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 Do not cite this article for your academic thesis!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.
Thanks for posting. I’m going to share it with my Twitter and Facebook friends.
I believe self-publishing and marketing is going to overtake the book world … there is no roadblock of rejection … and with print on demand, there is no challenging up front cost.
I agree with John’s comment: I will leave my writing behind for my grandchildren, and for their grandchildren. But I recognize the value of a printed book. My website will be no doubt gone when technology makes its next big leap… but my self-published books will survive, and perhaps be appreciated as a reflection of their time.
Look me up on Amazon for an open preview of my three books so far – that in itself is a way of publishing!Author’s page: Terry Palardy. All are welcome!
I remind myself of artists (any kind) who were not appreciated in their time. My own great-grandmother was a phenomenal painter and we have her art all over our house, but no one told her that when she was alive. I just tell myself to keep at it, and I’ll either succeed or not, but I won’t have the chance to be discovered, now or ever, if I don’t keep putting myself out there.
One thing that keeps me going is humor! On my website and blog I have listed my “funniest rejections” and believe me there are some hilarious ones.
I have published 26 children’s books; some mss. received over 125 rejections, while others were snapped up in three days. It makes no sense so you just have to laugh, even though it can hurt a lot, too.
I let myself be gloomy for a while but then I think about college writing workshops and the positive feedback I got on my writing. Even if I don’t make it into the history books I know I have talent. So I keep going!
The thought of knowing that my writing is good even if other people don’t know it yet.
Knowing that even if I do’nt get published very much, I will leave my writing behind someday for my grandchildren
I have been writing since I was in kindergarden drawing my stories. I am now almost 40 and just published my first book with two sequels coming in behind it. Persistence is your key, confidence in yourself and the work is your fuel! Submit, Submit, Submit… and keep at it.
When I’m tired and discouraged I think of “Lord of the Rings.” Rejected and ridiculed by many before it was accepted. That one should be on the list!
I suggest that writers check out MULLIGAN STEW, by Gilbert Sorrentino,that went on to become a classic when it was finally published by Grove Press. Barney Rosset,the legendary publisher and owner of Grove, chose to include all the rejection letters at the beginning of the book along with the correspondence between Grove and Sorrentino. It is a classic. But Rosset was not, himself, immune from mistakes. He turned down Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT!
As an acquisitions editor for a small publishing house, I have to say that while self-publishing has it’s place, a negative attitude toward traditional publishing isn’t really founded. There are thousands of self-published books by authors who got tired of being told they needed to clean up their manuscript, therefore the writing reflects poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Many people have been told they have a great story to tell, and maybe they do, but if they want it to be a book, whether self-published, traditionally published, or as an electronic downloade, they owe it to their story, and to their readers to take the time to craft it well.
I have been told I should decorate cakes, and I have, for family and good friends. That doesn’t mean I should open a bakery. If an expert looked at my work they would see flaws everywhere. My cakes are “good enough” for those who love me, but they are not marketable.
If you are a writer, take the time to make yourself and your writing, marketable. You will be glad you did, and so will publishers and readers.
The only sure way I have of knowing that my stories will not be published is to neglect to submit.
I’d like to share this personal essay I once wrote after receiving yet another rejection note; more had come and I expect nine out of ten submissions will keep coming. You would understand why it’s melodramatic. But that feeling has not swept me over since. When I do receive one these days, I simply put away the poem, haiku or tanka, rewrite it and submit it to another editor. A few of these have been accepted and published. Here’s the essay:
Why must rejection wring the mind so?
These words marching onto this blank screen leaked off a bottle of emotions I had dammed. It’s been a week ago since a rejection note sneaked into my inbox—a single line in bold letters; it’s not the first, but the latest of ten I have received so far. Reading the note then, I felt sand in my eyes, pain that brings on tears. First, they stung and then creeping down my cheeks, they felt cold as a blade. I could be bleeding, I thought, but not from an invisible cut on my cheeks–it must be in my shattered heart.
Why must words of rejection wring the mind so? I had long struggled to understand. No matter how cavalier I talk of my writing, rejection feels like death for me at times. It must be during those times when I wrote too hard and too long so much so that an illusion of perfection shrouded me and darkened that fragile cave—my heart—from which I always imagine I write.
From what do words get birthed anyway? This has always been a mystery to me akin to my search for God. But this I believe in, the universe came to be out of nothing because God so decreed it with words.
I am a being out of nothing. Hence, my words leap onto a screen from the void. Why then must rejection affect me so? I and what words I string together as soon as they slip into some kind of form should turn into objects like asteroids, for one, flinging through the universe. I, who worked on it and that which they have birthed into, should no longer bear any of me.
And yet, complex as is my tiny mind, it also bloats with greed and feels as if words it has put into shape become the universe. How dare then, does anyone reject them?
But in the end, I am grateful for each rejection; it shoves me back into place. The eye does not see the self in whole, only in parts; rejection really hurts only in part. As in every object in the universe, other parts of me that have been spared soon take over and begin to birth again.
