Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 25, 2009

Interpreting Rejection Letters

Melanie Cecka, Publishing Director at Bloomsbury USA and Walker Children’s Bookshas talked about translating “editor speak” in rejection letters. Here are some she listed:

When an editor says… they may mean…

On theme:

“Didactic” or “heavy-handed”= Lesson, message, or moral-driven story.

“Lacks staying power” or “may not endure”= May not be the kind of story a child will ask to hear or want to read again.

On plot:

“Slight” or “thin”= Not enough going on. Premise seems to weak to build a story around.

“Predictable”= Reader knows from start to finish what to expect of the story.

“Too wordy” or “too long”= Story takes too long to read; young listeners may lose interest along the way. May also indicate that descriptions are drowning out the flow of the story.

“Slow-paced”= Story drags, or takes too long to get where it’s going.

“Sentimental”- May reflect an author’s interest in their own childhood experiences or views. Stories may be thinly cloaked memoirs.

“Quiet”= Not enough happens.

“Formulaic”= Pat story, typecast or stereotyped characters, and predictable turns of event.

“Familiar”= Too many competing books or similar stories.

“One-joke book”= Story that’s all about building to a punch-line, too dependent on a gag.

“Not compelling enough”= Lacks emotional resonance, doesn’t draw readers in or may not succeed in holding their attention. Not memorable.

On voice:

“Too sophisticated” or “not child-like enough”= Voice isn’t right for the age-level or experiences of the audience. Point of view may be that of the author/adult, rather than the child.

“Too coy,” “too cute,” “too precious,” or “too sweet”= May inadvertently insult readers by dummying-down to the intended age level.

“Doesn’t engage”= Lacks tension or emotional quality that would draw the reader in and hold their interest.

“Not believable” or “not credible”= Reflects thoughts or ideas that appear to come from someone other than the character (usually the author/adult).

On style:

“Forced,” “contrived,” or “strained”= Writing doesn’t feel natural; personification may be a reach.

“Stilted” or “awkward”= In picture books, often seen in rhymed verse. In older fiction, might be the author’s phrasing or dialogue.

On character:

“Characters are flat,” “one-dimensional,” “stock,” or stereotyped= Characterizations aren’t believable, aren’t fresh. Author relies on standard personality types and descriptions.

“Not well-rounded” or “not fully fleshed out”= Characterizations lack development.

On audience:

“Audience is unclear”= Subject may not be aimed at the right age or grade level.

“Audience isn’t big enough”= Subject matter has limited or not enough appeal.

On markets:

“Not right for our list”= Example, a science fiction novel pitched to an editor who publishes only non-fiction. May also be a polite catch-all for manuscripts that just don’t measure up to house standards.

“Better as a magazine article”= Good premise, but not strong enough to support an entire book.


“Just don’t love it enough”= Doesn’t appeal to an editor’s personal tastes or area of expertise. (May be just right for another editor!)

Try revising your manuscript using these clues, and keep them in mind while writing and submitting future stories- especially if you get similar comments from more than one editor. so now that you have learned to crack the code of “editor-speak,” you can learn to welcome rejection letters as valuable feedback- really!

Hope you find this helpful.  Kathy


  1. Great Info, Kathy!




    • Anita,

      Thanks, I think we’ll talk about it in Toms River.



  2. I once got a rejection that stated my dialog was “inorganic.” Hmm, my dialog doesn’t pertain to living organisms? Got a chuckle out of that.


  3. This is wonderfully useful and I am going to ask Melanie’s permission, and yours, if I can quote from this. Can I quote from this if I cite the source?

    By the way, I am pretty sure Melanie is the Publisher of Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books.


    • I would love that. I am just trying to help writers in their quest for better books and publication.

      I had checked Publishers Marketplace and they had her listed as editor, but I just did some further checking and it looks like she is Publishing Director. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Any chance you would like to do something with the New Jersey SCBWI chapter?



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