Story Shots: Rejection


J.K. Rowling said, over a Twitter interview, that Harry Potter was rejected “loads” before it was accepted by a publisher. And, after that story was published, J.K. Rowling not only became one of the most popular authors of her time, but one of the wealthiest as well. What’s the moral of this story? We all get rejected, but it’s what we do with our rejections that makes us who we are.

No one likes rejection letters.

You know the ones: “Your work was one among many excellent submissions, unfortunately…”

However, have you ever been on the other side of the editing table? If you have, you know the task of an editor is arduous and exhausting. And maybe somewhere along the hundredth rejection you decide on, you start to forget that these are writers your dealing with behind the blind submission numbers.

My mistake during this process was using my position as an editor for a literary journal to my own advantage: getting to listen in on the discussion process about my piece. I submitted my own work, which I knew would not be sent to me or my group of editors, but would be sent to another group I worked with for consideration.

Once blinded and given a number, it was handed out. I decided to find my submission’s number and locate the group it was assigned to.

I sat close to them as I eavesdropped on their deliberation, but this did not last long.

“So what did we think?”

“Mediocre at best.”

Suddenly, the passive rejection letter didn’t sound so bad.

– Nicole Neitzke

“Everybody gets rejected straight out of their bachelor’s degree,” Professor Powers, soon to be Dr. Powers, said.

I got the first rejection January 31st, 2015. It was from USC – the school I had been able to visit and speak with professors at. I didn’t take that as a great sign.

I was applying for my Ph.D. in Early Modern English, with an emphasis in critical theory, namely performance theory, and digital humanities.

I was applying so I could one day teach and share my enthusiasm for Shakespeare.

“If you want to teach Shakespeare,” my friend and former professor yet again continued offering much needed insight and advice, “you’re going to have to do lit. If you do rhetoric they won’t ever let you teach literature, especially not Shakespeare.”

Other rejections soon followed. On February 6th, 2015, UCLA rejected my graduate application. Ten days later, Cornell sent a rejection. Three days after that, UC Santa Barbra rejected me as well. UC Santa Barbara had a professor there that had, kindly, sent her regrets at my rejection.

“In my graduate program at the University of Iowa, only one student of the thirty was straight out of their undergraduate degree. Only myself and one other student of the thirty were two years out. It’s really competitive. They want to know you’re a serious student. They don’t want to waste their time on English majors who are just continuing school because they don’t know what else to do,” Professor Powers continued.

UC Santa Cruz rejected me February 27th and the University of Pennsylvania rejected me March 10th. I was getting numb to the rejections by now. My last hope was UC Davis.

He was so practical. He was a great professor. He was a father to two beautiful children and he had a wonderful wife. That’s why he was so practical.

“Jobs are hard in our field right now.”

I didn’t think too much about jobs. I can’t claim to be an extremely practical person. I just do what I want and things always seem to work out – except for this.

On March 13th, 2015, I got my final rejection from UC Davis. I got the rejection email at 6 a.m. I sat there and looked at it and thought of what I was to do next.

I emailed the professors that had written me letters of recommendations and thanked them, again, and let them know I did not get in to any graduate programs this cycle at 6:10 a.m.

I emailed the McNair Scholars program at 6:20 a.m. and let them know about the rejections and asked if they knew of any campus programs that were looking for graduated students to employ for a year. I got a job working for the McNair Scholars Program the next week, which would last until June of 2016.

Soon I started looking into auditing classes at Cal Poly Pomona and retaking the general GRE and the literature GRE to get stronger, more competitive scores.

After that I looked into conferences that I could submit paper abstracts to and try to present at.

I posted on Facebook March 13th at 6:51 a.m. that I was rejected from all of the graduate programs I had applied to.

Miguel Powers told me to come visit him at Fullerton College and talk about what’s next.

I did on March 26th, 2015 and I was confronted with choices I had to make. I could try again and get rejected again or maybe not get rejected again. If I tried another field I could weaken or eliminate my chance to ever teach Shakespeare.

I had a year to figure out my future and decide what I wanted to commit myself to and try again. But one thing was for certain – I was going to try again.

– Amanda Riggle

Her handwriting was manly as usual, barely legible, and I studied it again while I waited in the hallway’s lone, sunburned chair.

“I know you’re lost,” I think it said.

My dear friend from high school and I had been writing letters since separating at graduation. It was my junior year at the University of Montana, and she was still as Mormon—sorry—Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as she’d ever been. She recently learned she had the gift of wisdom or prophecy or fortune telling or who the hell knows, and that’s how she had broken the magical news: “I know you’re lost.”

Having had all the religious nuttery I could stand for one lifetime, I had answered, asking her to put the kibosh on the crazy, thanks—back to writing about history and Harry Potter and jazz standards.

The professor’s office door banged opened, and I tucked the letter in my binder, nervous.

I had applied for my first creative writing workshop I needed to declare my major late in my education and was still unpublished. This was my first meeting about my samples.

“Aries and Virgo,” the professor said by way of greeting, waving me inside.

I didn’t like the way he said the title of my short story—that bright “e,” that full stop after the “s,” that “vir” like the hiss of an ax. It didn’t bode well.

I sat across from him, and it only got worse.

He didn’t like my writing. It was just as well, I told myself, since—except for a colony of red hairs standing like soldiers above his lip—he looked a little too much like Rick Santorum for anyone to trust. We talked about gerunds, about italics, about supporting my claims. By the end of the hour, I didn’t want to talk about semicolons anymore. In fact, I never wanted to see one ever again.

I left, a writer scorned: “Try again next semester.”

I walked across the grass to the Oval very slowly, thinking about my pen pal and not sure why. I felt small, like an organ transplant rejected by a body, a lamb rejected by its mother, a nonbeliever rejected by a church. This whole English-major thing?

I was lost.

– Missy Lacock


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