In the early days of my “getting serious” about writing, I submitted to a magazine, and got an interesting twist on rejection!
I was told my writing was too good for it!
I kept that for so long, until the crate I kept it in with some precious mementos was stolen.
Remembering it makes me laugh to this day!
(Oh, and when I get gloomy, I write poetry. Very cathartic!)
Most of the submissions I have made have been “safe” and accepted. Except for entering contests at litmags,I have gone mostly into local lit publications with small audiences or ones that are put out for members. I keep planning to submit to the harder markets, but I just never seem to get around to it.And I can only assume that this is fear or failure or of finding out that I have no talent after all.I have my first chapbook of poems ready to go, and that scares me too. But at least for that I have a friend pushing me to get it done. Yet I feel myself coming up with all kinds of excuses, including wanting to save the poems for the lit mags I never submit to anyway…lol Carol
At this point in my writing “career” I feel as though I have received a gazillion rejections. I have, however, received some acceptances, which comprise a modest list of successes. However, at some point along the way I realized that neither of these things matter, the acceptances or the rejections. I write because it’s what I do. It’s part of who I am. I don’t write to be accepted or rejected, I write because I don’t know how not to write. I write because if I stopped I would be more miserable than if I got rejected every single day. One mid-December day I remember looking back and realizing that I had received more rejections that month than Christmas cards. That was sort of depressing (fortunately the ratio eventually shifted–most of my friends are procrastinators), but other than that it’s just part of the writer’s life. And I am a writer, so I get rejected. It is what it is.
I had over 100 rejections before my first book was published. So, when I’m down and out, I go read In and Out of Madness, still get caught up in the story, and remind myself that the effort to keep trying was worth it in the end.
Mostly I try to pretend I’m playing some kind of board game, and keep rolling the dice.
I think about giving up sometimes, but two things keep me going. 1) I can’t stop writing, so I figure I might as well keep sending it in and 2) I continute to get more encouraging feedback on my rejections as I work to improve my writing and I figure that means I’m getting closer. It’s a little like hanging a carrot in front of a horse.
I agree that self-publishing and e-books are changing the game. If you don’t already know the story of Amanda Hocking — google her name and find out the possibilities. I’ve been rejected; I’ve been accepted- for articles. I started a blog last November and have developed an ever-increasing set of loyal readers as I write about family history based on original century-old letters, diaries, documents. A book is my eventual goal — and the blog is what I hope will hook some early readers and act as a showcase for my writing. Best of luck to you all! Perseverance IS the key. http://www.familyarchaeologist.com
What keeps me going when I feel down and out is the same thing that keeps a bass fisherman casting that lure one more time. After twenty years of rejection, even when one of my novels was represented by a well-known literary agent, I self-published four novels and am working on a fifth. the books are out there and being read. It is not unheard of for a self-published book to be picked up by a major publisher. That’s the big one. I’ll keep fishing!
What keeps me to proceed on writing my poems or stories is faith, I believe God has given me a gift to share with everyone, also I know that it is something that I really love doing on my own witout thinking of it as work, just a good hobbie I love doing and nothing more. Writing is what I make it out to be, it is part of who I’ am as a person, my strenght, and most of all happiness. Please reply if you want.
I throw myself into my scenes to be right inside the action, to make it come to life again, to be real for me, so their voices have an opportunity for an audience. I can’t let them down. Particularly my first novel, dedicated to my mother’s army stint. It would be like letting her down as well as her sister soldiers. I can’t do that, even though I’ve hit obstacle after obstacle. Giving up means you reject yourself.
Helene, Thank you for your comment. Giving up means you reject yourself. Well said!
I submitted to the literary agents looking for manuscripts in the the genre I write and received rejection after rejection. Finally, in early 2010, I decided to try a couple of publishers open to unsolicited manuscripts and get this, one publisher sent a contract to me for my first novel, FACADE, published in November 2010. I received a contract from a different publisher the next Friday for my second novel. RESILIENCE is set for release next week (August 2, 2011).
I will never again doubt taking a chance of getting my writing out there.
Good luck to all of my fellow writers.
I love this post…
As an aside, I have been very fortunate, as a professional writer – to be a million-selling Videogame Writer, and award-winning Feature Film & Short Film writer
But – I am fascinated by this `Rejection Phenomenon’ (eg see the book `Rotten Rejections’ for more of these classics…)
I have actually even written a screenplay about this phenomenon. (Not just to do with best-selling novels, but – hit movies as well. ie – `Star Wars’ was turned down by EVERY STUDIO in Hollywood – about 25 production companies)… finally Fox grudgingly agreed to do it. Star Wars became a phenomenon that spawned the rebirth of sci fi. `Pulp Fiction’ was knocked back several times, then became an award-winning classic, etc
As I say – I have even written a very biting, satirical, black-comedy movie screenplay about this `Rejection Phenomenon’…
Getting rejections and being a writer unfortunately goes hand in hand. When I find myself getting down, I just think of the main reason why I write. I write because it is as natural to me as breathing. I feel alive when I write. To immerse myself in a world which I have created and to bring characters to life whom I know and love is a simple and unimaginable joy. When (not if, I must be positive!), I do get published, I cannot wait for other readers to get to know my characters and fall in love with them too. To my fellow writers, keep the faith and keep writing! X
Amber, thank you for your positive words. We’re sure that many of our readers will feel inspired by your comment.
