Adventures in Failing: My LitCharts Rejection

Unsolicited Opinions / Saturday, July 28th, 2018

As a wannabe writer, it’s been my privilege to discover the vast wealth of experiences inherent to this trade. Specifically, I’ve become aware that there are multiple forms of rejection. Previously, I tended to think of rejection in terms of short stories, novels, poetry, personal essays, just like stuff I’d poured my soul into, right? Well, it turns out that you can be rejected for boring, nonfiction jobs as well! In fact, ANYONE can reject your writing at ANY TIME. Wow! So much to learn, discover, experience and ENJOY.

Why the drama? Recently, I applied for and was soundly turned down for a job at LitCharts. They are a company that basically does the only thing that I’ve ever studied doing: literary analysis. So the turn-down felt like, really great. Let’s talk about my LitCharts rejection!

What I submitted

Here’s the fun part: all of my essays from college were deleted when my alma mater destroyed my email address just a couple years after I graduated. So aside from a few graded papers I’d gotten back scribbled with red marks, I have no record of my attendance at college except for my diploma (frankly, I have no idea where that is, either). LitCharts requires two Very Serious literary samples so what I did was I transcribed two old 5,000 word essays I found in a glorified shoe box in my husband’s closet into Google Docs. The whole thing took like two hours.

One of my essays was about Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves and the other was a study of Holocaust literature of witness. I also linked back to this blog, which has like a billion little explications. (In retrospect the…casual…tone of my blog might not be attractive to people hiring writers for Very Serious explication. So much to LEARN!)

What they wrote back

Dear [Failing at Writing],

Thank you so much for your interest in LitCharts and for sending along your resume and writing samples. Unfortunately, we can’t offer you a position at this time. Best of luck to you, and thanks again for your interest.

[Editor’s Name]

This is a perfectly nice rejection letter, and it made me furious. I don’t need to give a reason for said fury, and you don’t ever have to, either. When someone pushes you away, you have a right to process your emotions. While processing, respect the space of the person or editor that turned you down. It is not cute to send them a wordy denouncement of their editorial practices. Leave them alone: they’re busy people, they get a ton of submissions, and they’re just doing their job of making sure their content is handled by the most appropriate applicants (I am like, so gracious btw).

However, I reserve the right to be huffy on my blog and talk about my feelings. And so do you.

What went wrong

Of course, you never know exactly what went wrong in the submission process unless you’re blessed with one of those editors who actually takes the time to offer something useful instead of just saying NO! A THOUSAND TIMES NO! If you find an editor at a publication who gives real feedback, let me know. I will kidnap and keep them. For this particular submission, I can only assume that my essays weren’t up to par. This is, of course, incredibly demoralizing in every way because I was an English major in school and it’s not great to fail at getting a job based on the ONLY QUALIFICATIONS I HAVE.

Aside from me probably just sucking, here are some other things that could have gone wrong:

  • I don’t have much formal, paid writing experience on my resume
  • They prefer applicants with Master’s Degrees and I only have a Bachelor’s
  • I didn’t cater my essays to the type of analysis they do at LitCharts
  • The editors hate me and think I’m terrible (wait, that’s just about me sucking)

How I recovered

I sulked, as is my wont. But I went through the sulking process (similar to grief: look it up) in hyper speed because I had a major life event the next day and I needed to recover. After a few hours of feeling like absolute shit that I couldn’t get a job doing the only thing I enjoy, I found the silver lining: they required 10 hours of work per week. This requirement would have challenged my self-imposed edict of remaining free as a beginning freelancer.

So yeah, I recovered by telling myself I didn’t want that job anyway.

That process (“Fine! I didn’t wanna work for you anyway!”) may sound petty and insane, but this is how I actually stay sane during the submission and resume process.  If I took every single “no” to heart and virulently proclaimed that that was the dream job, that was the literary journal, that was the publication I needed, I would lose my shit. Here’s the truth: nobody needs any particular job or publication. Follow your inspiration, not your wounded ego. Inspiration says it doesn’t matter; there are plenty of opportunities waiting for you. Don’t Chinese-finger-trap your heart to one gig because when they pull away you won’t be able to and it will hurt. 

Rant. Rave. Cry a little. Keep writing.

Would I re-submit?

