List of Orthodox Christian Children’s Books

I was thinking of writing an article encouraging homeschool teachers to include at least one Orthodox children’s book in regular language arts curriculum each year. This led to the idea of making a list of children’s books by grade level. And that led to my best effort at compiling a master list of Orthodox Christian children’s books written in English and currently in print.

No doubt I’ve missed some. The world is a big place, and so is the internet. It wouldn’t be hard for a little Orthodox book, or even a little publisher, to escape my notice.

This list will need constant updating if it is to become a lasting and useable resource. But it is at least a beginning.

CLICK TO SEE THE LIST.

The list is housed in a Google spreadsheet. At this writing, there are 182 entries, and I am aware of at least 6 more titles that will release before the end of 2021. That’s a lot of books!

The spreadsheet makes some attempt to include notes on what’s in the books, what they could be used for in a Sunday school or homeschool classroom, or for family reading. That part is very incomplete for the simple reason that I’ve read or even seen only a fraction of these books.

TRENDS I NOTICED

Without reading every book on the list, my insights are limited. Based simply on the covers, blurbs, and other readily available details, I noticed several things.

1 – The number and quality of Orthodox children’s books appear to have increased greatly in the last 10 or so years.

2 – Orthodox children’s literature is largely catechetical.

3 – Fiction is rare.

4 – Books of any kind for older children are rare.

5 – The quality and style of illustrations varies widely.

6 – Board books are relatively new in this market, but they are popular and more are being published.

WHAT I THINK

People want good books to support their children’s faith. The number of newer publishing houses and their offerings suggests an active effort to fill the holes for this market. The larger Orthodox publishers in the United States have expanded and improved their children’s line in the last decade. Also, with the evolution of technology and publishing resources, smaller companies can form and produce professional-quality books for niche markets in ways that were not possible in the past. I saw some books and companies I felt were a direct result of this evolution. This is encouraging. I love to see people spend fruitful effort on what matters to them.

One question kept recurring to me as I worked on the list. How many of these books would a child read spontaneously? Are these books children would choose for themselves? Are we simply producing the kind of book an adult makes you read?

On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with reading books you were told to read because you need to learn the information they contain. This is a healthy life-long discipline we should acquire as children. Every aspect of our spiritual life can sometimes require self-compulsion, and the care and love that has gone into creating the books on this list make them accessible and valuable.

That said, I freely admit I was a child best reached through her imagination. Even as an adult, I often find myself most drawn to things I’ve encountered first in fictional settings. Stories are the way I find and remember meaning.

The books I’ve written for children are all either fiction or creative non-fiction (for example, an incident from the life of Saint Ia, told imaginatively in simple language). I don’t feel qualified to write instructional non-fiction.

I say these things to be clear about my perspective. In my mind, the height of excellence in children’s literature is achieved when some great truth shines directly into a child’s heart through a beautifully crafted, genuinely engaging story. In that context, the distinction between what is and is not Christian literature fades. If you are a Christian wherever you go, you can encounter and ponder your faith in fiction as well as non-fiction.

I know not everyone is like me. I know that many child THRIVE on non-fiction reading. I believe Orthodox children need and want more of every kind of book. When you consider how many secular books a child can read in the course of a childhood, 182 Orthodox books is not many at all.

For my part of the effort, this list urges me to keep working on Orthodox-infused fiction for children. It’s a craft that takes practice. A weak story wobbling under the weight of a catechetical agenda accomplishes little. God grant me strong stories that carry something essential with love and grace.

#SummeroftheLittleLostNun – Sister Mary and Nun Anna

With great joy, let me introduce you to two little nuns and the little girls who made them. The nuns began life on a summer day, on the carpet with markers, colored pencils, and two fascinating copies of the Periodic Table of Elements.

This is Big Sister and Nun Anna.

And here is Little Sister holding the nun she made, Sister Mary.

Big Sister built a church for the nuns, so they would feel at home, and Little Sister found icons of the Holy Apostles and Saints Cosmas and Damian to put inside it. Here are Sister Mary and Nun Anna on their way to pray.

Outside the little church…
Inside the little church

Sister Mary and Nun Anna spent a wonderful day with Big and Little Sister. They ate spaghetti, and it is very likely they also ate their vegetables. Nuns do eat vegetables.

Sister Mary and Nun Anna took the girls on a walk by the corn fields. The sunset was beautiful, and the dandelions were fluffy.

