05 June 2012


    A recurring theme here at SleuthSayers has been the rejection letter.  This only makes sense since rejection is often on each of our minds.   My short story output is glacier compared to some of my colleagues but even then rejection looms over me a lot of the year given the fact that each story usually dangles out there for two months before the editorial outcome is ultimately known. 

    Short story writers can be tempted to think of the rejection letter as our own personal demon since we tend to inundate a perpetually shrinking market with numerous short pieces of fiction.  There is even a website, The Rejection Generator, administered by Stoneslide Books, that can generate a changing menu of humorous rejection letters.  Rather than posting some of the examples, I invite you to try the website so that you can personally experience the emailed rejection gems it doles out. 

    But, in truth, particularly given the current state of national employment (or, more correctly, unemployment), the rejection letter is hardly the personal province of writers.  My son Colin, currently a second year law student at George Washington University, was recently rejected by a law firm to which he had not even applied.  And I remember on more than one occasion when searching for legal employment receiving rejection letters that were written to a different (although equally rejected) applicant but then sent to my address.   And this really underscores the most irritating aspect of the rejection letter.  We each offer up something personal, that we have worked on a long time -- this may be a short story, or it may be that curricula vitae that encapsulates in a page who we are -- and it is then rejected impersonally and in short order. 

    One has to be careful what one wishes for, however.  The rejection letter can be a two edged sword.  What is worse than an impersonal cookie cutter rejection?  How about one that really tells you what the rejecting party was thinking.  Often we are simply not prepared for that level of truth-telling.

    Take, for example, this 1938 classic sent out by the loveable old Disney studios.  They certainly leave no doubt as to why this poor applicant didn't get an interview. And isn't it a nice touch that the letter is drafted by a woman, and features that loveable early example of one of the long string of Disney princesses in the margin.

    The letter is from a website 10 Funniest Rejection Letters  which provides the following background information concerning the unfortunate applicant:
This letter belongs to Kevin Burg, whose grandmother received it in 1938. Despite Disney's declaration that women aren't to do any creative work, his grandmother eventually became an animator during WWII when women had to step up “For the War Effort.
    Sometimes we really do bring rejection on ourselves.  Imagine applying to law school and then receiving this letter in reply. 

    A friend of mine witnessed a variant of this exchange, albeit oral and not actually involving a rejection letter, at a student orientation conducted at a prestigious (but for present purposes unnamed) university some years back.  The dean of the school purportedly was describing to the parents of the entering class the fact that the school receives something like 50 qualified applicants for each applicant accepted.  When he invited questions from the assembled parents a woman in the room raised her hand.  The dean recognized her and the woman, quite agitated, stood up and explained that she was quite upset since her daughter wanted to major in pre-med and they had now learned, for the first time, that the major was not offered.  My friend reported that the dean responded as follows:   "Madam, your daughter is attending the wrong school.  And you are an idiot."

All of this, quite predictably, has led to some proactive responses from would-be rejectees.  This past January the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom reported the following:
Madalen College, Cambridge, England
It is not often that Oxford University finds itself receiving a rejection letter from a would-be student, rather than issuing them with one.

So it will have raised a few scholarly eyebrows when state-educated Elly Nowell, 19, wrote to the elite institution’s Magdalen College without even waiting to hear whether her application to read law had been successful.

In a parody of Oxford’s own rejection letters, she told admissions tutors: ‘I realise you may be disappointed by this decision, but you were in competition with many fantastic universities and following your interview I am afraid you do not quite meet the standard of the universities I will be considering.’
   A similar example, perhaps even more proactive, is the following letter, currently making the rounds on the internet:
412A Clarkson Hall, Whitson University
College Hill, MA  34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16.  After careful consideration, I
regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me
an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually
large number of rejection letters.  With such a varied and promising field
of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Whitson's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in
rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at
this time.  Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor
in your department this August.  I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

Chris L. Jensen


  1. Dale, I'm rolling on the floor here! I really loved the witch on the bottom of the Disney letter. (Can you imagine what would happen to a company that sent such a letter today? "women are not permited ..." YIKES!) And that last one, in which the guy rejects the job rejection had me laughing out loud.

    Gotta say: You sure are lucky, in my book, to only have to wait around two months or so to hear back from editors. My standard wait is around 4 months. And, at one magazine, I sent in a story in January; the following October, the editor sent an email saying they'd buy it if I cut the story from 1500 words to an even 1000. I did that, then had to wait another month before they finally sent me an email accepting the thing. Thankfully, their check came a bit faster. lol

  2. What a welcome article, Dale! Like Dix, I especially enjoyed the rejection letter to the rejecting college. Excellant! I think I may try the same thing the next time I get one of those nasty little letters.

  3. LOL! I remember reading some rejection letters that Philippe Dijan used in "37.2 Le Matin" (later a movie called "Betty Blue"), which are pretty much based on ones he got: Some choice phrases included "Amusing, but your style is unbearable." "This passes all boundaries. I will do my best to make sure you are never published, ever, anywhere." Whew!

  4. Dale, thanks for the laugh of the day. Now I gotta go clean up the coffee I snorted.

  5. Herschel Cozine05 June, 2012 12:34

    Loved the article! Some great laughs there. The potential student's letter is priceless!

    When it comes to rejections of my efforts, nothing compares to this (Sleuthfest) website which refuses to print my comments. So, unless some kind member digs this out of the Spam file, it won't see the light of day.

  6. Thanks for the comments, folks. Lately I have been in a "humorous column" rut. When I go serious you won't know what happened!

    BTW, Herschel Corzine posted a comment that I read on my Droid during lunch. Among other things he complained that SleuthSayers has been "rejecting" his comments. Once I was back from lunch I checked and Herschel's comment is gone? SleuthSayers main office: What gives?

  7. Dale, the Blogger/BlogSpot software has taken a special interest in poor Herschel. In fact, the program is so advanced, it doesn't bother to leave a rejection letter for him. Instead, it packages his messages up in high-tech digital envelopes and shoots them off into space whereupon future generations will be able to read his comments in their unsullied glory.

    In other words, I don't know what the hell Blogger's thinking.

  8. Poor Colin! But it made good reading for us. Thanks, Colin and Dale.

  9. This gave me a perfect idea on how i can go ahead with my rejection letter! Sample Letters


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