• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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When You Think You’ve Had Too Much of This Life

Hi Betsy,

I know I already wrote you, but I just had to share. It’s the kind of feedback (below) that makes me want to punch an agent in the face and slit my wrist.

“Thanks for sending this my way. It’s a terrific concept. Well written and very funny.

However, in the end, I just didn’t fall in love with it as much as I would have hoped.”

Is it me? Or is that not the most condescending way to reject someone? I’ve heard the same thing from guys I’ve dated. Aaaaaaaarg!


Dear Dejected:

You may have joined this blog only recently and are not aware of the Asshole File. This is a file I created (and, yes, I have a label-maker) when I became an agent and found myself on the receiving end of many editorial rejections. I needed, quite literally, a place to put these missives, some masturbatory, some sadistic, some just plain stupid. So when someone says, you give good head but I’m not in love, I just say yeah, whatevs.

There is a famous book called Getting to Yes. I’ve never read it but I felt the title was help enough. Being an agent is all about getting to yes. I haven’t put a letter in the A-hole file for a couple of years, not because there haven’t been worthy letters, but because they no longer bother me. Some of the best books I’ve worked on (critically and commercially) were rejected by more people than I care to count. Believe in your work, stay in the game, don’t quit, and especially don’t give a shit when someone says they’re not in love.

If you can improve your work, improve it. If you would benefit from workshopping, hiring an editor, etc. do it. This is your CAREER, your LIFE, YOUR LOVE. Do everything you can, but don’t take these letters too seriously unless they have SPECIFIC comments. Don’t kid yourself that it’s a close call. It ain’t. All the flattery in the world followed by any of publishing’s euphemisms for no (not right for our list, not my cup of chai latte, didn’t fall in love, should be a magazine article, etc.) is meaningless.

One guy I dated, upon breaking up with me, announced that he was only really interested in my father’s lumber yard. Any good rejection stories out there?

48 Responses

  1. When the last guy I dated broke up with me, he told me that he hoped that when I did get married, I’d at least consider him a good enough friend to invite him to the wedding.

    He remains at the top of the asshole list of boyfriends.

  2. “Very appealing, well-paced and polished… wishing you success… I’ll be looking for [your novel] in the bookstores in the near future.”

    I’ll be sure to sign your copy.

  3. I just have to say: what’s up with this “fall in love” shit in rejection letters. You wanna know what I love? Professional distance.

  4. “Our editorial board loved your fantasy’s uniqueness, but that’s also the problem: our marketing department could think of no other book to compare it to in their promotion; and since you’re a nobody, you can’t be marketed outside an established niche. Only name authors can successfully create new niches.”
    (This same basic spiel from two houses that both claimed to always be on the lookout for originality).
    Editorial board: yes
    Marketing: no.
    Mrketing won.

  5. May I pipe up in defense of love? I’m tempted to start by saying I’m sorry – because apologizing is my core strength – to admit that I sometimes say I didn’t fall in love when I pass on something. But I’m not sorry! And here’s why. First, it’s the truth. And who wants an editor who doesn’t truly love her book? (Well: Susan, that’s who.) And second, I hope it will remind the author that editorial reactions are subjective and personal; I say it, much as Dejected’s correspondent did, when I can see that the book has merit and is worthwhile, but I’m not connecting with it as a reader or editor. If I’m feeling extremely generous, I might volunteer the name of a book (or three) I also didn’t love, which went on to become a huge bestseller, to further prove my point. I hardly ever feel that generous.

    I know it’s no fun to get rejected but to me the “didn’t fall in love” disclaimer is a way to say, as Betsy advises above, don’t take my word for it, and keep at it.


    • I’m with Susan. In fact, for a moment I wondered if I’d written her comment in some sort of fugue state. I don’t give a shit if my agent or editor loves my work. *I* don’t love my work. My work isn’t that good. (Neither is anyone else’s. I just started Lorrie Moore’s latest and it’s an embarrassment. And Bolano needs a team of editors standing around his manuscript wearing surgical masks and barking ‘clamp!’ and ‘suction!’ at each other.) I just want my agent to sell my work and my editor to buy my work, and my bank to honor the check.