I realize that nothing else I’ve ever done, (and I could fill a page with my assorted choices of careers) has ever made me as happy as sitting down to the next blank page. I’m scared every time I do it. What makes me break the fear barrier is considering an alternative. I’m broke at the moment, but very very happy.
J., thank you for your comment. Facing down the blank page can be scary, but as you point out, the alternative is scarier. Money or no money, writers must write (and write and write and write!).
I remember the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of rejections I have received while working with Writer’s Relief and then look at the growing stack of journals in which my work appears and remind myself that if you write well and submit work continuously, publication happens, that odds favor the writer who attends to his/her craft and doesn’t take “no” personally.
My two critique groups keep me focused, inspired and motivated . . . and they’re not all about “rah, rah, rah.” They provide constructive criticisum, all of which I consider, but feel comfortable accepting or dismissing. To me, writing is like playing golf – it’s that one great comment on your sentence, paragraph or chapter that keeps you coming back.
Remember folks, ‘Harry Potter’ was rejected by ten publishers before Bloomsbury took it. ‘Cold Mountain’ was rejected by twenty.
Whenever someone declares that editors are the ones who know quality work when they see it, I think of JK Rowling and Charles Frazier.
My first collection of poems was rejected somewhere around 70 times before it was finally taken. Subsequent books haven’t taken that long, but there were a lot of times when I wondered if it would ever happen.
The reason for the brutal rejection of Hemingway’s “The Torrents of Spring” should be explained. His first book was published by Boni Liveright, Sherwood Anderson’s publisher. Scott Fitzgerald convinced Hem to go with Scribners, but BL had first rights of refusal. So Hemingway pilloried his once-friend Sherwood Anderson in a scathing satire “Torrents” of that well-known author’s writing style, and BL had no choice but to refuse to publish and embarrass their best-selling author. Hence, the right of first refusal was exercised, and Hemingway was free to go to Scribners.
Presently I’m submitting to fifteen or so agents. A few have come back with responses like, “I will read your work and get back to you.” Previously a partner in one agency dclined my novel, however, she gave me encouragement. Shw said, “Persevere and keep writing until my book reached the goals I intended.” With that in mind, I revised the synopsis, manuscript and had it re-edited. I managed to do this quickly. When it was finished I began submitting the same work again. Ergo, the agents were getting my very latest changes. Hopefully my novel will be picked up. Both the agency and I will benefit from this extra effort and I will have learned yet another lesson. My thanks to the woman who encouraged me to persist and keep writing.
I have not yet received a rejection letter that in any way led me to believe that my work had been read. Each of the twenty five rejections I’ve received were brief form notes, with a generic statement that they have too many submissions to respond personally. It would be very difficult to take those rejections personally!
My writing is all about “sharing.”
In that sharing, I reach out and “touch” someone.
When that someone pays it forward,and now touches me,
my book has served its purpose.
I am fulfilled.
These stories prove publishers, like other people, are human and often wrong. If you believe in yourself, persevere.
My story, THE MARTIAN CHILD, was rejected by six editors who knew me so well they thought the story was too personal and not enough of a story. It was finally bought by Kristine Katherine Rush at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. At the time, Kristine barely knew me. The story went on to win the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus, and several other award nominations. It was also made into a movie starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet.
I’ve only yet received one professional rejection, and it didn’t get me down at all. It was an email, and I actually printed it out and keep it in a folder by my computer. Every rejection is another opportunity I took that someone else didn’t, and I know that no matter what else, I am trying. I may not be the best writer, but I have a better chance than all the better writers who are too scared of rejection to send out their stuff. That’s what keeps me going.
Among those authors you mentioned you can add J.K. Rowling. She was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloombury took her on as a writer. Had it not been for the plastic cover she had put on the book she would have been rejected by them as well. A reader of the publisher said on the Oprah Winfrey show that she had noticed the cover and just started to read it.
That’s the whimsy and the luck of publishing summed up in one story.
My “bottom line” for submission is “Until it’s published.” I’m not saying everyone should take this stance, but Dick Wimmer did keep trying and eventually did get published.
As for the “feeling of death” rejection does and will give us as writers, death is the cessation of life. As long as your alive (and Dick Wimmer was published posthumously so even in some cases beyond that) you keep at it. They can only say no. Sometimes they say it snidely, rudely or down right meanly but it’s still just “no” to this one.
I strongly believe that if you, as a writer, have something to say, there is a “Yes” out there!
Don’t let one persons bad day ruin your whole life.
I began writing when I was 18 years old. I’m now 52 going on 53 at the end of July. I’ve been rejected by freebie mags who pay only in issues (my material was “derivative”).
I continue to write because creating story excites me! I want to be published. Period. No bones about it and no excuses. The only way to do that is to produce and to submit.
