Updated: Mar 10, 2020
TAKE HEART—LOOK WHO AT ONE TIME GOT REJECTED! We know that many of the visitors to our website are either authors or would-be authors. Some visit our site specifically to see what types of books we publish, in order to determine if the manuscript they are writing, or already shopping around, might be of interest to us. Others visit our site as readers. They come here not with an authorial purpose but to buy books, because most authors are voracious readers…but, despite the purpose of their visit, they are indeed writers too. So, if you are reading this, there is a good chance you are a writer or have ambitions to be one. What do the majority of writers dread the most? The so-called rejection slip. In these electronic days, rejections (or “declines,” as the industry calls them) aren’t literal slips of paper anymore. In fact, they may even take the form of no response at all, which the writer is supposed to assume means a lack of interest on the part of the publisher. But in whatever form, they gnaw at the writer just as badly. Often, they engender self-doubt: “Maybe this book/story/poem/article really isn’t good.” “Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer and should stick to washing windows.” Let us inject a note of encouragement into your writerly life. Here is a list of famous books and famous authors that were rejected—in some cases, many times—before they became famous authors or best-seller books. Let’s start with J.K. Rowling and the first Harry Potter book. It garnered 12 rejections before a publisher deemed it worthy to print. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a classic by anyone’s definition, initially met with rejection because TS Eliot, then director of a major British publishing house, disagreed with the book’s political viewpoint and declined to publish it. Subsequently, an American publisher, Knopf, also passed on the book. Another classic, Moby-Dick, collected numerous rejections for Herman Melville, including one from an editor who suggested that instead of a whale, the captain might be chasing women. Knopf didn’t like The Diary of Anne Frank either and not only rejected it but dissed it sharply in it their rejection letter. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was similarly sharply dissed in one of the rejects it collected before it was published. Joseph Heller’s best-seller Catch-22 was rejected—what else?—22 times before it saw the light of print. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, collected rejections like flypaper collects flies. Today, even most of those who haven’t read it have at least heard of it. An editor who rejected The Wind in the Willows called it, “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” It has sold outrageously. An editor who passed on Little Women advised Louisa May Alcott, “Stick to teaching.” Fortunately she didn’t heed his advice. The novel was eventually published and remains a beloved classic to this day. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected 27 times. He was taking it home to burn it when he ran into an old acquaintance who was now an editor and insisted on reading it. The rest, to use a cliché, is history. Agatha Christie’s first novel was never published, but a literary agent suggested she try writing another. Although that one, too, was rejected a great number of times, it was finally accepted with the proviso that she change the ending. Another 71 published novels followed, as well as 15 short story collections. Is that enough encouragement for you? Yes, it’s possible that your book doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it’s also possible that the editor’s judgment is wrong, as in many of the cases above. It’s also possible that the book was declined for a reason that has nothing to do with its quality, such as that the publisher already has a similarly themed book on their list or in the hopper. There are other reasons, as well, that aren’t an indictment of your writing ability. Or maybe, like Agatha Christie, you’ve written a book that really isn’t ready for prime time, but you’ll try again and have better results next time. So take heart—and don’t assume the editors are always right.