Okay, so I received this response from an agent, which came in less than 24 hours of having sent a query and 5 pages of my memoir to her.
"Many thanks for querying me. This certainly sounds like an interesting premise for a book, but I'm sorry to say it's not quite right for my list at this time. I appreciate your trying me though and hope you find the right home for your work very soon. Please feel free to try one of my colleagues with your project."
Thrilling-until I read it was "not right for her list at this time". I've heard this a few times. Would you please explain what that means? How does a book not fit a list? Does she mean maybe later she would be interested?
Also, she suggests I try one of her colleagues. Upon checking the company website, I see no one else lists memoirs as a genre they represent. Why would she say this? Or...maybe this is a canned response?
First, don't read anything more into the speed of the reply than you just queried when she was working through her inbox.. I've replied to people within MINUTES and it was for both positive and negative outcomes.
And yes, this is a form rejection.
But as to your question, what does "not right for her list at this time" mean: you have a list too. It's all the books you own. My guess is you probably own quite a few. But you don't own every book you've ever looked at or heard about. You probably don't even own every book you've thought "hmmm...sounds good" when you read about it or saw it.
Same with my list which in this case is novels I've asked to represent. Some novels appeal to me. Some don't. That really doesn't have a strong correlation with "good" or "publishable." I have some VERY good novels on my list that haven't found a home. I've seen some novels published (not mine of course) that I thought were dreck. And I haven't taken on every novel that sounded good in my incoming queries either.
What you don't know from this response is whether the book isn't appealing to her, or you've got a query that doesn't do its job. Make sure your query has enough of the plot (YES you need a plot in a memoir!) to be enticing, and you haven't described your female characters as blond bombshells, or feisty (or other gender specific words that annoy the snot out of us right now). A quick trip through QueryShark might help if you haven't been there before.
And I will say this: memoir is very tricky. It's a crowded category and the competition isn't diminishing. The biggest problems I see with memoir queries is what they don't have: significance for the reader. An interesting life doesn't always make an interesting story. You need a third act, and you particularly need it if you're not famous.
We've talked about memoir here a couple of times.
A general post on querying memoir
A post on what to leave out of a memoir
A longish post on significance and platform (yes, platform helps in a memoir)
This might be a good time to invest in a writing conference as well. A chance to actually talk to an agent may help you identify some problems you don't see, or get insight into what's not working in your query or project.