Rejection: or, “Thank you Sir! May I Have Another?”

Lady Spitfire is back. That #fancy party the Dean didn’t think it was appropriate to invite adjuncts to is all done, and she’s back to teaching…and getting needlessly snarky rejections from editors of academic journals. This time, she’s got some…strong opinions…about these kinds of messages.

We like Lady Spitfire around here.

Gosford Park meh

Rejection: or, “Thank you Sir! May I Have Another?”

Bullying and rejection. In junior high, I was a chubby little kid. Check that. I wasn’t pleasantly plump. I just went through a “husky” stage. Couple that with an enduring love of Bill Cosby sweaters, mullets, and multicolored rubber bands on my braces, and, well, I guess you could say that bullying and rejection became commonplace. As I grew older, I chalked it up to a rite of passage, something we all go through. I thought it would pass, and it did for the most part.

And then I entered academia.


Earlier this week, I answered a plethora of emails from students who all of a sudden cared about their grades at the eleventh hour, and a long-awaited response from an editor popped up. I pensively stared at the subject line for quite some time. History has shown that most related emails will end negatively. There is always that 10% rush of euphoria, but most of the time, I know it will be an “it’s not you; it’s me” response. This one was different, however. If there is such a thing as academic bullying, this baby fit the bill.

It started out civil enough. He even threw in a “Hi.” From there, it was all downhill. He said my article was crude, it underpinned the study, and reviewers would most likely receive a “short shift” critique of a much wider pedagogy. (Just for the record, I wrote about Writing Centers. Students could die from comma misusage. The struggle is real, people.) The editor went on to say my approaches were too infantile, and I should undoubtedly look elsewhere. He did end with “Best,” though, which I thought was nice touch.

Gosford Park_Maggie Smith_2001

As I added this charming note to my “You Suck” folder, I began to scan the others. You know, just for kicks and giggles to boost my self-esteem. Sadly, I began to see a pattern. Some jolly good highlights include:

“Your voice is not a good fit for this journal, but after substantial revisions [the entire piece], please feel free to submit again.” (All 5,000 words? Well, shit. I’ll get right on that.)

“Our submission process typically takes around six or seven months. However, feel free to withdraw at any time and submit elsewhere.” (It’s not you, it’s me.)

“This article is very intriguing, but it isn’t really right for us. Did you make yourself familiar with our mission before submitting? I would encourage that.” (Reading is overrated. I just sent this out cold. You were the first hit.)

“The piece reads more like a conference presentation rather than a fully developed article. You are operating at a pretty general level throughout, which will not be suitable for a freshman audience.” (How many 18 year olds are going to read this article? I’m guessing none.)

“Instead, you ought to search out more appropriate journals. I would like to offer suggestions for other journals to try, but honestly, the world you are writing to is not one I’m familiar with at all.” (I understand. You are a Writing Center Director, and this piece talks about Writing Center pedagogies. I can see how things could get fuzzy.)

“Your teaching observations [from WAY BACK IN 2011] are outdated. They must be reexamined to interact with the multicultural students of today.” (Kids change so much in three years. It’s like they are different people.)

“Thanks for your email. The journal is more oriented toward theoretical and historical perspectives on how humor and comedy work rather than pedagogical, so this is a special issue, and unfortunately your piece will not work.” (I may be not be special, but something tells me you didn’t win “Class Clown” in high school either.)

Perhaps I am being an oversensitive woman, no doubt attributed to seventh grade sock hop flashbacks, but I never found any of those comments helpful. Not even in the slightest bit.

You see, I am not writing these articles/conference papers for fun. Academia, at least through my humble experience, has simply been one hoop after another.

It began with choosing a school. From there, it mushroomed into endless assignments, qualifying portfolios, and the ever-popular thesis/dissertation. Anyone who has lived through a dissertation with quirky committee members has a story to tell. Drinking was most likely involved. If one survives the dissertation, it’s years of adjunct toiling, and for the lucky few, full-time work.

You think things would look up at point, but then it becomes the publish-or-perish game, which can last a good thirty-five years. And all for what? For a shitty little line on the curriculum vitae that maybe, just maybe, a handful of academics will read in an obscure journal.


My point? I believe I have one. Editors, be nice. As I see it, there are three kinder routes to choose from in rejection land.

  1. Just say no. Nancy Reagan was fond of this phrase; I still have the button on my jean jacket. You can add some bells and whistles in the paragraph, but a simple “It isn’t right for our journal” minus the smarminess would suffice.
  2. Offer advice. Constructive criticism isn’t an oxymoron. I have tweaked numerous pieces that went on to be accepted elsewhere because editors were kind enough to jot down a paragraph or two of useful recommendations.
  3. Suggest other journals. It’s sometimes not what you know but who you know. Again, I have received “positive” rejections in the sense that “We’re not digging it, but it could work in x, y, and z.” Some editors have included namedropping—“Say Steven relayed this message. We were friends in school.”

It’s these gestures, seemingly small and insignificant, that improve anyone’s experience in the dog-eat-dog publishing world.

As I have grown older, and definitely not wiser, I have learned that bullying and rejection are here to stay. It doesn’t make it right, much like people who wear Crocs and socks, but it is what it is. I would just hope that some journal editors, knowing we are all in the same boat, might interject a little more thoughtfulness and—gasp—manners into their responses. Academic writing is hard work. It is painstaking. Little glory to no is involved. However, there is a huge rhetorical difference between “Your misguided prose clearly doesn’t fit our scope” and “Your article might work at this journal.”

In the infamous words of Dick and Jane, at least the naughty, revised version in my head: “Don’t be a dick, Dick. Help Jane.”

I’ll end–a bit self-promotingly–with another gem Lady Spitfire shared with me backchannel: “Joe is not an asshole editor. Be like Joe, people.”

Get on it, editors.


1 thought on “Rejection: or, “Thank you Sir! May I Have Another?”

  1. Well that was lovely, and I thank you for the mullet/Cosby sweater visual. Ah, remember when?

    I think there’s a lot of bullying and showboating in academia, and it’s not just knee-jerk arm-chair psychology that brings me to the conclusion that it comes from 2 places:
    1) Deep insecurity and the need to continually prove oneself not fraudulent and
    2) Totally out of touch diva asshats who think they are geniuses, but are typically NOT

    Having worked in journalism in a past life, I’ve had to deal with a lot of editors — both editors of words and editors of pictures. Most of them just want to make the process streamlined and cut to the quick, but occasionally you get an editor that really feels like it is their duty to inform everyone of other’s inferiority. My guess is that this second type of editor, married in personality to the first deeply insecure academic, is the type of person who gets placed as an academic journal editor.

    I also suspect these are the types who do not comb their hair and are unaware that there are holes in back their jackets. Their brains are full of nonsensical, egocentric thinky things, so no time for mirrors. (This last bit is purely to satisfy my mean streak).

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