Before bedtime, they visited the bee garden. Nuns like bees and gardens, and you will often find both at a monastery.

Nun Anna visits the garden…
…and probably blesses the flowers.

There was just time for a quick ride down the slide and a good-night pat for the cat.

Wheee!
Good night, Cat!

Thank you, Big and Little Sister, for making and sharing Sister Mary and Nun Anna! This will remain one of my favorite things that happened during my time on this planet.

If you would like to make your own little nun and share her adventures, you can find the directions HERE.

#summerofthelittlelostnun #littlelostnun

Make your own #littlelostnun and share pictures!

Today, I joyfully announce the #SummeroftheLittleLostNun! Together with Park End Books, I’m inviting children (and grown ups) to draw their own little nun and share pictures of where she goes. Does she go to church with you? On vacation? Is she playing near the creek (don’t fall in, little nun!)? Maybe yours will enjoy the garden. Mine does!

#littlelostnun in the flower garden!

Making Your #littlelostnun

You are very welcome to draw your own nun, paint one on a clothespin, or sew one out of felt or other fabric. Variety is one of the great beauties of creation, and I hope to see variety in these little friends. If you need an outline to get you started, Jack Naasko (an artistic friend) kindly created this downloadable template. Color it in, cut it out, and let the adventure begin!

#littlelostnun goes traveling

Some friends of mine were traveling recently, and they created little nuns on the road! Here they are, the first people (and nuns!) to participate in #summerofthelittlelostnun !

Just looking at these pictures makes me happy!

How to participate

Everyone is welcome to join in! Here’s how you do it.

1 – Make your little nun. Draw your own or use the template.

2 – Take her on adventures. Take pictures of her wherever she goes!

3 – Share your pictures, and use the hashtag #summerofthelittlelostnun so that everyone participating can enjoy them. You are also welcome to send them to me. I will be publishing as many as I can on this blog! Use the contact form to get in touch or find me on Facebook.

4 – Another reason to send in your pictures? Park End Books will be offering a 10% OFF coupon for everyone who participates.

I can’t wait to see your pictures! May the #littlelostnun find herself in many good places, with good friends!

#littlelostnun #summerofthelittlelostnun #littlenuntravels

Flying!

REMINDER: Little Lost Nun is available for pre-order from Park End Books, separately or together with the limited edition Little Lost Nun Peg Doll! This book releases in August 2021!

Illustrating Little Lost Nun

My heart is FULL of joy. Below is a photo the publisher sent me of the final front cover printed out on real paper, so I could see it “in real life.” It’s one of several ways the publisher and illustrator have led me and my story more deeply into the human experience.

Cover spread, Little Lost Nun

Today, by the grace of God and Summer’s excellent gifts as a book midwife, Little Lost Nun is available for preorder. I hope you will take a minute of stillness to look at the two human beings in the picture above. Look at Gerontissa’s face, and the way her whole being yearns over this little girl. And look at Tabitha, who has almost nothing, clasping her first and greatest treasure in her shaky little hands.

And this is Nina, the second protagonist from Little Lost Nun. Here you see Nina’s mama comforting her at the end of a sad day.

Nina in Mama’s arms

And…

That makes this a picture of Black Americans as main characters in an Orthodox children’s book.

I credit the editor, Summer Michelle Kinard, and the illustrator, David Moses, with the final conception of Nina and her mama, and of Tabitha on the cover image above. In my mind’s eye, they were smaller and farther away, their color and experiences made slightly vague by their continued existence in my imagination. It’s an odd thing to say, but I feel David read and drew the story in the present. He would. It’s the perpetual mystery of illustration that no one sees back into the author’s imagination. The artist depicts only what he reads.

But I did know that for this story, I wanted the little girl who was brown to be the one who had everything, the one standing for normal, joyful life, not the one in need of rescue. And I wanted that to be true without the book being “about race.” Little Lost Nun is not about race. The character descriptions just tell you what the people look like.

Although I welcome the intention and effort that goes into making children’s books more diverse, I especially look forward to the day when we no longer do that “on purpose.” Sooner or later, all kinds of people will appear in children’s books because that’s how we see the world, not because we carefully included one of each kind. Sooner or later, we’ll reach the point where brown skin in a book is not always a plot point or a mission, not the main reason the story is told. That will be the day we’ve accepted the many skin colors God gave us. It will be the day we can give brown children books about brown children because the story is good, not as a way to support them in their otherness.

Perhaps that will never happen. But I’d like to remember it as a possibility.

#littlelostnun

#TeachersTalkKidLit – Nancy Parcels

What makes a book a good book? This is something that I have been asked several times by other people and that I have even asked myself.  Having an 8 year old son we have done TONS of read-alouds.  We have had many successful read-alouds and many books that we could only read a few chapters and then we needed to abandon the book and move on.  Why? What made the books that we couldn’t put down a book that we wanted to keep reading?  For us it was a few things.  

RELATABLE

First, the book was relatable in some way.  They were either books about a boy the same age as my son, they had similar interests or were of the same faith.  My son could connect to the character with their struggles, hobbies, or strengths.  This is why we LOVE books that give lots of background information about the main character.  The more my son knows about the character’s likes, dislikes, religious background, hobbies, dreams, or aspirations, the easier it is for my son to want to continue reading to find out more.  

INTERESTING VOCABULARY

The second concept that makes a book a good book for us is unusual or uncommon language.  The more the author uses rare language, the more my son gravitates towards that book.  What I mean by unusual or uncommon language is that it may use words that we don’t hear anymore, like Old English or slang words from different eras.  It produces images and discussions that usually surpass my imagination.  Even books that are Orthodox faith-based books that use vocabulary that may seem advanced for the target age cause wonderful discussions and learning opportunities. 

IMAGERY 

Another way to keep us enthralled with a book is imagery! The more descriptive words used to tell us what is going on with the scene, the better.  It gives my son the opportunity to feel like he is living the book.  Giving the reader the full scope of the scenes gives them the chance to feel like they are standing right next to the characters, seeing the scene play out right in front of them.  We have even read a few illustrated classical reads that don’t have pictures on each page, but the pictures it does have are so detailed that the questions, conversations, and thoughts that it provokes are amazing.  

LESSONS

Finally, we love books that have a lesson learned by the main character.  It can be about anything really.  We have read books on our Orthodox faith, friendships, trusting in God, believing in oneself, etc.  While we read the book, we can have great discussions about what we would do differently or what we think will happen to the main character.  Following the character in their journey helps feel like we are a part of them.  Also this helps tie in having something to relate to and imagery.  Having something that we need to follow along closely with means that we need background information. 

Parent choice vs. child choice

I wanted to touch base on books that I would pick out for my child compared to books he would pick for himself.  The books that I pick for him are usually books that I found to have the content that I am trying to teach.  It could be books that are for our history time period or religious teachings.  I also like to make sure that the books have good written language.  I prefer books that do not have new slang words or inappropriate grammar or language.  If I am using a book to teach or reinforce what we are learning, I also want to make sure that the book is giving accurate information.  Now, the books that my son wants to choose are the complete opposite of what I choose.  He likes books that have tons of pictures, slang, and little to no history.  My son loves graphic novels and what I like to call “silly” books.  That is why when I am reading aloud and picking books that he would normally not choose for himself, I try to find books that have something in there that he likes or I make each character have their own voice.  Just something to keep his attention and keep him interested.  I will also try to keep asking him questions throughout the book to keep his attention or go over something he didn’t understand.  

About Nancy

Hello! I am Nancy Athanasia Parcels.  I am an Orthodox home-educating mom.  I have been home-educating for 6 years.  I have also tutored in Math and Reading on and off for 20 years.  I have taught in a Montessori Homeschool Co-op for several years.  We have switched to a classical home education for the last 3 years.  I have taught for 2 years so far at our current co-op.  I have also worked in a library as a librarian assistant in the children’s section for several years.  I have been married to an amazing Chef husband for 11 years.  We have one 8-year-old son and another son to make his arrival in a few short weeks.  We live in South Carolina where we enjoy nature, family time, learning from each other and reading aloud.  

#TeachersTalkKidLit – Jane Johansen

Hello, readers and fans of Melinda! My name is Jane Johansen, and I have known Melinda for many years as our husbands went to West Point together. Melinda and her husband are two people whose friendship we value deeply. 

When Melinda put the call out for teacher friends to help, I quickly raised my hand. I am an avid reader and love to share that passion with my students. You know those people who wake up early in the morning to work out and everyone is like, “No way, I could never do that”? You should see the looks I get when I tell my students that I get up early so that I have time to read! It is true. I treasure the quiet with a warm cup of coffee and my book in my lap every morning, possibly with a cat or two by my side.

At the beginning of each school year, the first reading assignment I give my class is to write letters to me about their personal journey with reading.  In turn, I also write a letter to them explaining that I was a late reader. I remember being stuck at the same reading level all through 1st grade until my mom found me a book that I truly connected to, Hooray for Pig, by Carla Stevens. (Flashback, I was terrified to learn how to swim.  Lake Champlain is enormous, dark, and frigid, and I was having none of it until my mom found this book.)  If you could see my copy of this book and turn the love-worn pages, you would see that it was read hundreds of times throughout my childhood.  This book makes an appearance on my textual lineage time and again. 

Connection

Connection is one of the keys to finding books that children want to read, and it is a lesson they are taught as readers from their very earliest reading instruction. Look for the connections: to yourself, to the world around you, to other books you have read, to current events…these are the invisible strings that pull readers in and keep them immersed in books. When I have my students think back and reflect on books that they loved when they were younger readers and create their own textual lineage of books, a common theme in their choices is that they felt connected to the characters in these books in some way. 

Characters

A second key is to find characters that are likeable or unlikeable, for that matter.  A character that kids can root for or against. Characters that speak out and up in unjust situations- kids are all about good versus evil and a fair and just outcome. Books like Wonder, by R.J. Polacio, or Because of Mr. Terrupt, by Rob Buyea, both with casts of characters in a common setting where they can imagine themselves being there, too. A setting where characters have space to make mistakes and are given the time to fix them in a realistic way.  Reading to understand the world from a perspective other than their own provides young readers with a wider lens on which to focus their gaze while they are lost in those pages. 

Worlds

Finally, in my experience, as readers grow in their abilities, they like to experience worlds that are different than the one they inhabit every day. Fantasy is a great way for readers to escape the mundane and possibly a genre that parents may shy away from – I know I did with my own children.  My own deeply rooted dislike of being scared kept me away from prompting my kids toward this genre. However, their teachers and librarians did a fine job of encouraging them, so they are both huge fans.  Being a fifth-grade teacher, my students are just crazy about this genre and I have had to grapple with joining the bandwagon, but I have done it.  I am just finishing up reading Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always with my class. When I started it, I was nervous and agitated that it was going to be too scary, dark, or upsetting to some of the class. However, it’s been the complete opposite reaction.  They are begging me to read more each day than what our allotted time allows for. They are diving so deep into the plot and character development they are blowing me away with their analysis.  A good point to remember is that just because you might not like a specific genre doesn’t mean you should not let your kids try it if they are curious; to each their own, as they say.

Learning to Love Reading

Throughout my years as a teacher, no matter which grade level, I have encountered anxious parents who worry about their child not “loving” reading. The advice I have given you here is parallel to what they hear from me. Keep trying a variety of genres, go to the library, talk to your school librarian, check in with your child’s friends’ parents and ask what they are reading, or, better yet, create a book club for your child with friends.

Finally, the most valuable advice I can give you is to never stop reading aloud with your child. Choose a favorite book from when you were young, or take an expedition to the library together to choose a book.  Reading aloud creates a bond between us as readers who are sharing a character’s journey. Dive in, snuggle up, and start building memories together one page at a time.

About Jane

Jane Johansen is currently a 5th grade teacher at Renbrook School in West Hartford, Connecticut. She has also taught Kindergarten and third grade; don’t ask her which is her favorite…she cannot decide. Jane enjoys spending time outdoors, gardening, hiking, running, and of course reading on her front porch. She is also a passionate nature photographer in her free time. Jane lives in Avon, Connecticut with her husband Eric and their two children Emma Kate and Eli, along with their many furry family members. 

After Rejection – Caroline Pavlakos

I was 17 years old and starting the College Road Trip journey. I wanted to go to college in Boston where my boyfriend (now husband) was at school, and how fun it would have been to be in the same city. I was so excited about attending college and learning how to live on my own, especially the opportunity about hopefully living in a new city for a few years. The most challenging point in thinking about where exactly to attend college was the fact that it had to have opportunities to attend smaller classes and a supportive Office of Disabilities because I had (and still have) a form of Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes reading comprehension, test taking, following multistep directions, and navigating mathematics quite difficult and challenging for me.

