Updated April 2023
Many new or mid-level writers have received nasty or rude rejection letters. But when famous author rejection letters come to light, people laugh and say “What were those editors (or literary agents) thinking?” Many big names faced the same kind of adversity (and even hostility) in rejection letters that you may be facing now. Famous author rejection letters teach us a lot!
When you get a harsh rejection letter, keep these famous author rejections in mind.
Happens To The Best Of Us: Famous Author Rejection Letters
Check out these excerpts from REAL famous author rejections:
- Sylvia Plath: There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.
- Rudyard Kipling: I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.
- J. G. Ballard: The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.
- Emily Dickinson: [Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.
- Ernest Hemingway (regarding The Torrents of Spring): It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.
Obviously, these famous author rejection letter phrases have gone down in history for how outrageous they seem to us now. The comments probably had more to do with the mood of the person writing them than with the quality of work.
It seems odd to us now that Plath, Kipling, Ballard, Dickinson, and Hemingway were rejected so cruelly. But these comments show us that famous author rejection letters are no different than not-so-famous author rejection letters!
Thank goodness these authors kept writing and submitting. Ask yourself: Where would we be if they had given up? We would have missed a lot of important literature!
Famous Author Rejections: Hitting A Dry Spell
Feel glum over oodles of rejection letters? Please note that the examples below are often referenced and we’ve done quite a lot of research, but as with so many things, there’s always a chance for error. Do not cite this article for your academic thesis! Go to the original sources.
- John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.
- Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) received 134 rejections.
- Beatrix Potter had so much trouble publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she initially had to self-publish it.
- Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) received 121 rejections before it was published and went on to become a best seller.
- Gertrude Stein spent 22 years submitting before getting a single poem accepted.
- Judy Blume, beloved by children everywhere, received rejections for two straight years.
- Madeline L’Engle received 26 rejections before getting A Wrinkle in Time published—which went on to win the Newbery Medal and become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
- Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times before being published and becoming a cult classic.
- Stephen King received dozens of rejections for Carrie before it was published (and made into a movie!).*
- James Lee Burke’s novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years and, upon its publication by Louisiana State University Press in 1986, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
The Most Rejected Novelist In History?
Author Dick Wimmer passed away on May 18, 2011, at 74 years old. He received 160+ rejections over 25 years! He spent a quarter of a century being told “no.”
He could have quit after 20 years, or 150 rejections, and no one would have blamed him. But he kept at it (maybe he had his own list of famous author rejection letters to keep him going!).
Finally, his novel Irish Wine (Mercury House, 1989) was published to positive reviews. The New York Times called it a “taut, finely written, exhaustingly exuberant first novel.”
Assuming the author’s submissions were well-targeted, how could 160+ people have passed over Wimmer’s book? And what does that mean for YOUR writing career?
Wimmer’s self-proclaimed legacy is of being the “most rejected novelist,” but we think his legacy is hope and persistence.
What’s Your Rejection Letter Threshold?
Famous author rejection letters teach us that there are lots of reasons why great works do not get chosen for publication right away (or after 25 years!). But there is only one way to get published: submit, submit, submit!
QUESTION: When you’re feeling down and out, what keeps you going?
(Leave your answer by clicking “COMMENTS” at the top of this article and scrolling down).
*Photo by MrBg
Next week: The #1 WORST thing a writer can do when making submissions.
*Editor’s note: Some of these numbers may vary (to varying extents) across the Internet and scholarly sources. We’ve tried to provide the most accurate info possible.