|Reading Between The Lines|
So what does an editor mean when she or he says "not right for our list"? Editors often use phrases that mean a lot to them- but can be hard for a writer to interpret. If you have ripped up your rejection letters or crumpled them into a ball out of frustration, tape them back together and smooth them out. You really can learn a lot from reading them- calmly!
At a recent SCBWI-LA Writers' Day, Melanie Cecka, Senior Editor at Viking Children's Books, shed much light on this issue. Here are some of her "translations" of editorese:
When an editor says... they may mean...
"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.
"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.
"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).
"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.
"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.
"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.
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. Once you crack the code of "editorese," you can learn to welcome rejection letters as valuable feedback- really!