Getting Started

Being the oldest of three children, I was motivated and driven to pave the way for my siblings on the whole process as I thought of it as a game. The SATs were taken, my major of Psychology was picked, and I was confident that I could go wherever I wanted as long as I did my research on the resources the colleges offered for me to be successful.

I was at Boston University at a college visit day, and the Director of Admissions said in her address to us that even if we did not get the chance to attend our first-choice college, “You will go to college. You will succeed. You bloom where you’re planted.” The Director of Admissions at Simmons College said something similar on our visit there later that weekend. That stuck with me that day and as we continued to visit colleges throughout the year in preparation for the fall of my Senior Year, when I tirelessly completed college applications.

Not as simple as it sounds…

Losing Hope

My plan for going to school in the city of Boston epically failed. I was waitlisted and received a letter to be accepted as a transfer student to one of the colleges I had my heart set on attending.  I received another rejection letter from another college I so badly wanted to attend.

Now those words came back and boomed in my head – “You bloom where you’re planted.”

I was so angry at those words. Furious, actually. How could this have happened? Those words meant everything to me that day I heard them. I felt they were meant for me, and I put so much hard work into making my application and college essay stand out.

I cried for days as I saw my friends running into school waving their acceptance letters over their heads and shouting how excited they were about getting into their top-choice schools. I fell into a rut, not talking much to anybody, sitting by myself at lunch, and cringing whenever I heard a teacher say, “When you’re in college…”

The letters of waitlisting and rejection kept rolling in as I applied to over 10 schools, most between my hometown of Brooklyn and in Boston. It was then I began applying to local smaller colleges close to home where I could commute on the subway.

Making a New Plan

I felt like having my learning disability kept me from doing everything I had planned to do, living on my own in a new city, being close to somebody I loved, and creating my own independence. But finally, a letter arrived and the first word was ‘Congratulations!’ I got accepted to one of the smaller schools I had applied to. Ultimately, as more letters of acceptance rolled in and my family and I discussed where I would attend, I chose Wagner College in the borough of Staten Island, NY. Wagner was closer to home, but my parents agreed to let me live on campus, and I am so grateful to have had that opportunity!

While Wagner wasn’t my top choice, I still ran into school waving that letter over my head and hugging my friends. That next fall. as I was checking my mailbox at school, a letter arrived from one of my former top-choice colleges, stating that they would love for me to join the class of 2012 the next semester as a transfer student. At that moment, I grappled with my emotions, reflecting on how happy I’d become but remembering how I had wanted to live in a new city. I prayed that night for God to extend His right hand down and guide me in the right direction.

Learning to Bloom

Rome

I continued my college journey at Wagner, declared my double major of Psychology and Education, and jumped right into college life and even studied abroad in Rome!  I ended up staying another 2 years after graduation for my master’s degree and worked in the Early Childhood Center on campus, my first teaching job ever.

As I continued my college years, “You bloom where you’re planted” boomed into my head. I joined a sorority, took on leadership positions in the clubs and organizations I was a part of, and jumped right into Student Teaching and academic honors. I had made my college a home and learned that no matter what happens about rejection, you will bloom where you’re planted. The seeds have been planted, you establish roots, and you will grow stronger.

Graduating!

Leveling Up

I learned this again when my husband received his first assignment as a Pastoral Assistant.  We moved into a small apartment, and I immediately began applying for teaching jobs. I was rejected more times than I can count and thought “Why? What do I NOT have that others do have? How could anybody say no to me?” Again, I cried and was angry that I’d spent so much time and energy creating my portfolio and studying for the 4 teaching exams I was required to take and pass. But I pushed through and finally landed a position where the hours were extensive and the pay was less than what I could be making elsewhere. However, it was in my field of education and the lessons I learned and the friends I made were the most valuable, and I fell in love with teaching all over again! A seed was planted in me to teach the youngest age group of toddlers, roots established moving up to PreK Lead Teacher and sending the students off to Kindergarten, and the blossoming came when we moved to Florida so my husband can be ordained a priest and I finally became a Public School teacher! 

