“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat,” observed American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. That’s great advice for an aspiring writer who will most likely face his or her share of rejection slips from publishers and agents. And Fitzgerald should know. His timeless classic, The Great Gatsby, was rejected by several publishers. One publisher had the audacity to write this preposterous note: “You’d have a decent book if you ‘d get rid of that Gatsby chapter.” WTF? Did he or she read the entire manuscript? Another famous American author, L. Frank Baum, best known for The Wizard of Oz novels, received so many rejection slips he kept them in a journal that he titled “A Record of Failure.” But in the final analysis, persistence pays off. Consider the sea of rejection slips that young authors — who are now famous and highly regarded — once received at the beginning of their writing careers. Recall the famous proverb introduced by American educator Thomas H. Palmer’s Teacher’s Manual: Being an Exposition of and Efficient and Economical System of Education Suited to the Wants of a Free People (1840): “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Louisa May Alcott: Little Women was rejected by several publishers. One publisher completely dismissed the novel, penning this advice: “Stick to teaching.”
Anne Frank: The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected by 15 publishers.
William Golding: Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers.
Joseph Heller: Catch-22 was rejected by 22 publishers. One publisher wrote: ““I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.”
Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises was rejected by many publishers. One publisher wrote: “If I may be frank — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you?…Your bombastic, dipsomaniac, where-to-now characters had me reaching for my own glass of brandy.”
Frank Herbert: Dune was rejected by 20 publishers.
James Joyce: Dubliners was rejected by 22 publishers.
Stephen King: Carrie was rejected by 30 publishers.
Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers.
Herman Melville: Moby-Dick was rejected by many publishers. One publisher wrote: “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?… For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”
Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind was rejected by 40 publishers.
Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita was rejected by many publishers. Sometimes publishers can be really mean; check out this rejection note: “overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian… the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream… I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”
George Orwell: Animal Farm was rejected by 4 publishers. One of those publishers was Faber & Faber, where T.S. Eliot worked. Eliot wrote the now famous rejection letter: “we have no conviction (and I am sure none of other directors would have) that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time… Your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm — in fact, there couldn’t have been an animal farm at all without them: so that what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.” Another publisher wrote: “There is no market for animal stories in the USA.”
James Patterson: The Thomas Berryman Number (the first in the Alex Cross series) was rejected by 31 publishers.
Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by 121 publishers.
J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected by 12 publishers.
Kathryn Stockett: The Help was rejected by 60 agents. Stockett wrote: ““In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60?”
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