In all these years I’ve learned some tricks to keep me from becoming melancholy or deeply depressed.
I prepare the work, editing and touching up. I then make out six to eight query letters and send them out. When I get to number eight, I make eight more. When I get to the end of those, I put the story away and resubmit 3 months later.
No luck yet, but I’m not fishing. I’m hunting a Great White Whale.
It takes patience and a lot of fortitude.
I wish you all luck, but you don’t need it if you get the attitude that you are not going to give up.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 21 times, including once by the eventual publisher itself. Faber & Faber’s initial rejection read:
Time: the Future. Absurd & uninteresting fantasy about the explosion of an atom bomb on the Colonies. A group of children who land in jungle-country near New Guinea. Rubbish & dull. Pointless.
A second reader at Faber read it, though, ensuring it became mandatory high school reading. There were times in 9th grade when I wish it had stayed rejected.
I guess the moral is a lot of editors don’t know what they’re talking about.
Whenever I feel like quitting, which thank goodness isn’t very often, I call upon my 2 best friends to offer kind words of encouragement.
The fact that of all the people (10) who’ve read my book have loved it, is also very reaffirming. The fact that not one agent has offered me representation (yet – but as of this writing, it is in the hands of two of them) is discouraging, but I keep telling myself they just don’t know what they’re missing. And like all those other authors who have been rejected numerous times, and those above, I will not give up.
Failure is NOT an option, regardless of how long success takes.
I have a adopted a strategy for my first book ‘YOU ARE WORTH LESS THAN YOUR CAR’. I have created a web site http://www.youareworthlessthanyourcar.com And also
printed the book! Now I’m contacting the literary agents/publishers. If I get a rejection, I’d prefer to deduce that it’s one man’s view point. After all, what’s one man’s opinion when you are targeting to reach out to millions of readers.
If you believe that you have written a masterpiece, do not make any changes to your MSS. Remember ‘PAPILLON?’
That little voice inside your head that says you can’t do it. You can’t keep going on. Stab it with a pen. The stories of others that have made it through are there and you can be too. Even if you choose to self publish you can get your story read.
Faith: in myself and the universe
It’s what I do.
I take into account why my work was rejected, whether it was in line with what the periodical likes and wants to publish, and then I go back to work. Not everyone is going to like my writing, but if I’m satisfied with it, it’s good enough.
1. There’s a fun book by Charles Monagan called The Neurotic’s Handbook — the last chapter or so tells about super famous people (not just writers) and quoted them saying things like I’m Worthless. Very edutaining.
2. I worked as an unpaid intern — a Reader — at the Paris Review for about 3 months. They had several; we came in for one full day a week to share the reading of unsolicited manuscripts. You had to “try out” for the unpaid position. Everything was read twice. If a manuscript passed 2 reads then all the Readers read it and wrote notes about what they thought. I was impressed with the respect and time each unsolicited manuscript was given. And people would get passionate about particular manuscripts. The upshot, though, is that about none of them were published. The Paris Review gets many unsolicited manuscripts every day and publishes I believe about one each year.
Depressing and yet encouraging — the work is definitely read, although not published.
And having been a reader at The Paris Review has done very little for my career, btw. I am an established poor person.
What else do i have but my writing, and two other things that i must have.
Most would ask for millions,
Some a taste of the sumblime,
But all I’ve ever wished for,
Was booze and borrowed time.
My novel ‘Dead Wood’ suffered 4 years of rejections before it won the Dundee International Book Prize, one of the biggest book prizes in the UK. The last of these rejections came in 1 week before I was told it had won the prize. Surely it couldn’t have gone from crap to prizewinner if it had been totally rubbish.
The one thing that keeps me going when submitting to literary agents, is that i believe in my story, now i’m not saying that this will be the next Harry Potter, though i do believe that many authors wishes that there story would be. But i do trust that my stories are unique and offer amusment to the masses, for all i want to accomplish with my writing is to bring a smile to the faces of those who read it.
Thank you for this. I shall keep trying, and all the while, burning the candle at both ends.
As encouragement not to give up, I have received rejection notices for nearly half a century, and then did something right. Penguin Berkly Publishers in New York picked up my most recent effort on its first outing and it is being published in December.
My novel has been rejected 252 times and one rejection said the book was “too controversial to be published anywhere and that no one would touch it with a ten foot pole”. I laughed and thanked them so kindly for their response, then turned around and released it last month through self publishing. I am completely content in the direction I chose and since have caught the attention of several organizations who are now supporting my book. I have hired a publicist as I would have if publishing through a traditional publisher and who knows maybe I will still end up on the Bestseller’s List.
The pain of getting rejected for something you’ve put your heart and soul into can seem fatal. I know. I’ve received lots of rejections, too. At times, it seems hard to get over the pain. That’s why I’m thankful for lovely posts like this because it reminds me of the fact that I’m not alone in this particular writer’s quandary because it also happens to the cream of the crop.
I didn’t count how many rejection letters I got, but I know we’re talking a three-digit figure. What I should have done is gotten myself a railroad spike like Stephen King, and impaled all my rejection letters into a big ol’ stack that wasn’t going anywhere.