Trust and Go Forward

Rejection is something that is human and happens to us all. At the end of the day, if there is only 1 spot left on a team and there are 100 people who yearn for and want that spot, 99 of us are going to walk away and bloom elsewhere. Christ says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” I learned to lean on Christ and take His hand, and let Him lead me to a place where I will succeed and bear fruit. Christ sees and hears it all, rejection especially. It is hard and hurts for days, weeks, and sometimes years. He wants us to feel loved and wanted, not rejected. It’s almost like Him saying to us, “Yes, you really wanted to go to that school/wanted that position. There are others waiting for you.” The words “You bloom where you’re planted” remain with me. Gardens don’t take one day to bloom; they need water, soil, and somebody with a green thumb to tend and nurture them as Christ does for us. We have our hearts set on attending that top school and scoring that amazing new career and promotion, but as Christ’s branches, we might bloom elsewhere and many times in places where we never thought we could grow.

About Caroline

My name is Caroline Pavlakos, and I originally hail from Brooklyn, NY, but now live in the sunshine state of Florida. My husband Fr. Andrew and I serve the parish of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in New Port Richey, FL. We’re the proud parents of our beautiful baby boy, Kostantinos, who is almost one year old, and I enjoy spending time at the beach, baking chocolate chip cookies, and shopping. 

Go for Broke: Break the Rules – Bev. Cooke

It took four years and three tries before “Street Kid, Subway Cat” was ready to send to send out. The story was based on my brother-in-law’s experience of befriending and domesticating a feral cat who lived in a New York City subway station. He named her Gidget, and we met her on a visit to my brother-in-law. Well, if you can call a middle of the night tromp over my calves and a panicked flight when I lifted my hand to pet her as “meeting” a cat – because she was the definition of “scaredy cat.”

The book about Gidget and her adventures had gone from a picture book, which felt too cloying and sentimental, to a young adult novel that was too short on both words and plot to a mid-grade novel that felt about right. I sent it to my dream publisher, took a deep breath and began to wait.

The editor emailed within the promised time, which is unheard of in the children’s literature (kid lit) market; it’s almost an unwritten rule they’ll take practically forever, but even so, she rejected it. But, again breaking unwritten rules, the editor explained her reasons. She said the book was neither one thing nor the other. It didn’t feel like a mid-grade. Some of the subject matter was too mature and it begged for more plot and conflict, or it needed to be shorter and simpler. She suggested that I either make it a picture book or a young adult. But thanks for submitting, and we’d really like to see more of your work.

I took my courage in both hands, said a quick prayer, and picked up the phone. I got through to the editor with no problem, another first in the kid lit market. Normally, editors only talk to writers whose books they’ve accepted, not to us wanna-bes. We discussed the rejection in more detail. I decided to go for broke and ask the big, forbidden question. In kid’s lit, you NEVER, EVER, EVER ask the editor to reconsider a rewritten rejection. Never. It’s one of the real, written down in stone and cast in concrete rules. You suck it up and send the story elsewhere. But, I figured, what did I have to lose? The press had already said no, and they had said they liked and wanted to see more of my work. So I asked: if I rewrote the book as a young adult, taking her suggestions, would she reconsider it? It took some persuasion, but finally, she agreed.

I sat down to the work. During the rewrite, Gidget, the inspiration for the book, came to live with us. As fearful as ever, she found a refuge under my desk by the hot air register and took up residence while I wrote about her alter ego’s adventures.

She dozed there, warm and comfy, as I broadened and deepened the story, discovered new characters and lived in that world so strongly that finishing work each day felt like more like entering a fictional world than returning to real life. I felt as though I knew Candlewax and Little Cat, the two main characters, better than I knew myself. I finished it, sent the manuscript in and began, again, to wait.

Again, within their stated response time, the editor called. Another rule in kid’s lit: editors only phone you to offer you a contract, never to reject. When I heard Ms. Editor’s voice, my hope surged, and my hand on the phone trembled – this had been a rule breaking experience so far. Was this phone call going to break another one? I could see the news flash: Editor calls to reject author’s novel! Story at 11! But while Candlewax, Little Cat and I might have been rule breakers, Ms. Editor wasn’t, at least this time: she offered me a contract. The book was released as Feral because, Ms. Editor said, she, the author and every character in it were feral rule breakers.

About Bev. Cooke

Rejection is a fact of a writer’s life, whether you’re sending out your first or 100th manuscript. Bev. Cooke knows this from personal experience but even so, she’s been lucky enough to have several things make it into the world. Her latest efforts are included in the women’s devotional, Darkness is as Light, edited by Summer Kinard and published by Park End Books. She’s working on her fourth Akathist and a fantasy novel for mid-grade Orthodox kids. She and her husband attend All Saints of Alaska parish in Victoria BC, Canada and are the
minions of Sampson, the household feline.

