "I don't think I can make money on this book." Maybe because it's lousy and nobody will buy it; maybe because it's not worth the effort given the tiny advance it will obtain; maybe because I've got better (more lucrative)projects to work on; or, maybe I lack the connections to get it sold. Be assured that if Stephen King were to call Miss. Snark with a new horror novel, she would accept him as a client even though she doesn't represent horror.

Beth said...

OK, so I got this letter (slightly paraphrased): "We read Novel X with interest, but after reviewing it carefully, have decided to pass. Thank you for thinking of our agency and please keep us in mind for future projects."

So--do they really want to hear from me again? Or is that just empty talk?

Mr. Snort (as in, guffaw) said...

Anyone ever wonder how Raincoast books (yeah, who?) wound up with J.K. Rowling when such a wide selection of established/experienced agents and publishers who do YA already existed?

With agent guidelines consisting of requests for the query letter only, when you receive such a response the author is left to wonder um... assuming the query letter is solid, are you shooting this down on concept alone or because said author has yet to be published. Hhmmmm. What could it be? Anyone got a quarter? Call it. Love is fickle. So's this biz...

Bernita said...

Considering the number of truly gawd-awful submissions they claim to receive, I can't see them including that last clause -which would invite yet more - unless they meant it.

Anonymous said...

There are far worse things than the "not for me shrug". One is not receiving any reply at all, AFTER an agent has requested a full manuscript or an extended partial. At that point, it's a solicited submission, and maybe I'm very old-fashioned, but it strikes me as less than professional to give no reply at all once that point is reached. It's a bit dodgy to give no reply to a query letter with SASE, but I can understand why some agents choose to work that way. But if they can write to you once asking for the manuscript, surely they can write a second time to reject it. Sometimes they don't.

This really does happen. I've had it happen twice. So rejoice if you're receiving 'please keep us in mind' letters. That really is an invitation to submit your next book in case it turns out to be their bag.

Tribe said...

I remember when Meg Ryan was after me. I finally had to tell "not for me." Then that Quaid guy came along...

Anonymous said...

I'm new to Miss Snark (fresh off the boat) and have a question for her. Should I post it here and wait to be discovered from the slush pile? (I'm assuming emailing Miss S. at yougowaitoverthere.com isn't going to work).

McKoala said...

Miss Snark is so busy these days she doesn't always read the comments trail, so the best way is to e-mail her or Agent C.

miss.snark@gmail.com (real address, honest).

Not sure what Agent C's address is; but if you click on her name it will probably pop up as part of her blog profile.

kathie said...

Beth, I'd def. send more stuff to the agent who said that. As crazy as this business is, I think a note like that is sincere. Good luck.

Beth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

All those explanations still add up to, "You write like a monkey and are twice as ugly." Well, maybe not something that extreme, but close.

It means, "Im one of your first readers, and you failed to entertain me. So, go away."

No amount of other phrasing changes this. It means, "you didn't write well enough to please me."

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

(Okay, I'm not done ranting.)
From another agent's blog:

"Please also consider the possibility that if no one will take a look at your work, it's entirely possible that your query is horrifically flawed or what you've written hasn't yet reached publishable quality."

My queries stink. My book's good. (Even if I'm saying so myself.) In the last three months, I've spent more time working on my next query than I have rewriting the book. When a brief letter and a few words of explanation are all an agent sees, they judge you on your ability to summarize in an entertaining way, and on your ability to write a business letter.

I'd love to see another way. I can't think of an alternative that would work.

Ya, ya, ya, I read all that stuff on writing great query letters and an irresistible synopsis. It still frustrates me that I can't retell my story in three pages in an entertaining way. And I hate being judged on the basis of a summary and a business letter.

But, to return to this agent's words: What she means by "not for me" is plainly stated. When you get her form rejection, she means, "Your writing doesn't meet professional standards, or your query is ‘horrifically flawed.'" Take her at her word.

I cannot see an agent turning down some of the best writing they've ever seen because ... well ... "I don't represent people who write the history of the sect of Dionysian revelers of Tuscany." Great is great. The rest isn't. I've always taken a rejection, no matter how kindly worded, as meaning, "On twenty three levels of existence and on ten spiritual planes, you suck as a writer."

