Tag Archives: editing

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.







Deadly Writing Mistake #5: Using Cliches (Part Two)

Clichés can also be an overused idea.

Have you ever read a novel and thought, I’ve read this storyline before? Some common plot lines I’ve seen in my years of being a writing teacher and contest judge are:
1) a woman goes home for her class reunion and meets her high school sweetheart,
2) a chemical company is polluting a small town’s water and people are dying of cancer,
3) an old woman (or man) is suspected of being mean in a children’s book, but in the end, the character discovers she is really nice. I’ll bet you can add to this list.

Settings can also become cliché-like. Examples include: conversations that take place in a restaurant, at a kitchen table, or while driving in a car. Why not spice up your book by picking an unusual place for those dialogues? Why not use an attraction like a park or museum or special place that shows off the uniqueness of town where you’ve set your novel? In Seattle we have Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and ferries. Or give your character an unusual occupation and hold the conversation while he’s putting on scuba gear, butchering a hog, or climbing out of a combine.

Most of us use clichés of setting, plot, and description without realizing it. We grab for them when we are in a hurry. They may even feel fresh, like something no one has ever written about before because we’re writing about something that happened to us. Or we do it because we’re trying to meet a deadline.

The best way to guard against clichés is to read, read, read, especially in your genre. If you write murder mysteries, you will soon discover common themes, settings, plots and you will soon learn to avoid them.

Also, take time and dig deeper into your creative mind. Even a cliché can become fresh if you find a new way to approach it. The woman who goes home to her high school reunion is a common story line for a reason. Many women have this fantasy and want to read about scenarios such as this. The challenge is to put a new twist on an old familiar theme.

Can you name a cliché you’ve seen recently?