Rejection Letters: 5 Types and What They Mean

You work hard on your manuscript. The setting and characters are fresh in your mind, so clear that you have memories as if they are real people and places. You have the writer’s constant urge to TELL the story, to put words on paper that other eyes and hearts will see. It is so important to you that the publisher grasps what you communicated and finds it worthy.

But sometimes, that doesn’t happen.

There are many reasons why manuscripts get rejected. Sometimes, the writing isn’t good enough, but there are other more complicated realities. In a recent conversation, someone shared a comment they’d heard from a friend in the publishing industry. Not all good books are “good publishing.” For better and worse, publishing is a business. Personnel, paper, and presses all require financial support, and publishers need to publish books that sell. Publishers should absolutely take responsibility for their impact on market forces and their opportunities to influence culture. But they still can’t operate at a loss. What they can sell might not be the book you can write.

To survive as a writer (and as an adult human), you will develop emotional coping strategies. It’s my hope that your professional strategy will benefit from these perspectives on rejection letters, drawn from my experience and that of writers who kindly shared their favorite rejection letter with me for this post.

What kind of rejection letter is it?

Rejection letters come in many forms, but they seem to fall into five categories: total silence; generic, no details; personal, some details; second chance offers; and second chance rejections.

I personally have received all five types.

I also have 9 published or contracted books.

It’s important to remember that a rejection letter often tells you as much about the publisher as it does about your writing. If Charles Dickens submitted A Tale of Two Cities to a publisher of action hero graphic novels, he too would be rejected. The Bible is the only book that can truly be said to have the whole human world as its audience, and even that statement would be argued by millions. With that in mind, let’s consider the five types and what they mean.

Total Silence

Many publishers, especially the larger ones, note in their submission guidelines that they respond only if they are interested in pursuing publication. That means the vast majority of authors will never hear back. At all. The guidelines often tell you how long to wait before giving up. “If you do not hear from us in 6 months, you can assume we are not interested in publishing your book.”

So, you mark the date on your calendar that is 6 months from when you hit send, and when that date arrives with no response, you can consider yourself rejected.

This is unpleasant, but it’s a measure of the publisher’s size and of the avalanche of submissions that came in before and after yours. Some publishers that consider unagented submissions do so by adding them to a large file, where they remain unread except on those occasions when the publisher commands a staff member to dive into the large file and retrieve anything suitable for whatever project is afoot. The large file is deep and wide. The odds are not good. And the publisher does not have the time or personnel to respond to the thousands of authors whose manuscripts lie therein. Hence the policy of silence.

Generic, NO DETAILS

This type is a polite form letter. It comes from an actual human being, and it indicates that someone read at least a few sentences of your manuscript. Or the proposal. Or the entire proposal and a portion of the manuscript. They do know what you’re offering, and this is a time-saving way to say “Thank you, but no thank you” without troubling to spell out why.

Here’s an excerpt from an actual rejection letter I received from a small-to-midsize traditional publisher.

We have completed our review of the manuscript. We appreciate the time and creativity you have put into this work; however, we have decided not to accept this submission for publication, as it does not fit our current editorial needs.

This is from a Christian publisher, and you can see the writer took trouble to be kind. More often, generic rejection letters are like this one (also real).

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, at the moment we do not have room in our publishing schedule for it. 

This is still polite, but be honest – they would have room in the schedule if they wanted to have room in the schedule.

Generic rejection letters tell me one of two things: either I misjudged the publisher’s interests (“current editorial needs”), or the writing is not strong enough or appealing enough in their view to justify the effort and expense of publishing it (“we do not have room in our publishing schedule”). Publishing schedules do fill up. Thousands of manuscripts are submitted to thousands of publishers every year. But it’s a publisher’s job to sift those thousands, searching for the gold dust hidden in the sand. Sometimes, you just don’t sparkle the way they think gold should sparkle.

Personal, Some Details

If you’re lucky, the publisher will tell you why you are being rejected. This is a gift. Read their words and take them to heart. You may disagree, but don’t fail to value the glimpse of your writing as someone in the business saw it. Almost always, you can learn from a professional who takes the time to coach you.

