It’s Not You, It’s Me

I will admit that lately I’ve been struggling with something: rejections. And I don’t mean mine; I mean yours.

Of course, I don’t mean yours in particular; I mean yours in general.

I think a lot of writers like to imagine agents and editors sitting in their ivory towers denying or rejecting prospective projects with fiendish glee. If only it were so. If I could reject with fiendish glee, I would, it would make my job so much easier. Instead, I tend to reject with reluctant trepidation.

I hate rejecting things. (Except perhaps unwanted romantic overtures.) I hate feeling like I’ve brutally ripped out the hearts of people striving to have their voices heard and published. I hate saying no because I genuinely want to say yes. But if we’re going to take this whole rejection thing to the Romantic Metaphor place, trying to find a book you love is a lot like dating.

Now, despite my disavowal of FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS, I truly am a romantic at heart. I want to believe! I want to fall in love, and when I mean “in love”, I mean an earth-shattering, soul-shaking, star-moving sort of love. I don’t believe in settling and I’m perfectly willing to wait if I don’t feel like something is “just right”. Yet somehow, I find it is easier to reject people than it is to reject books. (I don’t know what this says about me. Scratch that, I do know what it says about me, but prefer not to overthink it. :))

And just like dating, sometimes books are fantastic for you on paper. It contains all the things you like: good writing, similar interests (no vampires for me, thanks), intelligent characters, but sometimes, you just don’t feel that spark. That special something. That divine thunderclap and Frank Sinatra’s “It Had To Be You” playing inexplicably somewhere in the background. And these are the worst sort of rejections to write because I, in effect, have to write the dreaded “It’s Not You; It’s Me” letter.

Elie Wiesel once said “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” When it comes books, this aphorism couldn’t be any truer. It’s easier to hate books than to feel indifferent about them; at least when you dislike something, there’s usually a concrete reason why. And then you feel justified in rejecting said book. “Ugh, he talks with his mouth full” or “She just won’t stop talking about herself.” It’s even easier to reject books in which you can see a lot of potential, but know that the timing isn’t quite right. “You’re a wonderful person, but I’m not sure we’re ready to be in a relationship right now.”

But the absolute worst is when you have to turn down a perfectly nice project because you just don’t love it. “I like you, but I’m afraid I can’t give you anything more than that. No I promise there’s nothing wrong with you! It’s not you; it’s me.” I’m looking to bring a project home to meet my parents (i.e. editorial board), and if I can’t muster anything more than lukewarm enthusiasm for it, it’s unlikely my publishing parents will see their future book-in-law in the project either.

I know no one likes getting the “It’s not for me” rejection. I also hate giving it, mostly because I generally want to be as helpful and as specific as possible when it comes to rejections. But sometimes, the chemistry just isn’t there and it isn’t the book’s problem; it’s the editor’s.

What about the rest of you? Do you hate the “It’s not for me” rejection as much as I do?


10 Responses to It’s Not You, It’s Me

  1. Liana Brooks Aug 28 2012 at 8:32 am #

    I suppose sending a Sinatra CD doesn’t improve my chances, does it? It would probably break the No Attachment rule.

  2. Tiffany Reisz Aug 28 2012 at 8:49 am #

    I get it. I’ve gotten rejections from editors who simply didn’t fall in love with THE SIREN when they read it. And didn’t want them to be my editor just because they thought they could change it to make it more love-able. We found the right editor who accepted the book as it was with only the most minor of edits, and now we’re happy together forever! Just the same way an editor doesn’t want to be in a relationship with a book they only feel Meh about, a writer doesn’t want an editor who is indifferent, or worse, wants to make major changes. You don’t want your boyfriend trying to change you to make you love-able anymore than you want an editor trying to rewrite your book for you.

    Great post!
    Tiffany Reisz

  3. Charley Aug 28 2012 at 11:04 am #

    But, but, I wanted to make an unwanted romantic overture, so you could feel good about rejection. (heh, heh)

    I’ve actually gotten some helpful personalized rejections, some leading to improvements, some telling me we’re just not a match, as you say. Too bad agents don’t have time for such very often.

    Sounds like rejections are the most painful part of the job. Good luck!

  4. Jen McAndrews Aug 28 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    I really dislike receiving these rejections, but mostly because there’s nothing I can *do* about that. I can’t sharpen the dialogue or deepen the setting or a million other things. It’s the not being able to “fix the problem” that makes me crazy. But I do wholly understand “it’s not you” passes, so that balances it out.
    Now off to hum Sinatra tunes while editing….

  5. Alexa (Loves Books) Aug 28 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    That really must be a difficult position to be in, but I think I can definitely understand why that would happen. It’s a common enough feeling, and I feel like I would also have a difficult time with it if I were in your position.

  6. JQ Trotter Aug 28 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    Personally, I don’t mind the “it’s not you, it’s me” rejections that much. Because it means there’s a story there and one good enough to get some attention, it’s just I haven’t found the right literary agent yet. I don’t mind form rejections, either. I’d say the general no response at all that equals a rejection are the ones that bother me the most. But even then, I understand. Literary agents/editors get so many query letters/partials/etc that it probably would be impossible to reply to everything, even with a standard form rejection. I just don’t take the whole process personally, it’d be emotionally draining if I did.

  7. Heather Marsten Aug 28 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Nice analogy – Sad but true, I imagine it’s hard to push a book to an editor unless you’ve fallen in love with it.

  8. Matt Nov 18 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    Hi JJ,
    I found your article really helpful in terms of accepting rejections. I’ve worked hard on my query letter revising it multiple times after taking note of all of the tips on line . I’ve had my first chapters proof read by people who don’t even like my genre but have said that it is entertaining and easy to read, yet the form rejections keep coming. I’ve driven myself crazy thinking about what might be wrong with my material. The reality is that my story probably just hasn’t found its agent soul mate yet. 🙂

  9. microsoftwin7keygen Jul 31 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    Not only will the retiree feel less wary about retirement, he/she will focus more on the people who kept him happy on that bitter-sweet day, especially the one who gave him that weird pink wig..

  10. Lynn Varon Dec 27 2021 at 3:09 pm #

    As a magazine editor, I accepted freelance articles that weren’t well written because the content was interesting and I needed the material to fill out a 112-page monthly. I proceeded to rewrite them to my standards. Nobody wants that kind of editorial high-handedness for their book project. Discouraging as it is, the editor who knows they’re not the right person to edit the book is doing right by the writer. Hang in there!

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