Blog Post Image by Mary C. Moore

Examining the “I Just Didn’t Fall In Love” Rejection

As I gear up to open to submissions for the new year, I’m once again faced with the task of whittling down the remaining fulls in my query inbox. I’d love to get down to zero, a fresh start to 2020. I have less than ten manuscripts to consider. Should be easy right?

Wrong.

As the pile of “maybes” gets smaller, the harder it is to make decisions on what to let go. There’s the young adult thriller I’ve had since spring, in which, although the plot is a mess, I’m in love with the narrative voice. The contemporary middle grade that’s been there since late summer, with the amazing concept and natural tension, but rough writing. The adult fantasy, just requested before shutting down my inbox, that is totally epic and totally up my alley, but perhaps not enough to break out in the smaller SFF market. The interesting women’s fiction from early fall, with the really cool author with lots of great experience and a huge platform, that doesn’t quite catch, but maybe could with some edits.

I can’t take on all of them. But there isn’t a good reason to reject them. So I start typing those dreaded words, “I just didn’t fall in love,” cringing because after months of considering a full manuscript, I know the author is going to be frustrated by this lame response. Sure I try to dress it up best I can, but the bottom line, is “it’s not you, it’s me.” I’ve gotten plenty of those types of responses from editors to know that wrapping it in a pretty ribbon of words isn’t going to make the seemingly arbitrary rejection any less baffling and/or disheartening.

How can I explain myself, and my cohort of literary agents across the country, for sending rejections we ourselves dread to receive?

So I emphasize once again, how in tune I must be with a manuscript and its author. My vision for what editorial the manuscript needs and who the target audience is should be crystal clear. Knowing those two factors, I can lay a path forward for myself and the author. My vision has to be strong, because that path will most definitely veer and fork and turn on itself. This business is a roller coaster at best and a human-eating monster at worst. As one of my favorite lit peeps Literary Agent DongWon Song pointed out in a recent Writing Excuses podcost:

Now, the thing is, publishing is a system that is designed to be extremely random. What makes a book work is highly unpredictable. What makes a book tank, also highly unpredictable. So when you’re thinking about this, there’s two things you need to keep in mind: always have a plan. But also be ready to throw that plan out the window at the drop of a hat. . . . You will go completely mad if you try to map the whole thing. So you pick your path, but then you’re ready to know, we can pivot wherever we need to. 

https://wetranscripts.dreamwidth.org/166134.html

So when I’m reading a particularly strong submission, I’m considering the biggest factor that will push me to make an offer: Is my vision for it strong and clear enough to survive through the inevitable roller coaster?

The writing may be excellent, the author may be fantastic, the story may be right up my alley, but could I take it the distance? If I give it more time, will my vision potentially solidify or should I let it go now?

The next time an agent hangs on to your manuscript for months and then all you get is a “I just didn’t fall in love” rejection, pat yourself on the back, you’re rising to the top of hundreds of thousands of submissions. It’s only a matter of time before you find someone who will “fall in love.”

And in the meantime, remember, it really wasn’t you, it was me.

12 Comments

  • L. Ryan Storms

    January 12, 2020 at 6:21 pm Reply

    Oh, goodness. The timing of this post. Have you wiretapped my house? xoxo. Thank you for writing this and sharing it when you did. Right now, this is very much what I need.

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 14, 2020 at 9:09 am Reply

      🙂

  • Lynne Curry

    January 12, 2020 at 9:35 am Reply

    Hi, Mary, I really enjoyed this “just not for me” post, as I look for the “I LOVE it!” agent response.

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 12, 2020 at 3:59 pm Reply

      🙂

  • Emi Cohen

    January 11, 2020 at 6:39 pm Reply

    I love this post! The odd thing about any process that involves rejection is that getting close is often tougher than missing the mark completely. It reminds me of that scene from the 2011 Muppets movie when they’re trying to raise ten million dollars to save the show, and they’re a SINGLE penny short when the clock strikes midnight… but then one of the performers bumps into the money counter and reveals that there was actually supposed to be another decimal point in there the whole time. Someone on stage remarks that they feel much better knowing that small, objectively discouraging detail.

    Regardless of the logic (or illogic) behind that feeling, the deciding factors in publishing can’t be measured with a single number, which is simultaneously wonderful and frustrating. It’s a strange line to walk, but I’m glad I’m doing my best to keep walking it!

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 12, 2020 at 9:04 am Reply

      Happy to hear as we may be getting similar responses soon!!

  • Robert A Polk

    January 11, 2020 at 5:01 pm Reply

    Absolutely loved and needed this post. Thank you.

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 12, 2020 at 9:03 am Reply

      😊

  • Daniel L. Link

    January 11, 2020 at 4:13 pm Reply

    Loved this. We’ve all received different levels of rejections, and it’s easy to be crushed or sad or disappointed, but we don’t often think about it from the agent’s perspective. It’s nice to get a glimpse at what it looks like on the other side of the desk. Thanks.

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 12, 2020 at 9:03 am Reply

      So glad it made a difference!

  • Jan M. Flynn

    January 11, 2020 at 2:10 pm Reply

    HUGE thanks to you for sharing this! I have gotten the dreaded IJDFIL response from agents who have had my full for, yes, months (sometimes months and months) and it is indeed a tough pill to swallow. It really helps to hear the agent perspective on this, and just how tough your job is — which, however generous your love of literature and authors, depends on picking winners. I do appreciate the encouraging words: if I’m getting multiple requests for fulls, I’ve done something right, I guess. Just haven’t found the match made in publishing heaven yet 🙂

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 11, 2020 at 2:41 pm Reply

      So glad it helped!

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