What keeps my head in the right space is the prime reason behind writing. For myself, writing is about escaping the mundane. Rejection or no rejection, no one can remove that sense of freedom.
Thanks for the post. Makes me feel good about only getting three rejections for my first book (so far…). The truth is, you can’t let rejections get you down. You have to continue to believe that your writing is important, that you and others will benefit from it.
When all the publishing houses have said no, try again–with a new list of editors, or with self-publishing. When the rejections start to reveal a pattern, by all means, consider whether to change your book proposal, but never take a particular rejection to heart.
Every book publisher in NYC rejected my cousin and my proposal for Cinematherapy: A Girl’s Guide to Movies for Every Mood. 340,000 copies in all editions, six books, and a TV deal later, I think we’ve proved those editors wrong. All it took was one agent and one editor and ed board who got it!
Don’t forget J.K. Rowling who was told over and over that children would never read a book that long!
Thank you so much for this slice of perspective. I have been told that there is not a niche for my novel, that I’m in “no man’s land” where the novel is too spiritual yet not not “safe” enough for Christian markets. We’re going the self-publishing route too. I am also considering hiring a publicist. More power to all you dedicated, passionate writers out there! Persistence, persistence, persistence!
what it really shows is the tremendous lack of talent, taste, and foresight on the part of literary agents/editors. great books get written each day that likely never come to light
One important thing to remember is that rejections are not a symptom of the editor or agent not “believing” in you. They run a business, and if they don’t think they can sell your book, they won’t buy it. I’d say it’s very important for authors to remove themselves emotionally from their books and look at rejections as signs that the book just might not be marketable. Then, again, maybe the author isn’t trying to market it to the right people.
Rachel, you make a good point. Agent reactions are based on more than whether or not the agent “likes” the book being presented. You advise: look at rejections as signs that the book just might not be marketable. However, even if one agency does not think a book is marketable, another one may think differently (agencies specializing in romance novels are not experienced in marketing sci-fi novels)—which is why proper targeting is an important part of an author’s submission strategy. If you’re not sure how to target appropriate markets for your writing, Writer’s Relief can help!
In response to the question above, i would have to say a fear of dying and not having done anything interesting in my life. But usually sleeping on it helps me re-focus.
It’s been years and over 300 rejections. I’ve decided to go the ebook route. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for other to decide whether or not I’m good enough…I say ultimately IT’S IN YOUR HANDS!
I would say that Hemingway’s Torrents of Spring was a pretty bad novel, and didn’t he basically write to get a rejection and get out of a contract?
I’d so much rather be rejected cruelly than generically…
Well, at least abroad publishers and literary agents DO send you letters of rejections. In Italy they just don’t bother. They don’t even take into consideration your submissons. Only in two occasions I had a letter (of rejection). The first was from an agent who knew me because I’m a well known literary translator and I met her at a book fair where I went with one of my bestselling authors. The other was from the publisher of one of these authors whose works I translate. This is why they were polite and answered. But, as I said, being Italy a very strange country, nobody will ever be published unless is already a known author. 80% of all published works is a translation of foreign writers. In fact all Italian publishers state clearly on their websites that NO UNSOLICITED SUBMISSION is accepted! Have you ever heard of such a silly thing? As I deeply believe in my novel and as I write since all my life (I’ve published several essays) I will now leave Italian publishers to their destiny and try abroad!
I have received dozens of rejection letters for my novel,”My Only Love, Framed in Flowers”. I have come to realize that most agents wouldn’t know a good book if it were forcibly inserted into an ambiguous orifice. Their rejection merely tempers my resolve; and I look forward to the day when my work ends up on the best seller list and all the agents that sent rejection letters will have the privilege of figuratively gargling my unidentified fleshy extremity.
I was an editor at Hutchinson (now Random House) when the ms of Day of the Jackal arrived. It had been rejected countless times but – at the last minute – celebrated commissioning editor Harold Harris took a punt and the rest is history. Frederick Forsyth was nothing if not tenacious – but at least he had an agent who believed in him, which is still the critical first step.
Thanks for this inspiring post. It would be easy to think that all of the rejecters of these famous writers were wrong, but I hold on to the idea that ultimately the rejections pushed these writers to hone their work until it became what was eventually accepted.
Rejection came late for me. My first publishing contract was a complete surprise as I never submitted a proposal or sample — my nephew, Lee Goldberg, submitted it without telling me. I didn’t find out until I got the contract in the mail. The book won the 1993 Edgar Award from the mystery writers of America, and continues to sell to this day. I didn’t receive my first rejection letter until until a few years later, and the pretzel logic of the rejection still astounds me: “…every bit as good as anything by Harlan Coban or Lawrence Block — and that’s the problem. If we publish this novel, we will be in competition with ourselves” The novel was picked up by another house. I still get rejections, despite over 12 books to my credit, so I simply propose other projects until one is accepted.
In order to save time, I sent myself 100 rejection letters. Now I’m over the hump and I should get accepted next place I sub to.