      Maybe you’re talking about something different, some other kind of love. Some editorial love like ‘Oh, I love this, maybe I’ll get $15,000 for it and then watch it wither on the vine.’ But you’re talking to writers. If a writer hears ‘love,’ we don’t think ‘when you wake up I’ll be gone.’ We think, ‘for ever and ever, and I will call Suzy in marketing in the middle of the night at her home and shriek at her if she fucks you, and I’ll beat the art department to death for screwing your cover and I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail–happy because I know I did everything possible to make Chippy Chipmunk’s Day at the Circus a success.’ Because, you know, when I say I don’t give a shit if my agent or editor loves my stuff, what that means is, unless they’re willing to tear both of Keith Kahla’s lungs from his chest cavity with their bare hands, they can’t possibly love me enough. One lung is a fucking -insult.-

      Did I say love ‘me’? I meant ‘love my manuscript.’ Honest.

      Dejected’s problem isn’t that she resents the ‘I didn’t fall in love’ excuse; her problem is if she’d adore an agent who *did* fall in love. You’ve gotta go all-in, one way or the other. Either love and adore all the agents and editors and readers–those who love your stuff and those who hate it–or resent and despise them all. Trying to draw a line down the middle is an ulcer. You’ll spend half your life trying to figure which side of the line an anonymous Amazon commenter falls on for giving you three stars but saying, ‘This really deserves three-and-a-half.’

      The rejection that pissed me off most was when Kensington offered $3,000. I hate them even more than I hate the ones who offered me nothing.

    • Reagan, since you called me by name:

      “And who wants an editor who doesn’t truly love her book? (Well: Susan, that’s who.) ”

      In response, I’m pasting a quote from a recent New York Times Health and Wellness posting by Tara Parker-Pope:

      “One of the most intriguing findings is that if you talk to people who disagree with you, that helps your brain wake up and refine your arguments and shake up the cognitive egg, which is what you want to do.”

      So there, we are both smarter for our disagreement.

      …and, August, you ARE that good!

    • Agree Reagan. And btw you give good rejection. Pretty sure I’m not the only one around here who knows first hand…

  6. First of all, I am almost too busy cracking up at the “I didn’t read it”. Secondly, my best(?)/worst(?) rejection is a choice between: “Despite the many gems here, it just didn’t speak to me” and “I’m intrigued but don’t think I could sell it”. Now that’s not quite A-hole file material because they pretty much do say something I can understand…but everything else starts with Dear Author.

  7. I’m with you, Reagan. (In fact, if you’re Reagan Arthur, I think you might not have fallen in love with a book of mine you considered…which I’m OK with!)

    Don’t we writers have exactly the same feelings about the books we read? There are some we fall in love with, and some we find decent enough in their execution — and perhaps even enjoy — but that just don’t pop our cork or resonate with us in the same way?

    Having gotten the “just didn’t fall in love with it” rejection plenty of times, I know how infuriating it can be. But I don’t think it’s condescension. I think it’s honest — and, as such, entirely fair. Editors can — and should — take on only the projects they truly believe in.

  8. Rejection is a kind of protection. So glad I am not still with my first husband, who, after I discovered his affair with a family friend, said, “Don’t say anything to her about it. She’s not as strong as you are.” And I’m not as stupid about love as I used to be, or talent. If it’s good and strong it will survive the refusal.

  9. I’ve received the “didn’t fall in love” rejection a few times, too. Guess that’s the new fad–I think I prefer the one I used to send writers (“not quite right for our list at this time”)…

    My least favorite rejections are fulls rejected within 24 hours. I work myself into a frenzy fixing this and that before submitting, and then boom…my fantasy that the agent will love it madly is over so fast. When I worked in publishing I held rejection letters two weeks so writers wouldn’t get their feelings hurt so badly…ie, by getting rejected in return mail (ouch).

