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After discovering one of your favourite authors received a rejection letter, do you feel better about your own? If you put your hand up, I might be inclined to call you a liar, because no one feels good about rejection. Unfortunately, however, rejection is a large part of a writer’s life. A rejection can knock you back but remember this: you actually completed a piece of work. You put in the effort to sit down and put pen to paper, fingertips to computer keys, thumbs to mobiles, or however you chose to write (scribbles on a bathroom stall seems to be making a comeback). If you are still feeling a little gloomy, maybe this list of famous rejection letters will cheer you up…
- J.K. Rowling
At this point in time, I think it is safe to say most people know that Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series was rejected by many publishers; however, did you know that after Rowling became established in the literary world, she used a pseudonym to publish a new series? Did you also know she was rejected and instructed in her rejection letter to read up on the publishing market and recommended a few books to look into? Although it was a kindly written letter, sending it to one of the most revered writers of our time comes across as pretty condescending. It is worthy to note—before we drag the rejecting publisher through the mud—that just because you write well in one genre doesn’t mean you don’t need to research other genres. In addition, research the publishing house! Although you might have an amazing manuscript, most publishing houses are particular with the genres they publish.
- Gertrude Stein
Similar to coffee, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Stein’s work. It is safe to say that several publishers (but one Mr A.C. Fifield in particular) strongly disliked her work. As far as rejection letters go, imitating a writer’s style to write a rejection letter to them is pretty cold. I am, I am, I am. Not. Not. Not. Amused. Despite the harsh rejection, Stein went on to become one of the leading women in Modernist poetry.
- Louisa May Alcott
With the release of Greta Gerwig’s adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, how could I “reject” her from this list? Although the rejection letter was for her essay “How I Went Out to Service”, publisher James T. Fields was not messing around when he told her to “stick to teaching”. Thankfully, Alcott didn’t listen to him.
- Vladimir Nabokov
To this day, Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, is still met with criticism for its plot (all you have to do is Google to view the flood of commentary), so it does not surprise me that his work was met with criticism by prospective publishers; however, telling someone to bury their work under a stone for a thousand years is a bit harsh.
- Dr Seuss
After receiving 27 rejection letters for his first book, Dr Seuss was set to burn his manuscript. Thankfully, Vanguard Press decided to publish And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street after Seuss bumped into his old friend and recently promoted Vanguard Press children’s editor Mike McClintock. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes someone you know to get you into the publishing sector, but thankfully this was the break Dr Seuss needed to take off!
- Stephen King
One of the most renowned horror writers has been rejected many times. King’s book Carrie was rejected by 30 publishers before finally hitting the shelves in 1974. Carrie went on to become a commercial success which, as I am sure you are aware, was adapted into a movie several times. One of the main reasons Carrie was rejected was because science fiction does “not sell”. Although it is worth noting that genre trends come and go, you need to find the right publishing house/publisher/literary agent/editor to sell your manuscript… that is a lot of work!
If anything, writing this list has taught me that the more detailed the rejection, the more renowned the book becomes. Keep scribbling in those pages and sending out that manuscript. After some time, you might wear those rejection letters like a badge of honour. My sister created a mural on her wall of dress code infringements she received in high school, and to this day, those slips of paper with red scribbles on them are a mark of honour to her. Maybe it’s time we start pasting/posting up our rejection letters with honour.