Nah. First of all, I probably – nay, certainly – lack the drive and mental fortitude to type out yet more essays from my bygone college days. It is time for them to die. And I can’t use any of my analytical stuff from this blog because I refuse to write academically for something that’s supposed to be FUN. Further, I genuinely liked the essays I sent to them, so whatever. Not to sound SUPER BITTER, but I ain’t gonna sit around and beg for a job I know I’m qualified for. Gotta move on.

What do I suggest for you:

If you’re applying to LitCharts, make sure you clearly read all the submission guidelines. I didn’t tweak my essays as much as I could have to fit their style of analysis, and I absolutely recommend avoiding that mistake. My suggestion would be to read up on one of their subcategories, like themes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and try to craft something similar. They want to see that you can extract the elements they emphasize, which according to categories on their website include: Context, Plot summary, Detailed summary & analysis, Themes, Quotes, Characters, and Symbols. These are the bare basics of explication. If I’d been a savvier job-applier, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time rewriting old wonky essays on post-postmodernism in literature and would have focused on something better tailored to their style.

Ultimately, I didn’t write this post to complain (actually, you got me, I totally did). I wrote it as an encouragement of sorts: if you’re just starting out in a freelance writing career, these things will happen to you (have probably happened to you). My LitCharts rejection wasn’t my first, nor will it be my last.  I think it’s important to be able to write openly and honestly about failure. It’s not something you should be ashamed of because all it means is that you tried at something (ugh, so cheesy so true).

So good luck out there! If you do decide to apply to LitCharts and you make the cut, let me know in the comments. That way I can publicly congratulate you and secretly hate on you all at the same time. Cheers!

10 Replies to “Adventures in Failing: My LitCharts Rejection”

  1. Psh, you’re too good for that job anyway. Ten hours a week? That’s like, 1/4 of a full-time schedule. Lame!

    Seriously though, tweaking your essays to fit their requirements probably would’ve helped a lot. But now you know. This is all a learning process, and now you’re a little more prepared for future job applications.

    1. Thank you for the moral support! And yes – it definitely would have helped if I’d prepared a little better for my application. I’m hoping anyone who sees my post then applies to work at LitCharts will have a better chance. I figured it’s time to start turning my rejection letters into something positive that might actually help people!!

        1. You know, I’m not actually sure. I think it was created by the same people who made Spark notes. It just seemed like a fun job that would utilize the thing that I already do compulsively. When I saw they were hiring writers, I couldn’t help myself!

          1. That’s happened to me more times than I can count in my life – by this point, I’ve definitely learned to relax about failure, poke fun at it a little, and just trust I’m moving in the correct direction!

  2. Rejection sucks but of course it’s gonna happen… LitCharts probably just wasn’t meant to be. I’ve found that a lot of times in bidding/applying for freelance work it literally does just come down to submitting a sample that’s EXACTLY like the project you’re bidding for… Even if you submit other stuff that definitely shows you can write, they’re going to pick the person who has “relevant experience” and can prove that every time. One of the most prolific “UpWork success stories” Danny Margulies advises that if you don’t have a sample that’s very close to what they’re looking for, you should just make it up. I had to do that to get my first few jobs.

    Even so, I know how much it burns when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re qualified (and could even excel) but don’t get picked. Best of luck as you continue!

    1. Thank you so much, as ever, for the encouragement! I decided to share this story (and any other, super fun rejections as they come up) on the off chance that an applicant who reads my story will have better luck. I’m so intrigued by the Danny Margulies story: so many times when I look at available freelancing jobs online, they ask for writing samples and I just don’t the samples available that match their tone and content! It seems crazy but maybe, like you said, making it up on the spot is the best way to go. I’m definitely going to spend some time mulling over what you said. Good luck to you, too – I hope your discipline-in-fiction-writing is going well!

  3. If it makes you feel better, Phds in Lit do not seem to matter. I have a BA, MFA, MA, and a Phd, all in English (MFA in fiction), but I got the same rejection letter as you. I teach Lit and writing, but they rejected me too. I am curious about what they are looking for.

    I did not look at their web site or Sparknotes, so I blindly turned in my A papers from my MA.

    Rejection happens…

    1. I’m sorry you got the rejection letter – but it does make me feel better I’m not alone!

      When I looked back over the LitCharts website, it seemed like maybe they were looking for summaries as opposed to analysis? Your MA papers were probably very analytical or perhaps research-based, and I’m not sure that’s what they’re interested in.

      But then again, who knows? I’m guessing they receive a lot of applications, and maybe we just had bad timing!

      Thanks for commenting – happy writing 🙂

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