Some of the numbers in the list turn out to be urban myths. Frex, Pirsig didn’t get rejected 121 times. He sent out 121 proposals or queries simultaneously, and got one (or maybe more?) acceptances.
What picks me up and dusts me off is belief in my story and knowing what is trash to one is treasure to another editor or publisher. Discouragement isn’t my middle name. It is Star.
My novel “La isla de los amores infinitos” (published in English as “The Island of Eternal Love,” Riverhead/Penguin) was in the hands of my previous agent for almost 2 years. Even though he didn’t send me the rejection letters, he told me the novel had been delivered to almost any possible Spanish publisher. Finally he had to “let me go” as he could not sell the book. I found another literary agent, and finally the book was published in Spain by Grijalbo (Random House). Since then, it has been published in more than 25 languages, becoming the most translated Cuban novel of all time. Moral of the story: don’t despair.
Ihave submitted numerous times and have the rejections to prove it – however I do not get despondent as I view every aspect as my writing journey. Learn from the rejection – accept it & move on. In the end it will be their loss not yours.
Good luck to you all.
I sent out over 100 queries, got rejected 42 times, was told by two agents, “this is great but can you write something with vampires?”. I ignored them ans just kept going. After I had written 12 books, I got 5 acceptances and am now published. It just takes tenacity and belief in your work to succeed.
Okay, this makes me feel a little better. I know that rejection is part of the process but its good to hear that other people go through the same experience but still push on. I will say though, I am frustrated to be going BACK through the submission process and dealing with rejection again. It’s like being married, getting a divorce, and then being thrown back into the crazy dating pool. I’ve been published (novels and short stories) but my publisher is going caput and now I’m back out there submitting to agents and publishers. I expected alot more doors to open up by now but alas, they have not. Anyway, I believe in my work so I’ll keep plugging along. Good luck to all those who are doing the same!
When I get depressed, I give myself a little pep talk. “I know I am a good writer. I won essay contests all through school. I have written professionally for newspapers and journals for many years. I know my short stories are good. I just need to have the right agent “discover” them.”
My writing coach advised me, “Unless your name is Hilton or Clinton, your chance of getting published by a big firm are slim … go with the self- publishing route.” I did and I am glad.
I just keep writing every day and believing. I know there are many opinions out there, and I just have to wait for the right fit. Knowing these stories keep me going!
Jodi, we think you have a great attitude and we’re glad our article provided inspiration. Keep writing!
I try to keep really good care of myself when I am submitting work. I am currently going after 100 Rejection letters and have about 7 so far. I have had varied responses to the rejections at first, then I come around and shake it off and start going after the rest of the 100.
Practice make better right?
Dawn, what a great outlook and goal! We applaud you and wish you luck reaching 100.
After my novel, “Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever,” won the Jack London Prize awarded by the California Writers Club, I thought I was on my way to be published. But after more than 200 (yes, I said 200) rejections, I decided to independently publish the book. The best decision ever as it has now been optioned for the big screen. So there!
My response to rejection slips (including tomb silence) my response is as follows:
My epitaph should read,
“We regret that we were unable
to use the enclosed material.
for giving us the opportunity
to consider it”
the exact position
of my casket.
And what remains
of my remains.
In my other life, i’m in sales, and the first rule in sales – especially regarding cold calling (after all, what are submissions other than cold calls?) is that every No is one step closer to the Yes we are looking for. After that, all the No’s simply don’t matter.
Debbie, That’s our motto too. Great stuff!
What keeps me going is knowing that there are people around the world who enjoy my work. All I need to do now is get it in print.
To know that such great writers were rejected time and time again, and kept at it – Wow! Perseverance and belief in one’s own muse is clearly at the heart of it all. Thanks so much for this article!
I love hearing that so many people so believe in themselves and their book, that they keep looking for a means to get it to readers.
I think I seem to be developing more of that confidence the longer I work on my novel.
This kind of comment list is like a great big communal HUG and it’s needed. Writing is a lonley kind of occupation.
Thank you for sending this aroung. Claire Drapkin who’s probably into tenth year of growing up enough to get her novel ready for
revision. And, screw it, if that’s the time it took. So be it.
We all have different voices and different clocks we work by. My little wall clock, that glows in the dark, always says, lots of time Claire, lots of time. Keep going. Avanti, Shalom,
Nowadays self-publication is an alternative and I see some of the people who commented have done so (I did too!) The stigma that used to be attached to self-publication has gone with the Digital Revolution – and has disappeared faster in the US of course where the revolution started than in the UK. But it’s coming to Europe too, no mistake!
And I think that’s the biggest consolation if you get too many rejections. There’s always a way out these days, go to Amazon DPK, that’s easiest, and get your book up there in the Kindle Store and you know you’re reaching the biggest digital market there is at this point in time…That’s what I did BUT I didn’t put all my eggs in a single basket. No! I’m keeping several mss in my drawers for the day I get an agent and he or she can submit them to traditional publishers. Because I still believe the Big Six can offer you things you as an Indie can’t get, among them a good marketing boost (but there are other things too – I plan to blog about it soon)!
