What You Can Learn from a Rejection Letter

Sept 2013 003Rejection letters hurt. But before you hit the delete button, take another look. Perhaps you can learn something from the editor’s (or agent’s) comments.

First, check to make sure it’s a rejection letter. Maybe the editor is asking for a rewrite. If an editor takes time to say the ending isn’t strong enough or story was too long, maybe if you fixed the problem, she’d take another look. This happened to me. But I didn’t take it for granted. Instead, I wrote and asked. Sure enough, the editor answered back and said, yes, he’d be willing to look at my article a second time. I did a rewrite and resubmitted and this time the magazine took my piece.

Of course, this doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes there is a clear statement: “While I wouldn’t be interested in taking a second look, ….”

Next, read the letter carefully and treasure any specific feedback. Editors are busy people and they don’t take time to help writers unless they see promise. They are trying to help you. It means you’re really, really close.

Learn from their comments. If you don’t know what some of the words mean, here is a tutorial:

Slight: Message isn’t deep enough for readers to care about. You didn’t touch the editor emotionally.

Predictable: The reader knew from the opening what would happen next. Nothing surprised editor.

Clichéd: unoriginal story, characters, or setting.

Too wordy/too long: Check your descriptions. Are they getting in the way of the story? Some readers enjoy details, others don’t. Maybe you need to do some cutting.

Slow-paced: Oh, no. Does this mean your story is boring? Look for ways to add tension.

Sentimental: Are you overemphasizing things that mean a lot to you but might not mean much to the reader?

Quiet: Not much happens in the plot. Doesn’t mean your novel needs to be action packed, but it might mean you didn’t engage the editor in your character’s problem.

Abstract: You might receive this comment if you’re writing a novel with a quirky plot or with odd characters. Fantasy, speculative, and science fiction writers probably see this word from editors who don’t “get” their genre.

Formulaic: a pat story, stereotypical characters, an overused setting.

Familiar: Too many books in this genre.

Not compelling enough: Your novel failed to grab the editor emotionally.

Ending is a letdown: might be predictable, unsatisfying, or rushed.







4 thoughts on “What You Can Learn from a Rejection Letter

  1. Laurean Brooks

    Hi Judy,

    I read through your list. You left one out. “At this time your writing is not ‘strong’ enough yet to make a big splash.”

    This is the reply I received from an agent who read my first three pages. She liked the plot, the characters, said I had potential–even mentioned I had a great work ethic, etc….then ended with the above comment.

    Do you have any idea how to translate “not strong enough?”

    1. Judy Bodmer Post author

      Frustrating comment. Especially since she liked everything else about your writing. I can only guess–you didn’t grab her emotionally or perhaps she didn’t have a publisher in mind for your work at this time. What people like is subjective. Remember, JK Rowling was rejected many times before she was finally accepted–and not by a children’s publishing house. Keep trying.


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