Those Dreaded Words: “Not for Me”

By Beth Burgmeyer

I recently entered Pitch Wars, a contest put on by Brenda Drake I wasn’t selected by any of the five mentors I submitted to, but one of our other group members, Kamerhe, was. I’m thrilled for her because it could open some big doors for her in the publishing world.

Submitting to the mentors was a lot like submitting to agents. I sent my query letter and the first chapter of my manuscript and waited. At least the waiting period for Pitch Wars was much shorter than waiting to hear from an agent. The response I got back was similar to the response from agents. I never heard a word from two of the mentors. I honestly didn’t expect to hear from any of them because they received hundreds of entries. One mentor sent me a polite form rejection letter – the standard “Not for me” letter. Two mentors send me a very nice personalized rejection letter both saying similar things – they loved the premise and the writing but the word count was too long to work with within the 2 month time constraint of the contest.

So what does “Not for me” mean? I read a great blog post from Sarah Glenn Marsh about this topic:

Basically what Sarah Glenn Marsh says is: “Not for me” doesn’t necessarily mean “Not good enough.” She emphasizes how subjective the writing world is and how talented writers get many, many, many rejection letters. An agent can read a remarkable piece of writing, but if they don’t emotionally connect with it, they aren’t going to request a partial or full manuscript.

Yesterday, I had my own experience with this concept. I’m heading off to a big national writers’ conference where writers can sign up for critique groups led be agents. We all receive each other’s pages ahead of time so we can critique them before the conference. The first two submissions I read were equally well written. Both pieces were polished and well written with no major problems with character or plot. In short, both writers knew what they were doing and were strong writers. Yet, as a reader, I completely connected with one piece while I didn’t connect at all with the other piece. I can’t even tell you why because it had nothing to do with the quality of writing. It just wasn’t for me.

So the next time you see the words “Not for me” from an agent or an editor or a contest, it doesn’t mean that your writing was lacking or that your story/characters weren’t compelling. It just means that the agent or editor didn’t connect with it on the level they needed to in order to represent it.

I’m preparing to start submitting one of my manuscripts this fall, so I’m fully prepared the read those dreaded words over and over again in my inbox. But now I have a broader perspective on what those words mean, which will hopefully take some of the sting out of them.

Beth Burgmeyer

4 thoughts on “Those Dreaded Words: “Not for Me”

  1. As an avid reader, I can relate to what you are saying. Something in the story touches me on a visceral, spiritual level or it doesn’t. In many ways shopping a manuscript is like buying a house. Many will pass it by failing to recognize it’s quirkiness, wit, and those intangibles that lead one into the heart of the story.

    Those who have labored to take an idea or concept and nurture it into a full fledged story may not recognize what they have accomplished. What you have done is important. You have given life and dimension to words on a page that lead the reader in a direction you chose for them to follow.

    Words have power. They have the capacity to lead, mentor, encourage or wound, discourage and destroy.

    I agree with you. Not for me does not equate to not for everyone. You are a very talented writer. Trust in the premise that your book has yet to find a home. It will. I believe that. I am patiently and eagerly awaiting your cover at my store. Until then, continue to love your craft and continue to spend time with your imaginary friends.

  2. Thank you for this, Beth! It’s kind of like interviewing for a job. Sometimes when you don’t get hired, it’s not because you aren’t qualified or have the right skills, it just doesn’t seem like the right fit. Can’t wait to hear what happens at the writers’ workshop! And I too am thrilled for Kamerhe and can’t wait to hear the details!

  3. Bunny, I love the analogy you used about buying a house. It’s so true. Thank you for your encouragement. The writing and publishing process is a long one, at least for me. I want my work to be as polished as possible before submitting it to agents (which means a lot of editing and rewriting). Sometimes the search for agents can take as long, or longer, than writing the manuscript.

  4. Erin, trying to find an agent is very much like trying to find a job. As a writer, you’re usually one of about several hundred (or sometimes thousands) of applicants a month. The agent I met at the writing conference in Colorado told me she had close to a thousand queries in her inbox she needed to go through. No wonder agents say that they have to absolutely fall in love with a novel to take it on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *