I Just Didn’t Fall in Love

July 27, 2021 § 18 Comments

By Daien Guo

“I’m sorry. I just didn’t fall in love.”

The email landed in my inbox with a dull thud. I stared at the words over and over, hoping their meaning would change with each reading.

What about that first tentative sloppy kiss on the stoop of my graduate student apartment in Morningside Heights? Five years ago, when I still had long hair and I thought you were some surfer dude from California because of your sea-shell necklace and laid-back vibe? Then I learned you had graduated from Harvard with a degree in sociology. That shouldn’t impress me but it did.

Or the first time we traveled to Europe together, wandering through the streets of Milan giddily licking our second shared gelato of the day?

The weddings we went to in Napa, watching the sunset over the vineyards while clinking glasses swirling with amber chardonnay. The late-night check-in calls and texts. That time you bought me a pair of cashmere-lined leather gloves from Bloomingdales.

I’ll never forget the first time I met your sister at the family Thanksgiving. She gazed at me with her kind brown eyes and whispered conspiratorially, “He is my best friend.” I looked at you from across the room and our eyes briefly met – a zing of understanding and chemistry shooting across the family parlor like a superpower in a Marvel film. A superpower that I thought would last forever.  

I thought you would propose. I thought we would honeymoon in Lake Como. I thought our first-born child would have lovely warm brown eyes with flecks of grey, just like you and your sister.

Instead, you wrote to me in a freaking email, “I’m sorry. I just didn’t fall in love.”

I’m just kidding.

The email came from a literary agent, with whom I have no personal history.

I have always wondered when this phrase – I just didn’t fall in love – became a standard well-accepted way of politely rejecting querying writers? Why evoke such a crazy intense, intimate and emotional scenario when a more cool and objective one would suffice?

It might be kinder to just write dispassionately: “I don’t think your writing is good enough.” 

Or: “This book idea is boring.”

I’m no stranger to rejection letters. I’ve received them and I used to dole them out myself. Almost 20 years ago, when I was in college, I was a summer intern in the editorial department of Simon and Schuster. My cubicle was just outside the office of Alice Mayhew, a petite woman with a spritely gait that reminded me of my grandmother. She cracked pithy jokes with the gravelly voice of a life-long cigarette smoker, though I have no idea whether she smoked or not. Michael Korda with his British accent and bespoke three-piece suits was on the other end of the hallway. I wondered if they got along. They didn’t, people whispered. To my young eyes, both of them resembled eccentric elder relative characters out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. The hallway was lined with oversized posters of New York Times Book Review covers that spilled out of the available wall space in Alice’s office – she had a lot of books that made the cover. 

My main responsibility was to read the slush pile and draft rejection letters. I used my literary gifts, meager as they were, to imitate the rejection letter in the style of each editor along that corridor. The editors in the middle of the hallway had direct impersonal styles – “Thanks for your manuscript. I enjoyed reading it but this is not right for our list at this time.”

Michael Korda’s were succinct and dry. “I’m sorry, but this is not my cup of tea.”

I forget how many rejection letters I wrote/imitated that summer. I don’t recall ever saying that I “didn’t fall in love,” but perhaps I used the word “love” in more insidious and thoughtless yet well-intentioned ways.

As an aspiring writer myself, I tried to respect the slush pile, reading through the first few chapters and identifying something positive that I could put in the letter. I would write one or two sentences of praise – “I loved this character” or “I love your lyrical descriptions” – before getting to the apologetic rejection.

Now I’ve gotten those letters myself and they are the worst. “I loved your voice… I loved the concept…” Love. Love. Love. My eyes scroll down the email and the longer the compliments flow, the faster my heart sinks.

It’s like a man who – during a clammy humid night – confesses ardently that he loves your earlobes and your toes and that mole on your left hip. All the insignificant body parts. But he just doesn’t love you.

How can you use love as a verb if it all sputters into nothingness?    

Rejection will always hurt. It will always send writers into a whirlwind of doubt and despair. But I propose that we tamp down the emotion and take the “love” out of rejection.

There is only one scenario in which a literary agent should use the word “love” in an email to a writer. The template is below:

Dear Writer,

I just finished your book and I love it! Please let me know if you are available tomorrow to discuss representation.

____________________________________

Daien Guo is a writer based in Washington D.C. She has published her writing in Lunch Ticket, Show Us Your Wits, Furious Gravity: DC Women Writers, Little Patuxent Review, 3Elements Literary Review, and Columbia Journal of Asian Law.

§ 18 Responses to I Just Didn’t Fall in Love

  • Morgan Baker says:

    I LOVED this. I was hooked from the very beginning and love the comparison. Yes, you are correct- those rejections do sting and seem a bit full of air. Thanks for writing this on behalf of all writers who receive LOVING rejections.

  • Oh that kick in the gut feeling. The hope, the belief, the crushed heart. Truthful comparison from start to the end.

  • Love can be fleeting. It can be eternal. I choke on Hemingway. I think Steinbeck’s East of Eden speaks directly to the soul. Your piece on heartbreak is masterful. It speaks to something very complex in the human experience. At least half the time married love fails and those brown and gray eyed offspring are the children of divorce. Thanks for enhancing my day with the beauty of your thought and words.

  • elizabethgarberwriter says:

    I loved your essay! The plot twist was terrific. I had one of those boyfriends who didn’t love me enough, and I had one of those book rejections too.

    I saved one of my favorite “love” rejection letters.( Yes, I’ve kept it for 7 years, but who’s counting?)

    From the renowned Nan Graham at Scribners: “I didn’t love this book as much as I loved the Alex Styron memoir, and we didn’t sell that nearly as much as I had hoped!”
    Ah, that’s the pinch. Love and money!
    Yet I was thrilled that Nan Graham loved my book even through it wasn’t enough to take it.

    But in the end, the important thing is that I loved my book enough. I took it to the fabulous hybrid She Writes Press and they liked it, (I didn’t need them to love it!) and we brought out a beautiful edition that honors the work.

    Look forward to reading more of your essays!
    Elizabeth

  • Well, I can honestly say I did LOVE this. Great piece! And I agree. Mr./Ms. Rejecting Literary Agent, please don’t bring love into unless you really mean it!

  • khariselle says:

    This is an art piece. I must say very impressive

  • Jnana Hodson says:

    Once, I did get a rejection letter from a poetry editor who included a strip of shots she’d taken of herself in a photo booth. She was flashing herself, and that particular one remained memorable. As a male, at least, I found it amusing. (Had it been another male, we’d have a whole different discussion going here. Ahem.)
    I am grateful, though, that she didn’t use the line “I just didn’t fall in love.”

  • Olivia Ava says:

    Love this writing❤️😊

  • Let’s start by getting the word LOVE out of writers’ workshops , and demand that our readers devote comments to specific language that “works” and why it does, and identification of themes and conflicts,etc. . What an agent should say is, This book needs some revision to empower the writing,” or, “more and better transitions, or the real truth which is “I may be wrong, but I don’t think we can sell it to enough people to make a profit.”

    • Rasma Haidri says:

      Yes, be specific! You’d think editors and publishers would have grasped that basic rule. What does “fall in love” mean anyway? I don’t want someone to fall in love with reading my book. Falling in love is a fleeting infatuation. I want someone to gasp and bleed and roar and cry and hug their loved one when reading my book.

  • nathanaelslater says:

    A favorite rejection said “It’s just charming.” Description of Abc Dadb became “.. describes two girls exploring neatsi keeno places with their father, charm of that to be content, with conversation, at home.”

  • Rasma Haidri says:

    Love this:

    “How can you use love as a verb if it all sputters into nothingness?”

    The most helpful rejection I ever got was by the judge of a contest who placed my book as the runner-up, second-place loser. She told me which poems didn’t quite fulfill on their metaphor and what impact that had on the collection. She didn’t use the word “love” at all, but I knew she loved a lot of it or I wouldn’t have been runner-up. This judge told me what she looked for and didn’t find, and that’s the kind of rejection that encourages one to keep writing.

  • equipsblog says:

    Maybe the editor just was not into it.

  • Wondra Chang says:

    I enjoyed your post very much. Kim Davis who responded above is a small press publisher, Madville Publishing. She published my novel, SONJU. I researched the works she has published before submitting to her. I suggest that you check it out. Kim is great to work with. I wish you much success.

  • chill420xl says:

    I am in love with this piece.

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