  10. I think most agents/editors try to reject authors without breaking their spirits. If they don’t love it, if it’s not right for them, if it’s too quiet, etc. it’s better than my favorite horrible rejection — a big red NO! scribbled across my query letter.

    I want my agent and editors to love my books. Agents don’t give up on books they love until they’ve approached every single editor possible. Editors who love manuscripts work hundreds of hours making those stories even better.

    The editor for my just-released novel was the amazing Melanie Kroupa. She loved the manuscript and worked with me through four extensive revisions. It’s full of what I call “Melanies” and so much better because of all the hard work she put into it. The whole time she was working her magic, she made me feel as though I actually knew things and I truly love her for it. Love is all you need!

  11. An agent’s relationship to a manuscript is not equal to a reader’s relationship with it, so an agent can not get away with giving a writer her “readerly” assessment of it.

    The same way that I, as a decorative arts appraiser, can not get away with telling someone that I don’t “love” her Russian malachite tea table; that’s my personal opinion, but the truth is that in spite of the fact that I think malachite is very vulgar and anything made of it is too hideous to have in my house, there’s a very strong market for Russian malachite doo dads and as a professional I am obligated to tell my client what the thing is worth (even though I’m also dying to tell her that people who buy malachite don’t have very good taste).

    So an agent who tells a writer that she “didn’t fall in love” with the ms. is giving a personal opinion, and that’s unprofessional. And, even more annoying, it’s a useless, stupid, passive-aggresive opinon: there is no information in the words “I didn’t fall in love with it.” Aren’t agents, even as tangential members of the literary community, supposed to be more articulate than that? And be able to write sentences that actually communicate info? Instead of euphemism?

    Speaking of that, when a client brings me a piece of shit heirloom that is both ugly and worthless, I gush over it tell them that the piece is so very charming ! And it’s to bad that it’s undervalued in today’s market! Although I have lost my patience with spinning wheels: there are a LOT of people who have their great-grandmother’s spinning wheel sitting in their attic, just waiting for the day when it becomes worth a pile of money. I find it hard to be nice to those people.

  12. You will flick off rejections like so much dandruff.

    And when you finally do land an agent and your book goes on to the NYT list and foreign rights are sold all over the place and you get notes from readers whose lives you made a little easier, you will sing the nah nah song. Believe me. I am hoarse.

  13. My rejections weren’t in publishing but in Academia. I tried for many years to land a full time college teaching job.

    Just as a poet/writer might wallpaper their bathroom with their letters, I turned the rejection letters back on themselves by using them as part of my art, collaging my self-rejected ‘bad’ photographs on top of the letters, leaving still viewable certain words and phrases from the letters.

    You can see them here if you would like. http://flickr.com/gp/digioreo/70419m

  14. If you can’t deal with rejection: take Prozac; stop writing (Prozac makes you too mellow and thus do not write murder mysteries); read Moby-Dick at least once a year (whether you’re a romance writer or not); love your dog; eat lots of fruit.

    • Whoah there, Lyn. I hope you were being tongue in cheek with the antidepressant remark? For those of us who have serious, clinical depression, if it weren’t for Prozac (or the like) we wouldn’t be well enough to write at all. And believe me, that stuff doesn’t make writing (or taking rejection) any easier.

  15. Of course it was tongue and cheek….as in satire…a form of writing lost to this world…unfortunately….unless you’re Jon Stewart and I do not recommend that the Irish eat their babies, Mr. Swift.

    • Hey, I love satire. But “prozac makes you too mellow” and the rest of your post *didn’t* particularly sound like satire. (Except perhaps the fruit part.) Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  16. I wish I had time to write a detailed reply about wanting an editor to fall in love with my novel like my agent did but I’m so in love with my work in process, I have to get to that.

    Money: wouldn’t turn it down. Love: can’t live without it.