I’ve just started, relatively, down this road but have been unable to interest anyone, agent or publisher. I have been an academic author with no problem and realize the transition to trade markets is not so simple but everyone who hears the story is entranced. How do I know it’s not just my bad writing?
Joebob1917, the industry standard is about 1 acceptance for every 100 submissions. So, even with well-targeted submissions, you can expect to receive many dozens of rejection slips before you reach publication. From your well-phrased question, we doubt it’s your bad writing. Apply to our Review Board if you want help making well-targeted submissions.
To quote Andre Maurois, “In literature, as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.”
Why any aspiring writer would rely or depend upon the subjective decision or response of an editor or agent today is baffling. With self publishing technologies, authors have opportunities to determine and control their publishing efforts and income variables. I have for ten years and 20 books later still smile when perusing my past rejection letters.
With the future of ebooks and its inevitable growth and superior positioning, many, if not most of these people (editiors/agents, et al) will be unnecessary and their “rejections” will be as passe as they are.
The truth is, consumers determine the ‘rejection or acceptance’ of every published author’s work and “vote with their purchase (or not)” regardless of what ‘industry professionals’ may opine.
I have sent out a few hundred letters to literary agents and finally decided to self-publish. What gets me is that several hundred people have read my novel, “Murder in Silence”, and honestly not one has not loved it and all keep requesting the sequel! (Three of those are written). How is it possible that so many think something is great and those “in the know” do not? Maybe one of them will rad this and check it out…lol!
I received an adamant and unusually fervid rejection “please don’t send us anything like this ever again” for some graphic poems, but they’d already been accepted elsewhere.
Having reached the age of 71, and losing my mind in daily doses, how many rejection slips will I receive before I die? Should I die before I compose all the writing I have done, or hang on for the sheer hell of it — or maybe the sheer heaven of it? Being a theologian, a life-long sinner, a lousy husband and father, a nice guy, and a non-believer in the God of the Old Testament — I have written oodles of stuff. Oh, I forgot to mention that I am also a conspiracist concerning Bruno Hauptman and his degree of guilt, and Oswald as the luckiest lone nut assassin to have walked the earth. I won’t even mention 9-11 — oops! I just did. Like all old men I’m getting tired now. Enjoyed your site. I call myself Pope Ray. I’d call myself Mr. Tibbs, but unfortunately I’m not a black New York policeman. I wish you all well in your writing endeavors. My blessings upon you all.
There simply is no accounting for taste. I honestly swear that most of what gets published is rubbish or at best mediocre. Yet I find that several people in my local writer’s group construct excellent, fulfilling stories only to get rejected over and over again.
You just have to go on and keep writing.
I’m still working on the initial draft of my first novel and have spent the past 5 years learning a great deal about how not to write a novel. But what I’ve also absorbed from my experiences over the previous two years that I have been attending writing workshops is how fickle the mainstream publishing industry is. Times are hard and companies, when they fall on such times, tend to focus on playing it safe, just as people do. Not every editor who rejects a great manuscript is an idiot. He or she may simply know that their particular publishing house isn’t well-equipped to handle that submission. Would it be nice if they forwarded it on to someone who would be better? Sure, but that’s the writer (or agent)’s job, not theirs. The market is harder to break into, no doubt. But people will always want to read to be both informed and entertained. If you believe in what you’re doing, keep at it. I don’t think there are more than a handful of writers that aren’t themselves survivors of their own submission-process nightmares in all of publishing history. Just consider it part of the dark charm of the craft and use it to justify being bitter. (j/k) *cheeky grin*
The story behind that Hemingway rejection is quite a bit different than you present it. Hemingway wrote The Torrents of Spring precisely in order to force the publisher to reject it. He had a contract with them where they had right of first refusal, but he didn’t want to publish with them. So he wrote a parody of Sherwood Anderson, who was that publisher’s star, their golden boy. They could not publish a parody of their golden boy, so they rejected Torrents, allowing Hemingway out of his contract.
Ezra, Thanks for adding some additional backstory on that particular quote in our list.
I wrote my first book two years earlier when I was in my eleventh standard. So far I have received over 15 rejections and now I want to self publish it.
The most encouraging thing about rejections?
When they say: “You are an excellent writer but…”
The most discouraging thing about rejections?
When they say: “You are an excellent writer but…” 🙂
I have several books published, but even so the one thing that keeps me going through rejections is that I really love writing and would write even if being published were never an option.
P>S> – Loved Ezra’s explanation of Hemingway’s Machiavellian strategy for rejection!
My writing coach advised me to self-publish, saying that my “warm, fuzzy love stories” would not be accepted in the big markets, and that unless your name is “Clinton or Hilton” you had little chance in today’s trashy novel world.
Dear Jessica, while self-publishing is the right choice for some writers, we know from experience that writing of all kinds can still find a place in today’s market! You may end up choosing to self-publish, but don’t forget to research all available options before making a decision.
