Sunday, June 10, 2007

Learn to Speak Editor in Just One Week!

I got a rejection letter that said something like, "I like your manuscript, but you deserve someone who's more enthusiastic about it. Best wishes placing it at another publisher."
At this point, I don't care how enthusiastic the editor is! I just want the damn thing published. I kind of want to write back telling this person that if she likes it at all, that's good enough for me!
Do you guys want to take this, or shall I?
This is yet another reason to totally ignore rejection letters. You don't have to worry about getting slapped with the clue stick.

Editors are caught between people with delicate feelings who will be irate if we don't say things in the nicest, most circuitous way possible, and people who can't read between the lines when things are phrased that way. (Not to mention the people who have delicate feelings and can't read between the lines.) We try to take a middle road that is polite but clear, but no matter what we write, someone is going to be pissing cactus.

The sentiment expressed above is code for "I liked your manuscript, but not enough to spend hours upon hours of my time on it over the next year and a half."

Perhaps the readers of this blog could help me put together a little glossary of phrases editors use and what they really mean. Oh, this'll be fun. I know a bunch of you save your rejection letters, if only to scrape your boots on when you come into the house. Want to send me your favorite excerpts? I'll take submissions until the end of the day Friday. And it'll be so interesting to see what my counterparts are writing!


Anonymous said...

I used to write: 'I'm afraid it's not quite right for our current list.' What I meant was: 'It's not good enough for our list. And it never will be. (Sorry.)'

Anonymous said...

your [rollicking take on nuclear winter / prose poems about owl sex / didactic screed for toddlers] didn't work for me. Of course, this is a subjective opinion; doubtless, there are agents clamouring for just this sort of manuscript. I encourage you to query widely, and best of luck.

Anonymous said...

The phrase "That said," always means "and now that I've said something nice, here's the bad news . . ."

Anonymous said...

On a young PB: "I worry that literal-minded kids will find the dancing somewhat irresponsible."


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Someone once sent me this list of editorial rejection euphemisms:

o Not right for our list (get it out of here)
o Has pacing problems (boring)
o Exhaustive (academic/boring)
o Somewhat heavy handed (preachy)
o Not without charm (too precious)
o Nicely written but ultimately unsatisfying (plotless)
o Underdeveloped characters (totally stock)
o Nice sense of place (is this about anything?)
o Not enough tension (mind-numbingly slow)
o Feels familiar (yet another road-trip/coming-of-age/ugly-duckling/dysfunctional-family)
o Entertaining (overwritten)
o Crowded marketplace (not another!)
o Too special (it won't sell)

Karl said...

A simple 'not right for me,' is good enough. All those extra warm and fuzzies ring hollow to me. At the end of the day, no is no. And so is no.

Anonymous said...

It's a little silly, this time writers spend getting angry about the wording of rejections. The personal rejection is a wonderful gift -- if we keep whining -- we'll permanently change the industry so that form letters or nothing are the only feedback we'll get.

I view every rejection as proof that I am a writer. After all, it means that I'm submitting and there isn't a writer alive that hasn't experienced rejection.

"Thanks so much for being patient while I reviewed this novel. I've had a chance to read it and share it with another editor. Unfortunately, I don't think it's right for us. The subject matter was certainly intense and intriguing and the emotions the main character experienced were palpably painful. Even so, I didn't quite find myself immersed in the story as much as I had hoped."

rilla jaggia said...

Thanks Ann,
You're so right. Rejection is part of the game, and the more personalized and un-coded it is the better. I don't want my feelings mollycoddled. I want to know clearly the reason why it was rejected, because that's why I send it out -- to either have it accepted or if it is not acceptable to work on improving it until it is. And the clearer an editor is about the reasons for rejection, the easier it is for me to do my job of editing, refining, crafting and creating a piece that is ultimately something an editor will want to spend a year and a half on.
So, please, get rid of the code and tell it like it is, you wonderful editors, it can only result in your receiving more interesting slush.

Sylvia said...

it can only result in your receiving more interesting slush.

Well, or at least more interesting hate mail.

My most hated rejection ever although to be fair I sent in a comment (politely stating that this seemed not so much encouraging as condescending) and a later submission got a simple "Not for us, thanks anyway" response. Much nicer. :)

"As you may have noticed, this is a form rejection. While we would like to give personal responses to each submissions, it is not practical for us to do so at this time.

Please keep in mind this is not a statement about the quality of your submission. All this says (and we apologize for not being able to offer more) is this: your particular story is not for our particular publication, at this particular time.

Good luck placing your work elsewhere! Being an author is more a journey than a destination, and it's important to keep moving forward."

Anonymous said...

Hey Sylvia,
I got that same rejection letter. The good news is... I sold the manuscript to a bigger, better house. THEN!!!!! I sold the sequel. I'm now writing book #3!
I must mention the fact that I have enough rejection letters to wallpaper a small gymnasium.
I will find a dilly of a quote to send here.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I found one. Not a dilly, but interesting when you read the outcome.
"Thank you for sending us your picture book manuscript, which I am returning to you now. I like the story, especially the linking between each response to a gift and the next gift. I can imagine it as a picture book for young children. However ****[name of company]*** is not the right publisher for this story. Our picture books tend to be much more substantial and aimed at slightly older children. I wish you success in finding the right publisher for this story and hope that you will keep us on your list of potential publishers for future work.

Here's the deal: I had previously sent her a longer picture book manuscript and received the comment, "this is more what we are looking for, however we need some shorter books for our list, ones which parents and teachers can quickly read to the picture book set."
And that is why I had a bald spot on the side of my head.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that is a so good! What every writer needs is one of those stands with the sole skewer in which to impale each letter.

Anonymous said...

Here's one that puzzles me ... In a couple of cases, I've received several encouraging, complimentary rejections on my picture book manuscripts from one editor. By the third or so letter, the editor will say sorry we can't publish this and ask if I have "anything longer." I don't.

I do, however, have other picture book manuscripts. Judging from their catalogs, these editors are publishing their share of picture books (and often from new authors). Should I move on to another editor at the same house? Or is that rude when someone has put the time into sending personal rejections? Clearly, these editors are sending me a hint but I'm not sure what to do with it.

Thanks for any illumination!

Anonymous said...

The rejection that most irritated and angered me was this: for my memoir: "These" issues should be written from a distance." Yeah, that would be REAL interesting. I know what she meant, and she's a coward, a person who doesn't want a memoir that exposes rampant corruption and abuse of poor people, and I mean REAL abuse, but she wants fluff, politically correct garbage.

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