  17. I find “I didn’t love it” to be a perfectly legitimate rejection. It means, “Yeah, it’s competent, but… I could put it down. It didn’t make me excited about literature again. I see your skill, but I don’t care what happens to your characters. But my not liking it only means so much — I’ve seen books I’ve hated sell for 6 figures. 7, even. But without that passion, I don’t want to take the risk of wasting many many hours on a book that might not ever sell. ”

    I’ll tell you what rejections I’ve hated: the devastatingly true ones that knocked my ego back to middle school.

  18. I’m shy. In college I tried to overcome hiding behind my hair and pretending to be invisible by actually speaking to people.
    At that point I had never really had a boyfriend as that involved speaking and/or leaving my apartment outside of going to school. Near the end of the semester I worked up the nerve to ask out a cute boy in my history of music class. I felt safe in doing so as he always sat by me and would ask to copy my notes whenever he ditched.

    Here’s the actual conversation:

    Hiding behind hair: Um. So do you want to grab a cup of coffee sometime after class?
    Cute boy: *snorts* No.
    Hiding behind hair: Oh. I don’t really like coffee anyway.

    At this point in my life coffee was the only thing I loved. I still don’t know why I said I didn’t like coffee, I was even gripping a thermos full of the stuff when this transpired. Looking back it wasn’t that bad, but that’s only because I’m a writer now and I know the true meaning of rejection.

  19. That guy who was only interested in your lumber yard–what, exactly did he have a woody for? The pine, the tiger maple, the oak?

    • I’m pretty sure that ‘lumber yard’ is a euphemism. God knows I’ve been interested in my mother-in-law’s ‘medicine drawer’ for years.

  20. Having been on both sides of the fence here (trying to get my book bought and working as a publicist on books that have already been bought’n) I can appreciate the importance of having the ‘love’. The editor chose the book and in all likelihood the others in the house who are going to be slaving away on it (ahem, junior publicists) didn’t have a say in that. You brung him to the party so you’ve got to tell me why I should dance with him, Miss Editor. If the editor can’t make a passionate case for the book why should anyone else in house care?

    One of my hardest rejections was a big shot editor who told my agent that she thought I was talented and part of her hoped that the we found the book a good home but part of her hoped that I’d put this in a drawer and write a better book to sell as my first. Had that painful ring of truth to it.

  21. Some years ago, my historical novel was rejected by a major publisher in a letter that began, “Thank you for your cookbook idea.”

  22. I can honestly say that in all my years of querying, only ONE agent was really an asshole to me. Just absolutely vicious. And he didn’t just send me one rejection; he thought about it for a little while and sent me a second one that was even more horrible! But when it’s just the typical “I didn’t fall in love” rejection– God, that doesn’t faze me a bit anymore. And it sure doesn’t fall under my definition of “asshole.”

  23. One month after pub of my debut novel, all I can say is, you want people who love your book. Yes, love is relevant. You want an agent who loves it so he can get everyone pumped up and get you an amazing deal. You want an editor who loves it so she can get the whole house pumped up about it at sales conference. You want a publicist who loves it so he will go the extra mile for you, and you want all three of them to love it so when you get a shitty review in the NYTBR (don’t ask me how I know this; or maybe you already know) they will be more upset than you are, and continue to believe in your book anyway.

    Trust me, love is worth waiting for. And I got dozens of those “you’re so talented, didn’t fall in love with it” rejections before I Got To Yes.

  24. Dear Dejected:

    You’re reading way too much into this. No means no, and anything else they say in those messages is just trying to let you down gently.

    At least the agent/editor wrote you back and gave you closure. I recently got a rejection from an editor who requested a full. Her rejection, including her name and mine, totaled 101 characters.

    Of course I didn’t like it, but it’s still better than the two agents who told me nothing. After three e-mails each.

  25. Wow, at least all you writers have received rejections which means you’ve submitted.

    I haven’t done that yet so I guess it means I’ve rejected myself!