It is such a relief to read your “rejection comments. i submitted some work for the first time in all the years I’ve been a writer and received a rejection that stated “too large a volume and writing quality made publishing difficult”. I have been told that my writing voice and style is similar to that of Faulkner, not a comment I took lightly. I tell story’s through my writing, of the South,and am presently working on a novel similar to “The Help” and “The Color Purple”. Those who read the story’s I submitted enjoyed them and encourages me to seek publication. I intend to continue writing regardless of the “zerox brief” of a rejection that really said nothing. So, for ego purposes, I decided that the writing quality mentioned was above what they normally receive. Just kidding on that one, really. Thanks for your site . Will visit often.
Lydia, thanks for commenting! We’re happy to hear you’re maintaining a positive outlook despite receiving rejection letters. We always tell our clients to keep a thick skin and stay on track with regular submissions. Keep writing!
I have officially been rejected at least 12 times, and unofficially more like 20 times. What keeps me going? My family. They believe in me. Not to mention everything I see and hear calls out to me to be written about…
Wow, didn’t know that these famous authors were rejected with all sorts of excuses many times over. Great inspiration! Thanks for sharing.
Wow,rejected for over a quarter of a century?!Also,those agents/editors were pretty rude. :/ I wouldn’t ever say anything like that to an author if I were an editor/literary agent. I hope to get published in the future too.I know I’m going to recieve enough rejection letters to cover the area of my entire block of flats,but I know that the only way you can get what you want is by not giving up on it. 🙂
I will not make a guess as to how many rejections I have received over the past years, many with very encouraging comments toward my writing, but with no takers for one reason or another. I have mostly submitted to traditional book publishers, but lately I have been giving more thought towards submitting to an agent. I would welcome any comments, pros or cons, on making such a decision. Sally
We actually recommend you query lit agents first. Here’s why: https://www.writersrelief.com/blog/2009/03/top-reasons-to-query-agents-first/
Thank you so much, Writer’s Relief, for your quick response to my post. I am grateful to have a little more insight concerning seeking an agent.
I do think I will go ahead in seeking an agent, but I would like to know if there is any up front charge if an agent accepts your submission-in other words what percentage does an agent require…and when.
Sally, thanks for the question! If a reputable agent DOES sign you on for representation, they will not ask for any fees. They will, however, take a 15-20% commission should you secure a deal with a publisher.
I agree. This is absolutely a necessary loan to writers. Well done! Now, if we could only get a quick look at those racist, sexist, ageist, and homophobic rejection letters, they would give a more complete inclusion of the writers’ struggle to publish.
I may be the minority lol. When I got rejected I was so excited someone took the time to reject me! I framed it and I’m still submitting. Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. I’ve decided I’m too vain to let rejection knock me down and my characters have too much to say.
Amber, we’re so glad you’ve got such sn enthusiastic view on rejections! Each one brings you closer to acceptance and gets your name out into the writing world, so never give up!
The few successes I’ve had keep me going, especially that first one. And knowing that even someone as great as King has had his share of rejections helps.
What’s a nice way to reject someone? I’m trying to start a travel-writing site, and I’m worried about getting bad submissions from people. Is it better to be honest, sugar-coat things or just say nothing at all?
Hi Sean, good question! It’s best to be honest—if you don’t feel a submission will benefit your readers or your site, then it is best not to accept it. You want strong writing so as to attract readers and garner attention as a hub for sophisticated and professional writing. However, until you begin receiving a large volume of submissions, be as personal (and personable) as possible!
You don’t have to help submitters edit their stories or anything quite so hands-on as that, but let them know why the piece was not submitted and offer some feedback/compliments to accent their strengths. You’ll not only be helping those writers further their careers, but you may see some revise their pieces to exemplary work.
What about J.K. Rowling? She got rejected a lot to. And more people (under 20 in America anyway) know her name than most of the people on that list!
My first two science fiction novels have been rejected about 15 times each. But enough people told me they enjoyed both that I decided to e-publish. I cheer myself up with the reminder that one of my sci-fi writing heroes, the late great Iain M Banks had his first five or six books rejected before he was finally published.
Thank you for the article and comments. Just got a rejection from The New Yorker. A very nice letter and want to submit work to them again, so I am looking at possible responses to their message and posting my options on my blog: hoyecomova.com
I was asked, by Chicken Soup for the Soul (Christmas edition), for all my author info since they were interested in my essay, A Year Without A Christmas Tree. Thinking I was “in” I told my family I was going to be published, received congratulations, etc….A month later, I get an e-mail explaining that they are not using my story after all, and they are very sorry. That’s worse than just a flat out rejection, I think!
Every action deserves an equal and opposite reaction: Every time I receive a rejection, I send out a new query!
Great strategy, Mary!
‘Yes’ is out there for you somewhere, it can just takes a lot of ‘Nos’ to find it. Respect to all who pursue their dream.
160 rejections isn’t very many? Most querying and submitting authors will accrue at least that.
I collected around 180 between 2 books before finding an agent, and a further 15 publisher rejections on another two books to finally sign contracts.
As for whether you should keep going, that depends on whether you are improving as you get rejected, or whether you are simply submitting out the same unchanged material over and over.