Most form rejections are an attempt to politely say this. Some really are polite. Some don't cut it on the politeness level. Both the polite and impolite mean the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Great is great. The rest isn't. I've always taken a rejection, no matter how kindly worded, as meaning, "On twenty three levels of existence and on ten spiritual planes, you suck as a writer."

I must respectfully disagree with this statement. I think we've all read books where the writing is great, but the story, plot, whatever you want to call it, didn't entice us enough to keep going. Or the story is compelling and fast-paced, but the writing is crappy. (Hello, Dan Brown.)

In my querying experience, I've received several letters from agents (no, not form letters, I know the difference) who praised my writing abilities, said I was talented, blah blah blah, but were looking for something "edgier" or "quirkier."

Beth said...

Sha'el, While a form reject might mean "this is not publishable as written," it might also mean "this story isn't my cuppa tea" (which doesn't automatically imply it's a bad story); "I don't think I can sell this, even though it's good"; "this is too long/short"; "I like this but I just took on a vampire novel." etc. All of those could easily get the same form rejection.

BuffySquirrel said...

It means NO. All else is speculation.

Eileen said...

I'm not sure it matters what it means. If you ask someone out and they tell you no, does it really matter why? Move on, send on. If everyone says no, then you know- it's you.

Anonymous said...

I once heard rejection letters called negative marketing reports. Sorta like if you are selling apples but what is being bought is oranges. It doesn't mean your apples are bad, just not what the buyer wants.

Seems to make sense...but, no matter what you call them, they sure aren't fun.

Heidi said...

Two Items from Her Grace:

1. Never ever make the assumption that a rejection translates to "You suck as a writer." That's amateur thinking.

Agents, for the most part, are professionals. It is unprofessional to accuse you, dear writer, as being bad. Therefore, an agent's rejection letter is saying, "This query/synop/partial/book sucks." It is not a reflection on you, but your work. A professional writer needs to realise and accept the difference.

Writers improve. The more they write, the better they get. That is why it's unfair to say a writer sucks when it is merely the writing that sucks.

Remember, every single published writer was rejected at one time or another.

2. Rejectomancy time.

"We read Novel X with interest, but after reviewing it carefully, have decided to pass. Thank you for thinking of our agency and please keep us in mind for future projects."

First level analysis:
The book caught their interest for a reason. Because of that reason, they are willing to look at other projects. This book didn't sell.

Second level analysis:
Something about this book, plot, characters, marketability, doesn't suit. Something not unique to the book, your writing style, your voice, did suit.

If they loved your voice but hated the story, if you send them a different story in your same voice, especially a story that suits better than the first, you may have a winner.

It would be nice if agents, as a practice, told us what they liked about our works so that we could repeat those good things we do.

Beth said...

Heidi, Thanks. :) Very interesting analysis. If I had to guess, I suspect that what didn't suit about the book was its size and complexity. Perhaps. Who knows. We move on and keep writing.

Shadow said...

Having recently gotten into the publishing side of the business, ie, reading submissions and sending out those dreaded rejections, there's something I'd like to point out.

I haven't yet become so overwhelmed with submissions that I've given in to full-fledged form letters (I still type your name and address), but I've developed stock phrases for the opening and closing while trying to provide some level of critique in the middle.

When the writing is good but not what I'm looking for, this paragraph is easy. When it's really close to what I'm looking for I add "Please feel free to send more."

The problem is when it's awful. Under the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything" principle, I don't say anything. Doesn't make me feel great to receive them, knowing what I now know. Good thing I have a satisfying day job.

Lizzy said...

The "not right for me" response means only one thing--"meh." Let us explore a few more examples of this extraordinary and multi-faceted word:

A. Would you like to read my manuscript? It's the first draft of my first book. It's about a talking poodle with a pink hat and his selfless search for a feisty young nanny goat who gets sucked through a portal into Rabbitanea.
B. Meh.

A. Well, do you at least like my drunken unicorn stationary? It's scented like gin.
B. Meh.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Snort,

Your comment about J.K. Rowling is incorrect.

She is with Christopher Little, an established and well-respected agent.

Mr. Snort said...

In reply to Anonymous,
I was referring to the publisher whi IS in fact Raincoast books. I'm sure her agent is just fine. But I can bet there are a lot of agents and editors out there who are kicking themselves for passing her over who sent very nice form letters. I know one at Penguin for certain. If you know exact details, please...do tell. I'm sure we'd all be interested.