    Now, that’s harsh. 🙂

    • Get on it Marisa. Rejection sucks but it gives you a nice gritty, self-righteous feeling of authenticity. Plus I think being able to say ‘fuck the man!’ beats having to say ‘fuck me!’.

  26. Funniest two rejections lines I received:

    1) “Great book, but I’m so done with books about abuse”
    Okay, clearly THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS wasn’t her cuppa.

    2) “I would have jumped on this book two years ago.”
    I still can’t wrap my mind around that one. Because two years ago . . . .???? She was less successful? Like her compadre above, she used to be into abuse and then . . . lost it?

    You do want your agent and editor to feel passionate about your book. One can admire a piece of work (art, prose) and still feel cool towards it. We’ve all had the experience of reading a critically acclaimed book and wondering what the fuss it about, right? Every pot has a cover, but a cover doesn’t match every pot.

  27. So… this has nothing to do with anything, but I was wondering if anyone else has ever noticed the happy face on the top right of the page in the gray space near “Ask a Question.”

    I think it’s rather cheerful.

  28. How’s this for a cutting rejection: “This ms has no artistic value whatsoever.” That’s a true story. The ms went on to be published by Viking, paper by Penguin. UNCOMMON GENIUS: HOW GREAT IDEAS ARE BORN. Still in print and earning royalties and fan mail twenty years later — so there!

  29. My soul, it withers.

    Does this mean I have to go obliterate my journal where I proclaimed your rejection the nicest ever? Re-name my cat? Get the tattoo lasered away? How inconvenient.

    The good, the bad, the ugly they all contribute their own kind of motivation.

  30. I agree with Bonnie, Johno and the others who think this was just an agent making a small attempt to cushion the blow slightly. She didn’t like it enough to buy it or to spend time analyzing it and offering specific critiques.

    • Every since you wrote, in a long-dead thread, that you found your name in comments via Google alerts (or something), which was why you were finally responding, I’ve been resisting the urge to see if I can summon you to various corners of the net. “Nothing up my sleeves. Now watch as I make Dave Cullen appear!”

      I really need a hobby.

  31. enough of this bantering about rejection. From the male perspective just put me into the Asshole file, but let’s first discuss this ‘giving good head without love’ concept. LOL.

    My norm was receiving a form rejection for someone else, and then the follow up apology but still saying they rejected me, whatever I had sent them.

  32. I once received a rejection (with the full ms included) for a 400-page gay erotic novel.

    I’d submitted a query for a middle-grade novel (my rejection was in his box, too).

    I emailed the gay erotic author to let him know about the rejection. He wrote back and asked me if I’d read his ms and offer feedback. Little did he know that he was asking an old lady with a medicare card who once received an obscene phone call and had to ask her husband what the guy on the other end of the line wanted her to do to him.

  33. […] This is not our usual rejection.” Oh. That was true. Bubble popped but truth shone on me. Here’s more of the same blunt advice, as told by Betsy Lerner, literary agent. A rejection is a rejection is a […]

  34. What if one of the reported 38 or so editors who passed on GONE WITH THE WIND had come to the editorial board and said, “Look, I don’t ‘love’ this book because I don’t give a flying fuck about the Civil War. But I gotta tell ya this thing is gonna be huge, so we better buy it.” That editor would be in a Hall of Fame somewhere.

    Who gives a shit if an editor “just loves” a book. What’s important is will the reading public “just love” it. An editor’s job is to make an accurate assessment on the question, “Is there a market for this book?” If the answer is yes, then get off your ass and sell the book.

    I hold this queazy feeling that the “Just didn’t speak to me” and “Just didn’t love it” rejections come from twenty-something’s with the ink still drying on their English Comp/ Journalism diplomas.

  35. London agent Faith Evans recently spoke about query letters and submissions to agents at Winchester University – she was clear that agents are not running a public service. Her bottom line – don’t read a rejection as anything other than a rejection, no matter how it’s worded. You can see more at:


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