I’m delighted to share a sample of this type provided by a published author, who we’ll call David Taylor. David recounts the following experience which occurred while David was querying agents for a fiction manuscript. David writes:

I was querying with my second novel and having no luck when a Manhattan literary agent with an impressive list who had the first 50 pages requested a full. Two weeks later, I received a three-paragraph critical rejection that pointed out my main problem: “You’re a strong writer with a compelling story. Reading on, we were disappointed to find that you kept us at a distance.”

A three-paragraph critical rejection is amazing. It’s a mini-critique group just for you, and it’s a sign that although you are being rejected, the agent or publisher thinks you show enough promise to be worth coaching.

Think hard about the advice you’ve been offered. Will it help you achieve your goal for this manuscript, or is it simply a more detailed explanation of why you should apply elsewhere? In some cases, you can incorporate that advice and submit your revision for a second chance.

Second-Chance Offers

On occasion, a publisher will reject the manuscript in its current form but extend a second chance. They’ll explain what it would take for the book to succeed and give you the option to make those changes.

As with David’s letter above, your next step is to decide if you want the second chance. What are you being asked to do with your manuscript? Will the changes improve it, or do you feel you’re being pressured into something that doesn’t match your goals?

If you decide to try for the second chance, follow the directions. You’re asking the publisher to reconsider, so you need to prove you can be coached and that you’re capable of producing what they want.

This process can take patience and a sense of humor. My first children’s chapter book began life as a short story that I submitted as a picture book. The picture book was rejected, but the editor thought the story might work as part of a collection of short stories for children. I wrote and submitted the collection. The editor responded that the acquisitions board didn’t want a short story collection; the board wanted a chapter book of the same length with one story arc through the whole book.

I considered banging my head on the wall.

Instead, I pulled one of the stories from the collection and expanded it. That story was finally accepted for publication.

Second-Chance Rejections

A second chance doesn’t guarantee acceptance. Your revised submission may prove to the publisher that you aren’t a good fit for their market, or that you haven’t taken their direction in the way they hoped. The person who read your manuscript the first time may no longer work there, or someone else may have submitted a book they like better in the meantime.

This type of rejection is final. You had a chance, and it didn’t work out, and they don’t want to see a third version of your book. Respect that. Look for another publisher, consider self-publishing, or sit down with coffee and quiet to rework your manuscript.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll get good feedback in the final rejection letter. I recall one such letter I received about a decade ago. The editor offered a second round of criticisms, some that had not been mentioned the first time and therefore were not addressed in my revisions. The letter closed with some tough love: “I have no doubt you have another great book in you. This may not be it.”

What can we learn from rejection?

Rejection is not final. It is not the only possible opinion of your work, but neither is it worthless. Don’t let it kill you, but do let it teach you. In time, you will learn to distinguish between usable criticism that can improve your writing and rejection that simply means the publisher or editor is not your intended audience.

My friend Phoebe, a published author and established blogger, gives the best advice on submitting writing for publication. “I always keep in mind a fallback option,” she says. Decide before you submit the manuscript what else you can do with it. What’s the next publisher you will try? Where else can you use that writing – on your own blog, a friend’s blog? If you have a plan, it will remind you that rejection isn’t final. It’s the next step on your path, and you’re ready for what comes after it.

Bev. Cooke, another published friend, will be sharing a story on this blog soon about a rejection that led to something better. Rejection is only final if you let it shut you down. Don’t fear it. Take it in, break it into parts and analyze what it means and doesn’t mean, and then proceed with your plan.

Never forget that rejection is part of the writing life. Walk through a bookstore, staring at the loaded shelves, and murmur to yourself, “This author got rejected just like me, and now she’s published. This one, too. And this one. He got rejected, and he kept going. I can too.” It’s encouraging, and it’s also true.

I’d like to close with a wonderful rejection letter shared by Steve Robinson. He even sent a photo of the letter, which he framed and hung on the wall.

Steve says:

I still have my first rejection letter framed (and my first acceptance letter). The book sat at Multnomah for months going through rounds of meetings before I finally got this. I was appreciative of the “complimentary rejection” because it told me I was on the right path. Most publishers just send a “form rejection” with no input unfortunately. (It eventually got published as “Lord of the Hunt and Other Tales of Grace).

That’s how to make meaning out of rejection. Be grateful for the criticism, and read between the lines so you know when you are on the right path.